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Ask the Rabbi - 298

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January 6, 2001 / 11 Tevet 5761; Issue #298

Go Jump in a Lake


Name@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Something has been eating me up inside since the summer. My family and I and some friends of my Dad from work were camping out over the Fourth of July weekend in the mountains. We were swimming in this river and my friend looked like he was going to drown in the river! But I could not bring myself to jump in and save him even though I am a good swimmer and took a lifeguard class once when I was 13 (I'm 20 now). But I just froze, and another camper jumped in and helped him, so I didn't have to. Anyway, I know I'm Jewish because both my parents are Jewish and I had a brit milah and mitzvot and everything when I was a kid. But I haven't been very observant in a while, but I've been reading your site and I think maybe I should become more religious after this experience. But I have to know: Did I do a big sin by not jumping in right away? I feel so bad. Please help.

Also, I want to know if I should come to Israel because of the Arabs killing Jews? Thanks so much.

Dear Name@Withheld,

Thanks for writing. It's clear that you feel guilty for not doing what you feel was right, to save the life of your friend. That is a very understandable feeling.

When a person is in a clinch situation like you were in, sometimes a part of their personality comes out that they weren't aware of. This is called in Hebrew a "nisayon" or "test."

It's a situation G-d puts a person in, to bring out parts of their personality that they might not be fully aware of. If the person passes the "test," then that good aspect of his personality gets strengthened. If he "fails," this can also lead to good, because it can be a sign for the person that he needs to work and improve this part of his personality. (The word "nisayon" also means "sign.")

Perhaps G-d was trying to give you a very clear message that you need to work on your aspect of courage. Courage doesn't only mean jumping in the river: Any time you make a difficult moral choice, and anytime you choose what is right over what is convenient, that is courage.

Like it says in Pirke Avot, "Who is courageous, he who conquers his desires."

You mentioned you've been toying with the idea of becoming more observant. Perhaps some fears or desires are holding you back. Maybe this is the time to conquer those feelings.

As for your second question, "should I come to Israel," I can't decide that for you. But realize that there are millions of Jews living here in relative safety, and we're not running away. I feel that it is quite safe and advisable to come here. In fact, I encouraged my mother to come visit, and she did!

Under the current circumstances, Jews are advised to avoid Arab neighborhoods. But in any major city -- in America and elsewhere -- it is equally true that one should avoid dangerous neighborhoods.

Yiddle Riddle


LAST WEEK WE ASKED: A Rabbi had the custom to learn 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 learn 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).

ANSWER: He (let's call him Reuben) thinks as follows. I can see two black yarmulkes on the other two students' heads. Let's say I have a white yarmulke on. If so, Simon will see my white yarmulke and will know for certain that he is wearing a black one, for if he was also wearing a white one, Levi would see two white ones, and since there are only two white ones, Levi should know for sure that he is wearing a black one. So why does Levi not call out? It must be that I am wearing a black one. (This is Simon thinking until here.) So why doesn't Simon call out that he has a black one? It must be that I (Reuben) am not wearing a white one, so Simon can not rationalize as above. So Reuben knows for sure that he is wearing a black one.

Riddle and Answer submitted by Moshe Steinhaus


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


Re: DO ANTS STEAL? (Ask the Rabbi #294):

Your comment in a recent Ohrnet that ants don't steal is patently wrong; they steal from other ants whenever they can. Some even spend their entire existence doing just that.

"The Laz"

OHR.EDU Responds:

Not the ants in Israel. They're more moral! But seriously, the insect spoken of by the Sages apparently refers to a specific species of ant, or ant-like creature, one which does not steal from its fellows of the same species.

KOSHER & NON-KOSHER ANIMALS (Ask the Rabbi #294):

Regarding your recent article about why G-d created non-kosher animals: It is inspiring to watch a small child in a supermarket shift from asking for candy to realizing that it is not kosher. Or, a person passing a fast food place and sniffing the french fry fragrance and knowing that some smells are good but off-limits. A main idea of keeping kosher is for us to have will-power, control, not give in to every desire and, most importantly, to obey Hashem. Surely Hashem could have made all foods kosher, but there is a higher meaning and purpose to everything. Kashrut is one of the beautiful disciplines given to the blessed Jewish people to maintain our connection, the spark that unites us with Shamaim (Heaven).

Rivka Carasso

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