"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Shiur - Parshat Vayetzei

"Better to throw yourself in a fire than embarrass others" - lessons from the self sacrifice of Mother Rachel.

Unfortunately I didn't find the time to share a thought on zealousness this week.  However, my brother Shalom made an important correction that the name Elkana is actually spelled with a heh and not an alef which means that my new nephew's name has nothing to do with zealousness.  I apologize to the little guy for misrepresenting his identity in the first week of his life.

The shiur I am posting is about the incredible actions of Rachel in giving the simanim to her sister Leah.  Have a great shabbos.

Audio Shiur
Source Sheet  

Binyamin - always looking for a good question 


Monday, November 8, 2010

FNQ – 5 q's for the week


In honor of my new nephew, named Elkana (zealous for G-d), I would like to pose a few questions on the topic of zealousness. Those who act in a radical and zealous fashion are a constant source of fiery debate and discussion.  Their actions are endlessly challenged and questions regarding them are always provocative.  The past generation has seen its share of Jewish zealots and while no one in this world can know whether their actions were desirable or repulsive in G-d's eyes, I believe that their commitment to a cause and willingness to make sacrifices is laudable. Here are 5 questions about zealots. Come back later in the week for some thoughts on this subject.

  1. Is zealousness something we should all aspire to or is the kind of thing that is for some but not all?
  1. Pinchas is the Biblical example par excellence of a zealot. How is his reward of a covenant of peace fit for his zealous actions?
  1. Has our western sensibility taken away our ability to be zealous?
  1. If so is that a good thing? If not, where are all the zealots?
  1. Is there any litmus test to determine whether a zealot is in fact acting for the sake of heaven or not?
Binyamin - always looking for a good question

Sunday, November 7, 2010

FNQ announcement – A zealot breaks forth into the world

I would like to give a Mazal Tov to Shalom and Batya (Tifferet, Emunah and Tuvia) on the brit and naming of their son and brother Elakana Peretz. He was born last motzei shabbat on the 23rd of Cheshvan and the brit was this morning in their community of Adam. May they be zocheh to raise him to Torah, chuppah and maasim tovim. Mazal Tov!!!!

Some recordings from this wonderful occasion can be found below. There is also a link to a video with highlights from Yoni and Ariel's wedding. Enjoy, and may the simchas keep on coming.

Binyamin – never asks any questions about family simchas

Thursday, October 28, 2010

FNQ – 5qs for the week

Building or destroying

Last moztei shabbos I had the pleasure of seeing the inside of the newly re-built Churva Shul (destroyed shul) in the old city of Jerusalem for the first time. As I stood in awe of its breathtaking grandeur and striking beauty I couldn’t stop myself from asking a few questions about the deeper meaning of the rebuilding of this fairly ancient and previously destroyed synagogue. The re-dedication of this shul is in many ways a powerful of sign of our nation's advancement towards redemption. However, simultaneously as this shul was being re-built our government was/is freezing and halting the continued attempts to settle many areas in the heart of our ancient land. The following are 5 questions on these strange times. Come back later in the week for some thoughts on this topic.
  1. Why keep the name Churva?
  1. Can a building be physically built and spiritually remain destroyed?
  1. How do we relate to a government that builds and destroys our country at the same time?
  1. How can we distinguish between destruction which is needed for further building and destruction which is permanent?
  1. “If G-d will not build the house in vein do its builders labor on it” (Psalms 127) How are we supposed to know if G-d is helping the builders or the destroyers?
Binyamin - always looking for a good question

Sunday, October 24, 2010

FNQ thought of the week (last week)

Priorities and growing up

The experience of growing up can perhaps best be described as a process whereby what was important to you yesterday is meaningless today.  To mature is to understand that that which you once considered vital and essential was in fact trivial and insignificant. This experience can be summarized in short as the continuing process of re-prioritizing.

Contrary to what most think the resource in this world which is most scarce is not oil, water or money. The most precious and valuable commodity is not something that needs to be dug for, purified or even worked hard for. The resource I am referring to is time. The average life-span is a mere 80 years and the amount which one must accomplish in that time is enough to keep them occupied for a millennium. The struggle and conflict between one's lofty goals and the limited time one has to accomplish them creates an inevitable need to prioritize.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

FNQ – 5 q's for the week


Perhaps the most appropriate topic for this post (my first in 5 months or so) is priorities. I choose this topic because it is the reason why I have been unable to write anything for this blog for such a long time and it is the cause of great stress and tension in everyone's life. The struggle to prioritize and in turn to maximize the time and effort for those things that are higher on one's lists is great and perpetual. These are a few questions I have on this topic. Come back in a few days (hopefully) for my thoughts.

  1. What are the criteria one should use for determining what is most important in one's life?
  1. Is it reasonable to expect that a person lives a life where their top priorities are always given precedence over things of lesser importance?
  1. If I say something is important to me but constantly choose to do things of lesser importance in its stead am I being honest about what my priorities are?
  1. If I am responsible for the (physical / spiritual) well being of someone else – should my own needs ever take priority?
  1. In the perfect world will there be time for everything on our list of priorities or will it merely become clear how our time should be best spent?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question. (and glad to have once again found some)

Friday, October 15, 2010

FNQ - New Parsha Shiur

Lech L'cha - Derech Eretz from lodging to loans

It has been a while since I have written anything so what better way to get things rolling than to share a thought on the parsha.  I hope to put up my  parsha shiur each week after giving it on Thursday nights.  My plan is to focus on a different issue pertaining to midot and various aspects of mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro.  This shiur is based on a comment of  Rashi describing some of the lessons in derech eretz that we can learn from father Abraham on his return from Egypt.  Have a good shabbos.

Binyamin - always looking for a good question
Shiur on Parshat Lech l'cha
Source sheet for parshat lech l'cha

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Audio from Yoni and Ariel's Wedding

FNQ Exclusive

As promised  here are a few audio clips from the holy wedding of Yoni and Ariel Miller that can only be found at this site.  For those who had the honor of being there it will give you a chance to relive some of the highlights.  And for those who could not make it you will get a glimpse of the awesome simcha of this event.  Enjoy!!!!!!! My plan is that this blog will return to its regular schedule next week.  (Questions of the week, Thought of the week and parsha thought.)   There will also be a new parsha shiur recording (of a shiur of mine) that I will try to put up every week.

Chosson's Tish - lot's of good cheer.  (l'chaims taking place left and right)

Im Eshkachech - a beautuiful rendition by Shlomo Katz with a Torah from the mesader kiddushin

Divrei Bracha from Rav Steinberg - a beautiful thought about this holy moment.

Divrei Bracha from Rav Machlis - holy words about the chosen and kalla.

Yoni's Eishet Chayil - a nigun composed special for the wedding (sorry for the low quality of the recording)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Almost MAZAL TOV to Yoni and Ariel - Exclusive coverage on FNQ

FNQ Announcement

At 6:30 tonight Jerusalem time my younger brother will enter into holy matrimony with Ariel (for a little longer) Abrams.

Come back later in the week for exclusive video and audio coverage of this event that will only be available at this website.  (great for those who couldn't make it to this awesome simcha.)

MAZAL TOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Machloket – a different perspective

FNQ – parsha thought
It would be easy to read this week's sad story of the rebellion of Korach and conclude that one should never be involved in any form of machloket (argument) . After all look what happened to Korach and his people, would you want to be swallowed up by the ground? But I believe that machloket is a very mixed bag and not totally negative. I would like a share a few thoughts on this topic and provide a balance for the profoundly negative and one sided portrayal of machloket that we find in the parsha.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The death of the righteous

FNQ – special

I was privileged last night to participate in the funeral of Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu zt'l. Rabbi Eliahu served as one of the primary poskim and leaders in both spiritual and mundane matters for a large segment of the religious community in Israel. Although I was unable to hear any of the eulogies due to the throngs of people, just to be there and take part in the national mourning of this great loss was meaningful. I would like to share a few thoughts on the significance of losing a great tzadik and leader.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


FNQ – 5 q's of the week

In honor of the incredible achievement of the Phillies own Roy Haladay who pitched a perfect game yesterday, I wanted to pose some questions on the concept of perfection, as it pertains to our lives.

 In baseball, perfection is easy to define (perfect game = a pitcher who pitches a game without giving up a hit or a walk and there are no errors in the game). In baseball, perfection is also incredibly difficult to achieve (only 20 in the history of baseball!!!).

 In life though, perfection is very difficult to define and perhaps impossible to achieve. As Jews, we have one source to look to for the nature of perfection, that source is G-d. We know that He is perfect and we know a little about Him. In a certain way, the commandment to be like G-d is a command to be perfect, or at least to attempt to become perfect. Here are a few questions to ponder on the topic of perfection.

Come back later in the week for my imperfect thoughts on the topic of perfection. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mazel Tov to the Bodner and Pearlman families on the birth of a baby boy

FNQ - announcement

We would like to wish a big mazel tov to Rachel, Eli and Shaya Bodner (sister in law, brother in law and nephew of mine) on the birth of a new son.  Aviva and I are sad that we won't be there for the festivities, though we certainly expect to participate virtually in some fashion or another (I hear America is very high tech so I am sure you can figure something out dad).  The baby looks very cute and it appears that the red genes will live on.  Kein Yirbu.

You should be zocheh legadel oto l'torah l'chupa u'lemaasim tovim.

Manager's Note:  Due to the large number of smachot in my family (Baruch Hashem) I will have to request a small donation if you would like me to announce your simcha.  Cash or credit accepted :)

Binyamin - always looking for a good question 

Good Shabbos


FNQ - parsha thought

This shabbos I will be in Modiim where I will G-d willing be serving as a rabbininc intern over the next year.  I am speaking friday night between kabalat Shabbat and Maariv.  This is the thought I plan to share (in Hebrew). 

When Shavuot exits the stage the Jewish people clear their collective calender from holidays for quite some time. No other part in the year has such a long stretch of time with no joyous days. Not only are there no joyous days but the only moadim (unique days in our calender) over the next 4 months are the two fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. Shavuot leaves us and all that lies us ahead is destruction and mourning. Not only is our calender empty after Shavuot but the portions we read in the Torah also are far from uplifting. This stretch of parshiyot are the amongst the most depressing string of stories in all of Tanach. Things go from bad to worse as we begin this week with the complainers, followed by the sad tale of the spies, the rebellion of Korach, the death of Miriam and the disgrace of the Moabite women. But I believe that in a short paragraph in this week's parsha is contained a life line and a powerful message than can guide us through these and all difficult days.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The revelation at Sinai

FNQ - thought of the week 

I will share my thoughts on the questions this week in a little bit of a different format than usual because I think the answer to each is so important. I don't claim to be much of an expert on these issues but I will try and share what I know. Each of these questions warrants a book but I am well aware that no one opened this link planning on reading a book.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The revelation at Sinai

FNQ – 5 q's for the week

Now that we have all re-experienced the giving and receiving of the Torah I would like pose some questions on the nature of this sublime and out of this world event. Belief in what is described in the Torah about the Sinai experience is a non-negotiable deal breaker. Belief in anything less than the revelation of G-d to the Jewish people and direct transmission of something (exactly what is a machloket) places one firmly outside of a Jewish belief system. Sinai is the backbone of our entire tradition and those who have unfortunately attempted to change our age old practices have always begun their redecorating by dismantling the keystone that is the Sinai experience. Perhaps one way to respond to those who deny the revelation at Sinai is to, in addition to affirming our absolute belief, gain a better understanding of what happened there and why it was so meaningful. May these questions and thoughts (later in the week) be a step in that direction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mazal Tov on the Pidyon Ha'ben of Matanya Yisrael Miller - The boy is ours!!!

FNQ - Announcement

It was with great joy and excitement that I reclaimed my son from Rabbi Aharon Katz yesterday.   The ceremony went rather smoothly as the decision whether or not to buy him back was fairly simple (he is just too cute not to keep him).  We celebrated the fulfillment of this mitzvah with our family, friends and Rabbeim from the Gruss kollel.  Now that he is fully ours we can begin implementing our parenting plan which we culled through hours of research in countless parenting books.  May it be G-d's will that we merit raising him in the path of Torah and Mitzvot!!!   Enjoy the pictures and links to the speeches.  (I hope to put video up soon)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mazel Tov to Yoni Miller (my brother) and Ariel Abrams on their engagement

FNQ – announcement

We would like to wish the חתן (Yoni Miller) and כלה (Ariel Abrams) a big mazel tov.  They should be zochim to build a bayit neeman b'yisrael. The engagement was Friday at Kever Shmuel Ha'navi and last night (motzei shabbos) there was a beautiful l'chaim at my parent's home in Yerushalayim. The following are links to the beautiful words that were shared at the l'chaim.

עוד ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה קול חתן וקול כלה

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jerusalem or Cesarea

FNQ – thought for the week

Yom Yerushalayim passed before I found the time to share a thought about the holy city but better late than never so here goes.

We live in confusing times. The Talmud says (Megilah 6a) that if someone tells you that Jerusalem and Cesarea are destroyed or that both are built up don't believe him. Only if he tells you that one is destroyed and one is built up can you believe him. Jerusalem and Casarea here are not merely referring to the cities themselves but rather to the cultures and values which these two cities represent. Jerusalem represents Jewish values and the service of G-d whereas Cesarea is symbolic of Roman and by extension all of Western culture. The gemara is saying that there is no room for both of these world views only one can be on top and the other by definition must lay in ruin. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rut, Geirut and Kabalat ha'Torah: (Megilat Ruth Chapter 1) - לעילוי נשמת אלקע בת שמואל

FNQ – New Shiur – Series: Controversial Stories in Tanach

I gave this shiur last night in memory of my grandmother Elsie Miller a'h whose yartzei is today (כז אייר). She, like Ruth, was a princess of a women whose memory is honored by her many descendants living and teaching Torah in Eretz Yisrael. Her neshama should have an aliya.

This shiur deals with some of the controversial issues in Megilat Ruth. Some of the questions I discussed include:

Monday, May 10, 2010


FNQ – 5 q's for the week

Jerusalem. Its very name touches the souls of billions. Its stones echo the cries of a nation yearning to see it rebuilt and returned to its former glory. It is the city where kings are crowned and prophets are made. It is the place where the divine presence rests and the place where the Jewish people gather. It is our heart and soul, our eyes and ears, and it is the gateway to heaven. To live in an age where a Jewish flag flies over Jerusalem is to live and witness that which others could only dream of. With Yom Yerushalayim (the day we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967) approaching I wanted to ask 5 questions about our holy city. Come back on Wednesday (Yom Yerushalayim) for my thoughts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The power of being a parent

FNQ - thought of the week

Why is it that it my entire purpose in this world seems to have dramatically changed now that there is a human being who is my child?

I would like to attempt to share a thought on the above question. Concerning the other 4 questions which are more practical parenting issues come back in 50 years and maybe I will have something intelligent to say about them.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chananya Mishael and Azarya - Jumping into the fire (Daniel Chapter 3)

FNQ New Shiur – Series: Controversial stories in the Bible

I originally made this shiur for Yom Ha'zikaron in order to mark the day on which we remember and honor those who made and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the State of Israel and the Jewish people.  The story of  Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya teaches us about the willingness to give up life in order to sanctify G-d's name.  I could think of no more fitting story to speak of on Yom Ha'zikaron. 

Some of the interesting issues I dealt with in this shiur include:

Sunday, May 2, 2010


FNQ – 5 q's for the week

For now, my life has returned to its regularly scheduled programming which means that it is time to once again attempt to pose thought provoking questions. However, the view from here is very different and the questions and thoughts must follow suit. For my first group of questions a.c. (after child) I would like to ask 5 questions on the most challenging pursuit man and woman have ever led – parenting. I have never experienced anything as exhilarating and humbling as that which I have felt in my first two weeks of being a father. The questions abound but for now five is a good start. Perhaps those reading this with more experience than I could help me with some answers. Either way I will try and give my own.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Shiur: Lag B'omer origins and messages

FNQ - Shiur

In preparation for Lag B'omer, this Sunday, I wanted to post this shiur.  I gave this shiur three years ago in Yu and was hoping to give an updated version this year but that didn't happen.  I went through a few different sources for this day (which has no source earlier than rishonim) and some meaningful lessons that can be taken from Lag B'omer. 

Lag B'omer Shiur
Lag b'omer source sheet

What do you think?

Binyamin - always looking for a good question?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The roller coaster of life

FNQ - special

Some who are reading this post may have more intimate knowledge of my family's personal roller coaster ride over the past month, some may have less and some may not even know who I am. But I am sure that all can relate to the metaphor. Although it is impossible to figure out the whys of G-d for He is much smarter than us, I do think we are required to challenge ourselves and consider the for what's.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Miller and Pearlman Families and Jewish People welcome מתניה ישראל to the tribe

FNQ - simcha announcement 

With great joy and pride we celebrated our son's bris this morning in the Holy city of Jerusalem.  There is much to say and much has already been said.  The questions will have to wait for next week but for now I have put links to my speech and the Ema, Aviva's, speech.  There is also a link to a poem composed at the bris by my Rebbe Rav Bednarsh.
Mazel tov and may we share in many more smachot.

Good shabbos

Aviva's speech from the bris
Binyamin's (my) bris speech
Poem for Matanya Yisrael
Source sheet for Binyamin's dvar torah

what do you think

Binyamin - always looking for a good question (and at the moment speechless with joy)

Monday, April 12, 2010

The paradox of pain

FNQ – thought for the week

I recall walking around the ruins of Auschwitz-Birkenau and feeling nothing. Perhaps it was because it was the last day of an emotionally taxing week of seeing the horrors of the Holocaust and I had nothing left to feel. Or perhaps it was because on that day the sun shone, the grass was green and Auschwitz resembled a beautiful park so what I saw simply didn't jive with the dark, bleak reality that I always envisioned. Or maybe, the pain and death of that place was so great that its comprehension was beyond my emotional capacity. The sheer scope of the tragedy made me incapable of feeling the pain.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Questions on Yom Ha'shoah

FNQ – questions for the week

Welcome back. I hope you all had a wonderful Pesach. Mine was incredibly meaningful. How could a chag spent with family and friends in Jerusalem not be. Now that vacation is over it is time to get back to work which for me means a return to the wonderful world of thought provoking questions. For my first two installments I will be discussing the special days of Yom Ha'shoa, (Holocaust Memorial day), Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's independence day).

The thought of asking questions about the Holocaust is a daunting one. But we must ask for to remain silent is to be aloof and distant which is unacceptable when faced with the nightmare of the 6,000,000. We ask to connect to their holy memory. We ask so taht the Master of the Universe will know we haven't forgotten and the pain is still real. The questions may be old but our feelings when asking them must be as one who just heard of the horrific tragedy. Only in this way can we have any hope to connect to the power of the day. Come back (hopefully tomorrow) when I will try and give my thoughts (there are no answers) on some of these questions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Being The Redeamed and The Redeamer

The four questions that the child asks his parents are our gateway into the quest for the wondrous experience that lays ahead of us tonight. We are about to step into an adventure which will allow us to relive the transformation of our ancestors from slaves to free men. The way by which the Torah as well as our Rabbis formulate this goal is that every father must teach his child the story of the exodus. This experience is prompted by the child’s questions which lead to the teaching of the miraculous story.

This requirement of question and answer is a unique element that the seder night has which differentiates it from all other educational mitzvot that we have over the year. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, commonly know as the Kedushas Levi, the name of his monumental work of Chassidic thought, explains that the reason for this is that something phenomenal happens when a parent and a child enter into a dialogue. If one were to examine such a conversation from a distance, it would seem absolutely ludicrous. Why would an intellectually mature individual take his time to speak with another individual of much lesser intelligence and understanding? He should focus his mental faculties on pursuits which befit his own level. The Kedushas Levi therefore explains that when a father teaches his child or a teacher his student they are forced to take their own intellectual self and diminish it. They do not speak to them as an equal, rather they must use language, tones, metaphors and gestures which will all appeal to the mind of the child. This is what happens in such a pedagogical dialogue; it is not a conversation of equals. It necessitates one greater, more advanced individual to lessen his own mind for the sake of being able to properly relate to his pupil.

Why is there a specific need for this phenomenon on the night of the Pesach Seder? According to some Halachic authorities the mitzva of the telling over of the story of the exodus is fulfilled in the greatest way when a father teaches a child who has the most minimal intelligence. How does this contribute to our personal experience of leaving Egypt? To this the Kedushas Levi responds that when the father answers his sons questions and achieves this educational dialogue he is doing precisely what The Master of the World did for the Jewish people in the exodus from Egpyt. Just as the father goes down to the level of his son out of pure, absolute love and devotion in order to respond to him so too did Hashem come down by HimSelf in order to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. The lower the father has to stoop to answer questions and clarify difficulties, the more he relives the exodus. In order to redeem our ancestors our Father in Heaven went down to the lowliest and most disgusting promiscuous, idolatrous and impure place in the world, Mitzrayim. It is utterly illogical for such a thing to happen. The Baal HaTanya asks, why would an exalted, pure infinite G-D lower HimSelf in such a way? Nothing besides absolute love and devotion can explain such a phenomenon.

Our total experience of the exodus of Egypt requires us to relive not only the receiving side of the salvation and redemption but also the side of the bestowing and giving: Hashem. This is the relationship between the teller of the story of yetziat Mitzrayim and the hearer of the story. The truth of the matter is that within every Jew, young or old, educated or less so, spiritually aware or less so, there lays both elements. Every Jew is a child, the hearer of the story, the recipient of the miraculous deliverance from slavery and bondage. But at the same time we also have a piece of G-D within us, we have the power to tell the story, to be redeemers and saviors in our own rights.

To conclude, the halachah, Jewish law, requires a Jew who may unfortunately sit at his Seder by himself to ask himself the questions and respond to himself. This too fits in precisely with our understanding. For in a sense we all oftentimes find ourselves quite lonely, down and unproductive; our own personal feeling of exile and servitude. The halachah demands of us to tell ourselves the story. Not only to be the needers and recipients of the salvation, but to also be completely aware that we can be the parent and the teacher; we can be bestowers of the redemption as well, most importantly to ourselves.

One final FNQ seder thought

I saw this idea in the Haggadah entitled, "Exalted evening" which is a compilation of the ideas of Rav Soloveitchik on the seder night.  After reading it I couldn't resist sharing since it is so relevant to some of the thoughts I have written since starting this blog.

On page 28-29 of the the Haggadah in the final paragraph on the page the Rav writes (it is written in his name). "The form of narration in the Haggadah avails itself of dialogue: one person asks and another responds.  It is necessary to dramatize this narration because G-d reveals himself to man if and when the latter searches for him.  If one does not inquire, if one expects God will reveal Himself without making an all-out effort to find Him, one will never meet G-d.  "But from there you will seek the lord and you shall find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and all you soul" (Deut 4:29).
   Nachmanidies, in his comments on the verse "His habitation you shall seek and there you shall come" (Deut 12:5), says: "You should come to Me from distant lands, and you should keep inquiring where is the road leading to G-d's habitation."  The searching for the sanctuary, the curiosity to know the location of the sanctuary, is itself redeeming and sanctifying!  The curiosity hallows the pilgrimage and makes it meaningful.  If one does not search for G-d, if a Jew does not keep in mind where is the road leading to the Temple, the he or she will never find the temple.
    On the first night of Pesach, we tell the story of a long search by man for G-d, of G-d responding to the inquisitive search, of G-d taking man, who longs for him into His embrace.  At the Seder, we try to stimulate the naive curiosity of the children and thereby make them G-d searchers.  The quest for G-d, along with the acceptance of the commandments, is the true spiritual liberation."

We should be zocheh to be true searchers and begin our search tonight.  

what do you think?

Binyamin - always looking for a good question 

Friday, March 26, 2010

The freedom of being slaves to G-d

FNQ – holiday special
  1. It says in the hagadah “had G-d not taken us out then, we would still be slaves to Pharoah in Egypt”. Since the literal meaning of the statement is kind of hard to relate to (I cant imagine we wouldn't have revolted at some point) what is the idea behind this puzzling declaration?
  2. Why is it that our night of freedom is full of rules that seem to be more restrictive than freeing?
Imprisoned in the chains of the finite and temporary existence of a physical world we are all slaves to something. Some are slaves to their work, others to their desire for money, others to desire for sex and others to the whims of pop culture and western pseudo morality. There is only one form of slavery which has a component of freedom, being a slave to G-d. I will try to explain this obvious paradox.

It is a principle of the Jewish faith that man has free choice. This is the most basic expression of freedom and it is what separates man from the others living beings with whom we share planet Earth. But to invoke this power and maximize its potential is not as simple as one may think. Often we think that a choice is ours when in reality the choice is made by something other than us. It is made by our base physical desires, or by our boss or by our bank account. Such choices are anything but free. A choice is your own only when it is free from these shackles.

Make no mistake the freedom of Pesach does not mean that we are celebrating having no master. We have a master and we remain slaves. What took place on Pesach long ago and what we celebrate each year is the opportunity to becomes slaves to something higher than the impulses of human desire. On Pesach we became slaves G-d and thus we have the potential for true freedom.

With this in mind I think I can answer my two questions. The line in the haggada that states had G-d not taken us out we would still be slaves to Pharoah is not literal. In all likelihood the nation of Hebrews would have, one way or another, found a way to escape from their slavery in Egypt. But only in the physical sense. In the spiritual sense we would still be slaves to a culture that worships the body and deifies all that gives pleasure. If G-d had not taken us out we would still be slaves.

This is also the meaning of a line we say every night in maariv. We say that G-d took us out of Egypt for eternal freedom. Clearly this line isn't referring to physical freedom because the the Jewish nation has been slaves to many a master since we left Egypt. It is clear that in this prayer we are thanking G-d for the ability to be spiritually free. The ability to transcend the material and carnal and answer to something higher.

Perhaps this is why there are so many rules and details in the seder. Had we simply marked the moment of our Exodus from Egypt with a big gluttonous meal we might mistakenly think that in leaving Egypt we entered into a chaotic existence with no rules. We celebrate our freedom by affirming our commitment to G-d in conforming to every last detail of His Divine commands. The night of the seder (which means order) is the ultimate expression of our newfound control whereby we become the masters over physicality and the temporal fleeting state of being human.

We are all slaves to something, on Pesach we have the chance to free ourselves from all bondage but one. At the seder we become slaves to G-d.

Chag Sameach

What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Using grape juice for the four cups

FNQ - holiday special

Though it may be preferable, there is no obligation for everyone present to drink from the wine over which kiddush is made on a regular shabbos or yom tov. For this reason those who don't enjoy drinking grape derivatives can fulfill their obligation of kiddush while avoiding the need to drink a beverage they don't enjoy. However, the night of the seder is unique in that each person is obligated to drink 4 cups of wine as part of the seder to fulfill a the rabbinic mitzvah of daled kosot (4 cups of wine). The question that I would like to address in this post is whether an alco-phobe can fulfill his or her obligation using grape juice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So that the children will ask

FNQ – Pesach Special

The seder is an educational masterpiece. Throughout the year there is a commandment to teach our children Torah and guide them in the ways of our ancient traditions; but on the seder night there is a unique obligation to tell our children about the Exodus from Egypt. The key to a good story is breathing life into past events. If you simply retell facts and dry information you can be sure that the listener will find a more interesting way to keep themselves occupied. To ensure that the Exodus would be brought to life the Rabbis came up with a perfect balance of experiential and intellectual stimulation. The experiential aspects of eating maror and matzah to taste the burn of slavery and glory of redemption are well documented. In this post I would like to focus on what I believe is the most basic and essential of the intellectual tools used to spur the interest of our children in the seder experience. Namely, questions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shabbos Hagadol – What's the big idea

FNQ – Special for Pesach

Shabbos Hagadol is one of the many things we do every year and probably never stop to ask what makes this shabbos any greater/bigger than any other shabbos. In my limited research I discovered five different explanations for the name shabbos hagadol and what it is that makes this shabbos is unique. I have no doubt that there are additional reasons given but here is what I found. If you know of other explanations please share them. The sources for these can be found on this source sheet.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Share a pesach question

FNQ Special

As I mentioned in the last post the seder is FNQ's favorite Jewish ritual.  It's the night where the question takes the center stage and you get candies for a good question and not a good answer.   In an attempt to prepare for the night of question I was thinking it would be great if people would share some of their favorite Pesach or seder related questions.  Feel free to give an answer as well but remember you only get a candy for the questions. 

Binyamin - always looking for a good question.

Pesach Questions

FNQ 5 q's for the week

Pesach is FNQ's favorite holiday and the seder is without a doubt our favorite night. The seder experience is all about using questions to pique the interest and curiosity of the participants. For this week's installment I would like to pose 5 questions on various as aspects of Pesach and the seder. It is my plan (if I am blessed with the time) to try and answer all of the these questions in the upcoming week. Check back throughout the week for my answers.  As always, I look forward to hearing yours as well.

  1. The upcoming shabbos is entitled Shabbat Hagadol. What's so big/great about it?

  2. We have many strange customs at the seder whose goal is so that the children (and adults) will ask. Why is it that there seems to be no answers to their questions?

  3. It says in the hagadah “had G-d not taken us out then, we would still be slaves in Egypt”. Since the litereal meaning of the statement is kind of hard to relate to (I cant imagine we wouldn't have revolted at some point) what is the idea behind this puzzling declaration?

  4. If I don't like wine can I use grape juice for the 4 cups?

  5. Why is it that our night of freedom is full of rules that seem to be more restrictive than freeing?
What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To be as free as Adam

FNQ – Parsha thought

Many commentators deal with a word in the very beginning of Parshas VaYikra that presents some difficulty. “...Adam ki yakriv mikem korban la’Shem....” (When a man among you brings a sacrifice to Hashem). The word “Adam” seems to be superfluous; is it not obvious that the verse is addressing humans? However, as conditioned explorers of the Torah we know that its depth is infinite and even one dot is not extraneous, let alone an entire word. What is the reason for this word Adam?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to know if we are headed for the slope

FNQ – thought for the week

From the time prophecy was no longer available Jewish leaders have been struggling to determine which innovations would lead to greater Torah commitment and which innovations would weaken our bond to G-d and His law. It is my opinion that even the greatest of our Rabbinic sages were forced to use a cost benefit analysis before instituting a change in the absence of direct Divine guidance. Without prophecy no one can see the future and predict the impact that a new idea will have. In this post I would like to share some thoughts of mine concerning slippery slopes and how they can be avoided.

To begin the discussion we need to refer back to our Wikipedia definition. A slippery slope is: “A chain of events that, once initiated, cannot be halted; especially one in which the final outcome is undesirable or precarious.” In Judaism it is fairly simple to identify which outcomes are considered undesirable. Any innovation which will lead to transgression of halacha is unacceptable. I think most of the time when Jewish leaders refer to an idea as being a slippery slope what they mean is that although the idea itself accords with halacha it will eventually lead to another idea that will violate halacha (the chain could be a little longer). It is important to note that if the innovation itself veers from Jewish law that isn't a slippery slope that is already sliding to the bottom.

Ideally we could test innovations and give them a trial period before accepting them completely. Perhaps in certain circumstances this is possible and should even be done. However, there are situations where the trial itself may be the first step down the slope. In these cases the fear is that a even after repealing an innovation its impact on the Jewish people may be irreversible. I believe this issue is especially true today when it is virtually impossible to keep an idea contained. A new innovation becomes widely known immediately and to fully reverse it is hopeless. This is perhaps one of the reasons why fear of change is especially prevalent in today's global shtetel.

I thought of a few criteria which may be factors in determining whether an idea is headed for a slippery slope.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Shiur: The mysterious book discovery, and unique Pesach of Yoshiyahu

In this latest installment in my series entitled, "controversial stories in tanach", I addressed the following issues. 

(links to other shiurim in this series can be found in the sidebar under my shiurim and shiur source sheets)

Shiur link
Source sheet link

What was so exciting about discovering the mysterious scrolls?

Is it possible that the Torah was lost for a period of almost 75 years?

What was unique about the Pesach celebration in the times of Yoshiahu?

What is the connection between cleaning the Beit Hamikdash from idols and cleaning our homes from chametz?

The appears the the Book of Kings 2 Chapters 22,23

Binyamin - always looking for a good question

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Slippery Slope

FNQ - 5 q's for the week
In my post last week about Female Orthodox Rabbis I referenced the argument oft used to forbid innovations known as the 'slippery slope'. Contrary to popular belief this idiom was not invented by Orthodox Rabbis as an explanation for prohibiting a myriad of contemporary creations. In fact a definition for the phrase slippery slope appears on Wikipedia. It is as follows: “A chain of events that, once initiated, cannot be halted; especially one in which the final outcome is undesirable or precarious.” The problem with catchy phrases like this one is that they often replace cogent, clearly formulated ideas with vague words whose meaning is presumed though rarely understood. This leads to a lot of confusion and inevitably arguments will be made that are either misunderstood or contain no substance at all. Here are 5 questions on the concept of a slippery slope. Come back Tuesday for a thought on this topic.

Friday, March 12, 2010

FNQ Parsha Thought - VaYakhel Pekudei/HaChodesh

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was known for drawing incredibly valuable lessons simply from the names of the Parshiyos alone (see the introduction to the excellent Gutnick Chumash). He raised a difficulty with the coupling of the two names VaYakhel and Pekudei as being a contradiction; the first being a description of bringing together disparate parts in order to form a kehilla and the second being a description of counting or pointing out individual elements, each as his own unique entity. One can see the Rebbes wonderful explanation of this issue in the Gutnick Chumash, or even better go straight to Likkutei Sichos. Please allow me to present a mehalech.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

To build a house for G-d: It doesn't get any better

FNQ Parsha Thought

Much ink has been spilled and kilobytes of memory consumed in an attempt to understand why the Torah describes the building of the Mishkan at such incredible length.  There are a few things that are troubling, including, the repetition (twice in full), the intricate details, and perhaps most perplexing, the measurements given for the Mishkan will never even be used again since the Beit Hamikdash, destined to be built in Jerusalem, has its own measurements that are not based on what is recorded in the parshiyot of Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel and Pekudai. Here is a thought on the puzzling matter of building the Mishkan.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Female Rabbis and filter systems

FNQ – thought for the week

In my previous post that can be accessed here, I posed five questions on the subject of female Orthodox Rabbis.  Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

Let me make it clear that I am all for innovation. My Judaism and Avodat Hashem have been enhanced by modern advancement both from within and without. However, while I may not be a believer in a sheltered lifestyle I am a proponent of a filtered lifestyle. Not every new idea should be embraced and not every western value has a place within the sacred walls of the collective Jewish home. Living a filtered life is the challenge that faces every Jew living in the modern world. Each and every individual is responsible for creating their personal filters and at the same time we must to look to our rabbinical leaders for guidance as to what  should be let in and what must remain outside. It is my opinion, that the position of a female Rabbi, Rabbah, Maharat or whatever it will be called must not be allowed to pass through the filter that safeguards Modern Orthodoxy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Female Orthodox Rabbis

FNQ - 5 q's for the week
I don't know all the details but it appears that Rabbi Avi Weiss who recently gave a woman the title of Rabba (female Rabbi) has retracted. Women who finish his training program will once again receive the original acronym/title of Maharat (it means: female leader in the areas of halacha, spirituality and Torah). While reverting back to Maharat is perhaps a temporary bandaid to appease the mainstream Orthodox discomfort with Rabba,  the desire on the part of some to create a position entitled "female rabbi" remains unaddressed. I would like to pose 5 questions on the concept of female Orthodox Rabbis. These questions are not meant as an attack, yet I admit that I am asking them from a position of open skepticism. Come back on Tuesday for my thoughts on this topic and my answers to some of these questions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Parshas Parah

FNQ Parsha Thought

The Mishna Berura (655:1) says that the reason why we read Parshas Parah the Shabbos before Parshas HaChodesh, that heralds Chodesh Nissan, is to commemorate the burning of the Parah Aduma.  The Parah Aduma is the essential ingredient in the water which serves to purify all of Klal Yisrael thereby enabling them to offer the Korban Pesach.  He concludes: “we read this Parsha as a prayer to Hashem that He will throw the pure waters upon us very soon.”

There is a well known conundrum that is taught in the Medrash Tanchuma (Chukas: 3) and stated slightly differently in the Gemara (Nidah 9a) regarding the Parah Aduma. In the process of showering the waters the impure individual as well as the pourer of the water would become pure; however, any other individual who would touch the very sane water or would be in any way involved in the process would become impure. This is perhaps the quintessential “chok” in the Torah.  It is a decree of Hashem and not meant to be fully understood by our limited intellect.  However, even though we are not meant to understand fully the reason for the Parah Adumah, we can and must still attempt to learn from it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Purim 5770

FNQ - thought for the week

Will I succeed this year in experiencing a Purim induced alcoholic high and thus merit entering the inner sanctum and Holy of Holiest which is buried deep inside of me (and inside each and every Jew)?

Another Purim has passed and I still am left unfilled in my goal to achieve the sublime heights of Purim seudah bliss. It wasn't from a lack of trying. In truth, it may be unrealistic to think that in my relatively small number of Purim celebrations (fifteen, since my Bar Mitvah), and even fewer times drinking on Purim (ten, from when I was in Yeshivat Hakotel), that I would reach the transcendent level that can be accessed only on Purim. The following is a short description of this year's attempt.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

To drink or not to drink?

FNQ – 5 q's of the week

With Purim only a few hours away we will all once again be faced with the ever burning and provocative question: To drink or not to drink? I think that many approach this issue in the wrong way. First of all, it isn't really a Halachic issue. That is, since there is support for everything from total abstention to total inebriation, with no clear consensus, a person has the rare opportunity to do whatever he chooses. Secondly, this is a personal choice since alcohol affects each person differently. Whether or not your Rebbe, best friend or anyone else drinks on Purim should have no impact on your own decision. These are four questions you should ask yourself before drinking alcohol on Purim. The 5th question is of a more personal nature and I will try to answer it on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Esther and Achashverosh - Better to die than sin?

I give a weekly shiur in Tanach called - Stories that make you go hmm.   They can be found on the sidebar.  This is my latest shiur about the very strange relationship between Esther and Achashverosh.

These are some of the questions I address in this shiur:

  1. Was Ester forced to marry Achashverosh or did she do it willingly?
  2. Does a Jew have to die to avoid a sexual relationship with a non-Jew?
  3. Is there a difference between men and women in this rule?
  4. How was it permitted for Esther to ultimately initiate a relationship with Achashverosh? 
  5. Is one allowed to commit one of the 3 grave sins (adultery, idolatry, murder) in order to save other Jews?

This is the shiur and this is the source sheet - tell me what you think.

Binyamin - always looking for a good question

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purim – a world with no evil

FNQ thought for the week
What is the connection between the mitzvah to remember Amalek and the celebration of Purim?

The connection between Purim and Amalek is well established. On both the Shabbos preceding Purim and on Purim itself we read the two Torah portions that describe the heinous crimes of Amalek. Furthermore, the Megilah says that Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag. All of these connections merely show that the celebration of Purim and remembering/destroying Amalek are related. I would like to explore that relationship.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Killing Amalek

FNQ - 5 q's for the week

Before we ascend to the spiritual bliss of Purim we have a commandment to recall the deeds of Amalek. The commandment to remember Amalek is, according to many, a preparative act for the ultimate goal to completely annihilate the Amalekite nation. This mitzvah has drawn significant attention throughout the ages as being very difficult to swallow. These are my 5 questions on the mitzvah to destroy Amalek.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FNQ - Parsha Thought

In the list of the necessary materials for the construction of the Mishkan, Hashem’s dwelling place within the encampment of Klal Yisrael, something is found which presents a slight difficulty. Atzei Shittim, perhaps acacia wood, or any wood for that matter, simply does not exist in Midbar Sinai. How could Hashem ask for the construction of a structure in the middle of a desert which requires wood!?
Rashi quotes the Midrash with an answer, “From where did they have wood? Rabi Yaakov Tanchuma explains, ‘Yaakov Avinu saw with ruach hakedesh that in the future Klal Yisrael would come to build a Mishkan in the desert, he therefore brought trees to Mitzrayim, planted them and instructed his children to take them along with them upon their departure Mitzrayim”.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How have the mighty fallen?

FNQ Special

In light of recent events (המבין יבין) I wanted to share a few questions and a thought on a statement of our Rabbis. No one is perfect and G-d doesn't expect perfection. What is expected is the pursuit of perfection. Chazal say that if you see a Torah Scholar sin at night don't doubt him in the morning for he has surely done teshuva (Brachot 19a).

  1. Why isn't the onlooker expected to assume that the Scholar didn't sin at all?

  2. How could this sinner be called a Torah Scholar? Is that not a contradiction?

  3. Why do chazal say that the sin was at night and yet only starting in the morning is one not allowed to doubt?

  4. What exactly is it that one isn't supposed to doubt about the Torah Scholar?

  5. Even if the Scholar does Teshuva is it not reasonable to expect that one may have concerns about such a person's spiritual level?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy or Good

FNQ – thought for the week

If you could choose whether your children will be happy or good which would you choose?

I know this is a very silly question. You cant choose whether you would want your child to be happy or good. However, like many silly and unrealistic questions I think the answer to this one is very revealing. I don't know exactly what it means to be happy and I certainly don't know a precise definition for what it means to be good but I do have an idea so I will attempt to give my answer.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


FNQ – 5 q's for the week

Rosh Chodesh Adar is almost upon us so it is time to increase our happiness. Happiness is like money. Everyone wants it and only other people actually have it. We all speak about it as if it's a clearly defined idea when in reality I don't think most people could even describe what true happiness means to them. Here are my questions on happiness.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mishpatim - lots of laws and lots of love

FNQ Parsha  - 5 q's and a thought
  1. Why did G-d give us so many rules?
  2. Does G-d really care about all the details or is it really only the intentions that matter?
  3. How can I be expected to develop a deep spiritual connection with laws that are so mundane? (see below)
  4. Can a parent truly love their child if they don't give them rules and limits?
  5. Who is greater? A person who complies with all of the laws because he understands them or a person who complies with all of the laws even though there are some he doesn't understand. 
When Parshas Mishpatim comes around there is a phenomenon which occurs both in the text of the Chumash itself and perhaps more notably in the “experience” of one who studies it. This phenomenon can be most simply be called boredom. From creation until maamad Har Sinai, Bereishis to Mishpatim, the Chumash has been packed with exciting and gripping stories. The reader has been able to connect to events and personalities; perhaps he has even been able to feel that he is part of the unfolding history of the world and more precisely the history of the Bnei Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov. Then, immediately following the climax of the entire story at Har Sinai, the story line seems to stop and the excitement seems to completely whither away.
If this dilemma doesn’t bother you, then please stop reading now. If your connection to Torah is so pure and

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When a question isn't a question

FNQ – thought for the week

I once heard a story of person who had a friend that was a non-believer. In an attempt to show his friend the folly of his ways the man took his friend to go and visit a great sage who could answer any question the non-believer had. The man was sure that once his friend was given answers he would return to the proper path. When the non believer arrived at the sage and asked his list of questions the sage responded: “I can give answers to questions but I can not give answers to answers.”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

FNQ – 5 q's for the Week - Controversial Stories in Tanach

This past week I finished giving a series of shiurim on the story of King David and Bat Sheva. (Links to them appear on the sidebar under My Shiurim). This story, like many others in Tanach, presents our one of the greatest personalities in the Bible doing things (adultery and conspiracy to commit murder) that are difficult to swallow. There are many approaches and ways to deal with these types of stories but after much analysis many questions remain unanswered. These are some of mine:

Friday, February 5, 2010

FNQ - Parsha Thought

The narrative that describes the experience of Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai is replete with mysterious details and nuances that could be studied for a lifetime. It includes witnessing of G-D, death and reincarnation, breathtaking natural phenomena and countless other miracles. The following is one of the many wonders that took place at the revelation.

Rabi Yehoshuah ben Levi taught, “What is the meaning of the pasuk, ‘His cheeks are as a bed of spices’ (Shir HaShirim 5:13)? For each one of the Ten Commandments which came from the mouth of Hashem the world became full of a sweet fragrance. If this was so from the first commandment, that the world had become full of the fragrance, where did the smell from the second commandment go? Hashem took out a wind from his storehouses and would remove the first out first [before the second commandment]…” (Shabbos 88b)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

FNQ – thought for the week - Jewish Questioning

Questions can be divided into two basic categories. There are questions whose purpose is to obtain information that one is lacking. This is the most basic form of a question. This is the kind of question one asks when they want to know what time it is, or what's for dinner. Then there is a second type of question. This type of question is asked when you have a basic level of knowledge of the subject but use an inquiry to delve deeper. Both questions are valid and essential elements of learning.

What makes Jewish questioning unique is that for a Jew there are certain questions that the secular world would categorize as type one, whereas a Jew unquestionably considers them to be type two.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

FNQ – 5 Questions for the week - The state of the State

For this week’s installment of FNQ 5 questions for the week I would like to build off the State of the Union address of President Obama. However, my questions will not be about the state of the union but rather the state of the State. That is, the State of Israel. We have a lot of tough questions concerning our tiny little home land. Here goes.

1.How can the religious and secular Jews of Israel achieve unity when we disagree about so many basic issues of life and the destiny of our people?

Friday, January 29, 2010

FNQ Parshat Hashavua – 5 questions and a thought

Beshalach - The challenge of Manna
1.The Torah says that receiving the daily portion of manna was a test – why is this a test?

2.The Gemara says that “greater is one who benefits from his own labors than one who fear G-d.” What does that mean?

3.If you were given these two options which would you choose?
1.You work to make enough money to live a simple but self sufficient lifestyle.
2.You are financially supported by someone else and live an extravagant lifestyle.

4.Why is it that many people who win the lottery experience a decline in the overall quality of their life?

5.I once heard that a Rabbi said the best blessing he could give parents that they should be successful raising their children is that they should not be rich. Do you agree?

Imagine the following: The setting is a very simple and bare home. A home with a living space containing no amenities, just the necessities. The refrigerator and kitchen cabinets are basically empty. In the corner of the living room can be seen a young child sitting in his mother’s lap. His cries are not loud and overbearing, but they are clearly an expression of discomfort and unhappiness. He is starving. He hasn’t had a good meal for months. He used to eat luscious, satisfying meals, but then the families condition took a turn for the worse and a good meal had become very rare. He says to his mother, “Mommy, I liked it so much better back when we had those yummy pots of food, and that tasty bread. But now we have nothing. Can’t we have that great food like we used to have?” The mother responds, “Yes my child. I shall give you some tasty food. What ever you want, any taste, you name it and you can have it. But listen my love, this food is a test...”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

FNQ – Thought for the week - Never Knock a question

I have been a student for some time now. In fact, I have been a student in a formal setting as far back as I can remember. To be a student, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of Jewish accomplishment. Rav Soloveitchik often said that the expression Talmid Chacham does not mean Torah scholar. Rather, it means that you are a student (talmid) striving to become a scholar (chacham).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

FNQ – 5 Questions for the week

The Environment

Tu b'shvat has in recent years become a sort of Jewish arbor day. While there doesn't seem to be any basis for this in classical Jewish sources I believe the basic idea is a positive one. Man was created as the caretaker of this planet and ultimately will be held accountable for any and all destruction he causes to G-d's world. So what are my responsibilities towards preserving this planet?

1.Does the Divine promise that G-d will never destroy the world exempt me from my responsibility to protect it?

2.If a parent gave a child a gift would the parent not be disappointed if the child acted irresponsibly towards that gift?

3.We say in the 1st paragraph of the Grace after Meals “and through His goodness, that is great never have we lacked and never will we lack food for ever and ever” does this mean that I don't have to worry about global food shortages?

4.When I hear environmental issues mentioned do I snicker because I think the environmentalists are wrong or just because they are flaming liberals? Am I willing so accept something true whatever the source?

5.What am I doing to preserve and protect G-d's world in which I live?

Binyamin - Always looking for a good question

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FNQ Parshat Hashavua – 5 questions and a thought

Parshat Bo – Time and the Power of Starting Over

1. Why is establishing a calender the first commandment we were given? (see below for more on this)
2. Why did G-d give us power over time when in reality time rules over us?
3. Do you view time as an impediment or an opportunity?
4. If you were given a chance to travel forward in time so that you would be finished with.. high school, college, being single, working or being unemployed would you accept the offer?
5. Do you spend more time doings things you define as meaningful or as trivial?

Why begin the system of Mitzvos for the Jewish Nation with the Mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon and the establishment of the Jewish calendrical system?

Before beginning to attempt to tackle this question, a caveat is in order. An endeavor to explain why the giving of one mitzvah over another would require an in depth understanding of the entirety of the all Mitzvot and all of the sources that address them. Due to the fact that this amount of knowledge is beyond this author answering the question of why Kiddush HaChodesh is the first mitzvah unequivocally, proves to be very difficult. We can, however, offer our best effort, besiyata deShemaya.

The fist step in answering this question leads us to another question (in the true spirit of Torah dialogue!) that has been a hot topic since the Torah was given. That is, what is the purpose of Mitzvos in general? Without a solid working answer to this question we can in no way attempt to answer why one should be first.

Two Midrashim give similar answers:

What difference does it make to God whether one slaughters from the front of the neck or the back of the neck? Rather the mitzvot were given in order to refine the creatures. (Bereishis Rabbah, 44:1)
Once the evil Tinneius Rufus asked R. Akiva, "Whose deeds are finer? Those of the Holy One, blessed be He, or those of flesh and blood?" He answered, "Of flesh and blood are finer." Tinneius Rufus said … "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" R. Akiva answered, "I knew you would ask me about this particular thing, therefore I prefaced my words by telling you that the deeds of flesh and blood are finer than those of the Holy One, blessed be He." Tinneius Rufus said to him, "If He wished males to be circumcised, why do they not come from the womb that way?" R. Akiva responded, "As for your argument, why males are not born circumcised, the answer is that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave commandments to the Jews for no other reason than to refine them by means of their observance." (Midrash Tanchuma, Tazria, 5)
The understanding of this concept alone, the Mitzvos as system for character refinement or letzaref bahem es habriyos, is itself a debate (see: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/ramban/09ramban.htm for more on the machlokes between the Rambam and the Ramban). However an explanation found in Sifrei Chassidus says as follows:

The essence of Mitzvos is to purify, cleanse and reveal “The True Jew”. To what is this likened? To a gardener who must do the following in his rose garden: he must plow, plant, weed out unwanted growth and water the saplings. The end goal of this entire process is to cause the rose to sprout. And if he does all of this and the rose has not sprouted, than he has achieved nothing. So too, the purpose [of the Mitzvos] is to reveal “The True Jew”. (Sefer Derech HaMelech, Parshas Toldos, pg. 24)

It follows from this approach that Mitzvos are meant to guide a Jew in his process of revealing his true essence. The system of Mitzvos is our path towards perfect refinement of character and uncovering of the essential pure identity.
Why is such a system necessary? The reality of existence since the sin of Adam Harishon and the ensuing expulsion from a perfect world is that we are often tricked and confused regarding who we are. Challenges, inclinations, negative internal and external influences and falsity all team up to cause us to forget that we are attempting to sprout forth the roses from within us. Laziness causes us to not plow, hopelessness causes us to not plant and deception causes us to not weed. Time and time again we are knocked off the course or even pushed backwards in our journey towards complete refinement and revelation of the perfect rose that is within us.
What then would be the perfect beginning of a systematic process to achieve this goal? Perhaps there is no better place to begin from than the simple push of inspiration, “you can and must begin again!!!” For the gardener who has watched a season of failed crops what will push him to plant the next season? And perhaps much more difficult, for the Jew who has covered up his pure essence and has become more distanced from it what will push him to try to reveal it? All hope seems lost. No commandment seems more fitting that the inspirational words of, “YOU MUST BEGIN ANEW”.
The first Gerer Rebbe, in his sefer Chiddushei Harim (pg. 91) , quotes e a teaching of the Chozeh of Lublin based on the following gemara:

…R' Elazar ben Arach came to that region, he became attracted to their worldly delights and his Torah knowledge became erased, when he returned he got up to read from the Torah scroll, he had wanted to read 'hachodesh hazeh lachem - this month shall be for you', instead he said 'hacheresh haya libam - was their heart silent?', the sages beseeched Hashem to have mercy upon him and his Torah knowledge returned" (Shabbos 147b).

The Chozeh said, “even though on the surface it seems that their hearts were silent, nevertheless this renewal is for you, meaning that one can experience a renewal enter into his heart and completely push away all spiritual silence and dullness”.

The Ibn Ezra teaches on this pasuk:

…The year is totally based only on the cycle of the sun. It is the body which produces cold, hot, summer and winter, the four seasons…it is, in essence, the year. It seems that the moon has nothing whatsoever to do with the cycle of the year but at the same time the sun has nothing to do with the months. For through the sun nothing has renewal, chodesh, renewal only comes through the moon. This is why the moon is referred to as chodesh, for the renewal of the months…

The moon represents the capacity for renewal. It represents Klal Yisrael and inspires us to start anew even in the midst of the never ending cycle of the year. It takes great courage and inspiration to begin anew as the inertia of life's frivolities pushes us forward whether we like it or not.
If Mitzvos are the outline of how we are meant to achieve character refinement and to reveal our perfect essences, than the best place to begin from is the command that you must start the process, no matter how far you have fallen from this sublime goal.
Again, I cannot claim to have a perfect answer as to why HaChodesh haze lachem should be first without a doubt. However in a world which pushes us in every direction except for that of towards purity and refinement, the most fitting beginning is the push to go in that direction. Shenizkeh.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Questioning – A dialectic tension of the Jewish Persona

On the one hand a Jew is characterized by being a ביישן, which can be translated as one who has the trait of shame. On the other hand the Mishna, Avot 2:5, teaches that one who is a ביישן, (feels shame, embarrassment or timidness) will not excel in learning. Are we to conclude from this very obvious contradiction that a Jew is defined as one who does not excel in learning. It is clear that this is not the proper solution. Jews have always valued learning and the search for knowledge. In fact, the study of Torah is a commandment of unparalleled significance. Therefore, resolving this apparent contradiction demands a qualification of the character trait of shame.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

FNQ – 5 Questions for the week

Every Sunday, I would like to share some questions to ponder for the week ahead. The questions will address one topic each week, but the topics will vary. If they make you uncomfortable….Good that’s the idea.

If there was a global counter keeping track of all questions asked, I think it would show a huge increase following natural disasters and human tragedies. When we realize we are not in control it is scary for us and we subsequently have a lot of questions. Perhaps we feel comforted because it happened in a far off place, but should we?

1. Do I genuinely care that thousands of people died in a far off place?

2. If yes, what have I done to show it? If no, do I think I should care?

3. When I read articles describing the horror, do I say to myself that this could never happen where I live?

4. Do I think this earthquake was G-d’s doing or just a random, natural event?

5. If it was G-d, what is the message?

What do you think?

Binyamin – Always looking for a good question

Friday, January 15, 2010

FNQ Parshat Hashavua - 5 Questions and a thought

Every week B'H I will be posting 5 questions and a thought.  The questions will be thought provoking and will never have simple answers.  Discuss over Shabbos and tell me what you come up with. Good Shabbos

1.  What does it mean to lose free will?
2.  Does one who lose it lose it completely or only with regards to certain decisions (i.e. Maybe Pharoah only lost free will about letting the Jews go but he still could choose what to have for breakfast?)
3.  There is a verse in Mishlei (21:1 see Malbim there) which says that kings never have free will. So what is    
the chiddush that Pharoah lost his?
4.  Can you temporarily lose free will or only as a permanent punishment? Can you get it back?
5.  Is free will an absolute? Can different people have different degrees of free will? (If there are different degrees of free will, how do I attain a greater degree?)

Parshat va'era describes the first 7 plagues and the ensuing removal of Pharoah's free will (a good mnemonic: ו and א of וארא equals 7, בא in parshat Bo equals 3.).   Free will or bechira chofshit is a topic which presents some of the most profound questions ever asked. In Hilchot Teshuva 5:5 the Rambam mentions the most powerful question on this topic: If G-d is all knowing and therefore knows what we will become and everything we will do, how is it that we are at the same time choosing our own actions and determining our own fate? In reviewing this halacha, I was struck by the fact that Rambam poses this question and yet strangely does not give an answer.  The Raavad on that halacha takes Rambam to task for this. He even goes as far as to say that the Rambam veered from the path of the wise by asking a question without answering it.

While there is certainly a philosophical argument at the core of their debate perhaps Rambam and Raavad differ as to the intrinsic value of a question, as well.  Perhaps, the Rambam says when asking a question, one is halfway towards arriving at the answer. In other words, even the question on its own has intrinsic value. The Raavad, on the other hand, seems to value the question only as a means to an answer, in which case a question with no answer has little, if any, value.  Upon further thinking I considered that it is possible that even the Raavad may agree with the intrinsic value of the question but only for one who asks the question. He may however, deny the value of forcing questions with no answers onto people who didn't ask the question in the first place.

The Rambam believes that our obligation in life is to seek out knowledge, to struggle with the reality of G-d's world and understand (to the best of our ability) Torah, life and G-d,Himself. In this vein, we say to he who has yet to ask the question – wake up, use your incredible gift of a brain and begin to ponder the wonders of existence. What do you think? 

Shabbat Shalom

Binyamin – Always looking for a good question.