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I Survived a Plane Crash, So What?

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second chance

Question of the Week:

What bugs me about believers is you evoke god only when it suits you. When a plane crashes, and I just missed the flight because I got a flat tire on the way to the airport, I am supposed to see it as a miracle. As for the three hundred people who didn’t miss the flight and were killed, well, that’s just bad luck. If god is behind everything, isn’t he behind the crash too? So why be impressed that he saved me?

Answer:

You make a good point. For a believer, whatever happens, bad or good, was supposed to happen. Everything that comes our way is somehow a part of the divine plan. Nothing is random.

And that is precisely why someone who had a close shave must be thankful to G-d.

If you weren’t on that plane because you had no plans to fly that day, there’s nothing much for you to take personally. But if you had tickets for that flight and missed it due to unexpected circumstances, you just had a brush with death, and a brush of the divine hand. There must be a message there for you.

A close call happens to tell you that on some level, you were destined to die. Your soul’s time is up in this world. But you have been given an extension on life, a new soul with a new mission. You can’t go back to living the same way you did before. Life can never be the same, because it isn’t the same life, it’s a new one.

Why some people die in tragedies and others survive, why people get sick and only some recover, why suffering visits one person and skips over another, we do not know. But the fact that life is so fragile means that we need to be grateful for every healthy day. And if you experience a near miss with the Angel of Death, that is G-d telling you that you have much more good to do in this life, and you’ve just been given more time to do it. So get on with it.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Is Flipping Burgers Charity?

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burgers JPG

Question of the Week:

I know we are meant to give one tenth of our income (after tax) to charity. What if I volunteer my time for a charity? Can I deduct that from my ten percent?

Answer:

There are two distinct types of charitable acts – Tzedakah and Chessed. The first really means justice, doing that which is only just and fair. The second means kindness, doing more than is fair, acting out of the goodness of your heart.

One tenth of your income is not really yours. It was entrusted to you temporarily, so you can have the privilege of helping the needy. So it is only fair that you pass it on to its rightful owner. This is tzedakah.

But beyond the obligation to give tzedakah, we must do acts of chessed. This is the kindness we do with our own time and money, like helping our friend move house, visiting someone who is unwell, or hosting a guest in our home.

Volunteering your time could be tzedakah, and it could be chessed, depending on the circumstances. The question is, would you normally have been paid for your time? A computer technician who offers to fix a charity’s computer system pro bono can deduct the amount he would have earned from his ten percent tzedakah obligation, because he would normally have been paid for the work he did. But if that same guy manned the barbecue at a charity event, that is chessed, not tzedakah. He is not usually paid to flip burgers, so it’s not deductible from his tithing obligation.

Another difference between tzedakah and chessed: For an average income earner, there is a maximum amount one should not exceed when giving tzedakah, which is one fifth of one’s income. Otherwise you may endanger your own financial stability. But when it comes to chessed, there is no limit to the kindness you can do.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Israel Reveals its Secret Weapon

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reconcile JPG

Question of the Week:

I am feeling helpless and down about the Jewish situation in the world. Israel is surrounded by enemies who try to kill us, and a world that demonizes us for defending ourselves. The media only tells the other story, and antisemitism is back in fashion. We are completely outnumbered on all sides. I am sitting here miles away from Israel, and I feel there is nothing I can do to fight this. Is there any way I can make a difference?

Answer:

Israel has a secret weapon. And we are seeing it being used in this conflict for perhaps the first time.

This weapon is so powerful, it makes Israel impenetrable, and the Jewish people untouchable. No enemy can withstand it, and no one else has it.

The secret weapon is unity. The Jewish people are one. This gives us the edge over our opponents. The more united we become, the stronger we are.

Jews are great debaters. We don’t agree with each other all that often. But in this conflict, there is a broad consensus. The Jews of the diaspora are one with the Jews of Israel. The numerous Israeli political parties are of one voice, supporting the government and army of Israel. There is a current of solidarity that has swept over the Jewish people like never before.

It started with the kidnapping of the three boys, when the Jewish people held its collective breath and prayed for their safe return. We all mourned their loss like one big family, and we feel the same about every soldier that is sent to war.

This unity cannot exist amongst our enemies. Hatred is not a unifying force. While different factions may work together on a common goal, they do not truly unite. Each is out for its own self-interest. So they stand as lone individuals, against the Jewish nation as a whole. It is they that are outnumbered, not we.

You ask if there is something you can do for Israel right now. There is. It may not be easy. But I will suggest it anyway.

You have told me you have a brother who you don’t speak to. I am sure there are good reasons why. But we can’t afford any divisiveness now. Pick up the phone and make peace with your brother. Bring unity where there was division. This is what Israel needs from you now.

The timing is perfect. This week we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. The cause of that downfall was the infighting and factionalism among the Jews themselves. That is our only real enemy. When we conquer that enemy and stand united, as a people and as a family, we are invincible.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Revenge – is it Sweet?

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revenge

Question of the Week:

I have been seriously hurt by my ex. It has now been seven months of abuse, put-downs, bad-mouthing and humiliation, and I have remained silent. But now I have an overwhelming urge to take revenge. And I have the chance. With one phone call I could ruin his career and shatter his entire life. Should I do it?

Answer:

The desire for revenge is natural and understandable. We have an innate expectation that justice should be done, and when we see evil go unpunished we want to intervene. But we can’t. “Do not take revenge” the Torah warns. Revenge is wrong.

Of course we must protect ourselves from being hurt. We need not be helpless victims of those who have malicious designs on us, and we must take every measure possible to stop evil being done. But no human justice system is foolproof. Even when someone seems to be getting away with evil, the Torah warns us not to take revenge. Even if we have been hurt, we mustn’t hurt back.

On the other hand, it seems revenge can’t be all bad. The very same Torah which warns us not to take revenge describes G-d Himself as “a vengeful G-d”. How can this be? If we are told not to be vengeful, is G-d then allowed to be? If revenge is immoral, how can G-d be vengeful?

But that is exactly the point. The very fact that G-d is vengeful allows us humans not to be. Ultimate justice is in His hands. He will right the wrongs and punish the wicked. Those who have acted immorally will pay for their misdeeds. No one gets away with doing evil. In this world or in the next, in this lifetime or another, in ways we may never know, justice will be served. But that is not in our hands. G-d is the true judge, and only He can take revenge.

It’s funny, you often hear people disparaging “the vengeful G-d of the Bible”. They somehow think that a vengeful G-d will produce vengeful followers. The opposite is true. It is precisely G-d’s vengefulness that enables humans to let go of the desire for revenge. We know there is a Judge, and He will do justice. So we humans can leave the vengeance to Him, and get on with living.

Don’t waste your energy on feelings of bitterness and hostility. The more hatred thrown at you, the more you should surround yourself with love. If there are evil people out there, make sure you associate with good people. Don’t worry about getting even. Focus on getting on.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

A Wedding in War Time?

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wedding in war

Question of the Week:

I am supposed to get married in two weeks, but with the war going on in Israel, we are thinking of postponing the wedding. I want to do the right thing and I am really unsure what to do. How can we celebrate at such a difficult time for our people? Can we dance as lives are being lost? Should we wait, or should we go ahead with a more subdued event…?

Answer:

Go through with the wedding, and do not temper the celebration one bit. A wedding date is made in heaven. You may think you chose that date because that was when the hall was available or when your uncle from Peru could fly in for the weekend, but really it was always destined to be your special day by divine design. And if that day ends up falling in the middle of a war, you have an amazing opportunity to bring joy in a time when it is needed most.

This is not to say that you should be indifferent to what’s going on. Even at a time of celebration, we are sensitive to pain in the world. That’s why we break a glass under the Chuppah, to acknowledge that though we are coming together in joy, the world is still fragmented, and though our lives have been blessed with happiness, others are shattered in pain.

As the glass breaks, it is a time for all present to say a prayer for those who are suffering, that their pain should be healed, and that the world should reach that day when suffering will be no more.

This is a powerful thought. By you being mindful of those who are suffering at the very peak of your joy, it will actually lift those who are down. All souls are connected, and so your happiness will give a boost to those going through tough times and help them get through it.

Hopefully the fighting will be over by the time you stand beneath the Chuppah. But either way, don’t think your wedding is a triviality when Israel is at war. A Jewish wedding is the start of another Jewish family. And that is the greatest victory over those who would see us destroyed, and the best way to honour those who have fallen to protect our nation.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Is Religion the Cause of All War?

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Religion and War

Question of the Week:

I am Jewish but cannot embrace Judaism as a religion. Religion is the cause of all wars and I believe we would be closer to world peace without it. Just look around the world. Wouldn’t we all be better off if it weren’t for religion?

Answer:

Rejecting Judaism because you believe in world peace is like refusing to enter a Japanese restaurant because you like sushi. It just doesn’t make sense.

War comes naturally to people. It existed long before any religion. Peace did not. Peace is not natural to the human condition. It has to be taught. And it started as a religious idea.

The two World Wars are proof enough that people can kill without any religious justification. Communism and Nazism rejected religion and seemed to do fine at killing people nonetheless. But without religion, the term world peace would not have entered our lexicon. Whether you are aware if it or not, your dream of world peace is biblically inspired.

The first and most powerful vision of world peace was presented to mankind by the prophets of ancient Israel. They predicted a time when “one nation will not lift a sword against another nation, and they will no longer learn to wage war”. In a world that saw war as an inevitable fact of life, the Jewish religion introduced a radical new concept: that war is ultimately undesirable and peace is the ideal state for which to strive.

Judaism is not pacifism. We do not believe in standing idly by when we are attacked, but we always view war as a regretful necessity that we pray will become obsolete. This is not a rationale position, it is an article of faith. We believe that war will be over one day, and we make every effort to make that a reality.

True, religion has been used by many as a pretext for war. But this does not invalidate all religion, just as when overzealous soccer fans attack each other it does not invalidate the game of soccer. Abolishing soccer would do nothing to promote harmony, and ridding the world of all religion would not end war.

In fact, religion still provides the strongest argument for peace between people: that we were all created by the same G-d. May we all live to see that belief translate into true peace.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Should I Celebrate an Accidental Birth?

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birthday

Question of the Week:

It’s my birthday this weekend but I have always felt funny about celebrating it. My birth was a bit of an accident. My parents said I was a surprise, they thought they weren’t going to have any more children. And I was born six weeks premature. Is there any meaning in celebrating the day that I wasn’t really supposed to have been born?

Answer:

Your birthday is chosen by G-d, not your parents, your astrologer or the obstetrician. Birth is G-d saying that the world can’t go on without you. It is the day that your soul’s mission had to begin.

There were already more than six billion people on earth when you were born. Did the world really need you? Can one more soul really make a difference? Obviously the answer is yes. Otherwise G-d would not have sent your soul to this earth. The fact that you were born means there must be some unique contribution that you have for the world that none of those other six billion people could possibly offer.

A birthday is an opportunity to reflect: This is the day that my soul was despatched on its mission. How is the mission going? Have I been doing my part to enhance and improve myself and my world? How much time and energy do I spend on meaningful pursuits? How much more time could I spend on what really matters in the coming year?

Far from being an accident, your birth was clearly a deliberate act. The fact that you surprised your parents, and you arrived early just shows how urgently the world needed you. Your soul couldn’t even wait a few weeks for the due date to get down here. G-d had another due date in mind.

Your soul was sent down by priority delivery. Make sure your soul always remains a priority.

Good Shabbos (and Happy Birthday),
Rabbi Moss

Your Mummy or Your Wife?

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Mum or Wife JPG.

Question of the Week:

Things have flared up between my mother and my wife. My mother insists that the family be together every Friday night dinner at her house, but my wife wants to be able to host dinners at our place too. I never missed a Shabbos dinner at home in my life, but now I am caught between my parents and my wife. And we are only married two months! Where should my loyalty be?

Answer:

It is horrible to be caught between two people you love. But there is no question where your loyalty should be. The answer is found in the wedding ceremony.

When a couple gets married, they are led to the chuppah by their parents. But once the chuppah is over, bride and groom leave their parents behind, and walk towards their new life together. This is the choreography of shifting allegiance – you come to your wedding as your parents’ single children, you leave it as a couple.

Your parents will always be your parents. They brought you into this world with love, raised you with selfless devotion, and gave you the freedom and autonomy to get married and start a family of your own. But often this last stage is the most difficult for them. They will always see you as their little darling, and as much as they want to, it is hard to let go.

But let go they must. And you can help them. Make it gentle. Make it clear to them that you are not cutting off or rejecting them, you are just adjusting to the new reality of being married. Do it in gradual steps rather than sudden changes. I am sure your mother will be more open to you doing your own thing one Shabbos per month, if you reassure her that the other weeks you will be with the family. In time you can review it.

More important than anything, husband and wife must be a unit. In every situation, you must present a united front. It is not your wife who wants to make Shabbos, it is you as a couple who want to make Shabbos. Never let your wife feel stranded and alone in your parent’s company.

Your parents led you to the chuppah, their faces beaming with pride. They are now watching you leave the chuppah, their hearts torn with mixed emotion. Be sensitive and give your parents their well deserved respect. Remember, it was their Shabbos dinners that shaped the person you are today.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

A Stupid Question on Evolution

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religion V science

Question of the Week:

I’ll tell you why I prefer science over religion. The Bible is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. To accept it you have to have faith. Science on the other hand is a rational system. Why cling to old inaccurate myths like the creation story of Genesis when the theory of evolution provides a clear and logical explanation for the origins of the universe?

Answer:

Science and religion have far more in common than most give credit. Both require intense study to be understood correctly, and both can be easily misunderstood and dismissed as inaccurate when studied superficially. A cursory reading of the Torah can indeed lead one to think that it makes no sense. But the same applies to science.

I have not studied evolution theory in depth, and so my understanding of it is limited. Such shallow knowledge can easily lead to perceived contradictions. For example, as I understand it, evolution theory posits that life developed gradually from a simple single-celled organism to complex human beings over millions of years and many millions of generations. To me this is a contradiction. For evolution to occur, you need many generations. But to have generations, you need to be able to reproduce. So how did reproduction evolve? Isn’t the reproductive system quite complex? Can reproduction evolve gradually over many generations?!?

I am sure this is a stupid question. I cannot even imagine how this could be resolved, but what does a rabbi know about evolution? I can only assume it has been explained by evolutionary scientists. Though I am yet to hear how. If anyone knows the answer please share it.

Just as those who haven’t studied science should not be surprised when they don’t understand scientific theories, so too those who have not studied Torah should not dismiss it as irrational when they come up with questions. The seeming contradictions in the Torah have been known by its sages for millennia, and each one has been reconciled. With careful thought and detailed study, an appreciation for nuance and language, an understanding of context and style, every question has an answer.

Torah study does not ask a probing mind to stop questioning. On the contrary, it requires clear and critical thinking. And after three millennia of some of the world’s sharpest minds pulling apart its every word, the Torah is still intact. And the Torah sages themselves encouraged scientific study. For when both Torah and science are studied deeply, both will lead to a better knowledge of G-d, the author of both.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Can the Dead Hear Us?

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heaven JPG

Question of the Week:

My son recently died in an accident. I would like to know if he can see or hear us here on earth. Is he still aware of us now that he is in Heaven? Your comments would be appreciated.

Mum missing her son.

Answer:

The mystery of death is one that we cannot truly understand. Why some souls come down here for so short, only to be taken away from us, we cannot explain.

But we know that only the body dies, not the soul. And it is the soul of a person whom we love. Our connection with our loved ones is not with their physical presence, but their person, their love, their spirit. And that relationship never goes away. It just takes another form.

The Rebbe once spoke to a mother who was inconsolable after the loss of her son. He said to her: “What if I told you that your son isn’t dead? Rather he has gone away to a place where he is safe and happy. He feels no pain, he has no fear, he has no regrets. You can’t see him. But you can send him love packages, and he will receive them and enjoy them. If I told you this, would things be different?”

She thought about it and said, “Well, I guess the pain would not be quite so unbearable if I knew he was safe and I could tell him I love him.”

“Well,” the Rebbe said to her, “this is the case. Your son is in heaven where he is at peace. And he can still feel your love. The love packages you send to him are the mitzvos, the good deeds you do in his memory and in his honour. When you give a coin to charity, say a prayer, light a candle, be kind to those in need, and you have him in mind, he receives a flow of love from you every time. His soul up there is elevated when down here you do good inspired by his memory. Channel your grief into a positive force. Let the vacuum caused by the loss draw more light into the world.”

Nothing can replace the physical touch of a hug, the pleasure of seeing your child grow and learn and play. But he is still with you. And he knows that he is blessed with a loving mother who will always think of him.

We don’t know why it has to be this way. But one day, we will be reunited with the souls of our loved ones, and the pain will be no more. May that day come soon.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss