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

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.