Category Archives: Archives 5761

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Adar 5761 – Understanding Korbanos

1 Adar 5761

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

HELP! How do I counter the “you mean you actually believe in ANIMAL SACRIFICES?!?” thing? I mean, to a modern mind, karbanos do sound a little barbaric, don’t you think?

Thank you for your time.

Name withheld.
Darchei Binah 5758

Dear Friend,

One of the areas that I have the privilege of teaching in is Ohr Somayach’s Ohr LaGolah program, training Rabbonim who are preparing for careers in Harbotzos HaTorah. One of the areas I deal with is how to answer basic questions on Judaism. The set of twenty tapes that I have and which is available from Long Island NCSY, 516-371-0500, is taken from that course. There are a number of basic issues I cover before we even get to the answers. One of them is, you will not be able to answer someone else’s question if you are uncomfortable with the answer yourself.

A prime example of this is korbanos. I was once listening to an English language radio program in Israel before Tisha B’Av. There was a Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi discussing whether Tisha B’Av was still relevant today. The Orthodox Rabbi explained that since sinas chinam was still rampant among us, the message of Tisha B’Av was still important. The host of the program then asked him if he was looking forward to the rebuilding of the temple. The Rabbi responded of course! The interviewer then delivered the coup de grace “including animal sacrifices?!” You could hear the Rabbi begin gagging. He then began to mumble something about there being only vegetation offered in the third temple, but admitted that yes, we were looking forward to the restoration of animal sacrifices. As the Orthodox Rabbi sat there sniveling, the host turned to the Reform Rabbi and asked genially “are the Reform looking forward to animal sacrifice?” and they both enjoyed a hearty laugh.

The fact is that when they think about it, most frum Jews, though they daven for the return of the Bais HaMikdash and the Temple Service, have decidedly mixed feelings. The idea of taking a cute little goat and slitting its’ throat in order to catch the spurting blood and then, running barefoot on the bloody floor in order to throw the blood on the mizbeyach leaves people a little queasy. So the first thing we have to do is address the issue for ourselves.

When someone asks me, how do you explain animal sacrifices, I look surprised and ask them what’s the problem. This always throws them off, since questions are often based on assumptions that people accept without question. He assumed that everyone would agree that animal sacrifice was wrong, he didn’t have to exert the mental energy to think why. Well, he responds, it’s barbaric. Why? Because barbarians do it? They also eat lunch. The fact that primitive societies do something, i.e. build boats, doesn’t automatically render something unacceptable. Well, the person says, obviously being forced to think about the issue for the first time, you’re killing animals. Are you a vegetarian, I ask. Well, no the fellow admits. So you obviously don’t mind killing animals. Well, I never see it happen. Aha! You don’t mind killing animals, you just want a hired gun to do it for you! No problem, the Kohanim will take care of the job. At this point he doesn’t like the way the conversation is going, because he doesn’t seem to be making a lot of sense. Well, he says, that at least serves a worthwhile purpose. You’re using it for food. Now I understand, I say finally getting the point. You want to know if there is any worthwhile purpose to korbanos, since you have no problem killing an animal for a worthwhile purpose like say, a hamburger.

The purpose of the above is to show someone that they don’t really oppose animal sacrifice, they just don’t understand it. The question has changed from “how could any intelligent person in the 21st century believe in animal sacrifice?” to “how can we understand the significance and meaning of Korbanos”. If you don’t accomplish that first essential step, nothing else you say will be given a fair hearing.

Now let’s deal with the issue. First of course is the classic approach that applies to any korban associated with a chait. Since that applies in some way to every korban, this is a very good approach. Essentially, we ask, would you kill an animal in order to rehabilitate a thief? If you could change a person into a moral caring person, would that be worth it? If not, then you are saying that there is no difference between the life of a cow chewing grass in the field and a human being. That is a comparison that Judaism rejects. There was a case some years ago when a baby was born with a deformed heart and no transplant was available. Doctors managed to put a baboon heart into the little girl. This resulted in an outcry from some animal rights groups – why does the little girl have more right to live than the baboon?

When a person brought a korban, it was a cathartic experience. It changed his life forever. He saw the animal as himself, being slaughtered and offered up. He realized that we could act in such a way as to forfeit our very existence, a living death. When we reached a level where the bringing of a korban became a meaningless experience, Hashem took it away. Yeshaya quotes Hashem as saying, “I don’t need your slaughterings.” Rather that you change your behavior. When the korbanos were no longer meaningful, Hashem took the Bais HaMikdash away from us.

There is another understanding and that is the essential difference between the words “sacrifices” and “korbanos”. A sacrifice means that I am giving up something to fill someone else’s need. That is in fact pagan. The gods demanded sacrifices from their adherents. We however understand that Hashem doesn’t need anything from us. So how can we understand that He wants us to bring korbanos?

There was a little boy who loved his mother. And every Erev Shabbos he would see his Abba buy his Imma beautiful flowers for Shabbos which the Imma would place in a large crystal vase. The little boy thought to himself, “I would like to do that for Imma also. So he goes out one Friday afternoon and picks some flowers for his mother. You can imagine what a little boy brings back, a few weeds, some grass, something dripping pollen. But the little boy is so proud of himself and says “look Imma, I got you flowers just like Abba”. Well, the mother would really like to throw them into the garbage, but she understands that they represent the love her son has for her and so she gets a Styrofoam cup and arrange them as nicely as possible and set the little cup next to the crystal vase. How proud the little boy is! So every week he would go out and pick his “flowers” for his mother for Shabbos. But little boys being what they are, after a while the excitement wore off and it began to be another chore he had to perform. One Friday afternoon he was playing with his friends and he remembered the flowers. He runs and grabs a few weeds and dashes into the house. Tossing them on the table he says slightly annoyed “Here! You want flowers, I brought you flowers”. The mother looks at him sadly and says, “that’s all right, Abba gets me lots of flowers. I don’t need you to bring me any”. And she scoops up the weeds and drops them into the garbage. Then, realizing there is no more need for the Styrofoam cup, crushes it and tosses it into the garbage can. When the young boy looks at the crushed cup, just maybe he begins to realize that he wasn’t doing his mother a favor, rather she was doing him a favor by allowing his weeds to sit next to the beautiful flowers in the crystal vase.

Korbanos is from the word “likarev”, to come close. We want to be close to Hashem, to give Him something to express our love. So we go off into our flock and pick out a beautiful sheep and we say “look Hashem, I brought you a sheep”. Hashem is probably thinking to Himself “Great! Just what I need! A sheep”. But Hashem knows we’re doing it out of love so He says, “you know what, I’ll build you a Bais HaMikdash, you can bring the sheep over there”. Merrily we brought our sheep to the Bais HaMikdash because we understood that we had a chance through this to be close to HaKadosh Boruch Hu. But as the years passed we became like the little boy and began to feel put upon. So Hashem said “You know what, I have lots of sheep. Keep your sheep”. And with that, destroyed the Bais HaMikdash. And when we can look at the remnant of the Bais HaMikdash and understand that we lost out on soemthing, then we can be zoche to see the Bais HaMikdash rebuilt and the korbanos reinstated, bimhaira biyamanu.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

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Shevat 5761 – Understanding Judaism’s View on Sexuality

1 Shevat 5761

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

In the college I go to I tend to meet very interesting people who I carry on discussions with. Having said that, hopefully this question won’t knock you off your chair. What’s the deal with gays and lesbians? If the lifestyle is considered an abomination, then why would Hashem allow it to be innate in some individuals? It doesn’t make sense that Hashem would give that to someone as a nissoyon! If it’s not innate, then are people just giving in to temptation and depravity? What about the people who felt this way since they were little children without even being exposed to it? What is it??

Thank you,

Name withheld.

Dear Friend,

Whether homosexuality is innate or not is something being debated in the scientific community. At present, there is no evidence that it is. But let us say that there is a “genetic predisposition”, meaning some people are born with innate desires for homosexuality. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I was born with a genetic predisposition for adultery. Just because a woman puts on a wedding ring doesn’t mean that a heterosexual male now finds her unattractive. Or I could point out that I was born with a predisposition to eating non-kosher food, or with anger and jealousy. So what? All of the Torah is about reining in your passions. And just because “I really want to” doesn’t make it permissible.

Rashi explains this clearly on the possuk forbidding the eating of blood. Why does the Torah have to stress so many times not to eat blood? Because you might think that a normal person doesn’t want to eat blood, so since I’m not normal and I want to eat blood, the law doesn’t apply to me. Therefore the Torah stresses that you can’t eat blood many times. Even though you have a deviant desire, it doesn’t permit it.

Everyone can overcome everything if they want to. Just because I was born a particular way, with particular challenges and desires, doesn’t mean I have to fulfill them. Life is about overcoming whatever challenges I’m giving and becoming the person Hashem wants me to become.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

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Teves 5761 – Should We Judge Judaism By The Jews?

15 Teves 5761

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

We are often taught, when religious Jews do wrong things, not to change our perception of Judaism — “Don’t Judge Judaism by the Jews.” This has always seemed clear to me. However, while discussing this with somebody, this person claimed that we should definitely judge Judaism by the Jews — How else do we know if a religion is worthwhile? We must look at the output. This person claimed that not judging Judaism by the Jews is an apology, and not a satisfying option. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this person, I would like an answer for myself too, and I would appreciate your guidance.

Thank you,

Name withheld.

Dear Friend,

I agree with the person you were talking with – I also think that that answer is a cop-out. I have heard it many times and have always felt uncomfortable with it, particularly because we use the same argument in reverse! We say that Christianity isn’t really the religion of brotherly love and turn the other cheek because of all the Christian wars and attacks against the Jews. But of course they can argue – judge us by what the Gospels preach, not by what the Christian people have done. One of the powerful arguments against Conservative Judaism is that the laymen don’t keep the precepts of their movement; that the demographics show that the movement is going to vanish because of assimilation and declining birthrate. So what, they can respond. That’s no question on our philosophy. So what if there are no real adherents and we are going to vanish. Judge our belief system, not the results of our system. My rebbeim have always taught me that if you want to judge a yeshiva’s success, look at its’ products. Not a year later – but ten years later. You judge a rebbe’s success by his talmidim. If they are continuing his approach to life then he was successful and if not, he wasn’t. Many movements have popped up in our history and we prove they were wrong from the fact they couldn’t withstand the test of time. So yes, I think you have to judge Judaism by Jews.

This is of course the concept of Kiddush Hashem or chas vashalom, Chillul Hashem. If people look at you and say as they do in all those Pinchas Ben Yair stories “praised be the G-d of Rav Pinchas Ben Yair” then you have succeeded. And if as happens sometimes, people look at you and say “if that’s what religious Jews are like then I don’t want to be a part of it” then you have destroyed to some extent Hashem’s presence in the world.

Having said that, I always teach people when responding to charges against frum Jews – don’t defend the indefensible. If people say, “why do religious Jews throw stones?” Don’t respond by saying, “Well you have to understand that other people have offended their sensibilities. They feel really strongly about it.” Condemn them! Say the truth. There are almost no Orthodox Jews who throw stones. When they had the demonstrations to close Rechov Bar Ilan a few years ago, the police arrested one minor (illegally, I might add) and kept him in an adult prison for months. Even the Meretz representatives asked for his release. Now let me ask you a question: if there were all these people throwing stones, why didn’t they just fill up a van with them and charge them properly? Because there weren’t any. That’s not to say no one does. But when it happens it represents a lunatic fringe, a fraction of a fraction of a per cent. And every Torah leader and representative has condemned them, including Rav Amram Blau, the founder of Neturei Karta. So while, you can’t defend stone-throwers you can defend the religious public.

Every issue has to be examined the same way. Are there problems? Of course, and they need to be corrected. But just to say don’t judge the adherents to Torah Judaism is a terrible disservice to the thousands upon thousands who try every day to make themselves better people. Is there a community in the world that spends so much time and effort encouraging people not to speak ill about another person? Can you imagine a society where that’s even a value outside of ours? In the secular world, if you can find someone terrible about another person and publicize it, you’ll win a Pulitzer Prize! Of course people still fall short, but look at how people are working so hard to improve!

Do we have social problems? Of course, but they are a fraction of the problems in the secular world. Do they need to be addressed? Of course, but put it in perspective. The media reports crimes committed by religious Jews simply because it’s an anomaly. You won’t read in the paper “Secular Person Arrested for Embezzling” because you expect that a person who commits a crime won’t be affiliated with religious Jewry. A religious Jew was driving on Route 17 up to the Catskills and saw someone with a yarmulka stuck by the road. He immediately stopped to help. After he helped get the car started he noticed that the fellow was wearing a cross. The man explained that years ago his mother gave him the yarmulka and said that if he ever gets stuck, just put it on and someone will stop and help you. She seemed to understand that his cross wouldn’t be of much use.

The gemera works with the concept that “Yisroel kedoshim heim” – Jews are a holy people. We choose the right path as a people. As they said about Senator Leiberman, “he works 24/6”. Thousands of people close down their businesses, turn down lucrative positions and in his case, risk the presidential election in order to keep the Shabbos. Ari Goldman, who considers himself Orthodox, wrote in his autobiography that when he was working for the New York Times he had to work past sunset one Friday to finish an article. His story created a firestorm in the Jewish community. He later wrote saying that he couldn’t imagine another religious group where his action would have elicited such a strong reaction. Now, it’s true there are areas in hilchos Shabbos where we fall short, people perhaps don’t focus on the spiritual aspects as much as they could, but that’s aside from the fact that they’re keeping it. Can we improve? Of course and people will go to shul every week to hear the Rabbi castigate them because the system works and people want to be better.

Reb Levi Yitchok Berdichiv was sitting at his seder table when he suddenly asked his Chassidim to find Turkish tobacco. “Rebbe”, they shuddered, “the government has a boycott. Anyone found with it is punishable by death”. “Find me some” he commanded. The chassidim went out and returned with a barrelful of the tobacco. “Now go to the Jewish community and find me chometz”. “Rebbe, it’s Pesach night! No one has chometz”. “I don’t care, find me some”. Hours later they returned and announced that there wasn’t a piece of chometz to be found. Looking up to heaven he cried, “Master of the World! The Czar has threatened anyone owning tobacco with death. And he has an army and a police force, but it doesn’t help. But You decreed that there is to be no chometz in the houses of your people and without army or police your people comply.” That’s called a working system.

There is much more to say on the subject. I have two tapes in my “Question & Answer” series on the topic. They are available from Long Island NCSY, 516-371-0500. But tell it like it is and let’s remember the next time we want to do something we shouldn’t – people are watching us as representatives of the Torah.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

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Kislev 5761 – Convincing Thsoe Who Don’t Want To Be Convinced

1 Kislev 5761

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I recently met the author of a book about becoming closer to G-d by searching for Him in “uncomfortable and unexpected places.” The author is an ordained Reform Rabbi, a young man in his twenties who identifies himself as a liberal Jew. His first definition of liberal Judaism is that it is “not Orthodox.” He does not believe G-d wrote the Torah and gave it to Moshe at Sinai, and could not succinctly answer why one should bother being Jewish. Judaism and ambiguity are, in his view, inextricably joined. He attended Aish and Ohr Somayach and didn’t like being told there is only one way to do things. If you are an intellectual Jew, he says, you are just as able to offer interpretations as anyone else is. He says he is open-minded and wants an intellectually based answer to the following question: “Prove to me, intellectually, that the Torah is a literal expression of G-d’s will. Why are you intellectually convinced that the Torah is a literal expression of G-d’s will? And basing your answer on ‘tradition’ is not enough.”

A convincing answer to this question, he says, would mean he has to become Orthodox.

Thank you,

Name withheld.

********************************

Dear Friend,

Don’t take the bait. I teach a course in Ohr LaGolah on how to answer basic questions. The most common answer I give is “oh”. That’s because you have to learn to differentiate between a question and an answer. This person isn’t asking a question, he’s giving an answer.

Have you ever heard this one – “No one can prove there’s a G-d! Go ahead! Try to convince me!” What kind of an idiot would try talking to a person who just told them they’re not interested in anything you have to say! Yet people do it all the time. “Nothing you say will convince me” is followed by argument after argument trying to budge someone who already told you that they wouldn’t be convinced!

Whenever someone says to me “No one can convince me” I respond by saying “I agree – no one can convince you. You are clearly so close-minded that it would be a total waste of time to present any intelligent argument to you, since no matter how much evidence a person produces you’ll respond with a smug look and say “see! I’m not convinced!”

Missionaries are a good case in point. They are not interested in hearing your arguments, only in refuting them and selling you their product. Likewise frum people who hang out and party and tell you it’s because they have questions on Judaism. Parties are a poor place to find philosophical answers. The questions are justifications for their behavior.

Now, back to your Reform Rabbi friend. “He attended Aish and Ohr Somayach and didn’t like being told there is only one way to do things”. What an intellectual! Tell me that he examined what they said and found flaws with the arguments and I’d say there was some hope. But he didn’t want to hear that there is one truth! And I’m supposed to prove something to someone like that! He obviously had no problem ignoring all the questions you asked him and the best he could say to describe himself was “Not Orthodox”. That’s an intellectual? Pathetic.

Rather than arguing with people who instead of looking for answers write books about how they can’t find any, you should find something worthwhile to do with your time – like rearranging your sock drawer.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

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Cheshvan 5761 – How To Deal With Friends Who Stray

1 Mar Cheshvan 5761

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I hope that you can help. I have been friends with a girl for several years. I’ll refer to her as “Chava”. Chava and I were very good friends in junior high and high school. At a time, she was frummer than me, having been born into a family whose level of frumkeit is higher than that of my family. Towards the end of high school, I started leaning towards the frummer side, through NCSY and other things. She started heading in the opposite direction. We headed to very different seminaries.

That was last year and now we are both back in chutz la’aretz. Chava has obviously given up on some halachos that were once important to her. The first time I saw her violating a Halacha I mentioned it, but all she did was try to rationalize it. What is there to do or say? She comes from a frum family, she knows better. I wish with all my heart that she would come back to true Torah observance! It pains me to see her doing what we both know is wrong.

My question is regarding my responsibility. Should I continue my friendship with her? I don’t even know if I could part with her. We’ve been friends for many years and our families are very close. I don’t think that it would work if I tried breaking our friendship. So, assuming that I remain friends with her, should I give her mussar? If so, how do I go about that? She has already told me explicitly that she hates being rebuked. I think that any possible attempts on my part could result in a negative outcome and she would only be more turned off to the true way of yiddishkeit.

Thank you,

Name withheld.

Dear Friend,

One of the hardest things for us to handle is that HaKadosh Boruch Hu has granted everyone free will. If only everyone would be reasonable and see things my way (wish is not necessarily your way) life would be so much easier. Alas! People are free to make decisions, often bad decisions and there is nothing we can do about it. And if you think it’s frustrating now, wait till you have kids!

A friend is a friend. Period. If she is stopping you from growing, making fun of you or exerting a negative influence, then there might be a point to breaking off the friendship. But if she’s really a friend, be there for her. She is not going to do what you want because you pull your love and acceptance away. Be a friend. Be interested in her life and her travails and problems. You do not have to voice acceptance of positions you don’t agree with. But neither are you obligated to argue for the truth. The Chazal tell us that it’s a mitzva not to say something that won’t be listened to as much as it’s a mitzva to say something that will be listened to.

Remember what it says in Pirkei Avos – Love that is dependant on something will not stand. You have years invested in this relationship – you don’t throw that away because the person isn’t acting the way you like (unless it’s harming you). I have met too many bitter, hurt people whose friends left them when they changed their behavior. “If you aren’t going to be frum then I can’t be your friend” is a bitter phrase that has burnt the only connection these people had to Yahadus. Don’t make that mistake.

Of course, you don’t have to compromise your values. Meet at places that are suitable to you. Talk about things that you have in common, life, emotions, school, etc. And remember that life is a story that takes decades to play out, not months or years. When I was a chapter advisor in Los Angeles I worked hard to get this one kid involved in the group before I left for New York. The next year he switched to yeshiva. That summer I overheard someone ask him why he decided to go to yeshiva. He said it was because of me! I went over to him and asked, “how could you credit me with sending you to yeshiva. I never mentioned yeshiva to you!” “That was the point” he responded. “You never told us what to do. You were our friend. You talked to us about our lives because you cared. We told you about our problems with school, with our parents and our friends. You offered advice. You were our friend. And make no mistake – we knew what you believed in. We knew what you did in your own life and what choices you had made. We wanted to be like you because you were our friend. And because you went to yeshiva, we wanted to go to yeshiva”.

You don’t know what you can do just by being a friend.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky