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  • Torah Reading: Naso
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Recent Questions:

Prayer for Taking Medicine

I just began taking an antibiotic for a minor ailment. Is there anything religious I should be doing together with taking the medicine? It seems odd that we turn to doctors for our healing but not to God!

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are quite correct. For all of our needs in this world we should turn first and foremost to God. If anything, the fact that we go to doctors is surprising. If God controls everything in this world, clearly it was He who made us sick to begin with. And if so, shouldn’t we be turning to Him to get us better – to rescind His decree against us? What right do we have to seemingly circumvent His will and seek natural remedies for our ailments?

In fact, however, the Talmud (Bava Kama 85a) derives from “and he shall surely heal him” (Exodus 21:19) that we may go to doctors to treat our illnesses. We do not see this as flaunting God’s will but as using the very resources He placed in this world to make the world a better place.

Yet, we should never lose sight of the fact that ultimately it is God who heals us – whether directly or through the materials He placed in this world and put in the hands of modern medicine. Unfortunately, many people seem to put all their trust and effort into medical means – practically forgetting the God who created them – and only when all else fails do they open their Psalms and begin praying.

In fact, the Sages instituted a blessing to be said whenever we take medicine, in order to remind us that ultimately God is our Healer (Talmud Brachot 60a, Shulchan Aruch 230:4 and Mishna Berurah 6). Here is the text of the prayer, both in transliterated Hebrew and in English:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Ado-nai Elo-hai, she’yehai eisek zeh li li’refuah ki rofai chinam atta.”

“May it be Your will, Lord my God, that this activity will bring healing to me, for You are the free Healer.”

I should add that if the medicine tastes good, it may also require a blessing, which should be said right after this prayer immediately before consuming it. For more details, see this response.

Creative Seder

Since everyone else is recovering from various broken bones this year, I'm doing the Seder at my house. So I took the opportunity to try to add a few creative ways to tell the story of freedom. Oy vey, did my brother-in-law fuss. He says we must do the "real" Seder.

I want to do a Seder that is meaningful to us, so we'd be involved instead of biding our time until the meal. I want the idea of freedom to translate to our lives today from the Sages of the past. Should I feel guilty about this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Regarding the content of the Passover Seder and unlimited creativity, I would like to make the following suggestion:

Keep to the traditional Seder, and also make time for creative adventure.

Why? Not to placate your brother-in-law. But in order to preserve the true message of the Seder.

Which is?

National redemption from the shackles of Egyptian oppression by the All Powerful Creator of the World, Who subsequently gave us the Torah, the guide to life that teaches us how to free ourselves from our own personal shackles of oppression and live a life which brings true joy - which is closeness to the All Powerful Creator of the World.

With all due credit and admiration for creative input, the concept of freedom can easily be misunderstood. For some people, "freedom" might mean releasing oneself from God's rules - exactly the opposite of what the Passover Seder is supposed to mean!

Sticking to the traditional Seder guarantees that God will be part and parcel of the freedom. And frankly speaking, any Seder that He isn't part of, is not a Passover Seder.

I'm all for creativity. At my own Seder we act out different parts of the Haggadah and we all have a blast. We have big plastic animals and ping pong balls (hail) flying around the room during the Ten Plagues. But we have the basic structure of the Haggadah there to preserve the integrity of the message that has been passed on for thousands of years. A time-tested message, woven with the self-sacrifice and devotion of countless generations. A priceless message which is the key to Jewish identity and survival.

What is Torah?

What is the literal meaning of the word Torah? Some I’ve asked have conjectured it means “The Book” or Hebrew for the Greek “Bible.” Someone else thought it meant tradition. Are these correct?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Although “Torah” does refer to the Five Books of Moses, or the Bible, and at times it refers to the combination of the written and oral laws, this is not the literal meaning of the word.

The accurate meaning of “Torah” is twofold. Firstly it comes from the word “hora’ah,” which means teaching. More precisely it means “teaching with direction,” i.e. the type of teaching which enables and empowers one with a direction to proceed. The same word could be used in Hebrew with such teachings both in spiritual and secular realms.

The second meaning is from the word “orah,” which means light. One example of this reflected in the verse which states, “A mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23). This can be understood on multiple levels:

One thought is that the Torah is the source of spiritual illumination in the world. Besides it being the source of Judaism, through it and its teachings we serve as a light unto the nations. As such the Torah serves as the foundation of much of Christianity and Islam.

The Torah also, more importantly, serves as the source of illumination for our own lives. Like the Clouds of Glory which guided the Jews for 40 years in the Desert, providing illumination and direction at night, the Torah lights our paths and provides the Jewish people with direction throughout our long period of exile, even through the darkest of times.

The Torah also provides direction in each Jew’s personal life. In business, family life or interaction with others, the Torah offers the ethical and moral compass by which to navigate the most complicated and tempestuous, thorny issues.

So whether in regard to individual guidance or the entire Jewish people, the two meanings of Torah – teaching with direction and illumination – form the centrality of Jewish life.

In the deeper, Kabbalistic writings, we find a more profound meaning of Torah and its connection to Light. Torah is not simply compared to light, it actually is a type of light. At its source, it is like a flaming spiritual fire. Its light provides the spiritual source of the physical light of the sun and all the constellations of the entire universe. All those lights will be dwarfed by the eventual unmasking of the hidden spiritual light to be revealed in the World to Come.

This is the reason the Torah was transmitted on Mount Sinai through fire. This was not only to create an effect – it revealed the essence of the Torah as a spiritual fire, a brilliant Light. Our souls and the Torah, both dazzling lights, were created from the same Source, and reconnect and ignite each other when a Jew deeply studies the Torah. When the Jewish people light up our souls with the fire of Torah, they we truly become a “light unto the nations.”