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Ask the Rabbi - 305

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February 24, 2001 / 1 Adar 5761; Issue #305

Worlds in Collision


Michael Hamm from Brooklyn, NY wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I heard something astounding recently. It was related in the name of the Alter of Slabadka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, but I have my misgivings as to whether he could have said such a thing, as it does not comport with what I have always understood to be the Torah's outlook.

It began with three questions: How was it that the Egyptians had thick darkness at the same time and place that the Jews had light? Similarly, how could the same glass of liquid be blood for an Egyptian and water for a Jew, as the Midrash relates? Lastly, what is the explanation of the idea that each person should say, "bishvili nivra haolam -- the world was created for me." If it was created for me, then how can someone else claim it was created for him?

The answer given was that there is more than one reality: Hashem creates a separate world for each person, and what is true in my world is not necessarily true in the next fellow's. Most often, people's worlds coincide; thus, for example, both my world and my colleague's include the fact that he and I conversed this morning. However, sometimes worlds do not coincide, realities differ; thus, the same glass of liquid was blood for some and water for others.

The implications of this bother me. In the example I gave, my colleague's world and my own coincide in the fact that we conversed this morning. But how do I know that that is really so? Perhaps in my world we conversed, but in his we did not. Indeed, perhaps in my world he is my colleague, whereas in his world we've never met. Or, perhaps outside my world he does not exist!

Dear Michael Hamm,

Not presently having access to the Alter's works I cannot verify that he actually said that. However, it sounds like a valid approach to understanding the Torah.

The concept is that, outside of the physical world, there is also the immediate spiritual world that surrounds each individual. I heard a wonderful story that amplifies that idea. Once the Ba'al Shem Tov wanted to enter a shul to pray. However hard he tried he could not pass through the entrance to the shul. When his students asked him what the problem was he answered that the shul was full of unanswered prayers and that he couldn't push his way in!

Was the shul full of unanswered prayers? Not for anyone else. But for the Ba'al Shem Tov it was a reality that was as impenetrable as a solid wall. There are "things" happening in every place at every moment. Our not sensing them does not mean that they are not there or that someone else cannot.

Still, it's clear from midrashic texts that both the Jews and the Egyptians were aware of each others' relationship to the blood or water. That is, the Egyptians saw that the Jews were drinking water and the Jews saw that the Egyptians were drinking blood. Furthermore, each understood why their realities were different at that moment.

So, your colleague exists, as do you. If not, you would know.

Candle by Day


Magnolia C. Albalat Kuncewiecki wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I was a little astonished to read in your response to a recent question that lighting candles after the sun set on Sabbath is a transgression. Can you please explain? I work full time and especially during the winter months in the U.S. do I rarely get home before sunset. What am I to do when I arrive home 1 to 2 hours after sunset? How can I usher in the Sabbath? I spoke to a Rabbi once and he said that I can light candles but not to say the prayer. What is the correct thing to do?

Dear Magnolia C. Albalat Kuncewiecki,

The Torah states (Exodus 35:3) "you shall not kindle any fire in any of your dwelling places on the Shabbat Day." The word "day" in the Torah does not mean just the light hours; rather, it refers to the 24 hour period staring from nightfall, as the verse says (Genesis 1) "And it was evening, and it was morning, one day."

So, the Rabbi you spoke to was mistaken, as lighting any fire on Shabbat -- including Shabbat candles -- is a clear transgression of an explicit verse in the Torah. Whereas lighting candles for Shabbat -- although it is very important -- is only a rabbinic law.

Lighting candles is surely a great mitzvah and a beautiful way to usher in Shabbat, but not at the expense of breaking Shabbat itself! Let me give you a parable to illustrate this point. A woman's mother is coming to visit her, so she makes her a cake. How beautiful! But when the mother comes, the woman throws the cake in her mother's face! What a greeting!

So too regarding Shabbat; When Shabbat "visits" we honor her like a queen by lighting candles in advance, preparing delicious food and a clean house. But to break Shabbat by lighting the candles is not an honor but an affront!

And realize, one reason the Rabbis created a commandment to light candles before Shabbat is precisely because we can't light them on Shabbat itself! So they "made a big deal" about lighting so no one would ever forget. To light after sunset defeats the whole purpose. So, as we wrote, the way to greet Shabbat if you are late is not to light, and that is the greatest of honor!

Another possibility is if you know you will come home too late, you can have someone else light the candles for you in your home before sunset.

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



I had a similar "problem" in my personal life. When I met my wife she was divorced. It had been a particularly nasty divorce and her husband had put her through mental anguish.

Life's vicissitudes affect each one of us, and part of the reason she was what she was -- the woman I fell in love with -- was what she had gone through in her first marriage. I wondered then, as I do now, whether I should feel "grateful" for what she went through, since that made her what she was when I met her. Had she not gone through that, she may have been a different person...someone whom I may not have fallen in love with.

In the end, I realized that such a question was simply too "big" for me to deal with. What happened, and questioning whether I should be grateful for it was pointless. Much better merely to be grateful that she was the person that she was...and not question what had made her like that.

From an Ohrnet Reader

Re: SECURITY IN ISRAEL (Ask the Rabbi #298 & Ask the Rabbi #301):

I've been in France for 15 years and whatever Jewish Israelis do registers in the press as bad, and whatever Palestinians do registers as good. Our synagogues need daily police protection, yet mosques need none. Wonder why?

Daniel Antopolsky

Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
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