I'm a big fan of Matisyahu, the chassidic reggae singer. What is the origins of his name?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Matisyahu (also pronounced, Matityahu) is known from the Chanukah story as the father of Judah the Maccabee. During the second century BCE, the Jewish community was divided in response to the Greek appeal for assimilation. Some saw assimilation as a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. In general, two camps polarized: the Jewish assimilationists (called Hellenists) on one side, and the religious community on the other.
The matter came to a head in a small village called Modi'in, not far from Jerusalem. Greek soldiers came one day and demanded that the Jews sacrifice a pig to the pagan god. At first, no one stepped forward and the Jews stood in proud defiance of their pagan oppressors. But then a Jewish Hellenist volunteered to perform the mock offering.
Furious at this outrage, Matisyahu, from the family of Hasmonian priests, killed the man on the spot and then killed the soldiers who were present. Matisyahu and his five sons fled to the nearby caves and became the core of a guerrilla fighting unit. Led by Matisyahu's son Judah, they fought to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism - battling the Greeks not only militarily, but religiously as well.
In the end, we know who prevailed! It was, in the words of the singer Matisyahu, "a miracle!" (see http://vimeo.com/17369323)
I know that Judaism believes in the afterlife, but in reading the Torah I did not see any mention of that. You would think such major, essential, fundamental ideas would be openly stated. Where is this discussed?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Maimonides writes (Teshuva 8:1) that we know of this from the Torah's statement in Deuteronomy 22:7: "You will have good and your days will be long." Without the traditional interpretation we could think it is just promising long life in this world. Elsewhere, Maimonides also mentions Numbers 24:17-18 and Deuteronomy 30:3-5.
The afterlife is discussed in detail in the Talmud, Sanhedrin Chapter 11.
Another source for the afterlife is logic: The soul, which is spiritual and therefore cannot die or decay, existed in the “world of souls” before the body was “born,” and will continue to exist after.
The reason the afterlife is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, is because the purpose of earthly existence is to do good in this world, to give the soul a chance to elevate itself. To the extent we make the right "spiritual" choices (e.g. give charity, care for others, pray, study Torah) is the extent that we become sensitive to the spiritual reality of God. This attunes our soul to appreciate the pure spirituality of the eternal afterlife.
The famous book Path of the Just explains that the purpose of life is to enjoy God's radiance. Rabbi Noah Weinberg explains that this refers to the pleasure we get in this world from doing good. The eternal reward will come of its own accord, providing that we do good in this world. Further, the eternal reward is perhaps too intangible to be an effective motivator.
Finally, the ultimate reason for serving God and doing His mitzvot is so that we can become close to God, love and admire His essence. Thus, we should serve God whether or not there is a reward or punishment, either here or in the afterworld. (source: Maimonides - Mishnah Sanhedrin 10; Chatam Soffer Y.D. 356)
I am not Jewish, but I frequently hear the words "Mazal Tov" at a wedding or on television. What is the origin of this expression?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Mazal is the astrological influence that a person is born under. The Talmud (Shabbat 156a) discusses what has a greater influence on a person: the day of the week (with attributes based on the days of creation), or the planetary sign. This influence is a spiritual flow that God has set into creation (and it is not any independent power, God forbid).
That is why we wish people "mazal tov" - literally that they should have a "good mazal."
On the other hand, the same piece of Talmud states the concept of "ain mazal l'Yisrael" - that Jews are not bound by any astrological influence, and are able to override any predetermined astrological pattern.
In Jewish thinking, a person's whole future is mapped out in the stars, and for one who knows how, reading the stars is like reading a book of the future. It is, however, forbidden for a Jew to read the stars or listen to someone who can do so. The Torah tells us that God took Abraham and lifted him "above the stars." Abraham was able to have a child at age 100, with his 90-year-old wife Sarah that had no womb! A Jew, God told Abraham, should be "above the stars." The message is that the stars would have no influence on Abraham or his future descendents.
The Talmud cites the example of Rebbe Akiva's daughter, whose mazal indicated that she would die young. However, the tragedy was averted by her involvement in Torah and mitzvot, specifically doing kind deeds. (At her wedding celebration, she took time out to tend to the poor people; the snake that was destined to bite her was killed instead.)
By elevating herself, she literally changed her human nature, and thus the original mazal-influence no longer applied.
Our horoscopes are only as true as we allow them to be. Unfortunately, it is much easier to go through life on automatic pilot. Life can go where the stars say it will, or where we want it to go. The choice is entirely ours.
So you see, while we wish people good "mazal" (i.e. their "default" influence from above), we also strive to change and improve that influence.