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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Adam’s Sin and the Decree of Death

The Torah states that on the day Adam would eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he would surely die (Genesis 2:17). Yet although he was punished when he sinned, he didn’t die on that day, but lived hundreds of years longer. Am I missing something?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s an excellent question. There are several answers to this, most of which are variations of a single theme. To explain, we need to first have a deeper understanding of Adam’s sin.

Before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, they were both spiritually and physically perfect. Man had no Evil Inclination. He had no inner desire for evil. The drive for evil was an external force, embodied in the Serpent, which attempted to lure man to sin. But man himself was wholly pure. His physical side was nothing other than a perfect reflection of his spirit.

As a result, before the Sin, man had the potential to live forever. His body did not contain the decaying influence of the Evil Inclination. His physical side had the same potential as his soul to be wholly perfected and to exist eternally. As the Kabbalists explain, had Adam and Eve passed their test and not eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, they would have afterwards eaten of the Tree of Life – to live eternally with God in Eden.

Once man sinned, however, evil became a part of his psyche. The Tree of Knowledge gave him an intimate knowledge of – and desire for – evil. Man’s evil inclination was no longer an external Serpent, but a part of his very soul. Man became a confused mixture of good and evil, the good only attaining ascendancy after the utmost of struggles. And man would never be fully secure in his spirituality. As high as his soul might strive upwards, his body would drag him down. He would never be entirely free of his physical wants and desirous nature.

As a result, death was a necessary part of man’s existence. Man could now never entirely perfect himself. His body was simply too corrupt for full rectification. It would have to die and decay – only to later be recreated in a higher state at the Resurrection, at which point – if it is worthy – to live forever (Derech Hashem I 3:9).

Based on the above, many of the commentators to the Torah explain that the punishment of death decreed on man did not mean to say Adam would literally die right then, but at that point he would be liable to death (Targum Yonatan, Ramban, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Chizkuni, Radak and many others), or that because of his imperfections death would now slowly overtake him (Malbim, also brought in Ibn Ezra 3:8). He would now be a finite being which would ultimately decay and die. Likewise, in Adam’s decreed punishment God tells him “for you are earth and to the earth will you return” (Genesis 3:19). His body was now corrupt, resembling the earth it derived from. Man was destined die.

Another interesting answer appears in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 19:14). Psalms 90:4 states: “For a thousand years in Your eyes are as yesterday which has passed.” By God’s standards, a “day” is a thousand earth years. Thus, in fact, Adam, who lived till 930, did die on the same “day” he ate of the Tree.

A final suggested answer is that Adam did in fact deserve to die right then, but because he repented God lessened his punishment and he lived much longer (Ibn Ezra 3:8, based on several Talmudic references to Adam’s repentance).

See here for a further discussion of Adam’s sin and its ramifications. See also this section for a much deeper treatment of the topic.

Niturei Karta

I saw a video of Orthodox Jews cavorting in Iran with Iranian President (and Jew-hater) Ahmadinejad. Apparently these "rabbis" were there to attend a Holocaust denial conference. What gives?!

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Most religious Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora, have worked out a modus vivendi with the non-religious government, and support Israel financially, as well.

The Neturei Karta, however, are a tiny minority of people who lived in Israel for generations before the inception of modern political Zionism. They and their supporters abroad believe that since the State is founded on principles of secular democracy, rather than the Torah, that it constitutes a negative development in Jewish history.

In many regards, the entire spectrum of the Torah community condemns these people for their despicable actions which work against the interests and security of other Jews. After these Jews met with Ahmadinejad, they were totally condemned and ostracized by the Torah-observant community. As reported in Ynet News (December 15, 2006), the Satmar Hassidism Court published an unprecedented statement calling on the public to disassociate themselves from the Neturei Karta members, and ordered that they be shunned and their actions condemned.

The following was published in the orthodox newspaper, "Yeted Neeman" (May 3, 2002): "It is with shame, sadness and outrage that we publicly condemn the irresponsible and dangerous actions of a small group of individuals" known as Neturei Karta. Due to their reprehensible actions in joining the enemies of our people, they endanger the interests of the Jewish nation. This despicable minuscule group does not accept or listen to the rulings of the leaders of our communities, and was ejected decades ago from our synagogues and communities.

Why Not Milk & Meat?

I love cheeseburgers, but I always feel guilty that it’s not a “good Jewish food.” What is behind this whole idea of not mixing milk and meat?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah commands us: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:6). The Torah forbids eating meat and milk in combination, and even forbids the act of cooking them together (as well as deriving benefit from such a mixture). As a safeguard, the Sages disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the same meal, or preparing them with the same utensils. Therefore, a kosher kitchen must have two separate sets of pots, pans, plates and silverware – one for meat/poultry and the other for dairy foods.

Even more, one must wait up to six hours after eating meat products before eating dairy products. However, meat may be eaten following dairy products (with the exception of hard cheese, which also requires a six-hour interval). Prior to eating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food and the mouth must be rinsed.

One possible explanation for this separation is that meat represents the finite, physical body, which ultimately ends up in death. Milk, on the other hand, is the quintessential life-giving force, the substance through which a mother can sustain her infant. Milk, therefore, can be compared to spirituality, which sustains our connection with the ultimate, eternal life.

Judaism wants us to be aware on every level of the difference between that which leads to life and that which leads to death. Even though we must nourish our physical bodies – indeed, God allows us to eat meat alone in order that our bodies be healthy – we must not mix in milk. We must never make our physical bodies the goal of living. We must never blur the difference between the physical, mortal world, and the world which is our ultimate goal, the world of spirituality, of eternal life. That is why meat and milk must remain separate.

Maimonides (12th century Spain) offers a rational view that ancient idolaters had the practice of mixing meat and milk together for ritual purposes. In order not to appear as if we are involved in pagan worship, the Torah forbids bringing these two items together.

There is yet a third approach. Why does the Torah use such strong imagery in the verse, "Do not cook a kid in its MOTHER'S milk"? The Rashbam (12th century France) explained that although there is nothing wrong with slaughtering animals in order to eat them, the Torah wants us to realize that there are certain acts, such as boiling a lamb in its mother's milk, which engender cruelty.