Ask the Rabbi

 

Why Are There Two Months of Adar and What is Purim...

 

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The Hebrew calendar allows us to track the Jewish year. Without that, we would not be able to celebrate the Jewish holidays at their correct time.

Unlike the other calendars in existence today, the Jewish calendar goes according to the moon. Once a month at Rosh Chodesh as the new moon appears, we restart counting the days in the month. The decision when to begin the new month used to be based upon the testimony of witnesses verifying they had seen the new moon in the sky. The Beis Din would light fires on mountains informing the people of the new moon. After a while the Sadducees began to light fake fires on mountains to confuse people and stop the information flowing from city to city. That is when they created a fixed calendar that we still use today.


 

The Meal Before Tisha B’Av – Seudah...

 

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Tisha B’av (the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av) is the national day of mourning for the Jewish people.

The final meal before Tisha B’Av (“Seudah Mafseket”) is eaten in a state of “mourning”, sitting on the floor, eating a piece of bread and a hard boiled egg with some ashes.


 

What is Passover?

 

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Of all the Jewish holidays that we Jews celebrate, the most impactful on our souls and if we are not careful, our bodies, is Pesach, Passover. The story takes place in Egypt where the Jewish people had lived for 210 years. As with many exiles since, at first our stay in Egypt as strangers in a strange land began wonderfully, with Joseph being the viceroy of the land, and the Jewish people having freedom to live as they wished as monotheists in the spirit of their forefathers, and foremothers.

Soon however, things changed. A new Pharaoh began to rule over Egypt. The Hebrews (as we were called then) began to suffer greatly as slaves, and the Egyptians began to mistrust this strange people who dressed, spoke and had different names to them.


 

What Are Mishloach Manot?

 

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On Purim one of the special mitzvot we perform is giving food gifts to friends. The reason we perform this mitzvah is to bring joy to others and to generally increase happiness among Jewish people on Purim. What better way to make friends happy than to give them food packages!

By doing this we add unity to our people and this in turn allows the Jewish people to be judged favorably in heaven.


 

Why Do We Drink on Purim?

 

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Drinking on Purim is based on a Talmudic statement that it is a mitzvah to enjoy and celebrate on Purim. It is not a mitzvah to drink so much that we act in a non G-dly manner. However, we do drink more than usual on Purim. This is based on a number of reasons, such as the idea that “the wine is drunk, the secrets are revealed” and since Purim is all about the inner aspects of our love for Judaism and G-d being revealed, we drink more wine than usual.


 

Is Purim the Jewish Halloween?

 

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It has become a wide spread custom to dress up in costume on Purim. One reason is because of the hidden nature of G-d in the story of Purim. The Megillah is the only book in all of Jewish scriptures where G-d’s name is not mentioned. So Purim represents the idea of G-d “hiding” Himself in this world, and performing hidden miracles, as opposed to revealed miracles (think Passover and the plagues) on behalf of the Jewish people. We represent G-d hiding Himself, by also hiding ourselves in costume. Clothing is also mentioned many times in the Purim story, with Achashverosh dressing up at his party, to Mordechai wearing sackcloth and ashes, then Haman dressing up Mordechai in fine clothing before he parades him through the streets of Shushan, and Esther dressing in her finery before she walks into see Achashverosh.

As you can see, Purim is a very deep and important holiday for the Jewish people, and is on no way a “Jewish Halloween”! On the contrary, the deeper Jewish sources say that if you break down the words Yom Kippur you get, “Yom, K, Pur” which means ” a day like Purim”, but only “like” Purim, but not as good. We can connect to G-d through fasting, but can reach much higher levels though physical enjoyment!


 

Ask the Rabbi – What is Purim?

 

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After the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezer exiled the Jews from the land of Israel and many ended up in Persia, in the city of Shushan. According to many opinions the city is now called Hamadan, where the burial sites of Esther and Mordechai still exist and are visited by Jews every year on Purim till this day.

The leader of that time was someone by the name of Achashverosh. He was a dictator who had risen up militarily, but had taken a wife for himself of royal blood by the name of Vashti, in order to consolidate his power. Achashverosh throws a six month party to celebrate his third year in power and in a drunken state, has Vashti killed after she refuses to dance for him and his henchmen in her royal crown….only her royal crown.


 

What is the Significance of Dreidels?

 

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One of the harshest decrees the Greeks made against the Jews was that they were forbidden from studying their holy Torah. One way they managed to study in private was to have children play with spinning tops (dreidels) outside the places of learning and this would be a distraction for the Greek army enforcing their laws.

A deeper source says that this dreidel also symbolizes the nature of the miracle. On Purim we play with the grogger. Since the miracle of Purim was a hidden miracle the grogger symbolizes this by having the hand below turning the grogger from underneath, in a hidden way, as G-d turned the events in a hidden fashion.


 

Why Do We Use So Much Oil on Chanukah?

 

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Chanukah is difficult to do on a few calories. Unlike Purim, there is no obligation to have a seuda (festive meal) on Chanukah.  It has become a custom however to have a meal which shows gratitude to G-d for the miracles that happened for the Jewish people.

One of the main miracles that happened for the Jewish people was that  when the Jews recaptured the holy temple after the Greeks had defiled it, a vessel of oil was found in perfect condition with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) still intact. Rather than lasting for one day, this oil miraculously lasted for eight days, which gave the Jewish people enough time to press more olives and have the oil delivered to the temple in Jerusalem.


 

What Does the Word Chanukah Mean?

 

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The word Chanukah means to dedicate. The Assyrian Greeks had taken control of the land of Israel and were imposing decrees upon the Jewish people that were becoming intolerable. The Greeks wanted to “enlighten” the Jewish people with their way of looking at the world. When the Jews rejected this way of life, the Greeks began to make decrees on the Jewish people to break their spirit such as denying the the chance to perform bris milah on their sons, or from keeping Shabbat, or from making their calendar.

When this did not stop the Jewish people from leaving their faith (some did), the Greeks attacked the symbol of Jewish wisdom and pride, the holy temple in Jerusalem.


 

Heating Foods on Shabbat

 

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Reheating foods on Shabbat is a complicated and intricate area of Jewish Law. Here are some basics but please note that there are many more details to cover. Consider this a primer or akin to the first part of a 10 part course. Of course, you should always consult your own local rabbi if you have further questions or need more clarification.

According to the laws of Shabbat, Ein Bishul Achar Bishul, which means once something is cooked, it is impossible to cook that food again, therefore, according to this, once a food is thoroughly cooked, it may be reheated an an existing flame on Shabbat.


 

What is the custom to eat stuffed foods on Sukkot...

 

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It may be related to how on Sukkot we are at the end of the summer, and bringing in the bounty from the fields, we are “stuffed” or “wrapped” in Gods blessings. It is at this time when we could become conceited with our possessions, and newly acquired success, when we leave the comforts of our homes and live in a flimsy roofed sukkah, and thereby put our faith in God.

Also there is an idea that real blessing only comes from things that are hidden from the eye. We therefore cover our blessings from everyone out there, and show our appreciation from God.


 

Are there any traditional foods to eat before the...

 

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It is a mitzvah to eat and drink heartily on Erev Yom Kippur. Our Sages write: The Torah (Leviticus 23:32) states: And you shall afflict your soul on the ninth of the month in the evening.

Do we fast on the ninth? We fast only on the tenth! This comes to teach us that all who eat and drink on the ninth, and fast on the tenth, are considered by Scripture as if they had fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.


 

Why do we eat sweet foods on Rosh Hashannah?

 

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Rosh Hashanah would not be the same without dipping the apple into honey or some other sweet substance like sugar. The Talmud Shabbat 88a compares the Jewish people to an apple tree in the orchard. This, say the sages, teaches you that just as an apple tree starts to bear fruit before its leaves grow, so too did the Jewish people put ‘We will do’ before ‘We will hear’ at Mount Sinai. So apples have a quality in their development that they are willing to grow without the protection of the blossom, we as a nation have a similar quality, we push ourselves to grow, even if we are not certain of our spiritual success.

When Yitzchak blesses Yaakov he references this Jewish nation and apple connection by telling him “Behold, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed” (Bereishit 27:27). This field, says Rashi, was an apple orchard. When Yitzchak smelled the scent of an apple orchard, he realized that Yaakov’s children were truly worthy of blessing. He saw in the sweet scent of apples an omen that even when Yaakov’s children become entrenched in sin, they have the ability to swiftly extract themselves from their plight. Love of God was so much a part of Yaakov that he passed that love along to his children as an almost hereditary trait. This ability to love God and return to Him from any distance is represented by the scent of an apple orchard.


 

Why are Challahs round this time of year?

 

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During the year on Shabbat we eat Challahs that are braided. One reason for this is because each strand of the challah represents one of the six days of the week that we have completed, and now turn all those strands into Shabbat enjoyment, as if to say, all the six days of work are now complete, let us rejoice in the culmination of these days and enjoy the fruits of our labor by thanking and recognizing G-d on this very special day.

On Rosh Hashanah however we have a custom to make round as opposed to braided challahs. Why is this?


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