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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Test of Arrogance

I am a high school student, and have a dilemma that has been bothering me for some time. I hope you can help me.

After a test, my teacher posts the highest marks on the bulletin board. I have gotten my name posted a few times so far, and then afterwards everyone looks at the bulletin board and comes to congratulate me. But I am worried that all this attention is making me arrogant. I considered asking my teacher not post my name, but then I figured that the recognition I get from having my name posted is helping to open doors to career and social opportunities.

What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is fantastic that you are so concerned about this issue. Arrogance restrains us and inhibits us, because we become unnecessarily concerned over how we appear in the eyes of the others. That's why the Talmud identifies arrogance as one of the things that "removes a person from the world."

As for your question, I think you should have the teacher continue to post your name on the bulletin board as often as she likes. Don't run from the challenge. Rather, look at this as a good opportunity to work on developing humility - an opportunity you would not have if your name was not posted.

Here's a tool to help you conquer the challenge: The key to improving humility is to remind yourself that everything comes from God. If you catch yourself feeling somehow superior to other people, turn the feeling instead into gratitude to the Almighty. Thank God for giving you the strength and ability to do well on the tests in the first place. Learn to distinguish between "pleasure" and "pride."

Being both proud and humble is a tricky balance. The following story may shed light on how to attain this balance:

There was once a rabbi who carried two slips of paper in his pockets. In his left pocket was written the verse from Genesis 18:27: "I am but dust and ashes." In his right pocket he carried another slip of paper that said, "For my sake the world was created." (Midrash - Vayikra Rabba 36:4)

Before he would go to pray each day, he would reach into his left pocket to remember that in reality man was made from the "dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7). He would then think how impossible it is to do anything without God helping him. How can the heart beat without God making it pump? And how can the lungs breathe without God willing it so?

While praying, he would reach into his right pocket and pull out the paper that said, "For my sake the world was created." And then he would remember the great love the Almighty has for every human being. He would have great feelings of self-esteem, and would ask God to fulfill all his needs and requests.

May the Almighty help you strike that perfect balance!

For more ideas, see Rabbi Noah Weinberg's 48 Ways essay, "Subtle Traps of Arrogance."

Carrying Keys on Shabbat

I’d like to know if there is any way I can carry my house key to the synagogue and back on Shabbat. The typical trick of hiding it under the mat just doesn’t feel so secure to me (we actually don’t have a mat anyway!). Is there any way to carry such a small item?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I assume first of all that your neighborhood does not have an eruv – a form of surrounding structure (usually composed of vertical posts and a surrounding wire) which permits carrying within it. Many Jewish communities worldwide have them.

It is forbidden to carry an item as small as a key on Shabbat. However, there is an old trick for doing so: making the key a part of your clothes.

The idea behind this is as follows. Although it is forbidden to carry in public on Shabbat, a person is obviously allowed to wear his clothes out of doors. Walking about wearing clothes is not “carrying” since the clothes are considered a part of the person. This extends to items which are clearly subordinate to one’s clothes – such as a belt, suspenders, safety pin, shoelaces. Even though you are not exactly “wearing” such things, they are helping your clothes stay on properly and so are considered a part of them (Rambam Hil’ Shabbat 18:17, Shulchan Aruch OC 301:39).

This would extend to a key as well if you “wear” it. How does one wear a key? There are two common methods. One is to fashion a tie clip out of a key, in which the top part of the clip is actually a key. Note that this would only work if your tie would be loose otherwise. If you are wearing a sweater or vest which holds down your tie, the clip would be serving no purpose and could not be considered a part of your clothes (The Shabbos Home, p. 130).

The second common method is to use your key as a belt buckle. This would involve removing the tongue of your belt and attaching your key in its place. Other similar methods might be replacing the buckle with a key, attaching a string to the other side, and threading the string through the hole at the top of the key to fasten your belt. As you can see, such methods require some ingenuity.

Note that such contraptions will typically have to be fashioned before Shabbat, since creating them may involve other forms of Shabbat labor – such as gluing or tying.

Note also that these methods will generally only work for a single key. I have seen people carry a ring with several keys attached to it in which one of the keys was holding their tie down. This is not correct. The entire addition to your clothes must be functioning as a part of them.

Make sure you are already “wearing” your key before leaving your house, and while entering it. This is because it is forbidden to carry from a private to public area.

There is an additional concern with locking and unlocking your door – one which may apply even if you hide your key under the mat. The keyhole within your door is considered within your house and so is a private domain. It is therefore forbidden to take the key off of your tie and stick it in the keyhole, since that would be carrying from a public to private area. (If you have a private, fenced-in front yard before your door, this would not be an issue. A simple porch is probably not sufficient.) The solution suggested by contemporary rabbis is to unlock your door using when the key is still attached to your clothes. (You can unfasten your “key-belt” first, but you must still be wearing it.) (See Mishnah Berurah 466:28, Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchatah 18:49).

Environmental Protection

Is there a source in the Torah for being environmentally conscious? Do you feel we should be drilling for oil in Alaska? We are doing research project for school and I would appreciate your help.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah says that “in times of war, when we lay siege upon a city to conquer it, we are not permitted to cut down fruit trees to aid us in combat. Only a tree which offers no food can be cut down” (Deut. 20:19-20). We learn from this that not only are we not allowed to cut down trees which bear fruit, but anything in the world which provides benefit is forbidden to be destroyed for no reason.

The Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah #529) says that we learn from this to deeply appreciate all of God’s gifts in this world. He says that the righteous have trained themselves, by way of this mitzvah, to delight in all the world’s treasures and be pained by the unnecessary destruction of even a mustard seed. They go out of their way to protect and save any and all things in the world from destruction, unlike the wicked who wantonly destroy anything and everything in their ways and don’t care the least.

One of the great builders of Jewish education in America in the early 20th century, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz, was once walking with a group of students through the forest, when one of them absentmindedly pulled a leaf off a tree. The rabbi was aghast and nearly overtaken by tremors. He explained that the entire world is God’s symphony, and every leaf and blade of grass is an instrument in that great symphony. To pull off a leaf for no reason is to hush the music.

This fits the Midrash which relates: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first man, Adam, He took him around and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him, ‘See My works, how pleasant and beautiful they are. Make sure not to ruin and destroy My world’…” (Koheles Rabba 91:13; Mesilas Yesharim ch.1). Although the Midrash means not to destroy the world spiritually, it means physically as well.

For this reason, I personally am a big believer in recycling, as it fits into the Torah perspective of protecting the world. It’s no accident that Rabbi Moshe Gafni, an Orthodox member of the Israeli Knesset, was recently voted the most environmentally-concerned MK.

The Knesset has passed a number of environmental-friendly laws, for example requiring stores to begin using only biodegradable bags, which will need to be purchased by the customers, not just given out.

This prohibition against destruction, however, is not absolute. For example, the Talmud says that if there would be a greater financial loss to protect a fruit tree than its potential benefit, we would be allowed to uproot it.

Based on this principle, I will answer your question about drilling for oil in Alaska. We are talking about drilling for 10 billion proven barrels of oil, located on 0.01% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The alternative is to purchase that oil from foreign regimes, many whom support international terrorism.

In the Torah outlook, we need to keep everything in perspective – to always look at the big picture and not miss the forest for the trees. Good luck on your project!