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Recent Questions

Intentional Mistakes

I've been enjoying the philosophy articles on Aish.com. The approach to life resonates with me much more than the Western style of consumerism and media hype. Regarding the obligatory nature of mitzvot, however, I think sometimes humans have to disregard the boundary and be disobedient against the command. It might be painful, but I believe you come away with a higher appreciation that God and His commands are ultimately correct. Do you agree with this thinking?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You have touched on a deep truth, but ultimately your principle is mistaken. The Talmud states: "In a place where a reformed sinner stands, even a righteous tzaddik does not stand." The idea is that after having erred, you can analyze your negative acts, learn from them, and use that knowledge as a foundation to motivate you further.

While all this seems to imply that it is better to make mistakes and then correct them, rather than never have made the mistake in the first place, that is not true.

Let's take the mundane example of the rule: "Always look both ways before crossing the street." There are two ways to learn this lesson: 1) Listen to the advice of teachers and parents to look both ways before crossing, or 2) cross recklessly, get hit by a car, and then while lying in the hospital acknowledge a lesson well-learned.

The problem in choosing the second path is that there is always a residual effect from our mistakes. A teenager who experiments with drugs may grow up to realize the dangers, but a lot of brain cells have been killed in the meantime.

There is one other danger: That the person will never correct their mistake. The child who recklessly crossed the street may be killed in the process, or the teenager who experiments with drugs may wind up in an advanced stage of addiction.

We human beings like to basically think of ourselves as independent. We have a built-in resistance to authority, and have a difficult time acknowledging that we need someone else's information.

The great kabbalist the Arizal explains that was the mistake of Adam and Eve - and look how much it cost us. In the Garden of Eden, the Snake argued that by eating from the forbidden fruit they would taste the flavor of evil, reject it, and then achieve a new level of holiness!

Nobody builds a skyscraper without expert advice and a plan. But "life" is much more complicated than constructing a building or performing surgery. You'd never dream of using trial and error in the operating room. So why do so with your personal life?

Many people would rather make their own mistakes, than learn from those who have already made them. We think we can learn everything by ourselves. We imagine we can get married, raise children, and live a meaningful life - "figuring it all out" as we go along!

Life is too short for this. We're bound to make mistakes; why add those we could otherwise prevent? Instead, Judaism teaches us to seek out people who truly possess wisdom. Hang around them, and bring a whole list of questions to ask them at every possible opportunity. On the wisdom scale, you can achieve in a few years what might otherwise take a lifetime.

The Talmud says that we are to give particular honor to two types of people: an elderly person, and a Torah scholar. What they both have in common is wisdom. The elderly person by virtue of life experience, and the Torah scholar by having absorbed the deep wisdom contained in Torah books. Note that they have both attained wisdom, but the Torah scholar can do so in a fraction of the time - and without suffering the many bumps and bruises along the way.

As the saying goes: "A fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise person learns from the mistakes of others."


Matisyahu

I'm a big fan of Matisyahu, the chassidic reggae singer. What is the origins of his name?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Matisyahu (also pronounced, Matityahu) is known from the Chanukah story as the father of Judah the Maccabee. During the second century BCE, the Jewish community was divided in response to the Greek appeal for assimilation. Some saw assimilation as a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. In general, two camps polarized: the Jewish assimilationists (called Hellenists) on one side, and the religious community on the other.

The matter came to a head in a small village called Modi'in, not far from Jerusalem. Greek soldiers came one day and demanded that the Jews sacrifice a pig to the pagan god. At first, no one stepped forward and the Jews stood in proud defiance of their pagan oppressors. But then a Jewish Hellenist volunteered to perform the mock offering.

Furious at this outrage, Matisyahu, from the family of Hasmonian priests, killed the man on the spot and then killed the soldiers who were present. Matisyahu and his five sons fled to the nearby caves and became the core of a guerrilla fighting unit. Led by Matisyahu's son Judah, they fought to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism - battling the Greeks not only militarily, but religiously as well.

In the end, we know who prevailed!


Double Torah Portion

I enjoy attending synagogue every Shabbat morning. When it comes to the weekly Torah reading, sometimes we read two parshas. Why is that?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah is split up into 54 portions, called parshas. The entire Torah is completed once per year, which works out to approximately one per week.

More precisely, though, there are 54 weekly portions in the Torah, but only 50 or 51 Shabbats in a year. In addition, there are at least two, and sometimes as many as 4 or 5, times when Shabbat falls on a holiday, and the normal weekly portion is not read that week. How are the calendars and the Torah reconciled?

The normal Jewish year (i.e. not a leap year) is generally 354 days long. 354 divided by 7 is 50 weeks, with a remainder of 4. In other words, there are 50 or 51 Shabbats during a normal Jewish year.

There are also certain times when the normal weekly portion is not read on Shabbat. Such instances are during Passover and Sukkot, when at least one day of the holiday happens on Shabbat, and other holidays which sometimes fall on Shabbat. Thus, there are at least two times during the year where the normal weekly portion is not read on Shabbat.

So now we’re down to approximately 48 Shabbats each year when the weekly portion is read. (Actually, we only read 52 of the 54 portions on Shabbat: The first portion of the Torah, Breishis, is always read on the Shabbat immediately following Simchat Torah. The last portion is always read on Simchat Torah, even though that holiday can never fall on Shabbat.)

The way these problems get reconciled is that certain portions can be combined:

    • Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1–38:20) and Pekudei (Exodus 38:21–40:38)

    • Tazria (Leviticus 12:1–13:59) and Metzora (Leviticus 14:1–15:33)

    • Acharei (Leviticus 16:1–18:30) and Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1–20:27)

    • Behar (Leviticus 25:1–26:2) and Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3–27:34)

    • Chukat (Numbers 19:1–22:1) and Balak (Numbers 22:2–25:9)

    • Matot (Numbers 30:2–32:42) and Masei (Numbers 33:1–36:13)

    • Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20) and Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1–31:30).

Some of these seven pairs of portions are combined each year to reconcile the number of Shabbat readings with the need to complete the annual Torah cycle.

During a Jewish leap year, an extra 30-day month is added to the year in the winter. This allows for at least four more weeks in the year, meaning that there is still a need to combine portions, but not as many as in a regular year.

Thankfully, all this is determined by a pre-set calendar, so there is no guesswork involved. If you’re interested to see how this plays out over many years, you can download user-friendly Jewish calendar software at http://www.aish.com/jl/hol/o/48970511.html


Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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