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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Tefillin on Top of Bandage

I need to have a minor operation on my left arm next week. It will be bandaged for at least a week afterwards. This is the arm I place my Tefillin on. Am I allowed to place my Tefillin on top of the bandage?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In general, Tefillin must be placed directly against one’s skin (or for the head Tefillin, one’s hair), without anything in between. In a case such as yours where this is impossible, we rely on a minority opinion that Tefillin does not need to be directly against the skin. Thus, you would place your Tefillin on top of the bandage, trying your best to estimate its correct location (Shulchan Aruch 27:5, Mishnah Berurah 17).

Since this is against the majority opinion, there are a few differences in how you should put on your Tefillin:

(a) You should cover up your arm-Tefillin, say with the sleeve of a sweater or jacket. This is a precaution instituted by the Sages so that others won’t see what you’re doing and do so themselves – even when their arm or head is not bandaged (Shulchan Aruch 27:5).

(b) In terms of reciting the blessings on your Tefillin, since most opinions hold that Tefillin must be directly against the skin, you should act as if you are only wearing head-Tefillin. This means that if you are a Sefardi – who generally recites only one blessing on both the arm- and head-Tefillin – “l’hani’ach Tefillin” (and only the second blessing (“al mitzvat Tefillin”) if something goes wrong with the first), you should recite the second blessing only.

If you are Ashkenazi, who normally recites both blessings on both parts of the Tefillin, you should recite both blessings, but only when putting on your head-Tefillin (Shulchan Aruch and Rema, 26:2).

One other point: If the bandage does not cover where the Tefillin box or the knot in the back goes, even if it covers the straps you use to fasten the box, you can wear your Tefillin and recite the blessings as normal (Rema 27:4, Mishnah Berurah 16).

Finally, my wishes that your operation goes smoothly and you merit a speedy recovery!

Blessings on Thunder and Lightning

Yesterday evening a powerful thunderstorm came out of nowhere. I found myself jolted to attention and literally cowering – covering my ears at every blast of thunder. I was curious if the Sages have anything to say about such powerful natural phenomena. Are we to see a purpose in them?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud states it perfectly: “Thunder was created only in order to straighten the crookedness of the heart” (Brachot 59a). As few other phenomena can do, thunder wakes us up and reminds us we have an all-powerful God. Of course, there are always scientific explanations for such natural events. But why did God create them in the first place? To give us that occasional wake-up call.

Many years ago, I was about to do something of questionable legality in Jewish law. Just then the loudest peal of thunder you ever heard struck – and I realized God had me in mind.

Apart from the philosophical perspective, the Sages instituted different blessings to be said both on thunder and lightning. On thunder we say:

“Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, for His strength and power fill the world.”

And on lightning:

“Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, who makes the works of creation.”

Note that we recite a stronger blessing on thunder than on lightning, in that thunder is a much stronger manifestation of God’s might (Mishnah Berurah 227:5).

A few additional rules:

(a) You must begin reciting the blessing immediately (within 1-2 seconds) upon hearing the thunder or seeing the lightning (Shulchan Aruch 227:3). If you weren’t able to start the blessing that soon, you should wait until you observe the next clap of thunder or flash of lightning.

(b) You don’t have to see the bolt of lightning itself to recite a blessing. It’s sufficient to see the sky light up.

(c) We only recite these blessings a maximum of one time a day. The exception is if the sky clears entirely after a storm, and afterwards a new storm appears (Shulchan Aruch 227:2, Mishnah Berurah 8).

(d) We don’t recite a blessing on "heat lightning" – where the sky lights up without thunder (Mishnah Berurah 3).

Taking Codes Seriously

I am impressed by the Torah Codes, but one thing I cannot understand: If they are so amazing and true, why doesn't the whole world take them more seriously? Why aren't people dropping everything and running off to Jerusalem to study in yeshiva?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your question is very logical. But unfortunately most people make decisions based on emotion, not logic. (Any salesman will confirm this.)

Human beings tend to get into a lifestyle mode, where changes are uncomfortable. So we employ a wide variety of rationalizations to convince ourselves why the proposed change is really not worthwhile.

I imagine this is why some people stay in abusive relationships, or continue to work at dissatisfying jobs.

Another reason why some people may not be “open” to hearing the truth of Torah Codes is because science has given us a very satisfactory feeling of being able to understand and control our world. Acknowledging the existence of a Creator demands an investigation of what that Creator wants from us. This has vast implications – such as acknowledging absolute standards of behavior, accepting ultimate responsibility, humbling oneself before an Infinite Being, etc.

We say in the Aleynu prayer, that "You shall KNOW this day, and understand it well in your HEART, that the Almighty is God, in Heaven above and Earth below, there is none other" (Deut. 4:39). This tells us that it is not enough to simply know God in your head, you must also understand it in your heart.

Here's hoping that we all can get our head to speak to our heart, and live with what we intellectually know to be true.