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Recent Questions

New Hebrew Name

I am 22 years old and starting to take my Judaism more seriously. The problem is that I don’t have a Hebrew name. I’ve asked my parents and they can’t recall what name I was given at birth. So my question is: How do I go about selecting a Hebrew name? And how does it become “official”?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish custom is to give the name of a relative who has passed away. This keeps the person’s memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between your soul and the deceased relative. This is a great honor to the deceased, because its soul can achieve an elevation based on the good deeds of the namesake. You, meanwhile, can be inspired by the good qualities of the deceased – and make a deep connection to the past.

Another idea is to pick the name of a great Jew, someone who embodied qualities like piety, kindness and leadership that you aspire to. This could be a biblical character, or someone from Jewish history. Some choose a name based on the Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. For example, someone born at Purim-time might be named Esther or Mordechai. A girl born on Shavuot might be named Ruth, and a child born on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish day of mourning, might be named Menachem or Nechama.

Similarly, names are sometimes chosen from the Torah portion corresponding to the week of the birth. Many names and events are mentioned in each Torah portion, offering a spiritual connection between the baby and that particular biblical figure.

There is an interesting story about how the Jewish reggae star Matisyahu got his Hebrew name. His English name is Matthew Miller, and the Hebrew name he received at his Brit Milah was forgotten. In Hebrew school it was assumed to be Matisyahu because of the connection between Matthew and Matisyahu. That was fortuitous for his music career, because the original Brit certificate was later located, revealing that the actual name given was "Feivish Hershel." Imagine that on the Billboard charts.

The importance of a Hebrew name was articulated by King David, who wrote in Psalms (147:4): "He counts the numbers of the stars; He gives a name to each of them." God gives names to each star, for they are dear to Him. Like the stars, no two souls are exactly alike. Everyone has his unique function in which he excels. Everyone shines a different light.

And finally, the actual process for being given the Hebrew name is to simply begin using it. Ask others to call you by that name, and ask the rabbi to say a special blessing for you in synagogue. It's as simple as that!

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."

Why Keep Kosher?

I grew up in a kosher home, and now that I’m out on my own, I am examining these issues for myself. So my question is: In today's modern world, why should I keep kosher?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is good that you are grappling with this and trying to acquire your Judaism as your own.

The ultimate answer to your question is "because God said so." Beyond this, however, there are practical, observable benefits to keeping kosher today:

1) Spirituality: The Torah teaches that non-kosher food has a negative effect on a Jewish soul. The soul is like an antenna that picks up waves of spiritual energy. Eating non-kosher food damages the capacity of the soul to "connect spiritually."

2) Self Growth: If you can be disciplined in what and when you eat, it follows that you can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait between milk and meat, and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you're hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline, and enables us to elevate our spiritual side, by making conscious choices over animal urges.

3) Health Reasons: With its extra supervision, kosher food is perceived as being healthier and cleaner. After slaughter, animals are checked for abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Blood – a medium for the growth of bacteria – is drained. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters and crabs have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction). Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body. And of course, pigs can carry trichinosis.

4) Moral Lessons: We are taught not to be cruel – even to animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and we "don't boil a kid (goat) in its mother's milk." We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain. And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

5) Tradition: One of the keys to making a Jewish home "Jewish" is the observance of keeping kosher. When we keep kosher in the home, our attachment to Judaism and the sacrifices that we make become ingrained on our children's minds forever. And with food so often the focus of social events, keeping kosher provides a built-in hedge against assimilation. For many, the bridge between past and future is the spiritual aroma of a kosher kitchen.

Ultimately, we cannot fathom the full depth of "Why keep kosher." For as the saying goes, there is more to keeping kosher than meets the palate...

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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