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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Prayer Book

I've been having a strong desire to pray every day. I've been basically making up my own prayers. But I figure I should probably see what the traditional Jewish prayer book has to offer. (After all, it has served us well for millennia.) Is there are particular edition that you can recommend?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

As far as commentary and instruction on Jewish prayer, nothing comes close to the ArtScroll Siddur (artscroll.com). The prayers are translated into modern English by top-rate Jewish scholars, who understand the subtleties of the Hebrew language and have a great knowledge of Talmudic sources.

More than just a text of the prayers, this includes full explanations of all prayers, laws and customs. It features a masterful essay on the essence of prayer. It includes special prayers for the holidays and lifecycle events.

The ArtScroll Siddur also comes in a transliterated version. And there is also an amazing "inter-linear" edition which enables you to pray in the original Hebrew, while following along the English translation.

See it online at: http://www.artscroll.com/siddur.htm

Announcing a Pregnancy

I just found out recently that I am expecting. As an only child, I am anxious to tell my parents of the upcoming good news. However, I know people often wait a few months first. Is there any such requirement in Jewish law?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are no specific laws and customs in Jewish law for not announcing a pregnancy. Many have a practice not to tell anyone till the end of the first trimester – when the mother-to-be is beginning to show. The reason for this is presumably ayin hara – “evil eye” – a concern that drawing too much attention to one’s blessings will elicit the jealous stares of others. Such jealous stares can be harmful. When a person publicizes his blessings and arouses the envious notice of others, it invokes the attention of the Heavenly court as well. And this causes one’s judgment to be revisited: Does he really deserve this blessing which has engendered the ill-will of others?

Thus, although there is no specific law about not notifying others of a pregnancy, many try to be quiet about it – as we should be with all our blessings. This is certainly the case during the first trimester when most people would not know about it otherwise – and when the pregnancy is at its most precarious.

Nevertheless, since your parents would feel nothing but joy over the news, there is certainly no reason to withhold it from them for very long. Personally, we used to wait until the doctor detected a heartbeat – when we felt the news was a little more certain.

And finally, mazal tov! My wishes that the pregnancy and birth go smoothly and joyously.

Pinking on Drurim

If it is so good to get drunk on Purim, why not do it all the time?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews went from being the target of annihilation, to being the heroes and victors. It was a miraculous 180-degree shift in fortune. We learn from here that even though it may be hard to see God in the world, even when things look really bad, in some way it has to be for the best. Because there is a beneficent God behind everything, manipulating events for our good.

So what does this all have to do with drinking?

When we drink, we loosen our reliance on physical senses - and our souls are freer to transcend limitations and feel the Oneness of God and the universe. We see that everything is part of God's "grand eternal plan" - where ultimately Haman is punished and Mordechai is rewarded. There is indeed ultimate justice.

That's why the Talmud (Megillah 7a) says that "A person should drink on Purim until the point where they can't tell the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." We drink to the point where we can't intelligently debate which aspect of God's revelation is greater. Because in truth, it's all the same.

On Purim, we wear costumes and perform skits - mocking our hang-ups, idiosyncrasies, and worries. We attack the source of our debilitating anxiety - and laugh about how silly it really is!

So why don't we drink all the time? Because while alcohol can help a Jew lose inhibitions and get closer to God, this is only the beginning. Performance of mitzvahs require a clear mind and steady hand. On Purim, we try to jump-start a process which will carry us through the rest of the year.

By the way, on Purim one should not become so drunk that he will be negligent in performing mitzvahs, since it is improper to pray if one is "unfit to stand before the King."

To learn more, go to http://www.aish.com/h/pur/