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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Self Discovery

I grew up in the United States and at around age 20 became disillusioned with society. I just felt that the materialism and commercialism was breeding too much greed and corruption. So I have been traveling the world, looking for an alternative lifestyle that fits my more utopian view. Since I'm Jewish, I figured I'd run this all by a rabbi and see what you have to say.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts. I'd like to share with you an episode that occurs in the Bible (Genesis 12:1):

God appears to Abraham and commands him: "Go to yourself" ("Lech Lecha") - away from your country, your relatives, and your father's house." God is telling Abraham that in order to become truly great, he must "cut the umbilical cord," and embark on a journey of growth and self-discovery - away from the familiar routine.

It's all too easy to get caught up in a rut of peer pressure - old friends, old habits, overbearing parents. When I was growing up, a friend of mine always wanted to be a lawyer. But his parents wanted him to be a doctor, so they could say, "My son the doctor." He insisted on becoming a lawyer, they insisted he become a doctor. The pressure became so great that he went through 10 years of medical school just to satisfy his parents. (Upon completion, he went to law school, then combined the two fields and became a malpractice attorney.) But the point is that he didn't have the strength to break away and live his own life.

The first question each of us must ask is: Where does my "life philosophy" stem from? Is it essentially a Greek approach to life? Roman? Eastern? Jewish? Imagine if you had been born into a family of Muslim fundamentalists in Iran - what would you be doing with your life today?" (Because if you don't ask this question, chances are quite good you'd be a Muslim fundamentalist!)

As God told Abraham: "Go to yourself - away from your country, your relatives, and your father's house."

Everyone has to go through this process. There are no exceptions. I once spoke with a famous rabbi who revealed to me the secret of his greatness. He said: "My grandfather founded one of the biggest yeshivas of modern time. My father succeeded him as head of this yeshiva. Growing up, I was surrounded by the very best that Judaism could offer. I studied with the top scholars, I had access to immense libraries of Torah books, and I grew up in a home that was in effect the center of Jewish communal life. I had it all. But at the same time, I felt like it wasn't mine. I had been given it, but I hadn't acquired it."

He continued: "So when I was 18, I made a decision to undergo a thorough process of self-examination. I took all of Jewish thought and practice, and emptied myself of it. Metaphorically, I put it on the table so I could look at it. I looked at Shabbos, for example, and asked myself: "What is this? How do I relate to it? What do I, and what do I not, like about it? What aspects don't I understand?"

He continued: "During this process I did not stop observing the mitzvahs. But I needed to grow up and become my own person. I repeated this process with all realms of Torah. It took years. But now I know who I am, and more importantly, why."

We all sense the need to go through such a process. Perhaps this is how the tradition began in America of going away for four years to university. It gives us the flexibility to experiment with different ideas and lifestyles, without having to be under the constant scrutiny of family and friends. It is an opportunity to discover who we really are. (Tragically, however, those four years are often spent more on partying than on serious self-examination.)

In the Bible, God suggested to Abraham where he as a Jew could experience this best: Israel. There is a certain history, spirituality and weightiness about the land that puts things into perspective and makes life real.

So as you travel around the world, looking for that special spark that speaks to your soul, I suggest that you visit Israel. While you're here, stop into Aish in Jerusalem to hear a few lectures (http://israel.aish.com/essentials/). I also highly recommend attending a Discovery seminar. This provides an excellent framework and overview of the entire gamut of Jewish history and philosophy, and answers the questions, "Why Be Jewish," "Does God Exist," and "Is Torah True?" The seminar is given every Sunday in the Old City of Jerusalem. (www.aish.com/dis/)

Comforting Mourners

How do I speak to my brother who just lost his 12-year-old son in an accident? He and his wife are devastated and I want to make sure I choose the right words.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Bible tells about Job who suffered terrible afflictions – he lost his home, his family died, and he was stricken with disease. When Job's friends came to console him, they stayed for an entire week without saying anything. They simply sat there and empathized.

So instead of thinking about what you can say to your brother, just try to feel what he is feeling. That will communicate much deeper than words. Because in truth, there probably are no words that can console him – at least not while the tragedy is so fresh.

This approach is codified in Jewish law, which says that when you go visit a mourner, you should not speak until the mourner says something first. Just wait until they say something and then try to be as understanding as possible. Let them express how they feel.

In addition, try to help out with everyday things like cooking, shopping, etc. Doing so will relieve them of any distractions, and enable them to fully process their grief.

For more, see "A Practical Guide to Paying a Shiva Call" - http://www.aish.com/jl/l/dam/48970361.html

May your family know no more sorrow.

Why Not Milk & Meat?

I love cheeseburgers, but I always feel guilty that it’s not a “good Jewish food.” What is behind this whole idea of not mixing milk and meat?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah commands us: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:6). The Torah forbids eating meat and milk in combination, and even forbids the act of cooking them together (as well as deriving benefit from such a mixture). As a safeguard, the Sages disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the same meal, or preparing them with the same utensils. Therefore, a kosher kitchen must have two separate sets of pots, pans, plates and silverware – one for meat/poultry and the other for dairy foods.

Even more, one must wait up to six hours after eating meat products before eating dairy products. However, meat may be eaten following dairy products (with the exception of hard cheese, which also requires a six-hour interval). Prior to eating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food and the mouth must be rinsed.

One possible explanation for this separation is that meat represents the finite, physical body, which ultimately ends up in death. Milk, on the other hand, is the quintessential life-giving force, the substance through which a mother can sustain her infant. Milk, therefore, can be compared to spirituality, which sustains our connection with the ultimate, eternal life.

Judaism wants us to be aware on every level of the difference between that which leads to life and that which leads to death. Even though we must nourish our physical bodies – indeed, God allows us to eat meat alone in order that our bodies be healthy – we must not mix in milk. We must never make our physical bodies the goal of living. We must never blur the difference between the physical, mortal world, and the world which is our ultimate goal, the world of spirituality, of eternal life. That is why meat and milk must remain separate.

Maimonides (12th century Spain) offers a rational view that ancient idolaters had the practice of mixing meat and milk together for ritual purposes. In order not to appear as if we are involved in pagan worship, the Torah forbids bringing these two items together.

There is yet a third approach. Why does the Torah use such strong imagery in the verse, "Do not cook a kid in its MOTHER'S milk"? The Rashbam (12th century France) explained that although there is nothing wrong with slaughtering animals in order to eat them, the Torah wants us to realize that there are certain acts, such as boiling a lamb in its mother's milk, which engender cruelty.