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FAQ: Practical Application of Torah laws

FAQ: Practical Application of Torah laws

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QUESTION: "My mother brings negativity around me and my husband - how should I deal with this? I have not spoken to her much recently, but I do not want to be disrespectful to my mother. Is there an appropriate way to approach this?"

ANSWER: You may say to her: "Mother, please stop. I do not want to hear negativity about my husband/my marriage. It makes me sad - it hampers my ability to function" or words to that effect. Note that it says nothing about your mother, only about you. Also, the tone of voice in which you speak to her must not be critical. It must be pleasant and respectful.


QUESTION: "What is the reason for wrapping tefillin 7 times around the arm and must tefillin be made of leather?"

ANSWER: A number of reasons are given. The most prominent is that it corresponds to the seven times a bride circles her groom at the marriage ceremony. According to Kabbalah it corresponds to the seven divine attributes utilized in Creation. In both interpretations, the intent is the same: it reflects our desire to be bound to G‑d in a relationship as permanent as possible.

Yes, tefillin must be made of leather. If not, they are not tefillin, no matter how kosher the writing, etc. There is no room whatsoever for compromise here.


QUESTION: Why do we bless water before drinking it? Does your blessing encompass the water in your cup only, or all water in the universe?

ANSWER: We bless because, as with the other blessings before eating or drinking, we want and need to acknowledge the Creator who provides us nourishment. As such, the blessing covers anything else you intend to drink or eat in this time period for which this is the appropriate blessing. And because you are reciting this blessing with its particular wording, it does indeed include all the water in the universe, and presumably everything else to that the Al-mighty brought forth in His creation.


QUESTION: "I understood from one of your articles that I can go without a shirt with four corners so that I would be allowed to go without tzitzit!

In my opinion only a Rabbi should wear tzitzit, because they are always serving Him as if they were in the Beit HaMikdash."

ANSWER: Nevertheless, the requirement to put tzitziton a four-cornered garment if we choose to wear one is for all Jews, not just rabbis, because all Jews are expected to act holy and be holy, not just rabbis.


QUESTION: "My mother's yartzeit is next Thursday - is it okay to visit the grave a day early or a day late? What customs should I observe? Thanks."

ANSWER: Yes, you can go on Wed. or Fri. if you are truly unable to go on Thursday. But if on Friday, it should be before 11:30am.

On the night and day of the yartzeit, you should give charity and study Torah, preferably Mishnah, for the merit of your mother's soul. If you are unable to say Kaddish you should arrange for someone else to do it, even paying them if necessary.

On all three days you should do as many extra good Jewish deeds as you can, for her merit.

At the cemetery you can say whatever you wish and pray whatever you wish. It is good to recite some Psalms too. At least Psalm 20 and the Psalm corresponding to her years, which would be her age if she were alive plus one.


QUESTION: "Regarding one of the 613 mitzvot, I find myself hard-pressed to understand the mitzvot dealing with various forms of execution, particularly the ancient even more barbaric ones that include beheading, stoning, etc. Although it is, I suppose, possible to rationalize in terms of the notion that the punishment should fit the crime or the antiquity of the form of punishment, I still have problems with this and since I do not feel that a sentence of death and its enforcement is within the realm of human authority, the whole notion is repugnant to me. Still, I would like to understand the basis for such ancient punishments and the context in which they are mentioned: The 613 mitzvot."

ANSWER: The four forms of execution can be authorized only by a Sanhedrin, a court of 71 of the most learned and G‑d-fearing sages, that sits in Israel. The Sanhedrin was extremely careful in applying these sentences; a Sanhedrin that sentenced capital punishment more than once in a generation was known as "a bloody court". The great Sanhedrins' authority channeled G‑d's authority, and the four forms of execution are understood to be the prescribed forms of rectification for the different types of capital crimes, a form of healing for the soul of the sinner. In fact, just as some procedures necessary to healing are painful and require anesthetization, the court gave wine to the sentenced criminal to lessen his suffering during execution. Also, a little known fact is that "stoning" and "beheading" were procedures applied to the criminal's dead body after a more prosaic form of execution. Nowadays we cannot execute as they did, because we are on a much lower spiritual level. That is why we have no Sahanherin and no holy Temple. The great Jewish sages were extremely careful how they utilized this power. It is highly recommended that you study "Sanhedrin" in the Talmud or at least in Maimonides so that you can attain a clearer understanding than is provided by only reading the verses in the Torah. By the way, none of the ancients ever came up with as bizarre or cruel a form of execution as "the electric chair". We needed modern civilization for that.


QUESTION 1: "Can you tell me how many times a man should go with his head under water in the mikvah?

QUESTION 2: And should he do something else, like praying?

QUESTION 3: And is it truth that the Ari Mikvah of Safed fulfills wishes?"

ANSWER 1: Once is enough for purity, three enough for repentance. Some do more: 4, 7, 9, 10, 13 are all numbers I have heard, although, IMHO, four is quite enough unless there is a special reason.

ANSWER 2: There are special ways to focus the mind. The Holy Ari wrote about this and so did the Baal Shem Tov. In English, some of this information is available in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Meditation and Kabbalah". It is enough to concentrate that you are doing it in order to be closer to G‑d.

ANSWER 3: The local tradition is that someone who immerses in the Mikvah of the Holy Ari will not leave the world without having returned to G‑d in complete repentance. Anything else you may have heard can serve as an example of how time and distance bring distortion.


QUESTION: "What is the main difference between the way you are teaching and what is offered at 'The Kabbalah Center'?"

ANSWER: We are offering teachings translated or based on genuine sources, and we are not offering any magic, curses, or instant superficial solutions. Also, all of our teachings are consistent with revealed Jewish law and we do not charge money for them.


QUESTION: "Shalom, My wife and I recently had a baby boy. What about having intimate relations now? Do we do it in the room while he sleeps, or put him out of the room?"

ANSWER: Mazel tov. He can be in the room as long as there is some sort of partition between you and him so that there is no direct line of sight.

Yerachmiel Tilles is the co-founder of Ascent-of-Safed, and was its educational director for 18 years. He is the creator of www.ascentofsafed.com and www.kabbalaonline.org and currently the director of both sites. He is also a well-known storyteller, a columnist for numerous chassidic publications, and a staff rabbi on AskMoses.com, as well as and the author of "Saturday Night, Full Moon": Intriguing Stories of Kabbalah Sages, Chasidic Masters and other Jewish Heroes.
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