Recent Questions
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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Driving to Synagogue on Shabbat

I enjoy attending synagogue services on Shabbat, but the rabbi told me that it's better to pray at home than to violate a prohibition of Shabbat. I couldn't really see how that’s more important than attending synagogue, which gives me a good feeling of community and attachment. Wouldn't God agree with me?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Actually, the same God Who told us to pray with a community is the God Who told us not to drive a car on Shabbat. The problem with an automobile is obvious - ignition is fire, which is clearly forbidden by the Torah (Exodus 35:3).

So in answer to your question, it is better to stay home and not drive to Shul on Shabbat. Of course, by praying at home you also fulfill your obligation of prayer, though not communal prayer.

On a philosophical level, I believe that permitting "driving to synagogue" effectively destroys Jewish communal life. If everyone had no choice but to walk to synagogue, then they would make the extra effort to live in close proximity of one another. There would be Jewish stores, Jewish schools, and Jewish friends all in the area. As it was, I grew up being one of 5 Jewish kids in my high school. This was not an enriching Jewish experience. Many of my friends intermarried as a result of similar upbringing. I think in general this break-down of Jewish community has in large part contributed to the problem of assimilation we have today.

In communities where they still walk to synagogue, they have preserved a beautiful sense of common bond amongst neighbors and a rich Jewish lifestyle.

I suggest that you try to arrange for Shabbat hospitality near the synagogue, so you could sleep over and enjoy the full Shabbat experience. Many families are thrilled to have Shabbat guests in their home.

If you tell me where you live, I could suggest someone who will gladly help.

Trying to Escape

When the Israelites were in the wilderness and were 'craving' meat so badly, why didn't they just use some of the cattle that they had. I realize some of that was for offerings, but there had to be a few extra. This has always stuck in my mind.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your question was asked in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni - B'Ha'alotcha 736).

The answer is that they had plenty, and were just looking for things what to complain about, even if there was no reason to complain. See "Rashi" Numbers 11:1,4, that they were trying to turn away from God, and were fabricating excuses.

We see from here the inclination to move away from God, to escape into a "world" of independence.

Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "Breakfast of Champions," brings home this point in a dramatic way. In one scene, the main character, Kilgore Trout, is having a drink in a bar, minding his own business. Suddenly, he feels an awesome presence is about to enter the bar. He begins to sweat.

Who walks in?

Kurt Vonnegut. When the author of the book steps into the novel to visit to his character, Kilgore's perception of the world is changed forever. He realizes that he does not exist independently. Rather, every moment of life requires a new stroke of the author's pen. Without the author, he ceases to exist.

So what is Kilgore's reaction? He starts to run away! In an attempt to maintain independence, he tries to hide from the very source of his existence!

The metaphor is clear. God has His plans, and we are destined to either follow along, or suffer the consequences. The choice is quite clear. The only true existence is the Infinite. And why fight it?? Whenever we peel back the outer layer of this world and get a glimpse of the higher Infinite dimension, we have a moment of awe-filled transcendence. We lift beyond our finite limitations and touch eternity. Perfection itself.

Hardening Pharaoh's Heart

After the sixth plague – boils – the Bible says that, "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exodus 9:12). This seems grossly unfair! How can God warn Pharaoh to obey and then harden his heart so he can't listen?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

God doesn't want to coerce Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. He wants Pharaoh to admit he is wrong. But the plagues are so overwhelming and frightening, Pharaoh almost gives in against his will. So God hardens Pharaoh's heart to help him do what he wants to do, which is to go on saying "no."

There is another, more unsettling, explanation of God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Having been pig-headed for so long, Pharaoh loses the ability to change. If you recognize the truth and refuse to act on what you know, you dig yourself into a rut that gets deeper and deeper.

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