Recent Questions
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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

What is a Man?

I was born and raised on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. It appears that in the Western world, a "man" is expected to be macho, keep up with the latest fashion, smoke, drink alcohol, be a womanizer, etc. But experience has shown me that there is something wrong with this definition.

Could you please give me a Jewish definition of what it means to be a "man"?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In Hebrew, one of the words for "man" is "gever."

"Gever" comes from the same root as "gavar," which means to overcome or conquer. (Similarly, the Hebrew word for hero is "gibor.")

So a true man is one who overcomes. But overcomes what?

The Talmud (Avot 4:1) says: "Who is a 'gibor,' a mighty man? He who conquers his evil inclination."

To explain: The evil inclination is the desire within each human being to follow physical passions. In other words, the desire to smoke, drink, eat and "be a womanizer" (as you put it).

Life is full of challenges in these areas. No matter what level we're on, there is always a new test awaiting us. Because the reason for our being here in the first place is to grow by overcoming these challenges.

Of course, we need to engage in the physical world. But we should not do so for its own sake; rather we infuse our physical experiences with an eye toward a higher, spiritual goal.

Ironically, one who overcomes the temptation to "be a man" according to Western standards, is the true man according to Jewish standards!

Circumcision Suction

I was at a Bris Milah ceremony and the mohel used his mouth to draw blood from the infant's wound. Is this oral contact sanctioned by Jewish tradition?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The process you describe is called "metzitzah," whereby the mohel suctions out some blood from the wound area, so that it does not become infected. This process is considered essential for the baby's health, and may be performed even on Shabbat (Talmud – Shabbat 133b). Further, there are kabbalistic reasons why this suction is part of the circumcision process. ("Orach Chaim" to Leviticus 12:3, echoing "Tikunei Zohar")

However, when there is a problem of health risk (AIDS, VD, etc.), which is contagious and transferable through an open wound, the suction is done through a glass tube. (source: "Har Tzvi," by Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Y.D. 214)

Blue Tallit Stripes

Why is a particular blue color associated with Judaism? For example the Israeli flag, and the stripes on the tallit.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You're very perceptive to have connected the two! The Israeli flag's blue stripes are in fact based on the stripes of the tallit. How so?

In the third paragraph of the Shema prayer (Numbers 15:37-41), the Jewish people are instructed regarding the tzitzit, the strings tied to each corner of any four-cornered garment. In this paragraph we are told that one of the strings should be dyed blue.

The color of the blue dye is similar to the color of a clear sky. The purpose of the dyed string therefore is to remind us that God in Heaven is watching, and our actions should reflect that realization.

The blue in the Israeli flag is based on the blue string in the tzitzit. The stripes on the flag are based on the stripes found on the tallit.

David Wolffsohn (1856–1914), a businessman prominent in the early Zionist movement, was aware that the nascent Zionist movement had no official flag. He writes about preparations for the Zionist Congress: "What flag would we hang in the Congress Hall? Then an idea struck me. We have a flag — and it is blue and white. The talit with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this talit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations. So I ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted upon it. That is how the national flag, that flew over Congress Hall, came into being."

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