Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 281

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

1 July 2000 / 28 Sivan 5760; Issue #281

Jews in July


Name@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I know that there are blessings to say in honor of certain non-religious things, such as meeting a great secular scholar or seeing the king of a non-Jewish state. With this in mind, I was wondering if there is a Jewish way to celebrate the American Independence Day on the 4th of July.

Dear Name@Withheld,

Being from England, I am not quite sure why you want to celebrate a day that commemorates the end of English each his own!

Having said that, there is no doubt that the Jews in America have much to be thankful for. America today is a place of calm where it is possible for the Jewish community to live in peace and to continue their Jewish life unhindered.

On the other hand, our Sages point out that tranquillity is not always positive. In America, along with the tremendous growth in Jewish life and institutions of Jewish education, there has been in many communities the most terrible "relaxation" of Judaism to the point that millions of Jews are so relaxed about their heritage that they are almost comatose.

So, how should a Jew in the United States approach the 4th of July? I think it would be very appropriate to take a little time for introspection, to think about how a Jew should use the freedom which was unavailable to so many of our ancestors. And, after having begun the day in the correct way (praying and studying Torah), it would quite acceptable to celebrate in the traditional fashion -- fly the flag, go on a picnic with family and friends...

And remember: Fireworks are dangerous; be careful!

Thanks to Rabbi Eliya Green
for preparation of this answer.



Dr. Auriel ibn Michell from El Paso,Texas wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I am curious about the concept of tzimtzum in the creation of the physical/spiritual universe. If G-d can constrict Himself to make room for creation, why can He not also use the same concept to become a man, a rock, or an angel?

Dear Dr. Auriel ibn Michell,

Your question is based on understanding tzimtzum to mean constricting, that G-d drew inward and made room for the universe. Unfortunately this is a common misconception.

Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner, in his book Nefesh Hachayim, specifically states that this is not the meaning in our context of tzimtzum; rather it means "hiding." He cites examples where the word tzimtzum means hidden and hiding.

The idea is that from G-d's vantage point, nothing exists besides G-d, and nothing can exist, because He must will it into existence. So in essence everything is just a manifestation of G-d. I imagine it as if the characters in your dreams would perceive themselves as real. Tzimtzum is a hiding of G-d that enables a creation that "feels" as if it has an independent existence.

The Nefesh Hachayim states that we cannot, and should not, try to delve into understanding the nature of tzimtzum, or G-d before tzimtzum.

This is an example of how studying books of kabbala can cause harm. Kabbala is easily misunderstood, which can lead to believing in a corporeal G-d. It can bring a person to not performing mitzvot if he understands that we do not really exist and the whole Torah is just a hiding of the "real" reality. Or it can be taken to the other extreme, that if G-d is equal everywhere, as in before Tzimtzum, then there can be no difference between holy and unholy things and places, because all existence is really G-d himself. This can lead people to incorrect behavior, as Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner bemoans in his work.

Who Knows 21?

In the song at the end of the Pesach Seder we describe the significance of the numbers from one to thirteen as they relate to Jewish life and thought. "Three are the fathers, Four are the Mothers...12 are the Tribes of Israel..." What about the next 13 numbers? And after those? What significance do they have in Jewish tradition?

This week, we challenge to answer: "Who knows 21?"
Write to

Here are some reader responses regarding previous numbers:

Lag Baomer is the 18th of Iyar. People often give charity in multiples of "18," as 18 is gematria of Chai (life). And finally, on the 18th of Av, 18 years ago, I came to Israel from Argentina. I made "aliya!"


18 is the number of times G-d's name is mentioned in shema (Berachot 28b).

Chezkie Mark, Staten Island , NY

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.



Recently, a reader commented that photos of the 1967 liberation of the Kotel (Western Wall) showed no mechitza (partition). You responded that we can't make inferences regarding Jewish practice based on that period, because "for approximately the last 1900 years, up until 1967, the Kotel was not under Jewish rule.

Even though it wasn't "under Jewish rule," there were times when we were allowed to act as rulers, notably when Julian the Apostate gave permission to rebuild the Temple in 363. And literary sources point to Jewish religious practices including prayer, Tisha B'Av customs and reciting of special piyutim (prayer poems) both on the Temple Mount and at various surrounding locations. Other locations along the Western Wall, the Southern Wall and the Eastern Wall served as prayer sites too.

More to the point, even if there were no mechitzot in those pictures, as everyone can see the men and the women prayed separately.

Yisrael Medad


Hello. I would like to say that your web page is just what I need in learning more about what I didn't know growing up! I was raised Jewish and Protestant and didn't learn much about either religion. I have started to learn for the past couple of years and I must say that I wish I knew about this web page years ago! Sincerely, Adina

Amy Coleman


Yes, school is out, and again todah & yasharkoach (Thank You!) for the great help you gave to me to give your "Simcha Torah Stories" to my kindergarten class. What a way to bring such lovely Torah ideas to those pitskelach kids, I cannot thank you enough! May Hashem give you health, you did bring happiness and WOW!!! They really always waited for your stories, but of course I did too. Shalom and see you again in September with the help of Hashem.

Written by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Mordecai Becher, Rabbi Baruch Rappaport, Rabbi Moshe Yossef and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.

General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

© 2000 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.
This publication is available via E-Mail

Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students.

The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.

The Ohr Somayach Home Page is hosted by TeamGenesis
vj_bar.gif (1798 bytes)

Copyright © 2000 Ohr Somayach International. Send us feedback
Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.