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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Being Judgmental of Others

More than once I have come across Jews who I felt looked down upon me for not being as observant as they, and don’t respect me as a Jew. I got the impression I am not a good person in their eyes because I don’t keep the rituals like they do.

Do you feel they have the right to be judgmental?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Unfortunately, there are some Jews who consider themselves observant who are judgmental. This attitude, however, has no source in Judaism, is quite contrary to Jewish teachings, and should be condemned. Judaism teaches that only God has the right and the ability to judge people.

To illustrate: There was once a young man who became the leader of a Chassidic group when his father died an untimely death. The elders approached him and asked how it is possible for such a young man to be the leader of those much older than himself. He answered with a parable. Two men trained for many months to climb a very high mountain. After weeks of climbing, they got to the end of their strength, and stopped to rest on a plateau. They were shocked to see a young boy playing and chasing butterflies. They asked him in amazement, how did you get here?! We spent grueling weeks to arrive at this point, and you are playing here! The boy replied, “My friends, I was born here!”

The point of the story is twofold. It is true that some are born into higher levels of scholarship and piety. However, those who climb the mountain to get to where the others were born are much higher in the eyes of God. They achieved it through their own efforts and toil.

It is possible that one mitzvah performed by a Jew brought up in a secular home is worth a hundred mitzvot performed by a Jew who was born into observance.

The Talmud says that one Jew cannot kill another, even to save his own life. This applies even if you are the most pious of Jews and the other Jew is a thief, a drug addict or even a murderer. The reason, says the Talmud, is that we can never know “whose blood is redder.” There is no way for mortal man to judge another and to know who is considered more dear or valuable in the eyes of God.

The true Torah philosophy of life is to respect every Jew for whom he is, and to leave judgment to the Almighty.

Condescending attitudes are certainly not unique to any particular sect of Jews. You can find the same attitudes, at times, with Republicans to Democrats, or sports fans. It comes from a human need to “be right.”

Our job is to view every Jew as a family member, and every human being as created in the “image of God.” We should learn what we can from everyone. The Jewish Sages expressed it thusly: “There is no man who does not have his place and time.”

Organ Donation

What is the Jewish position on organ donation? I have been told, albeit by someone relatively uneducated, that a Jewish body must be "whole and intact" for Jewish burial. But what confuses me is that, since my father had renal failure and was on dialysis, he was on a waiting list for kidney transplant. Is it then alright for a Jew to accept organs but not to donate them? This question has been on my mind for almost 20 years!

Also, I would like to register as an organ donor so that if, God forbid, I am involved in a fatal accident, I could help someone in the same position as my father. Can something so selfless and caring cause me to lose the mitzvah associated with a Jewish burial? Please explain – because if I am ever called upon to save a life, I want to know that I am doing the right thing.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This is a complex question, and you have articulated the issues well.

The Jewish position on organ donation is as complex as the issue of life and death, because it derives directly from the Jewish perspective on the sanctity of life and the role that our physical existence plays in the advancement of our spiritual selves.

On the one hand, we have a sacred obligation to preserve human life (pikuah nefesh). This is an overriding principle in Jewish law – so important that almost any other law can be broken for this reason. For example, we can break Shabbat to drive an injured person to the hospital.

On the other hand, Jewish law prohibits desecration of a dead body (nivul h’amate). A dead person's body, since it once housed the holy soul, is to be treated with the utmost respect. Every part of the body must be buried – which is why you see the heart-wrenching images of religious Jews dutifully going around after a terrorist bombing, scraping up pieces of flesh and blood for burial.

How do we resolve these two principles?

Organ donation is permitted in the case when an organ is needed for a specific, immediate transplant. In such a case, it is a great mitzvah for a Jew to donate organs to save another person's life.

Organ donation is not necessarily limited to dead people: Someone who can afford to spare a kidney, for example, may donate one to someone in need. (See an inspiring account here: http://www.aish.com/sp/so/48937647.html)

Yet in consideration of the prohibition against desecrating the body, it is forbidden to simply donate to an "organ bank," where there is no specific, immediate recipient.

Furthermore, it is also forbidden to donate for general medical research or for students to dismember in medical school.

Even when there is a specific, immediate transplant, there is need for caution, because oftentimes in order to obtain organs as fresh as possible, a doctor will remove the organ before the patient is actually "dead" according to Jewish law. The doctor is therefore effectively killing the patient, which is, of course, forbidden. (For more on this, see www.jlaw.com/Articles/brain.html)

The bottom line is that each case is different. A myriad of considerations must be reviewed. So before gong ahead with any procedure, consult with a rabbi well-versed in Talmud and Jewish law. It is clearly not as simple as blankly signing an organ donation card.

(Sources: Nodeh BiYehuda II Y.D. 210; Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:174; Minchas Yitzhak 5:7; Tzitz Eliezer 10:25; "Judaism and Healing" by Rabbi J. David Bleich.

Overcoming Depression

I have a good job at a bank. I have good friends, a loving family, and enough money. But I'm depressed! I lost substantial client funds in the currency markets over the last six months. I was always good at this business and since this has occurred, I feel so rotten and sad all the time. Can you help?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I understand why you feel this way, despite the fact that these people knew there was a chance they could lose money.

The fact that you feel bad is an indication of your fine character.

One of the ways to emotionally cope with distressing events is to learn a positive message from it.

Perhaps one of the positive things that can be learned from this is how everything really is in the hands of God. Who in truth can guarantee that anyone will make money, being that God runs the world?

The word "Baruch," which means "bless" in Hebrew, is similar to the word "Berech" which means knee. Based on this, our Sages teach that to bring blessing to the world, we must be able to acknowledge that all is God's, and "bend our knees" to Him. Indeed, this is the purpose of prayer, to reinforce the awareness that we are dependent on God and humble ourselves before Him.

So I think you need to work at accepting that this mistake/setback happened, and focus on asking how you can channel this into positive energy to grow and mature.

Beyond this, there could be a number of reasons why you are unhappy. It may be something as simple as diet or something more complicated, such as a chemical imbalance that must be treated with medication.

In general, depression is a function of lack of meaningful activity. If we feel like we have a purpose in life, and are making a contribution, then our self-esteem rises (and we also have less time to be bored). Have you tried a community service project, perhaps helping the less fortunate? This can be a good channel for your energies, and will give you a real sense of value and contribution.

Another common cause of depression is unrealized goals. It could be there is something that you really want to achieve, but have been avoiding for one reason or another. Ask yourself:

What are my goals? Am I achieving them? If not, why not? Are the goals realistic? Are my methods for achieving them realistic?

Try that for starters.

You also need to think about "happiness" in general. Try to manufacture for yourself some "happy pills." By this I mean thinking of two or three things that can instantly make you happy, no matter what the circumstances. It may be the fact that you are Jewish, or that you have a best friend, or that you have eyes to see with. Keep these handy in the back of your mind, to draw upon whenever you're feeling down. The lift that you'll get from thinking about these should be able to pull you out of the doldrums and energize you to move on.

Final advice: Pray that God will help you overcome the problems you are experiencing. He is here and wants to help!