The tardy Messiah, making aliyah and Hitler’s soul: this week’s Ask the Rabbi.
- Why does God let this happen?
During Tisha B’Av, I naturally reflected on tragic events that have taken place over the years – which led me to a simple question: Why does God let bad things happen?
Only God can answer that. American author Thornton Wilder tried to explain it through the metaphor of a tapestry, which has order and beauty on the front while the back is often messy and chaotic.
Likewise, we do not fully comprehend what God is up to – although many of the tragedies to which you refer are decidedly man made.
- Veggie not the same as kosher
I went out for dinner with a friend who is strictly kosher. Although we met at a fully-vegetarian restaurant he refused to eat. Why?
The core issue is the differing standards between the demands of kashrut and vegetarianism. Vegetarian ‘rules’ are not as strict – kashrut also covers who may prepare the food while vegetarianism does not, and so on.
Therefore, while vegetarian food will often be closer to kosher than non-veggie fare, this will never be the same as properly kosher. Your friend was rightly sticking to his principles.
- Did Hitler really have a soul?
Does everyone have a neshama – even people like Hitler who commit the worst atrocities imaginable?
The term ‘neshama’ has a very specific meaning according to Kabbala and is not the same as the general English word ‘soul’.
But to answer your question, every human being does indeed have a ‘nefesh’ or soul which derives from God. While they cannot actually ‘lose’ it, it doesn’t mean they cannot tarnish and foul that pure soul with awful deeds such that they become effectively cut off from the Almighty.
- So where is this tardy Messiah?
One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that the Messiah will come one day – but we’ve already been waiting quite a few thousand years! What if we’ve got it all wrong and there is no Messiah?
According to Maimonides, belief in the eventual coming of the Messiah is a cornerstone of Judaism. It’s an article of faith, albeit one that has indeed tested Jewish belief.
The mystical approach may be helpful here. It sees the notion of a Messiah not as a zero-sum one-off event but as a spiritual evolution of the world toward a state of tikkun or correction.
That process, given mankind’s proclivities and resistances, can be rather a lengthy one!
- Where do I begin with shabbat?
I found out three years ago that my birth mother is Jewish. Ever since I’ve been more interested in finding out about my roots and feel closer to Judaism. I would like to start keeping Shabbat but I don’t know where to begin.
Can you help?
Congratulations on your courage and determination in wanting to re-discover your Judaism. Every journey starts with a single footstep. To my mind, you can actually begin experiencing Shabbat straight away by consecrating the day as one of spiritual pursuits different in its routine from the rest of the week.
You will require some practical and detailed guidance, which is best obtained from a sympathetic mentor – either friend or rabbi. Certainly, going to shul and finding one that works for you can help you re-connect with the spirit of Shabbat.
There are also wonderful outreach organisations in our community where you can experience and learn about Shabbat and be invited into homes that observe it. Best of luck!
- Right time to make aliyah?
Our only son has just got engaged and is desperate to get married in Israel and then make aliyah. We understand his reasons and will support his decision but we can’t help but feel that under the current circumstances now is not the best time.
He disagrees, and says it is more important to support Israel now than ever before. What advice would you give, as we are finding it hard to let go?
Anthony and Linda
Dear Anthony and Linda
There will always be another reason for him not to go if you take that approach. You need to let go for his sake – and let him live his own life.
If this is truly his aspiration, then he should pursue it and now is indeed a time to buck the trend and support the Jewish people in Israel!
- Rabbi Schochet returns to Ask the Rabbi next week