Ask the Rabbi – 25/09/2013

Ask the Rabbi – 25/09/2013

Dear Rabbi,

My mother is terminally ill and has requested that, when the time comes, we should sit a full week of shiva. To be honest, and discussing this with friends, a week seems a bit much. While my mother might prefer this, she’s not thinking of us, her family, who will have to do all the sitting.

Two or three nights is more than enough. Don’t you agree?



Dear Cynthia,

So just to be clear, your mother, who gave you however many years of your life, who sat with you at night when you were unwell and greeted you with a smile each morning; who made sure you had breakfast and dinner each day and packed a school lunch for you; who hugged you when you felt low and was there when you sought guidance; who taught you the value of friendships and relationships and who ensured you grew up to be the confident woman that you are – this lady you call mum asks for seven days and you think it’s a bit much?

Man is a miniature world and just as God’s world was created over seven days – from the first day when He made light to the loss of man is more than the removal of a mere mortal from our midst. It is very much the loss of a personal world. Your mum is your world – who brought light into your life from day one. And when she is laid to rest, the least you could do is mourn that loss of your world over a seven-day period.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

As a Jewish woman, I’d like to see more female prayer groups to encourage them to get more involved in the community and Judaism.



Dear Katy,

As a rabbi, I would like to see more Jews – male or female – get more involved in their Judaism. However, the question that begs clarity is: are these services the be-all and end-all?

There is Shabbat observance, the kosher laws, the mikvah and so on, which are more fundamental to Jewish observance than these prayer groups.

Do such services lead to greater spiritual involvement and practice? If so, it can be safely assumed those wanting such services are coming from a genuine place and, provided the services are conducted within the framework of Halacha, it should even be encouraged.

However if – and it’s a big ‘if’ – these services are just an end in themselves, where those attending don’t progress to deeper, more spiritual commitment and undertaking, it is little more than feminist expression. Not only have they missed the point about services, they have missed the point about Jewish tradition altogether.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I often give to charity, but usually do it with an ulterior motive. I like to think that if I give, God will look after me and that the more I give, the more I will make. This makes me wonder: can God be bribed?



Dear Zack,

The Talmud states: “One who gives charity and says: ‘On condition that my child is healed from sickness’, or ‘on condition I earn a reward in the afterlife’ is completely righteous.”

In other words, it is a wholly altruistic act. This does beg your question: doesn’t it constitute bribery? The answer is God is especially keen for more kindness in His world. To that end, your intentions are not what matter. It is helping the needy that is essential, regardless of the underlying motives.

A philanthropist once came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi to complain he felt he was giving charity without sincerity. “Without sincerity? Nonsense!” replied the rebbe. “There is plenty of sincerity. Perhaps you are not sincere in giving charity, but the poor are very sincere in receiving your charity.”

Can God be bribed? Definitely not. Whether you will receive the blessing you seek is up to Him. But one thing is for sure, God does not remain indebted. Any good deed, whatever the motive, generates blessing and will be rewarded. And when it comes to charity, God Himself promises that in giving, you will be receiving. So, keep giving. And may you be blessed![divider]

Dear Rabbi,

If I missed the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah can I make it up at another time of the year?



Dear Adam,

I’ll list that in my book, Funny Questions Rabbis Get Asked. Were you thinking with some latkes on the side, or at the seder table?

If you missed the shofar because you were unwell or some other extenuating circumstance, then to all intent and purposes you were exempt from the mitzvah regardless. If how- ever you missed it because you were otherwise preoccupied – well, you snooze you lose. Still, if you feel bad enough about it such that you won’t repeat the mistake, that should atone for your mishap. Just be sure now to pick up and do those things the shofar might have inspired you to do – and all will be forgiven.

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