Recent Questions
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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Half-Shekel Equality

Before Purim, the rabbi put out a plate and told everyone to give a half-shekel (or its local equivalent). I understand this was done in the times of the Tempe to purchase public offerings. But what is its relevance today?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

When the Torah instructs every Jew to donate one Half-Shekel annually, the law is that everyone must give exactly the same amount. Nobody is allowed to give more than one Half-Shekel - even if they are wealthy and want to give more!

Why is it forbidden for anyone to give more?

The answer is that in God's grand plan, every Jew is equally valuable. If one person is born with physical strength and becomes a brick-layer, while another is born with a sharp mind and becomes a brain surgeon, each makes his own important contribution to society. Neither should feel any more or less valuable than the other. It is a mistake to think that being born with more talent somehow makes a person better. The Talmud says that the only thing we earn is our good name and character. Everything else is a gift. In the words of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, true self-esteem comes from focusing on your spiritual growth, not on superficial signs of status. Because no one person's "package" is inherently better than another.

The story is told of the great Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th century Jerusalem), who asked his congregation to delay the evening prayers until the street sweeper arrived. Said Rabbi Auerbach: "This man is devoted and committed to his work, and takes pride in the contribution he makes to Jewish life. I wish I had such pure intentions in my own work!"

Yet we are still left with another question: Why does the Torah command everyone to give a Half-Shekel - why not a whole shekel?

The answer is that the Jewish people are an indivisible unit and we cannot achieve our goals without each other. The Kabbalists explain that just as 600,000 Jewish souls stood at Mount Sinai, so too there are 600,000 letters in the Torah (including the white spaces between letters). Because just as a Torah scroll is invalid if even a single letter is missing, so too the Jewish people are handicapped if even one Jew has fallen away from our people.

Every Jew is crucial, an indivisible part of the whole. This is why it is so important to reach out to fellow Jews who may be estranged from their heritage. We try to bring them back - not only for their own sake - but also for the sake of the Jewish nation which is suffering from their absence. In this way, the idea of the Half-Shekel is as relevant today as it was in the time of Moses!

Peyos - Sidelocks

What is the meaning of the long curls worn by religious Jewish men?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah says, "You shall not round off the peyos of your head" (Leviticus 19:27). The word peyos refers to sideburns. The exact definition of sideburns refers to the hair in front of the ears that extends to underneath the cheekbone which is level with the nose (Talmud – Makkot 20a). The Talmud explains that this law only applies to men, not to women.

Maimonides explains that the prohibition of "rounding" prohibits the complete removal of the sideburns, by any means. However, it is permitted to trim the sideburns, even very close to the skin, using scissors.

Even though sideburns are enough to satisfy the Torah requirement of peyos, many Jews grow their peyos long as a way of emphasizing the commandment (peyos sounds like pious, right?!), or simply of Jewish identification. Some will curl their peyos, while others while tuck them behind their ear. It's just a matter of individual taste, or communal custom.

Hair is also a symbol of vanity, a preoccupation of how one looks. The prohibition against cutting off the peyos reminds a person that he shouldn't overrate his looks when wishing to express himself, rather he should depend on intellect and good character. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 19th century Germany)

From a mystical perspective, peyos separate between the front part of the brain which is used for abstract thought (i.e. spirituality), and the back part of the brain that governs the body.

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.

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