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Ask the Rabbi - 297

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December 23, 2000 / 26 Kislev 5761; Issue #297

Ain't It The Truth


Name Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

At times I find that I question some events mentioned in the Torah because they are out of my realm of experience. Examples might include Noah's ark, Abraham having a circumcision at age 100, Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt, the splitting of the Red Sea, etc. How does one overcome doubts about events that the Torah describes as being true. I wish to believe in all that the Torah describes but I find that this requires overcoming a great deal of internal questioning. Thank you for your assistance.

Dear Name Withheld,

We know that the Torah's accounts are accurate because we have an unbroken chain of tradition originating with eyewitnesses. The splitting of the sea, for example, was witnessed by an entire nation, our ancestors, who passed this information along from generation to generation until our day. For a fuller development of this idea, please see "A Historical Verification of the Torah".

But your question goes beyond this. It sounds to me like you're asking: "Logically, I accept our history as accurate. But still, emotionally, how do I internalize a belief in events that are beyond my realm of experience? I know the Torah is true; now how can I feel that the Torah is true?"

To try to answer you, let me draw some parallels from science and technology.

Imagine you go to a far off land where the people are totally cut off from the rest of civilization and you tell them about telephones. They might not believe you. Then you tell them that people have been to the moon and back. They may think it's a miracle. Now you tell them that a motionless rock is really a whirling frenzy of particles invisible to the eye: Protons, neutrons and electrons. They might think you're insane.

There are many such examples. People believed that man could never fly and that iron could never float. Some people refused to believe in steam-powered trains even after seeing one. "It's witchcraft," they said.

So, it can be difficult to internalize things outside the realm of our experience. This is normal and to be expected.

Our sense of something being possible or impossible is a subjective intuition. Accepting something as true, then, should be based on logic and observation, not on intuition and imagination.

Colored Chanukah Candles


Bob & Jeannie Roemmich wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

If one has a mixed colored set of small red, green, blue, and yellow Chanukah candles, does it matter as to the order that they are placed in the menorah?

And from which side do you light them, as you look toward the menorah?

Dear Bob & Jeannie Roemmich,

There's no tradition regarding the color of the candles; so any color is okay, including plaid and infra-red! And the color order is up to you.

Although there are other customs, the most common one for placing the candles in the menorah is as follows: On the first day place one candle on the right side of the menorah. On the second day put a candle there and another one to the left of it. On the third day add the third candle to the left of those. And so on. Each night another candle goes on the left side of the last one.

But when lighting, you start with the new one, the one furthest on the left. You then move towards the right, lighting each one in order, the last candle being the one on the far right.

Note that the small colored Chanukah candles aren't long enough to use on Friday, because the candles must be lit before sunset and must remain alight for a half hour after dark. So Friday afternoon you should use big white Shabbat candles, or wicks and oil. The candles don't have to be placed in a menorah, but should be in a straight line.

Keeping Faith


Shaul ben Abraham from Sao Paulo, Brazil wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

At the end of parshat Vayeshev, Yosef begs Pharaoh's wine minister to help him get out of jail. Because of this lack of faith, say our Sages, Yosef was punished to stay in jail two extra years.

Did Yosef actually fail in his faith in G-d? It seems to me he was just trying to do anything that he could do at that moment. "Pirkei Avot" says: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me; And if not now, when?" Our faith in G-d is total and forever, but, where does faith end and our efforts begin? Where is the border between total faith and our efforts?

Dear Shaul ben Abraham,

Great question which many commentaries speak about. I will give you one approach. G-d judges each person on that person's level. For a person with a lot of faith, G-d expects him to display a lot of faith, and he needs to take less action. For someone with less faith, he needs to take more action. If someone with less faith had done what Yosef did, it may have been considered that he didn't do enough. But for Yosef, who had a lot of faith, it was too much.

Some commentaries say the it was the fact that Yosef asked twice "ki im zechartani" -- "if only you will mention me." For Yosef, once would have been enough.

Yiddle Riddle


Question: A Rabbi had the custom to study privately with his top student each year. One year he couldn't decide between three students. So he tested them. He showed them five yarmulkes, three black and two white. He told them that he would put one on each of their heads, and the one who could tell him first what color yarmulke he was wearing would be the student he would study with. He did this, putting the three black ones on their heads, and hiding the white ones away. Within fifteen seconds, one of them said to him, "I know for sure that I am wearing a black yarmulke." How did he know? (There was no way that he could have seen it).

Riddle submitted by Moshe Steinhaus

Answer Next Week...


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


RE: THE TZITZIT (Ask the Rabbi #294):

In a recent Yiddle Riddle you wrote that, according to Ashkenazic custom, the blessing on tzitzit is Le'hitatef Ba-tzitzit (to enwrap in THE tzitzit). It's interesting to note that the Sefardic custom is to say Be-tzitzit (to enwrap in tzitzit). According to the Sefardic custom, only if one wears THE authentic tzitzit would he say Ba-tzitzit (THE tzitzit). Authentic tzitzit have not only white strands, but have a strand of blue-techelet as well. If one can obtain techelet and puts it on his garment, then the Sefardic custom would be to say Ba-tzitzit, since he would be fulfilling the commandment in the most perfect manner.

Baruch Sterman

Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
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