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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Aish Essentials

My perception of yeshiva study is that it’s very academic. Right now I want to learn more about the basic philosophy and also the mystical side. Is there any program in Israel that offers this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Aish addresses the Jewish educational aims of people like yourself. Our introductory program called Essentials is a perfect start for your spiritual quest. We give over both the mystical and the rational approach to Judaism. You can drop in for one class, a day, a week, or a month. Classes are held in Aish's new building directly opposite the Western Wall. (Talk about an inspiring place to learn!)

Teachers include Dr. Gerald Schroeder (MIT physicist and former member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission), Rabbi Motty Berger, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser (former professional surfer), Rabbi Gavriel Friedman, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (noted psychologist and author), and other leading experts on Jewish thought and practice. The Essentials program does great touring, too.

Here is a typical schedule of classes:

9-10am Unlock Your Potential

10-11am Practical Spirituality

11-12 Genesis and the Big Bang

12-1pm Zionism and Judaism

1-2 pm Lunch

2-3 pm Break

3-4pm The Holocaust: Why the Jews?

4-5pm Soul and the Afterlife

5-6pm Jewish Dating Ethics

6-7pm Hebrew Ulpan

This may be exactly what you would be interested in. For more information call 02-628-5666 and ask for Rabbi Shmuel Schwartz, or email sschwartz@aish.com. Online at: http://israel.aish.com/essentials/

Reason for Slavery

In the Bible, God tells Abraham that his descendents will eventually become slaves, which was fulfill during the awful years in Egypt. Why would God make such a prediction?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In Genesis 15:7-8, God promises Abraham that he and his descendants will possess the Land of Israel. To which Abraham responds, "How will I know that's true?"

This remark seems out of line. Imagine a father promising his child, "I'll take you to the ball game on Sunday," and the child looks up and says, "Can I really trust you'll do it?" Amazingly, the child is questioning his own father's credibility to stand by a promise.

Similarly with Abraham. Although he was on an extremely high spiritual level (after all, he was talking with God), his comment of "How will I know?" showed that he went too far in testing God's promises. A person of Abraham's stature should not have felt the need to seek any reassurance from God.

For that reason, God had to ordain an experience which would ingrain in Abraham's descendants a greater trust in God. Before the birth of the Jewish nation, it was necessary for this total trust to be set into the spiritual genetics.

So God tells Abraham: "Know that your descendants will be strangers in a land... where they will be enslaved and oppressed" (Genesis 15:14). The remedy is to be enslaved in Egypt. There the Jews will eventually reach a point of realization that it is only God who can save them. They will turn to God with a total heart, cry out, and only then the process of redemption will occur.

And that is precisely what occurred: "The Jews cried out because of their slavery... God heard their cries and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Exodus 2:23-24) This was the necessity of Egyptian slavery.

On a personal level, this is a process that each of us has to go through. We have crucial life lessons to learn, and it is precisely for that reason our souls have come to earth in the first place.

Which is not to suggest that we should go out of our way to seek difficulties. But if there is a process that we must undergo, then it is foolish to avoid it. Too often we busy ourselves with petty distractions, in order to escape the confrontation with reality. But it always catches up with us eventually. Because that "difficulty" is part and parcel of our reason for being.

Pope John Paul's Visit to Israel

I followed eagerly the news of Pope John Paul II's historic five-day visit to Israel in 2000. While the visit seemed very positive, I heard some criticism from Jewish groups about the fact that the Pope did not apologize for the attitude of the Vatican during the Holocaust.

Is this related to the concept that one Pope should not directly chastise a former Pope? Extending this thought, would a future Pope, unhappy with the Vatican's recognition of Israel as a state, look back and condemn the current Pope?

It is important that Pope John Paul II has reached out in a number of impressive ways, e.g. the first Pope ever to visit a synagogue. What do you think?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The history of the Church toward the Jewish people is a very complex one. On one hand, Jews have suffered from Church-authorized Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Blood Libels.

The current pope has definitely been more conciliatory – he helped draft the Vatican II which recognized that the Jews did not kill Jesus, and led the Vatican's diplomatic recognition of Israel in 1993.

Furthermore, there are stories of John Paul II's humanitarian efforts. One 14-year-old girl, after being liberated from a Nazi work camp in Poland, had walked as far as she could toward Krakow and then lay down, expecting to die of exhaustion. The priest who found her (Karol Wojtyla, the future pope) carried her on his back three kilometers to a train station. Another incident tells of Karol Wojtyla refusing to baptize Jewish children whose parents had been killed in the Holocaust.

But there are still lingering issues. While standing at the Israeli Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, the pope said nothing to apologize for the official Church policy of Pope Pius XII, who met with Hitler several times, and in 1933 agreed to disband a Catholic political party which enabled millions to join the Nazi Party and help Hitler come to power. Throughout the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII never once publicly mentioned the plight of the Jews. Not once.

All this is documented in "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII," written by John Cornwell, a Roman Catholic journalist. Cornwell was given access to secret Church files because he had initially planned to defend the pope against charges he was silent about the death camps. But after studying Pope Pius XII's own files and depositions taken under oath 30 years ago to support his eventual canonization, Cornwall said he was in a "state of moral shock."

And then there is the issue of the 19th century Pope Pius IX, who kidnapped a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, from his parents' home in Bologna, carried him off to Rome and raised him as his own Catholic son. The New York Times carried no fewer than 20 editorials calling on the pope to hand the boy over to his family – but Pope Pius IX refused. In 2000, John Paul II announced the formal beatification of Pius IX.

So you see, in general, Jews have mixed feelings about the Pope.