Recent Questions
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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Cloning & Immortality

In the various life choices I’ve made – career, family, etc – I notice one common denominator: I am on a quest for immortality. I want to leave a legacy. Wouldn’t it simply solve this existential problem by cloning myself?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

To compensate for the impermanence of flesh, the Pharaohs built pyramids, the Emperors built Rome, and Donald Trump built skyscrapers. To some, cloning is a way to manufacture a living monument by leaving a genetic copy of oneself; a way to achieve "immortality" long after one is gone.

However, true immortality involves more than making a younger genetic copy of oneself. Are we nothing more than "flesh-and-bone computers," living to eat and propagate?

No! In a "down-to-earth" sense, we achieve immortality through the performance of good deeds. By influencing others in positive Torah values, they carry on our legacy long after we're gone. If someone built a school for needy children, that would inspire others to do the same. (Besides of course the positive effects of that initial school which will be felt for generations to come.)

Every human being is created in the image of God. Therefore God is our role model. As the Talmud (Shabbat 133b) says, "Just as He is Merciful, so you be merciful; and just as He is Kind, so you be kind." Becoming more Godly is the greatest level a human being can achieve. In this way, Judaism already has a concept of cloning: we try to clone ourselves after the Almighty!

By becoming more God-like and refining our souls, we also achieve immortality. As we perform mitzvahs which focus us on becoming more spiritual beings, this heightens the soul's awareness – which is invaluable for when we die and go to the eternal world of souls. From a Jewish perspective, that’s a far better focus for our energies.

Priest on a Rope

I heard something about tying a rope to the High Priest in the Holy Temple. What was that all about?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the Second Temple period, some people who were unfit took the position of High Priest. When they entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, they died, since they lacked the ability to handle the spiritual power of that place.

The other priests had to devise a plan to pull the dead body out, since no one other than the High Priest was allowed to enter in the Holy of Holies. So they tied a golden rope to the High Priest’s leg when he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

Those waiting outside the Holy of Holies would listen for the bells on the bottom of the High Priest's robe, to see if he was still alive.

(sources: Zohar – Acharei Mot 67a, Emor 102a; Talmud – Yoma 53b; Me'am Loaz; Arbanel – Exodus 28:33)

Notes in The Wall

I live in America and was wondering if you really put into the Western Wall all the e-mail letters you receive. I have a friend who is visiting Israel and would like her to see my message. If you could post my note it would be greatly appreciated.

And by the way, where did the idea get started to stick papers in the Wall in the first place?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Aish HaTorah's Window on the Wall (www.thewall.org) receives thousands of prayers sent to the Wall via email. Each one is printed out (albeit in a very small font – God had good eyesight) and each day a yeshiva student places the messages into the cracks of the Wall.

It is a centuries-old tradition to place notes into the Wall. To answer your question why, let's go to the distant country of Morocco in the 18th century...

"Do you really think I should move to Israel?" Azulai asked his teacher, the master Kabbalist called the Ohr HaChaim.

"Yes," the Ohr HaChaim told him. "And when you arrive, here is a note that I want you to put into the Western Wall."

Azulai diligently packed his belongings, and as for the important note from his rabbi, he sewed it into the lining of his jacket to be sure not to lose it.

In Israel, Azulai was so overcome by distractions that he forgot about the note sewn into his jacket. Every day he would go to the synagogue to learn Torah, but things were very difficult. In Morocco he had been a widely respected teacher and had many friends, but in Israel he experienced loneliness and anonymity. There was no shortage of Torah teachers in Jerusalem – and Azulai was not the kind to push himself forward.

While walking home one day and feeling a bit dejected, Azulai remembered the Ohr HaChaim's note! He immediately ran home, unstitched the lining of his jacket, and took the note to the Western Wall where he inserted it tenderly into one of the cracks.

It happened that in the synagogue the next day, someone had an intricate question in Jewish law – which "coincidentally" was found in the same chapter of law that Azulai was studying! Azulai was able to answer the question immediately. Seeing this, another person asked Azulai a different question – which he was also able to answer. In a short time, Azulai's reputation grew and he once again enjoyed the recognition of the old days on Morocco.

A local rabbi, seeing that Azulai's fortune had turned for the better, asked, "What happened to prompt this change?"

Azulai racked his brains, but could not think of anything specific which might have caused the turnaround.

"I do remember something," he said after a while, "A long time ago my teacher gave me a note to put in the Wall, and I forgot about it until recently."

With a little urging, the rabbi convinced Azulai to go down to the Wall and retrieve the note to see what was written inside. And this is what they read: "Dear God, please let my student Azulai become successful in Israel."

The upshot of this story is that Azulai went on to become one of the greatest Sages of his time, and is known far and wide today by the acronym, the "Chida."

Today, people put notes into the Western Wall every single day. The idea is not that we are praying to the Wall (that would be like talking to a wall!), but rather it is known that the Divine Presence rests on the Western Wall more than other places. (see Midrash Rabba – Exodus 2:2 and Song of Songs 2:4)

Furthermore, the Talmud teaches that all prayers ascend to Heaven through Jerusalem. So writing a prayer on a piece of paper and sticking it in the Wall is like having a continual prayer linked to the prime source.

Today, with millions of people visiting the Western Wall each year, plus all the people using the Internet service, the cracks can get pretty packed with notes. (You can sometimes see one person standing on another's shoulders to get their note into an available crack.) Because of the great volume, all the notes are removed from the Wall twice each year and buried, along with other holy objects that are not being used anymore.

May the Almighty answer all your prayers!

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