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Recent Questions:

Life's Big Picture

My credo in life has always been: Work hard, plan, and struggle. Yet I find that things often just end up a big mess. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. How can the pieces of this puzzle possibly fit together?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The premise for this question comes from a certain lack of perspective. Somehow we imagine that the world began when we're born, and ends when we die. Everything that happened beforehand is lumped together as "ancient history." If I can't understand it today, then it must not make sense at all.

The following story has a very deep message:

There once was a farmer who owned a horse. One day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a bad thing and maybe it's not."

A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by 20 other horses. (Apparently he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: "Now you have a stable full of horses!" "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a good thing and maybe it's not."

A few days later, the farmer's son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son's leg. All the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a bad thing and maybe it's not."

A few days later, the government declared war and instituted a draft of all able-bodied young men. They came to the town and carted off hundreds of young men, except for the farmer's son who had a broken leg. "Now I know," said the farmer, "that it was a good thing my horse ran away."

The point of this story is obvious. Life is a series of events, and until we've reached the end of the series, it's hard to know exactly why things are happening. That's one reason the Torah commands us to give respect to every elderly person - because through the course of life experience, they have seen the jigsaw puzzle pieces fall into place.

It is interesting that one of the weekly Torah portions, "Miketz," ends on a bad note, and is then resolved at the beginning of the following week. Why didn't the Torah simply extend "Miketz" a few verses and have it end good? Because the Torah wants to communicate the lesson that we don't always see the whole picture. More than any other Biblical account, the story of Joseph illustrates the lesson "that everything turns out good in end." In order to drive home this lesson, the Torah makes us wait one week to find out the ending!

The truth is that we are here on Earth for short time. We do not see the "Big Picture." We don't know all the details that happened before we were here, and we certainly don't know what will happen after we're gone. It is unfair to take a single event out of context. Why did it happen? We might not see the answer immediately; we might not even see in our lifetime.

In truth, it is often when things look the most grim that they then turn around. The night is at its absolute darkness just moments before the first rays of morning sun begin to illuminate the sky.

In the morning prayer service, we say, "Blessed are You, God, Who forms light and creates darkness..." Judaism says that the darkness is not a negative, but rather is a necessary step along the path toward light. Only because of our limited perception, do we perceive the darkness as an end unto itself.

A seed, when placed in the ground, is in a dark, cold and dirty place. The seed then begins to decay. To the onlooker, it looks like death. And then, at the very moment that the seed has completely broken down, something miraculous happens. It begins to sprout.

Think about your life, your career, your relationships with others and with God. Was the process smooth? In general, have you experienced greater growth when times have been tough or when times have been smooth?

From the darkness comes light.

Yahrtzeit – 2 Adars

My mother passed away on 10 Adar of a year with only a single Adar. I see this year is a leap year with two Adars. On which one do I observe the yahrtzeit?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are different customs for this. Some see the second Adar as the primary one, as we celebrate Purim on the second. Others see the first Adar as the “actual” month of “Adar,” with the second Adar not being “Adar” but “Adar 2.” There is also the consideration that we should not “pass by” a mitzvah when it arrives by skipping the first Adar and only commemorating the second.

In practice, the custom of Sephardi Jews is to observe the yahrtzeit on the second Adar. Ashkenazi Jews should preferably observe both days – to light the yahrtzeit candle, recite Kaddish and fast if they are able. If, however, this is difficult, only the first Adar is observed (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 568:7 with Rema and Mishnah Berurah 41-2).

If a person's parent passed away during an Adar of a year with two Adars, then in subsequent years with two Adars only the Adar in which he passed away is observed as the yahrtzeit.

Shabbos Goy

My husband and I are Christians and our neighbors are Orthodox Jewish. Sometimes on any given Saturday, our neighbors knock on our door and ask us to turn on the air conditioning, etc. We've always helped them out, not understanding the full reasoning behind this tradition.

We have a good relationship with them but we are curious as to how they must view us. Why is it okay for them to ask us to "work" during their Sabbath? Do they then consider us inferior because we are doing these neighborly favors?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are describing a phenomenon which is colloquially called a “Shabbos Goy.”

In essence, your neighbors should not be asking you to do things for them, which they themselves are not allowed to do on Shabbat. This is a Talmudic principle, as derived from the Torah which states that on Shabbat, "creative activity should not BE DONE for you" - i.e. even if you are only asking someone else to do it.

The only exceptions are: when there is a commandment to be fulfilled, great monetary loss, or a health-related situation. Air conditioning is considered health-related, because if things get too hot, people (especially the elderly, etc.) could faint or be exposed to other dangers.

Even in the above-mentioned cases, a Jew is only allowed to ask a non-Jew to do a rabbinic-level action. (Mishnah Berurah 307:19-24)

They certainly do not consider you inferior. Rather it is simple pragmatics: they are obligated in observing Shabbat laws that you are not. You can consider it a great kindness to be helping them out, just as any good neighbor would.

In recent times, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Martin Scorsese, and an adolescent Elvis Presley assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.

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