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Recent Questions:

Bar Mitzvah Jitters

My Bar Mitzvah is coming up and I’m freaking out. I know how to read my Haftorah, but I’m afraid I’ll freeze up and forget it all on the big day. It will really embarrass me and my family. What should I do about all this nervousness before the Bar Mitzvah?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Since the Jewish people began, countless numbers of boys have been nervous before their Bar Mitzvah. And do you know what? Somehow they all managed to survive!

I heard a beautiful story that I'd like to share. A boy was very nervous about his upcoming Bar Mitzvah because he would have to read from the Torah in front of everyone. He practiced for months and months, but he was still very nervous.

Finally the big day arrived – and the boy read the Torah 100 percent perfectly!

Afterwards, the rabbi asked the boy how he managed such an impressive performance. The boy replied, "When I first started practicing many months ago, you told me that I will need to read the Torah so clearly that if a blind man were in shul he would be able to follow. I was so nervous when I got up there today, but then I looked around and, lo and behold, a blind man was sitting there with a Braille Bible. I blocked everything else out of my mind and concentrated on reading so that the blind man could follow!"

It seems to me that focusing intently on something will help you not only during the synagogue service, but in the week before your Bar Mitzvah as well. You need to have something else to think about that you find interesting. Whether it's building a rocket ship, or figuring out how you're going to spend your Bar Mitzvah money! Focus on something special and make it your project for the week.

Mazal Tov! We know you'll do great.

(True story from "In the Footsteps of the Maggid" by Rabbi Paysach Krohn. The upshot is that the blind man just happened to be visiting that Shabbos, and had never been in that synagogue before!)

Sanctity of Human Body

You recently referred to the “Bodies” exhibit in which you elucidated your opinion that it flies in the face of the sanctity of the human body. I have trouble fathoming what sanctity there is to the human body any more than any other animal body. I assume you would not take such issue with an exhibit of animal bodies showing their anatomy, and would like to understand why your perspective is so different for humans, necessitating burial and nothing else.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The holiness of the human body can be understood on a few levels. One area the Torah reveals this is in the prohibition to maim or inflict any wound upon the body unnecessarily. Even if one wants to do so, we were not given that license as our bodies were not given to us to do as we want, rather entrusted to us as a sacred trust from the Almighty to use this body owned by Him. This is much as we do not own our children to do with them as we please, but were entrusted with them to help nurture them to grow in their own paths and lives.

The body is said to be a partner with the soul in its struggle to serve God in this world. There isn’t a single mitzvah that the soul can perform without its cohort the body. God purposely set up the world in that way, with animals that are all body, angels that are all soul, and man who is the combination of the two. This is the underlying foundation for the Jewish belief in the eventual Revival of the Dead. That period, also known as “Olam Haba” or the Next World, the final world of the ultimate reward, must first be ushered in by the reunification of the bodies with their souls. Why is this so? Why cannot the souls themselves, which are eternal, receive that reward?

My late mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explained that it is only fair that both partners, the body and the soul, should together share in the final, ultimate bliss which could only come about as the result of their partnership. Since all the mitzvot were performed with the body, the soul could not possible receive that reward alone. This speaks volumes about the way we look at the human body.

The Kabbalistic writings closely connect every limb, muscle and sinew of the human body to a specific mitzvah of the Torah. There are said to be a count of 248 limbs and 365 main sinews of the body, corresponding the 248 positive mitzvot (the “do’s”) and the 365 negative mitzvot (the “don’ts”). Every time a mitzvah is performed, the part of that body which parallels that mitzvah becomes elevated and sanctified.

Throughout the Torah we find God described in human terms: He took us out of Egypt with an “outstretched arm,” His “eyes” are upon us, He “hears” our affliction, etc. This is difficult to understand as it is a core belief of Judaism that God has no physicality.

One answer given by the commentators is that this are anthropomorphisms, meaning just a way for us to have an inkling of what is happened using human experiences we can appreciate and fathom.

The deeper answer given by the Kabbalists is that all that God performs in this world is parallel to similar attributes in the human body. There is a type of “spiritual human body” which is the sum total of all the upper, spiritual worlds. God created the physical human body in sync with all that He wishes to relate and express through His divine providence throughout all of human history. This is an entirely new insight on the loftiness and holiness of the human body; its very essence is nothing less than an expression of Godliness in the world. This is implicit in the verse that man was created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).

This explains the tremendous responsibility we hold to be the proper stewards of the gift of the body we have received, and our obligation to treat it with the proper respect and sanctity it deserves.

Tasting Food

I often need to taste the food I’m preparing to see if it’s ready or seasoned properly. I’m usually not particularly hungry at the time, and I’m not eating to satisfy my hunger, just to see what the food tastes like. Does such tasting require a blessing?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud (Brachot 14a) states that one who tastes food does not recite a blessing (bracha). There is a basic debate in the commentators over what constitutes “tasting”. According to some, “tasting” means any time one eats (and swallows) but only to see what the food tastes like – as in your case – so long as the quantity he consumes is relatively small. Others maintain that only eating without swallowing constitutes “tasting”.

Both opinions are mentioned in Jewish law without resolution (Shulchan Aruch 210:2). Thus, one who eats and swallows to taste would not say a blessing, based on the principle in Jewish law that one does not make a blessing in cases of doubt (Rema there).

However, it is best to avoid this situation so as not to enter a situation of doubt. There are two suggestions offered by the later commentators for doing so:

(a) Taste the food without reciting a blessing on it, and subsequently spit it out.

(b) Recite a blessing first and then taste and swallow the food. You must, however, have in mind that you are not eating only to sample the food, but to enjoy it as well (Mishna Berura 210:19).

As an important aside, even if you’re not especially hungry, if you enjoy the taste of the food you’re eating (assuming you didn’t burn it completely), you may recite a blessing on it. The only person who does not recite a blessing on food is someone who is so stuffed that he feels a revulsion towards eating anything more (Mishna Berura 197:28).

Also, for an excellent overview of the laws of blessings, you might be interested in signing up for the Laws of Blessings course provided by Jewish Pathways.

Sign up today!