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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

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.

The Nose & Smells

I've always found something quite spiritual about my sense of smell. And having read that the highlight of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple was bringing incense into the Holy of Holies, I can't help but wonder about the deeper significance of the olfactory sense. Can you explain?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah (Genesis 2:7) states that "God breathed life into the form of Man." The Hebrew word for "breath" -- nesheema -- is the same as the word for "soul" -- neshama. One's spiritual life force comes, metaphorically, by way of air and respiration.

The senses of taste, touch and sight are used to perceive physical matter. Even "hearing" involves the perception of sound waves. But breathing, and its associated sense of smell, is the most spiritual of senses, with the least physical matter involved. As the Talmud says: "Smell is that which the soul benefits from, and the body does not."

I think there's truth to common expressions like, "He has a good nose for business," and "Something doesn't smell right." Smell is intangible, yet very intuitive. It represents one's internal compass. The Talmud says that when the Messiah comes, he will "smell and judge" -- that is, he will use his spiritual sensitivity to determine complex truths.

Indeed, the nose knows!

Recognizing God

On one hand, I sense that God exists. On the other hand, I have a hard time seeing Him. What can I do to bridge that gap?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

A guy is riding his motorcycle down a mountain rode when suddenly he loses control and goes hurtling off the cliff. As he's sailing through the air, he shouts out: "God! Please make a miracle! Save me!"

Within moments his shirt gets caught on a protruding branch - and he is left dangling thousands of feet above the ground.

There's no way out, so he looks heavenward and shouts: "God! Please save me!"

"Do you trust Me, my beloved son?" calls the voice from heaven.

"Yes, God, I trust you. Just please save me!"

"Okay then," says God. "Let go of the branch and I'll catch you."

The man thinks for a moment, look around, and calls out: "Is anyone else out there?!"

The key to forging a relationship with God is to trust Him. God is not some vindictive, punishing old man in the sky. God is our loving Creator, who wants only our best. Sometimes that calls for Him to “test” us with difficulties; but the intention is only to bring out our very best.

When we are children, we think we are the center of the universe. Then, through experience and trials, we become increasingly aware of the fact that there are things in life beyond our control. Whether it's earthquakes, cancer, the rise and fall of fortunes, circumstances of our birth - and even birth itself... this can only be ascribed to a Higher Power.

Maimonides writes that there are two primary ways to attain recognition of God: by observing the wonders of Creation, and by performing mitzvot. Through nature, we see the beauty, splendor, and perfect unity of the world. Through mitzvot, we see how humanity can likewise attain unity and perfection.

To learn more, see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's essays on “Divine Inspiration.” www.aish.com/jl/sp/bas/48937802.html