Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, Mill Hill United Synagogue

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve read some of your tweets and comments about belief in God. If He really does exist, why is there so much suffering? I have endured two bereavements already this year, one of them untimely, as well as a bout of very bad health. I question why this has happened to me. I certainly now doubt the existence of a Divine entity.

Howard

Dear Howard,

I can only but wish you long life on your sad losses and a speedy recovery back to full health.

You question why this has happened to you? Who, or what, are you directing those questions at?

If you deny the reality of God’s existence then there are no questions to begin with. Darwin’s theory – survival of the fittest – is then proved correct. This happened to you? Well, tough luck.

It’s only when you accept the fact that there is a master plan, albeit incomprehensible to the human mind, that you start entertaining the question: ‘Why?’

If you’ve lived in the jungle all of your life then, one day, wander into an operating theatre where you see men in white coats cutting up a person, you’d yell blue murder. You might attack the doctors in the belief that they were barbarians. And, yet, whatever is happening is just alien to your primitive mind.

By all means, confront God! Ask: ‘Why me?’ But you will need to find a balance between realising we do not know enough to comprehend the answer, but must also believe and care enough to ask the questions.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

My sister wrote to you a few years ago, asking if there was a rabbi available to officiate at her wedding on a Shabbat just before 9 Av. In your inimitable style you rebuffed her question and suggested that if she really cared about the holiness of her marriage, she should choose a more appropriate date. To cut a long story short, three disastrous years and one child later, she is getting divorced.

I’m not attributing this to anything you wrote at the time (I would be a fool to do so). What I want to know is: since the wedding was not in accordance with Jewish law (even though they had a rabbi), does she still require a get for divorce?

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

Just to be clear, what I was suggesting at the time was not some hocus-pocus. And I’m sure I would not have suggested that if she marries at the wrong time, it won’t work out. That would be preposterous. Any response from me would have been on the grounds of her asking me if I could recommend someone to do the service.

That said, marriage is the sanctification of a relationship. At a Jewish wedding, we summon God into the relationship and ask for His blessing. On a deeper level, marriage binds a man and woman on a dimension that was not accessible to them earlier.

A man and woman can pledge undying commitment to each other before marriage and can connect intellectually and emotionally before marriage, but their souls cannot connect until they invoke God’s name and channel His blessing into their relationship.

That cannot quite happen when you are arranging the wedding at an unsuitable time. Is that the cause for their divorce? Not likely. But it certainly didn’t help their marriage either. Notwithstanding the spiritual aspects, there is also the legal aspect which, regardless of date, is invariably binding.

As such, a get would be required if they are looking to terminate their relationship.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve asked a number of people why we do not recite the daily penitence prayer on 9 Av. My teachers gave me an explanation but no one offered sources for their answer. Perhaps you can.

Simon

Dear Simon,

The verse (Lamentations 1:15) states, in relation to 9 Av: “He summoned an assembly against me to crush my young men.” The Hebrew word used for “assembly,” moe’d, also means “festival.”

From this our rabbis inferred that just as the penitence prayer is not recited on festivals, so too it is not recited on the 9 Av. What, you wonder, is the link between such a sad day and a festival? The Midrash relates that on the same day the Holy Temple was destroyed Moshiach was born. Traditionally this is understood to mean that someone who was a potential Moshiach was born on that day. Had the Jews of that generation merited redemption, he would have been revealed and saved them from exile.

On a deeper level, the Midrash is relating that the concepts of Moshiach and Redemption were “born” on the 9 Av.; as soon as the Holy Temple was destroyed, redemption became a possibility. For if the Jews would have properly repented immediately, Moshiach would have been revealed at that moment.

In the teachings of Chassidism it is explained that the inner purpose of the destruction was so that we should be able to reach much higher spiritual levels with the coming of Moshiach – and this only became possible on 9 Av. So while today we view it as a tragic day, in the Messianic Era we will celebrate it as the “birth- day” of the ultimate salvation.

We live already in that hope and yearning, so we leave out the penitence prayer on the day.

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi.