Ask the Rabbi 06/03: Purim decoys, reincarnation and cremation

Ask the Rabbi 06/03: Purim decoys, reincarnation and cremation

Ask the RabbiBy Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet  

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Don’t fall for purim decoys!

Dear Rabbi,

It occurs to me that your next column will appear during Purim. I don’t know if I’ll be sober enough to read it but, just in case, kindly share something witty about the festival.


Dear Selma,

A man left a Purim party and staggered past a policeman towards his car. The policeman fixed his eyes on him, waiting with glee. The man tried to get into one car, then another. The policeman’s delight grew. More people began leaving the party but this copper had his prey – and waited to pounce. Finally, the guy found the right car and got in.

First the window wipers went on.

Then the radio blared. Meanwhile, yet more people leave the gathering and drive off.

Finally, when all is still, the man starts up his engine and proceeds to drive.

The policeman pounces, orders him out of the car and insists he blows into a breathalyser. Nothing. The policeman tries another it for another breathalyser. Still nothing. “These must be broken. You’re going to have to come down to the station with me.”

The man then looks at him: “You know you’re wasting your time, don’t you.” The policeman asks: “Why’s that?” The man replies, “Because I’m tonight’s designated decoy.”

There have always been decoys throughout the course of Jewish history – things that sought to distract us from our greater mission in life. Haman was a perfect example of that, looking to force Jews to abandon their faith at risk of annihilation. But we remained steadfast – not one Jew capitulated – and that’s what we celebrate. Because that’s what we are all about.

That’s a timely message for many Jews in this 21st century. Take pride in who you are and what you represent and don’t fall for any of the distracting decoys out there.

I would come back as… me!

Dear Rabbi,

A job interviewer recently asked who I’d want to be reincarnated as. I know this sounds corny but I thought: ‘What would Rabbi Schochet answer?’ I told them Moses and offered all kinds of explanations (it’s a Jewish firm). What would your answer be?


Dear Marc,

An interesting one but, on balance, I’d like to come back as me. You see, the great dage Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol (1718-1800) once observed: “When I pass from this world and appear before the heavenly tribunal they won’t ask me: “Zushe, why were you not as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham?” rather they will ask me, “Zushe, why were you not like Zushe?” God didn’t make us to be like everyone else.

If He intended for me to be Superman then He wouldn’t have made me a Clark Kent. Each of us is supposed to be our own ‘Zusha’ or ‘Marc’, or whatever your name may be. Our job is not to imitate the success of others, but to discover our own unique mission on this world. In other words, God doesn’t duplicate.

He put me into this world to be Yitzchak Schochet, not Abraham. He’s already had an Abraham. We all have missions to fulfill and our own selves to live up to. This is who God intended for me to be to get it right.

If I can do it all again and do it even better, then why not? I hope you got the job but that’s what your answer should have been.

Cremation is sacrilegious

Dear Rabbi,

Please explain Judaism’s objection to cremation. A friend insists it is not forbidden in the Torah.


Dear Paul,

Your friend is right – sort of. While there may not be an explicit prohibition in the Torah, it goes against the grain of a basic belief in Judaism – namely resurrection of the dead.

By barbequing oneself (and I make no apologies for using such crude terminology for what is effectively an exceptionally crude act), one suggests an utter disbelief in one of Maimonides’ fundamental principles of faith.

Moreover, a body is more than a carbon-based organic entity with some slick programming to generate responses to sensory input. It is the vehicle through which the soul is able to better express itself in fulfillment of commandments here on earth.

Hence having been animated by such spirituality, the body itself becomes holy. When a Torah scroll becomes invalid and unfit for use, it is reverently buried with full honours, because it is a holy item, even if currently it is unusable. What was, is, and always remains, holy – and so indeed with the human body.

No sane Jew with an ounce of conscience would consider burning a Torah scroll.

Why then would one consider committing a sacrilegious act of desecration by burning a body, as if it had no meaning or importance to us?

I think more awareness needs to be created about this to prevent those who may make cremation a part of their last will and testament.

Remember, what was, is, and always will remain holy.

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