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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Why Do Kiruv?

I am a committed Jew. I attend synagogue, support Israel, and volunteer in various capacities to assist the Jewish community. I am content with my contributions, but yet I see others who are much more active in kiruv – reaching out to unaffiliated Jews. Am I missing out on something by not being involved?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The obligations of a Jew to reach out to his alienated brethren are numerous and compelling.

The mitzvahs of "Love your neighbor," "Don’t stand on your brother’s blood," and “tochacha” all underscore the reality of the unity and co-responsibility of all Jews (ar’vus) – and direct us to spare no effort in safeguarding the spiritual well-being of a fellow Jew.

This responsibility was forcefully articulated by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who exhorted all Jews, because of the precarious spiritual state of the Jewish nation, to "tithe” (maser) one-tenth of their time for outreach efforts. Similar appeals were signed by Rabbi Elazar M. Shach, the Steipler Gaon, and Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l.

The Chofetz Chaim too, in his famous 1920s work Chomas Hadaas, emphasized the tremendous obligation upon us to reach out to the unaffiliated Jews and the severity of neglecting this charge. If the Chofetz Chaim was admonishing people to do kiruv in the 1920's, how much more empathetic would he be today!

The Bible itself teaches the importance of this. In the days of Joshua, the entire Jewish nation was held accountable for the mistake of one man. When Achan violated the prohibition against collecting the spoils of the battle of Jericho, the entire nation lost its Divine protection ands suffered enormous casualties. Why?

The Jewish people are one unit. The spiritual health of our collective national body is affected for good or bad by every member; therefore, the destiny of each Jew is inextricably tied with the action of his neighbor. The level of the entire nation and the merit it has earned can come crashing down through the actions of a single person.

The Talmud (Shabbos 55a) recounts a fascinating exchange between God and the angels, which teach us a profound lesson about the depth of our mutual responsibility.

In Ezekiel 9:4, God said to the angel: “Go through Jerusalem and make a mark on the foreheads of the people who cry for all the abominations that have been done there. Mark with ink the foreheads of the righteous, so that the angels of destruction should not attack them. Mark with blood the foreheads of the wicked, so that they should be attacked by the angels of destruction."

The Attribute of Justice said before God, "How is one group different than the other?"

God replied, "One consists of the perfectly righteous, while the other consists of the absolutely wicked."

Justice said, "But the righteous were able to protest and did not do so."

God said, "It is known to Me that even if they would have protested, it would have had no effect.”

Justice replied, "If it is revealed to You, was it then revealed to them?"

Given this, the angels of destruction began with the elders who were in front of the Temple. Even those who kept the entire Torah perished because they did not correct the wicked.

This is the punishment given to a generation about whom God Himself testified could not have succeeded no matter what the effort. How much more so in our generation – when success is clearly within our grasp – if we don't even make the effort!

There is one more mitzvah imperative that makes Jewish outreach so important: Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. Consider the pain of our Father in Heaven, so to speak, who sees all his children going astray. If we are truly sensitive to that pain, we will let nothing stand in the way of fixing it.

We are one people with one destiny. Each of us is responsible for the actions of the other. A handful of people have already made a lasting impact on the problems of apathy and assimilation. If we join together, we will surely merit the power to bring back the entire Jewish nation.

Widows and Orphans: Stop the Suffering

The Torah says (Exodus 22:20-23): "Don't taunt or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt... Don't cause pain to widows or orphans." Why is this so important?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is a natural inclination to pick on the weak. And those who have been weak and picked on are most likely to revenge themselves by picking in turn on others. The Bible warns us to exercise special protection for those incapable of protecting themselves.

People sometimes say they can't believe in God because the world is so full of suffering. But I have found that people who say that are rarely involved in stopping the world's suffering. And the people who are involved in healing the world's suffering rarely talk like that. When your life revolves around yourself, the world is a cold, sterile, and unfriendly place. When your life revolves around giving to others, you feel how wonderful it is to be alive.

Bart Stern, a Holocaust survivor, told me of the time a man in Auschwitz was robbed of his daily ration of bread. Because of the starved and emaciated state of concentration camp inmates, this was tantamount to a sentence of death. Bart gave the man some of his own bread.

He told me, "The many thousands of dollars I've given to tzedaka since the war are nothing compared to that one piece of bread."

Bart had nothing to spare, but he nevertheless found the ability to give. Perhaps because of that, he was one of the gentlest and happiest men I ever knew. Auschwitz didn't make him bitter. It made him better.

Tying Shoelaces

My kids’ shoes are constantly getting untied or getting into knots. During the week I would just tie double knots (they actually wear sneakers with Velcro straps anyway during the week). Are there any issues with doing so on Shabbat?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, as a matter of fact. As we know, the Torah guides us in every aspect of our lives. Tying knots (as well as untying them) is one of the creative labors forbidden on Shabbat (Mishna Shabbat 7:2). Thus, Jewish law instructs us in how to tie our shoes on Shabbat!

The types of knots forbidden on Shabbat are ones which are either strong or long-lasting (Rema 317:1). A double knot is considered strong. A knot is considered “long-lasting” if the one who tied it had in mind that it would last 24 hours or longer. Thus, tying shoes is limited to the type of knot we typically tie – a half knot followed by a double slip knot. As it is easy to pull apart with one hand, it is not considered strong. And since people generally untie their shoes by the end of the day, it is not long-lasting.

A double knot, by contrast, is considered strong – even if the tier intended to untie it within 24 hours, and thus may not be tied on Shabbat.

Finally, you’re allowed to untie knots which formed by accident (Mishnah Berurah 317:23).