Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.
Arrogance of rabbi’s view
Your correspondent Yossi is concerned that a “top rabbi” dared make a connection between widespread idol worship in far-Eastern countries and natural disasters [7 May]. You assured him he need not worry because the words of this rabbi were “utter gibberish and nonsense”.
But if we take your position, we really should no longer celebrate some festivals. For example, seder night recalls 10 very nasty ‘natural disasters’ in which many people suffered. What are we saying: God was involved then but today He has resigned? Today it’s all happenstance?
Alternatively, His ways are so remote from us that we should not even attempt to fathom them. This is dangerous as by not examining our actions we invite more of the same. We know once the destroying angel is given permission to destroy, he does not distinguish between righteous and wicked.
The “top rabbi” under fire actually fronts one of the most successful kiruv organisations in the world today; his success is partly because he is tough and does not pull punches. His material is from authentic Jewish sources.
Among his worldwide audience are many non-Jews who learn about the universal Seven Laws of Noah, one of which is a prohibition against worshiping idols.
I don’t care if the “top rabbi” in question is the Messiah himself! I would still say he is speaking utter gibberish and nonsense.
You say he bases his views on authentic sources, yet don’t cite any of them. You say he runs one of the biggest outreach organisations in the world… pleeease! Whatever organisation he runs doesn’t even rate in the top five or even 10.
He has a following of Jews and non-Jews; that’s great. There are lots of Bible bashers who get suckered into this sort of rhetoric.
You claim he is popular because he pulls no punches. I suggest that for every person he might turn on, in all likelihood he turns off at least five.
Finally, you raise a question with the analogy of Egypt and, in so doing, make my point.
Did the Jews end up in Egypt in the first instance, subject to slavery, persecution and even death on account of a particular wrongdoing? God already preordained it and stipulated to Abraham that his children would be “strangers in a land that is not theirs” 400 years beforehand.
As for the plagues themselves, indeed, where God or the Torah might stipulate why something happens then we can proclaim the reason accordingly.
But unless this rabbi in question is a prophet and God actually came and told him why the earthquake happened in Nepal, then for him to suggest a reason issheer arrogance and borderline blasphemy.
Sure, whenever something tragic transpires, the onus is on us to examine our ways, regardless. Introspection is always important and often necessary.
I suggest this rabbi ought to do the same.
Why shul is our spiritual gym
You’ve stressed the value of prayer and that one can speak to God – especially when ill or infirm – regardless of location. Why, then, is it necessary to go to a synagogue?
Where might you be more inclined to do a good workout? In the confines of your own home or in a gym?
Being in your own home might sometimes be necessary, but it is obvious when you are surrounded by others doing the same that you will be more motivated and feel more inspired.
What do you suppose is more melodious? Singing solo or when your voice is joined with the chorus of numerous others?
Besides, there are special additional prayers you can recite in a quorum such as the Kaddish, which cannot be said on your own.
There is also the principle of “In multitudes there is glorification of the king” (Proverbs 14:28), a principle cited in Jewish law recommending that commandments and good deeds, be performed as part of as large a gathering as possible, with the intention of providing greater honour to God.
Finally, consider this: 20 percent of all fatal accidents are caused by cars.
Seventeen percent of all accidents occur in the home.
Fourteen percent of all accidents occur to pedestrians walking on the streets or pavements.
Sixteen percent of all accidents happen when traveling by air, rail or water.
That takes us to 67 percent. Of the remaining 33 percent, 32 percent of all deaths occur in hospitals (so when you can, avoid hospitals!).
You will be pleased to learn that only 0.01 percent of all deaths occur in a synagogue, and they are usually related to previous physical disorders.
Therefore logic tells us the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is in synagogue services.
So, for safety’s sake, stay alive and go to shul as often as possible. It could save your life.