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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Cursed Ground

Following the disobedience of Adam and Eve, they are given a punishment, and the serpent is cursed for its role in tempting Eve. My question is: Why does God also curse the ground, which seemingly played no role in the affair?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

On the third day of the world's creation, God commanded: "Let the earth sprout vegetation, herbs that give out seeds and TREE FRUIT that grows fruit according to its type" (Genesis 1:10).

The simplest way to understand the words "tree fruit" is that they are actually "TREES that yield FRUIT," but the Torah doesn't write it that way! There is a secret behind the words. According to Rashi (11th century France), God commanded that the tree should taste exactly like its fruit. Can you imagine? That means when you were hungry, you would just walk over to a tree - and tear off a piece of bark which would be just as delicious as the fruit!

On a deeper level, what Rashi means that "the tree would taste like the fruit," is that a person's labor would be as pleasurable as the fruits of his labor. For example, let's say that your boss asked you to write a 30-page stock analysis within 24 hours, or you would be fired. So you go toil and sweat, break down in tears from the pressure, and cry out in your agony "This report is killing me!" But in the end, after all the hard work has subsided, you can sit back and enjoy all the fruits of you labor, having just been made partner in the company.

So although labor is very difficult (something like eating tree bark!), in reality the struggle, the pain, the tears, and the cries should be as pleasurable as the fruit. Hence God's command that the tree should taste like fruit.

Unfortunately, the land disobeyed God's command and grew trees whose bark did not taste like its fruit. As it says, "The earth sprouted vegetation, with herbs that gave out seeds, and TREES that made FRUIT" (Genesis 1:11). Note that the verse doesn't say, "tree fruit" - i.e. trees whose taste are like its fruit. Because of this, God punished the earth when he punished Adam.

Shabbat Hospitality

I bought a plane ticket to fly around the world. The ticket is good for one year. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My concern is how I will find the Jewish community in each place, especially for Shabbat and holidays. Any ideas?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Welcoming guests, especially fellow Jews trying to observe Shabbat, is a tremendous mitzvah. Both the guest and the host benefit. Recently, friends of mine took a trip to Anchorage, Alaska and were pleasantly surprised to find people there only too happy to welcome him and his family.

In the USA, www.shabbat.com helps connect guests and hosts using pictures, profiles, maps and locations from around the world.

For a complete listing of synagogues and Shabbat hospitality around the world, there is an excellent book called "The Jewish Travelers' Resource Guide" compiled by Jeff Seidel's Jewish Student Information Center. See it online at www.makshivim.org

Baal Teshuva Under Attack

I recently became a baal teshuva and on my first trip back home, my friends and family started peppering me with questions: Why do I do this, and why do I do that? I'm really new to this, and I could not answer many of the questions. So now I am having doubts about whether all of this is really true.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are not the first to experience this. But there's a simple method to help you handle it.

When someone asks you a question, it is important to distinguish between a question which merely addresses a detail of your observance (e.g.: “Why do you salt the bread at the Shabbat table?") versus a question that attacks the very foundation of your observance (e.g.: “How do you know that God spoke at Mount Sinai?").

In the first case, the proper response is: "Judaism is so rich with customs and traditions, and I haven't had the opportunity to learn the deeper reasons behind everything. But that’s a great question and I am going to do some research and get back to you – and then we'll both know the answer!"

In the second case - a foundational question - if you don't have a decent answer, then perhaps you may want to sit with a rabbi and discuss the issue in-depth. For although "evidence" is not a prerequisite for belief in the veracity of Torah, in today's day and age, with so many people trying to attack religion, it is wise to have a solid intellectual basis for one's belief. And given that Judaism is very, very solid in the area of rational basis for belief, it's a good idea to have that knowledge clear.

I hope this helps.