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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:


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.

Playing Music on Shabbat

I have a question concerning playing music on Shabbat. My uncle is a wonderful guitar player and singer. He writes many songs and aspires to share his music with the world one day. On a recent Shabbat, we were at a friend's house where many people were singing. I asked him to play, but he declined, saying it was against Jewish law.

I feel this may be stretching the restrictions. For me, I believe that Shabbat is a time to share joy with family and friends. Music is a wonderful way to do this.

I am not seeking to criticize my uncle. I just want to get a better grasp on the concepts, so that I can discuss this point with him in a more educated manner.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I appreciate the sincerity of your question. Of course there are many beautiful aspects of Shabbat -- the candles, the challah, the wine, and the opportunity for family and friends to be together.

Yet these aesthetic elements must not obscure the essence of Shabbat. It is a commemoration of the Creation of the world. Since God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, in our effort to emulate God we likewise work for six days and rest on the seventh.

The Talmud (Shabbat 73a) describes 39 categories of "creative acts" which we refrain from on Shabbat. These are the 39 powers of creation that exist in the world, corresponding to those acts performed by God (so to speak) in creating the world. Just as God refrained from creative activity on the seventh day, we do likewise. And when we refrain from that which is prohibited on Shabbat, we are, in the truest sense, being God-like.

The job of protecting the Shabbat (as well as other mitzvot) was entrusted to the wisest and most dedicated leaders of the Jewish people, the members of the Sanhedrin. These leaders made certain enactments to protect the uniqueness of the Shabbat experience. One enactment is to not play a musical instrument on Shabbat. This is due to a concern that playing an instrument on Shabbat could lead to fixing an instrument in a way that infringes on one of the 39 types of activity.

If these laws are not respected, then the Shabbat experience is ultimately diminished. And since Shabbat is a cornerstone of Jewish life, this measure was taken to ensure that observance of Shabbat is maintained for all. Further, the enactment was approved and accepted by the entire Jewish nation.

Further, the Sages made no distinction between string and wind instruments. Frequently the Sages will enact a decree that way, because otherwise many people would get confused about what is permitted and what is not.

Music that involves only the body -- e.g. singing and whistling -- are permitted on Shabbat. All instruments are not.

I would like to share with you a story from pre-War Europe:

In the city of Dinov, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech would sing the Shabbat morning prayers. As he would sing, he would gaze through the window and see the lush green rolling hills, the flowers splashing color against the deep blue sky. All this would move him to sing with great emotion the "Nishmat" prayer:

"If our mouths were filled with song like the sea is full of water, and our tongues as full of joyous song as the sea has waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet swift as hinds -- we still could not thank You sufficiently."

Week after week, the non-Jewish shepherds would hear this song wafting over the country plain. They would stop their work to listen attentively, and many would even walk to the synagogue to hear the rabbi sing.

When the rabbi died, the congregation felt a rupture in their hearts. All week long they mourned, but on Shabbat, which is a time for happiness, they tried to restrain themselves. Yet the cantor, when he reached the "Nishmat" prayer, stopped to swallow a tear.

Suddenly, the entire congregation heard the rabbi's melody filling the synagogue! Everyone looked out the window to see the non-Jewish shepherds singing the rabbi's song. (from "Tales of the Chassidic Soul")

Indeed, music is a great part of Shabbat. That's why there is a rich heritage of Jewish melodies which add to the Shabbat atmosphere. Many of these songs are printed in the standard Siddur. So while you may miss your uncle's guitar playing one day a week, remember that he is keeping the Shabbat experience fully alive, as Jews have done, for thousands of years.

Children & Divorce

Back in the old days many couples stayed together “for the sake of the children.” Am I correct that this reason has no validity in our 21st century lives?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the 1970s, Judith Wallerstein’s best-seller The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce contended that children really aren't as “resilient" as once thought, and that divorce can present children with a lifetime of emotional struggle. Here are three cardinal rules for making divorce less stressful for children, and reducing the chances of long-term trauma:

• Assure the children that the divorce is not their fault, and that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the family unit from breaking apart.

• Do not put a child in the middle of the parental dispute, nor create a situation where the child has to choose one parent over the other.

• A child benefits from a strong relationship with both parents. Do not try to minimize the time the child spends with the other parent, and do not speak badly about the other parent.

An excellent book on this topic is Gary Neuman’s Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way. Over 20,000 children have taken part in the half-day Sandcastles workshop, which is now mandatory in certain regions of the United States.

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