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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Bitterness of Suffering

My friend's child was recently killed in a drive-by shooting (he was an innocent bystander) and she is so angry at God for taking him away. Can you offer a suggestion for how she can process this, because I don't want her to carry this anger around with her forever.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I've seen much suffering, and it seems to me that the key is "attitude." How people deal with it depends on what attitude they have. I have seen people whose attitude was of anger or hurt to such an extent that they never got beyond a particular event - which then became the defining moment of their lives. In a certain sense, life stopped at that particular moment.

On the other hand, I've seen people go through the most horrendous things, but their attitude was a positive one of believing in an ultimate good, of asking how I can learn and grow from this. It is incredible to see the inspiration they gave to others, and how they moved on with their lives. The contrast is vast between these two attitudes. Living with the concept of a good God is so much more uplifting and gives a person the ability to remain joyful and hopeful, and have the strength to go on and fight.

Some people who have suffered tragedies have found a degree of solace by setting up a fund or organization to help others, in memory of the departed one. This enables them to channel some of the great emotion into an area that offers a degree of comfort. See for example, the response of Seth and Shari Mandell to the brutal murder of their son.

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 working to alleviate the world's suffering. Those 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 death sentence. Bart gave the man some of his own bread.

He told me, "The many thousands of dollars I've given to tzedaka since then is 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.

Book of Life

I heard the idea that during the High Holidays, God writes one's name in a book. Where does this concept come from, and how can this concept bring meaning to the holidays for me?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 32b) says that on Rosh Hashana, God inscribes everyone's name into one of three books. The righteous go into the Book of Life, the evil go into the Book of Death, and those in-between have judgment suspended until Yom Kippur.

In actuality, the vast majority of us are neither totally good nor bad. We're more like 50/50, so we have a few more days until Yom Kippur to tip the scales. That's why the Code of Jewish Law recommends going out of our way to do extra mitzvot during this time.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg asks the question: If someone is 50/50, he apparently doesn't need any type of drastic change. He should just do one more mitzvah to tip the scales, and then there's nothing to worry about - as long as he's holding at 51/49!

The answer is that the 50/50 weighing isn't a numbers game of one mitzvah versus one transgression. The reckoning goes according to varying degrees of mass and impact. Sometimes one good act will outweigh many mistakes. Conversely, there are some sins that can outweigh all the good you did.

So to ensure getting into the Book of Life, we need something really dramatic. For example, someone who sincerely chooses to take on Jewish observance has a 1,000-ton weight going for him. The act of coming full circle to Torah is a rare type of decision that can transform you into a different person.

Of course, wherever you're holding, it's important to do as much as you can. Don't gossip, show respect to your parents, eat kosher food. Whatever you can do, add to it. But what we're really looking for is the mega-ton weights. Look for breakthroughs - the one major decision that can truly change you.

And while you're working out a strategy, here's an inspiring story about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, the 18th century Chassidic leader. He was known as "the defense attorney of the Jewish people," because he constantly beseeched God to deal kindly with His people.

One year, Rosh Hashana fell out on Shabbat, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak went to the front of the synagogue to lead the congregation in prayer. Before beginning, he looked heavenward and said: "God, today is Shabbat. You taught us in Your holy Torah that Shabbat may only be broken in order to save a life. I demand that you keep the laws which You gave us. Since writing is a prohibited act on Shabbat, You have no right to record anybody in the Book of Death. You may only break Shabbat to record all of mankind in the Book of Life!"

May you have a sweet new year and be sealed in the Book of Life!

Workaholic

I own a business which takes most of my time. As a matter of fact, I don't have any time left over for my wife and kids or anything else. My wife and kids are the most important people in my life, I just want to be the best husband and father I can possibly be.

But I feel that something is missing. When I attend synagogue, I find myself reading the prayers or the Torah portion without any emotions, almost as if it was just a book. Do you have any suggestions how to make my life more real and more meaningful?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your letter reminds me of a story:

Mr. Schwartz is an investment banker in a major Wall Street investment firm. He's spending most of his days trying to reach his lifelong goal: to earn $25 million. He and his wife have three kids.

One day, a wealthy philanthropist named Cohen, who unfortunately has no children, comes to pay Schwartz a visit. He says, "Your kids are growing up without a father. You're off to work before they get up, and home long after they've gone to sleep. On weekends, you're at the club entertaining clients from out of town. A child needs a father. I'll give you the biggest shortcut of your financial career. You're spending your whole life to make $25 million dollars, right? I'll write you a check right now for that amount. All you have to do is give me one of your children to adopt."

Now, what does Schwartz the banker say to this generous offer?

$25 million dollars gets his attention. But even he realizes that there are things in life that you can't put a price tag on. He stares Cohen right between the eyes and announces: "No deal."

Now imagine the scene. Schwartz has just shut the door on $25 million dollars. He drives home, walks inside and sees his three kids playing on the living room floor. What do you think he does when he sees them?

He rushes over, and with tears in his eyes, gives each of them a big hug and a kiss. "You darling creatures are worth more than all the money in the universe!"

Then he says to himself, "Where have I been all their lives? I have something at home that's worth more to me than all the money in the world and I'm lucky if I spend an hour a week with them."

So what does Schwartz do? He calls the office, announces he's taking a two-week vacation, sends the maids, nannies and babysitters away. He's going to spend two blissful weeks with his kids.

After struggling for half an hour to get the stroller open, Schwartz makes it to the park. He and the kids are having a grand time. But then comes dinner, bath and story time. After enduring food fights, floods in the bathtub and endless readings of "Babar Goes to the Circus," Schwartz flops down on the couch, turns to his wife and says, "Perhaps I was being a bit hasty in taking that two-week vacation. You know I have a lot of responsibilities at the office..."

Similarly, I hear from your letter how deeply you care for your family. But emotions have to be given a setting to properly express themselves.

You are suffocating emotionally under your workload, to the extent that you do not even have time to spend with your family that you love more than anything.

If you cannot manage to find time for your family, how do you expect to feel anything when you pray?

A person is not a machine, and prayers are not switches that you turn on and off.

You must spend a little time before praying, think about one of your lovely children and how much you care for her/him. Then thank God in your heart for that little smile that you care for so much. Imagine soft, moving music in the background while you think about how grateful you are to God, and how much you would like to get close to Him and connect with Him.

Ask God to bring you close, and He will. But give Him a chance.

You know what our priorities should be. You just sometimes get distracted. So you need to concentrate on connecting your heart to your mind – and acting upon that which you intellectually know to be right.

But if you are always running around taking care of business, it's not going to happen.