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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Shabbos Goy

My husband and I are Christians and our neighbors are Orthodox Jewish. Sometimes on any given Saturday, our neighbors knock on our door and ask us to turn on the air conditioning, etc. We've always helped them out, not understanding the full reasoning behind this tradition.

We have a good relationship with them but we are curious as to how they must view us. Why is it okay for them to ask us to "work" during their Sabbath? Do they then consider us inferior because we are doing these neighborly favors?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are describing a phenomenon which is colloquially called a “Shabbos Goy.”

In essence, your neighbors should not be asking you to do things for them, which they themselves are not allowed to do on Shabbat. This is a Talmudic principle, as derived from the Torah which states that on Shabbat, "creative activity should not BE DONE for you" - i.e. even if you are only asking someone else to do it.

The only exceptions are: when there is a commandment to be fulfilled, great monetary loss, or a health-related situation. Air conditioning is considered health-related, because if things get too hot, people (especially the elderly, etc.) could faint or be exposed to other dangers.

Even in the above-mentioned cases, a Jew is only allowed to ask a non-Jew to do a rabbinic-level action. (Mishnah Berurah 307:19-24)

They certainly do not consider you inferior. Rather it is simple pragmatics: they are obligated in observing Shabbat laws that you are not. You can consider it a great kindness to be helping them out, just as any good neighbor would.

In recent times, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Martin Scorsese, and an adolescent Elvis Presley assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.

Blessings on Thunder and Lightning

Yesterday evening a powerful thunderstorm came out of nowhere. I found myself jolted to attention and literally cowering – covering my ears at every blast of thunder. I was curious if the Sages have anything to say about such powerful natural phenomena. Are we to see a purpose in them?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud states it perfectly: “Thunder was created only in order to straighten the crookedness of the heart” (Brachot 59a). As few other phenomena can do, thunder wakes us up and reminds us we have an all-powerful God. Of course, there are always scientific explanations for such natural events. But why did God create them in the first place? To give us that occasional wake-up call.

Many years ago, I was about to do something of questionable legality in Jewish law. Just then the loudest peal of thunder you ever heard struck – and I realized God had me in mind.

Apart from the philosophical perspective, the Sages instituted different blessings to be said both on thunder and lightning. On thunder we say:

“Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, for His strength and power fill the world.”

And on lightning:

“Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, who makes the works of creation.”

Note that we recite a stronger blessing on thunder than on lightning, in that thunder is a much stronger manifestation of God’s might (Mishnah Berurah 227:5).

A few additional rules:

(a) You must begin reciting the blessing immediately (within 1-2 seconds) upon hearing the thunder or seeing the lightning (Shulchan Aruch 227:3). If you weren’t able to start the blessing that soon, you should wait until you observe the next clap of thunder or flash of lightning.

(b) You don’t have to see the bolt of lightning itself to recite a blessing. It’s sufficient to see the sky light up.

(c) We only recite these blessings a maximum of one time a day. The exception is if the sky clears entirely after a storm, and afterwards a new storm appears (Shulchan Aruch 227:2, Mishnah Berurah 8).

(d) We don’t recite a blessing on "heat lightning" – where the sky lights up without thunder (Mishnah Berurah 3).

Eve's Creation: Rib or Side?

Exactly what was Eve created from? I always assumed it was one of Adam’s ribs, but I just noticed a translation which said “side.” So which is right?

By the way, if Eve was created from a rib God certainly knew what he was doing (naturally!). Not only do the ribs lie close to and protect a man’s heart, but they are the only bones which regenerate if cut properly (and as a result are often used on patients for bone reconstruction). God could have taken a part of Adam’s rib and it would have grown back!

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you first of all for your interesting observation! This is perhaps yet another example of God’s wisdom demonstrating knowledge of science the ancients couldn’t possibly have known. (Even the concept of general anesthesia before surgery has an early source in the Torah here.)

In truth, there are a number of different explanations as to what Eve was created from. The Torah states that she was created from one of Adam’s “tzela”s (Genesis 2:21). The word tzela means “side” the many other times it’s used in the Torah (e.g. several times in Exodus 26 and Ezekiel 41) – usually referring to the side of a building or structure.

Based on this, many of the commentators understand that Eve was created from Adam’s side (one opinion in Bereishit Rabbah 17:8, Rashi 2:21, Ibn Ezra 2:21, Rambam Moreh Nevuchim 2:30, Ralbag 2:21). This follows the opinion in the Talmud (Brachot 61a) that Adam and Eve were initially created as a single being – with male and females halves. God determined that it was “not good” that man be a complete unit – feeling he is perfect and needs no one else, and so God turned His creation into two incomplete halves (see Rashi to Genesis 2:18).

(Some commentators understand differently that Adam had smaller appendage on his side, which God built into a woman – see e.g. Ralbag and Abarbanel.)

There is also an opinion that tzela means rib (alternate opinion in Bereishit Rabbah 17:8, Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Chizkuni 2:21, Seforno 2:21). Some explain that God initially created Adam with an extra rib so it could be used for this purpose (Targum Yonatan, Arbarbanel).

There is a third opinion (Talmud Brachot 61a) that Eve was created from a tail (making humans creatures with a tail bone but not a tail).

Overall, however, this is a typical case where all the English translations automatically follow one explanation which, although in this case valid, is probably the less common one.

(Some of the sources above are cited in an article on the topic by Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky.)