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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Evolution – Who Cares?

There’s so much talk about whether God created the world or whether it evolved by chance. But I’m wondering: What difference does it make how this all came about anyhow?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The difference is simple yet profound: If world is accident, then we are, too. And if we’re an accident, then there's no purpose to our creation. Life is random, not meaningful.

If we are just a random collection of molecules, should we have any more respect for a human being than we do for a dog? Should we save a drowning dog or a drowning stranger? Is it acceptable to label a race of people sub-human and to enslave or kill them all? And what difference does it ultimately make anyhow?!

The Torah says that God blew into Adam a spiritual soul (Genesis 2:7). Man is not just a smart monkey. Man is a qualitatively different creation. This "spiritual consciousness" separates man from all other creatures, enabling us to sanctify life and get close to God.

Maimonides writes: "As long as you are occupied with the mathematical sciences and the technique of logic, you belong to those who walk around the palace in search of the gate. When you complete your study of the natural sciences and then get a grasp of the metaphysics, you enter into the inner courtyard and are in the same house as [God the King]."

It matters because the essence of life is that we have a higher purpose, more than just consuming hamburgers and fashion and iPods. Those things can be useful tools to get us where we want to go, but we have to know where to go!

Egyptian Children Punished for Parents' Sins?

In the Book of Exodus, God indicates that He will slay all the Egyptian first-borns if Pharaoh will not allow the Israelites to leave. Why should the son suffer for the sins of the father? This contradicts the normal concepts of justice and Jewish law. Please explain.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In one place, the Torah says "...each man shall die for his own sins" (Deut. 24:16), while in the Ten Commandments it says the opposite: that God "counts the sins of the fathers on the sons." (Exodus 20:5)

The Talmud explains the distinction: Children are only held accountable for their parents' misdeeds only when they perpetuate those bad actions. (Actually, the children can be held even more accountable than the parents because a bad behavior which continues for more than one generation deepens the damage to society.)

Accordingly, all the Egyptians were punished in the Ten Plagues because they participated in mistreating the Jews. Although it appeared as if Pharaoh was solely responsible for the slavery, in truth the suffering and humiliation the Jews suffered would not have been possible without collective agreement, and a national effort on the part of all Egyptians.

As for the first-born, given their influential position within the family they bear more responsibility, and were subject to an especially strong punishment.

By the way, someone who carries on their parents' bad values – but never had the opportunity to learn otherwise – is not held accountable.

(Sources: Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b; Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Exodus 20:5)

The Holocaust: Why?

The pain and tragedy of the Holocaust is so enormous and unfathomable. Why did it happen?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The bottom line is that we do not know why tragedy happens. In Exodus 33:13, Moses asks God, "Make Your ways known to me." The commentators explain that there are "50 Gates of Wisdom," and Moses had reached the 49th Gate. This means that only one aspect of existence was still unknown to him. And which was that? The issue of "why bad things happen to good people." So what was God's answer? "This is the one thing that no human can ever comprehend." (see Exodus 33:20)

However, Judaism provides us with some approaches and insights. Try reading:

Also, "Why the Jews" is an excellent online seminar examining the deeper roots of anti-Semitism.