Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why can the Father and Husband Nullify her Word?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Matot/Masai

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m really bothered by notion of vows in this week’s parasha. Why is so much attention given to what a person says he will or will not do? Why is that anyone else’s business? Even more so, the asymmetry in the matters of nullifying wows is quite disturbing to me. Why can a father nullify a daughter’s wow but not a son’s? Why can a husband nullify his wife’s oath, whereas the wife cannot nullify her husband’s vow? This smacks of fundamentalist chauvinism! Why does any vow I make have to be validated by my husband first? Why do I need his permission? Am I not an adult, capable of making my own commitments and carrying them out?
Nancy Wilikov (name changed)

Dear Nancy,
I understand that the notion of vows and the Torah’s emphasis on the seriousness of our words is quite foreign to the Western mind. How often do we say, for example, that we will be somewhere at a certain time, but we end up being deterred? No one makes a big deal if we arrive five minutes after the agreed time. Yet, our Torah portion teaches that whenever we commit to a certain action, no matter how insignificant, our words have the power and obligation of a vow.

אִישׁ כִּי יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַהָשֵׁם אוֹ הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה:
(במדבר פרק ל פסוק ג).
“If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do” (Bamidbar 30:3).

If we agreed to help clear the table right away, this means we must do it now, not later, not whenever we feel like it, or after we have finished what we are in the middle of. Once the words have emerged from our mouth, we are obligated to fulfill exactly what we ourselves said. Thus, we encounter vows for which we are held accountable on a daily basis. The reason our words carries such importance is that words create the reality. By means of speech Hashem created the world, and by means of speech people can create joy or anger etc. We have the power to effect change and create a new reality through our speech. In spiritual healing we focus our minds to create a picture of an alternate reality and then to channel the image of this desired reality into the power of speech. But why is this ability seemingly diminished from women by the overriding power of the speech of their men?

The Liability of Single Women
(ד) וְאִשָּׁה כִּי תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַהָשֵׁם וְאָסְרָה אִסָּר בְּבֵית אָבִיהָ בִּנְעֻרֶיהָ: (ו) וְאִם הֵנִיא אָבִיהָ אֹתָהּ בְּיוֹם שָׁמְעוֹ כָּל נְדָרֶיהָ וֶאֱסָרֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר אָסְרָה עַל נַפְשָׁהּ לֹא יָקוּם וַהָשֵׁם יִסְלַח לָהּ כִּי הֵנִיא אָבִיהָ אֹתָהּ: )במדבר פרק ל פסוק ד,ו)
“If a woman makes a vow to Hashem, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father’s house, in her youth… if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. Hashem will forgive her because her father hindered her” (Bamidbar 30:4,6). 

Before all worked up about the gender disparities let’s read the fine print as presented by Rashi. What exactly is the father’s role in absolving his daughter’s vow? To whom does this apply? The term the Torah uses is בִּנְעֻרֶיהָ/bineureha – “in her youth.” Rashi explains that the verse does not refer to a minor child, since her vows are not binding, nor to an adult single woman, because she is not under her father’s control but responsible for her own oaths. So the only small window when a father can cancel his daughter’s vows that is when she is between the ages of 11 and 12. A single woman older than 12, a widow or a divorcee is liable for her own vows (Rashi, Bamidbar 30:4; Chaya Shuchat, Broken Vows).

For the Sake of Protecting the Woman
Now, what about married women? It seems that her independence is greatly compromised. On the surface level, it appears as though a husband’s words overrides his wife’s. Is a married woman no longer able to take responsibility for her own decisions?

וְאִם בֵּית אִישָׁהּ נָדָרָה אוֹ אָסְרָה אִסָּר עַל נַפְשָׁהּ בִּשְׁבֻעָה:  (יג) וְאִם הָפֵר יָפֵר אֹתָם אִישָׁהּ בְּיוֹם שָׁמְעוֹ כָּל מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיהָ לִנְדָרֶיהָ וּלְאִסַּר נַפְשָׁהּ לֹא יָקוּם אִישָׁהּ הֲפֵרָם וַיהֹוָה יִסְלַח לָהּ: (יד) כָּל נֵדֶר וְכָל שְׁבֻעַת אִסָּר לְעַנֹּת נָפֶשׁ אִישָׁהּ יְקִימֶנּוּ וְאִישָׁהּ יְפֵרֶנּו: (במדבר פרק לפסוק יא, יג, יד)
“But if she vowed in her husband’s house, or imposed a prohibition upon herself with an oath… if her husband revokes them on the day he hears them, anything issuing from her lips regarding her vows or self-imposed prohibitions shall not stand; her husband has revoked them, and Hashem shall forgive her. Any vow or any binding oath of self-affliction, her husband can either uphold it or revoke it (Bamidbar 30:11,13,14).

Although nullifying the woman’s vow removes the punishment, should she be unable to fulfill it; this does not prevent her from carrying out what she has sworn. Let’s say a woman takes upon herself to become a vegetarian. The ability to annul her vow does not give her husband the power to force her to eat meat. It only prevents her from being punished, should she accidentally come to eat meat. Moreover, not every vow can be nullified by her father or husband. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch explains that the right of the husband to annul her vow is limited to the vows through which the woman causes herself hardship and pain. Thus, the ability to annul her vow serves as a protection for the woman.

Women, Sensitivity, and Self Sacrifice
All generalizations have their exceptions. It is especially difficult in our evolving world, to stereotype men and women. Nevertheless, the fact that men and women are created with physical differences alludes to their different emotional and spiritual makeup; since everything in the physical world is a reflection of the spiritual reality it manifests. Whereas it is generally easier for a man to be detached and objective, a woman’s role as a nurturer of new life makes her more emotionally sensitive, enabling her to love and identify with others. In her selflessness and zeal to give, she might not always realize her own limitations. A woman could, therefore, easily come to take upon herself more than she can handle. Her husband’s ability to annul her vow serves to prevent her altruistic nature from going overboard.

Achieving Divine Forgiveness
Commenting on the phrase “Hashem shall forgive her,” Rashi ponders why the woman needs forgiveness, when her vow has already been annulled. He explains that Scripture describes the case of a woman who vowed to become a Nazarite and whose father heard it and annulled it for her without her knowledge. Although her vow was void, she thought it was still in effect. Therefore, she needed forgiveness when acting contrary to the vow she had taken upon herself. Rashi points out that by revoking the vow of the daughter or wife, she is able to merit forgiveness in case she should accidentally break it. His comment concludes with a fortiori: If those whose vows have been annulled require forgiveness, how much more when someone transgresses vows which have not been annulled (Rashi, Bamidbar 30:6; Chana Bracha Siegelbaum, Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion).

Eternal Laws of Torah Outweigh Norms of Modern Society
Whenever Torah laws contradict what is socially acceptable in the ‘free’ Western world, the eternal value of the Torah takes precedence over the ephemeral values of the western world. However, there is a reason why Hashem causes certain perspectives to become more popular at certain times. Each wave of consciousness draws out another aspect contained within the depths of the wellsprings of Torah. Thus our need to affirm the importance of women in Judaism became an impetus for perceiving the Torah laws that seem to belittle women’s role in a deeper way.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is it Possible to Receive Prophecy Today?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Pinchas
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I have a quick question. We learned that the age of prophecy came to an end. I don’t remember when that was said to be. I have friends who say there can still be prophets today. I understand there are different levels of prophecy and there is a difference between the prophecy of Moshe and the prophecy of the other prophets in the Bible. I also am aware that there is still Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) today. What exactly is the different and when did true prophecy end? I meant this to be a simple question but I guess it is not.
Hannah Furie

Dear Hannah,
It’s so nice hearing from you, thank you for your excellent question. You are right that according to the Talmud the era of prophecy has come to an end, yet we are awaiting its return now at the Messianic era. Since the glorious Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, we have lost not just a building, but a more direct connection with Hashem through prophecy. We find ourselves in a time when we are starving to hear the word of G-d. The following prophecy applies perfectly to our time:

הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם הָשֵׁם אֶלֹקיִם וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶּחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַּיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת דִּבְרֵי הָשֵׁם: (יב) וְנָעוּ מִיָּם עַד יָם וּמִצָּפוֹן וְעַד מִזְרָח יְשׁוֹטְטוּ לְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת דְּבַר הָשֵׁם וְלֹא יִמְצָאוּ: 
(עמוס פרק ח פסוק יא-יב)
“A time is coming, declares Hashem my G-d, when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Hashem. People shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east to seek the word of Hashem, but they shall not find it” 
(Amos 8:11-12).

This thirst, which we experience today, for the return of prophecy is reflected in your question and in the attempts of numerous people to tune into the word of G-d, in various ways. I believe that prophecy will gradually return to Israel level by level from increased intuition until once again our relationship with Hashem will be expressed through full-fledged prophecy with the rebuilding of the Temple. 

The Temple is the Circuit for Prophecy
Hashem commanded us to build a holy abode for Him in order that He would dwell within us. He didn’t say, “I will dwell within it,” but “within them.”  From this we learn that G-d’s presence dwells within Israel to a much higher degree when the holy Temple is built. Until that time, when our Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, Hashem’s presence is hidden and we live in spiritual darkness (hester panim). The rebuilding of the Temple will ignite our spiritual light of prophecy, in the same way that plugging a light into the electric outlet will illuminate a dark room. According to most Torah authorities, Malachi was the last prophet (see, for example, Tosefta Sotah 3:3; Yoma 9b; Sanhedrin 11a). Although Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesied after the destruction of the First Temple, a number of sources consider the destruction of the First Temple as having dealt a fatal blow to prophecy. Even when the Second Temple was built, prophecy never returned full force:

The First Temple differed from the second in regards to five things: The ark, the ark-cover, the Cherubim, the fire, the Shechinah, the Holy Spirit [of Prophecy], and the Urim v’Tumim 
(Babylonian Talmud Yoma 21b).

The Transition from Prophecy to Wisdom
The destruction of both Temples caused a transition in Israel from the era of נבואה/Nevuah – Prophecy to the period of חכמה/Chachma – Wisdom. This was the time when the Oral Law was written down.
“…the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to the wise. Is then a wise man not also a prophet? The meaning is: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise. Amimar said: A wise man is even superior to a prophet, as it says, “A prophet has a heart of wisdom” (Tehillim 90:12). Who is compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater?” 
(Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 12a).

The Talmud attributes a superior level to the chacham (wise) because a person who has acquired Torah by means of his own wisdom, through Arousal from Below, is superior to one who has received prophecy as a free gift of Arousal from Above. Although the prophet’s connection to Divine knowledge is greater, his relationship to his prophecy overwhelms his free will. The wise does not share such intense spiritual experience, yet, because he has gained his knowledge through his own efforts, it is broader and more grounded. Ever since the destruction of the Temples, we no longer have prophecy that emanates from Arousal from Above. Rather, Israel was now to rediscover Hashem’s will through their own effort, engaging in the wisdom of Torah study and logical inferences through Arousal from Below. This transition was also reflected in the general world with the emergence of Greek Philosophy, and in the pursuit of logic that replaced interest in mysticism and the occult. Likewise, the temptation for idolatry had vanished (Yoma 69b), and there was no longer a need for prophecy to counterbalance magic (The Vilna Gaon, commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 30; Rabbi Tzadok, Divrei Sofrim 21b).

Halachic Petition Through Arousal from Below
The antecedent of this transition- from having a relationship with Hashem through Arousal from Above to relating to the Divine through Arousal from Below, which eventually led to the metamorphosis from Prophecy to Wisdom, begins in this week’s parasha. The daughters of Tzelafchad brought down a new law in Israel through Arousal from Below. Their story takes place at the end of the 40-year wandering in the wilderness, on the verge of entering into the Land of Israel. The land was to be divided into portions according to tribes and families. Until then, the law of land inheritance dictated that family plots would be passed down from father to son. Yet, Tzelafchad had passed away leaving five daughters but no sons. This is when his daughters rose to face Moshe, Elazar and the entire congregation stating their petition:

במדבר פרק כז פסוק ד-ז לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן תְּנָה לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ: וַיַּקְרֵב משֶׁה אֶת מִשְׁפָּטָן לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה: וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: (ז) כֵּן בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן לָהֶן:
“Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers So Moshe brought their case before Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Tzelafchad’s daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them” 
(Bamidbar 27:1-7).

The Wisdom of the Daughters of Tzelafchad Pulled Down a New Torah Law
Although Moshe’s prophecy was superior to all other prophets in several ways, (see Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6), now, as the Israelites were about to enter the Land and Moshe’s life was coming to an end, his level of prophecy was waning. Therefore, he didn’t have a ready answer to the daughters, but needed to bring their case before Hashem. Thus, it was the daughters, through their wisdom, learnedness and righteousness (Baba Batra 119b), who had the merit to pull down a new Torah law into the world. As Rashi states, their eye saw what Moshe’s eye did not see (cf. Tanch.). Through the daughter’s arousal from below in wisdom, they were credited with an even finer perception of this part of the Torah than Moshe himself.

This chapter ought to have been written by Moshe, but for the fact that the daughters of Tzelafchad had so much merit. It was therefore written through them (Baba Batra 119a; Sanhedrin 8a).

A Tzaddik May Possibly Receive Prophecy Even Today
According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubawitz, the belief that prophecy ceased after the destruction of the First Temple is a misconception. He holds that, although The Talmud states that the era of prophecy ceased, it only means that prophets are no longer as common as they used to be. Yet, prophecy itself continues to exist (Likkutei Sichos, vol. 14, p. 72ff; Sefer HaSichos, 5751, p. 788; p. 790, fn. 101). Even today, we may still find exceptionally righteous people endowed with special spiritual gifts. A tzaddik possesses the ability to see and perceive spiritual realities concealed from the ordinary eye and mind. Although we don’t find many prophets today, a tzaddik possessing ruach hakodesh is much more common in our time. Just as people have different levels of intelligence, there are many different levels of prophecy. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the higher level of spiritual perception (prophecy) is found in only a select few exceptional individuals in each generation. Ruach hakodesh, which is a lesser level of spiritual perception than prophecy, is much more commonly found. Those with the divine gift of ruach hakodesh are able to perceive reality on a much higher spiritual level than the average person. Many Torah authorities attest to the existence of ruach hakodesh in our current era, particularly the writings of the Arizal – one of Jewish history’s greatest authorities on the Kabbalah (Shloma Majeski, The Rebbe-Chassid Relationship, chapter 5).

The Return of Prophecy to Sons and Daughters
Since Arizal’s time in the sixteenth century, a new shift has been happening in the world at large as well as in the Jewish world. While Reason had been dominant for generations, we have gradually been moving into an era with more interest and attraction towards the mystical and spiritual realms. The popularity of various neo-Chassidic movements is an expression of the yearning for spirituality and Divine inspiration, so prominent today. As we come closer to the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of prophecy, the search for the inner dimension of the Torah, spiritual healing, mystical experience, and divine inspiration is rapidly growing. Through various meditative practices, people are beginning to open their intuition to experience a deeper level of reality. Even without such practices, there are those who receive prophetic messages in their dreams or just intuitively know hidden things about others. Redemption is like a sunrise. It starts with a small ray, which gradually increases until the Divine Presence is revealed like the bright daylight (Yerushalmi, Yoma chapter 3). As the clouds of exile evaporate one by one, the dawn of redemption returns flashes of prophetic spirit to Israel. I truly believe we are entering the era described so beautifully by the prophet Yoel:

וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי כֵן אֶשְׁפּוֹךְ אֶת רוּחִי עַל כָּל בָּשָׂר וְנִבְּאוּ בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם חֲלֹמוֹת יַחֲלֹמוּן בַּחוּרֵיכֶם חֶזְיֹנוֹת יִרְאוּ: 
(יואל פרק ג  פסוק א)
“It shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” 
(Yoel 3:1).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Should I be Afraid of Ayin Hara (The Evil Eye)?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Balak
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m concerned about Ayin Hara. Last week, someone commented on my special water bottle: how nice and unique it was. The next day it broke. Similar kinds of things happen often to me and to people I know. For example, someone asked my friend if she could look at her chicken coop to get an idea of how to make her own. The next day my friend found one of her favorite chickens dead. This could not be just a random incident, since none of her chickens had died for the last several months. I’ve become really afraid of the evil eye. Each time someone mentions something nice that I have or do, I cringe inside with fear that I may now lose it. I am trying my hardest to hide whatever I get that is new, but you cannot hide everything, like a new car! On the other hand, I’ve heard that Ayin Hara has no power if you don’t believe in it. Yet, how can I not believe in the evil eye when I have experienced time after time the loss of something precious, soon after someone has been enchanted by it?
Ma’ayan Iris (name changed)

Hamsa against the evil eye
Dear Ma’ayan,
I can understand that you are concerned about Ayin Hara. Although it is said that the evil eye doesn’t harm people who don’t believe in it, nevertheless, the Torah, Talmud and Halacha are replete with cases of Ayin Hara. Moreover, the Sages were very careful to protect themselves against Ayin Hara, and established numerous halachic guidelines to protect oneself from הזק ראיה/hezek reiyah – the damage of the eye. For example, we do not call a father and son up to the Torah one after the other, in order to avoid Ayin Hara (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 141). It is forbidden to stand by the neighbor’s field and look when the crops are high, in order not to damage them by Ayin Hara It is good manners, when one sees one’s neighbor busy at his work to bless him, “May you succeed in your work” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 183:6, Laws of Financial Damage). Some people do not believe in Ayin Hara, claiming, “I’m the master of my own destiny; therefore other people’s energy cannot hurt me.” There is truth to this claim but it is not exact. We do have free will, but so does the person who sends negative energy. Therefore, we need to find the right balance between taking protective precautions without becoming overly neurotic about Ayin Hara and negative energy. Too much preoccupation and fear of Ayin Hara lowers our vibration and makes us more susceptible, according to the principle of, “what you resist persists.”

The Human Eye Has Power to Affect Our Environment
Just as we are surrounded by air that cannot be seen, so is there invisible energy all around us. When we come into a holy place, where people, who are close to Hashem think holy thoughts, pray, learn Torah and perform mitzvot, we can feel the holy energy. On the other hand, in a place where people with negative thoughts and actions reside, negative energy can be sensed.  Dr. Masaru Emoto found that human thought has the power to directly affect the world around us. He demonstrated this with pictures of frozen water under a microscope, after people had directed their thoughts at the water. Amazingly, when subjected to good thoughts, the frozen water crystalized into beautiful shapes. Conversely, when people thought negative thoughts near the water, the shapes became lop-sided and ugly. Even more potent than thoughts, the human eye is an energy center that can send out either negative or positive energy. By means of looking, a person affects reality,   through Ayin Hara, and Ayin Tova (The Good Eye). Ayin Tova has an even greater influence (Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Takanat Hashavin 6). Some people have a high threshold of susceptibility to negative energy, but even they are not always able to avoid the influence of very high density of Ayin Hara that some people send out.

Bil’am’s Evil Eye
The concept of Ayin Hara plays a pivotal role throughout Parashat Balak. The Torah tells us that Bilam lifted up his eyes in his third attempt to curse the Jewish people:

ספר במדבר פרק כד (ב) וַיִּשָּׂא בִלְעָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֹׁכֵן לִשְׁבָטָיו וַתְּהִי עָלָיו רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים:
“Bilam lifted up his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes…” (Bamidbar 24:2)

Rashi learns from the expression, “lifted up his eyes” that Bilam tried to impose the evil eye upon Israel. Rabbeinu Bachaya adds that when Bilam saw “Israel dwelling according to its tribes,” he noticed that their camps were organized in such a way, that the tent openings faced away from each other, to avoid causing evil eye to one another. Why did Bilam, specifically now, after realizing that the doors of Israel were facing away from one another, try to impose his Ayin Hara on Israel? The camp of Israel was covered by the Cloud of Hashem until the sin of the Golden Calf, when the Cloud departed and the camp of Israel was revealed. Ayin Hara only has power over that which is revealed to the eye. Therefore, when Bilam realized that the tribes of Israel were exposed, he wanted to send them his evil eye. However, even so, Bilam’s evil eye had no power over the Children of Israel because of the holiness of the camp of Israel. This holy protection was the result of the opening of each tent facing away from one another, so that the insides of the tents would not be revealed to one another (The Taz on the Torah, Bamidbar 24:2). 

Developing a Good Eye is The Best Protection from the Evil Eye
“Anyone who has mastered these three things is from the students of Avraham Avinu, and [anyone who has mastered three other things is from the students of the wicked Bil’am. One who has a good eye, a low spirit and a humble soul – is from the students of Avraham Avinu. One who has an evil eye, a high spirit and a wide soul – is from the students of the wicked Bilam...” (Pirkey Avot 5:19).

Avraham is praised for having a “good eye” which entails the characteristic of הסתפקות/histapkut – ‘satisfaction.’ This is exemplified also by Ya’acov, who said, “I have everything” (Bereishit 33:11), rather than Esau, who claimed, “I have a lot” (Ibid. 33:9), implying that he still wanted more. We need to be students of Avraham Avinu, who was satisfied with what he had, and didn’t constantly seek to amass more material possessions. Even a shoelace and string he refused to receive from the King of Sedom. This character trait of developing a good eye is the best protection from the evil eye.

The Mitzvot Protect against Ayin Hara
Rabbi Dessler asked his father how it could be fair that a person may suffer because of the jealousies of another. His father answered him that the person, whose possessions have caused jealousy, may have been careless and flaunted his possessions causing jealousy to arise. This jealousy causes the other person to cry out in pain and his cry rises up to the Heavenly Court. Pele Yoetz adds that although a person should not flaunt his wisdom, his good deeds, or his wealth, he must simultaneously act thoughtfully so that others do not sense that he is being cautious. If someone is poor and notices that wealthy people avoid him, or someone who is childless notices that a blessed mother of many children is avoiding her, this could cause them distress. We must also not refrain from doing any mitzvah due to being concerned about Ayin Hara. For example, we should not be afraid to bring a poor man into our home or speak publicly to teach people Torah wisdom. One “who keeps a mitzvah will be not know any evil,” for a mitzvah protects – it is a shield and armor.

Strengthen Your Emuna System and Protect Yourselves Against Negative Energy
We cannot just dismiss the power of negative energy as nonexistent if we don’t believe in it. Just as there is light and holiness in the world, so does the opposite exist. We would be foolish not to strengthen our immune system in order to protect ourselves against virus and bacteria. Likewise, we need to strengthen our emunah system in order to protect ourselves against negative spiritual energy. By raising our spiritual vibration, developing self-esteem and viewing ourselves with Hashem’s perpetually kind and open eye, it is possible to rise above the influence of negative energy. We can also work on removing our own negative energy toward others by consciously sending positive energy to them. Yet, the greatest protection is to become happy with our portion like Avraham, and thereby avoid sending out an Evil Eye to others, as it states, “the evil eye has no power over the eye which did not want to take nourishment from what did not belong to it” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 20a).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why did My Brother Have to Die so Young?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Chukat

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
Last week my brother, Sam, died. He was young and in the peak of his academic career. He had struggled with cancer for a while, but in the end, it just got him. I can’t express how devastating all this is to our entire family. Seeing Sam suffer, getting weaker and weaker until his system just shut down was unbearable. I can’t stop crying and crying, feeling this is so unfair. Sam was a good person, brother, husband and father, why did he have to get sick and die at his prime? Why does his wife have to be widowed and his teenage children orphans? I normally would not contact a Rebbetzin, since I am not religious, but a friend told me that you are a healer and that you may be able to help comfort me.
Susan Avila (name changed)

Dear Susan,
Mount of Olives 
My heartfelt condolences go out to you and your entire family. Illness and death are the hardest part of life. There are no words. There is only trying to share your pain. When, in the Bible, Aharon lost his two sons, Nadav and Avihu, he suffered in silence, as it states, “…they died before Hashem… and Aharon was silent” (Vayikra 10:2-3). I wish I could just give you a big hug and cry with you. I also wish I could answer your questions of why your brother had to die young. Even those of us who are religious do not understand Hashem’s ways. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares Hashem. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Yesha’yahu 55:8-9). We just accept the incomprehensible as Hashem’s will, as He is the true judge. 

Death is the Bridge of Life
As hard as it is when someone dies, believing that death is the end and this world is all there is to life makes it even harder. In the Jewish tradition, as mentioned in numerous Talmudic passages, Midrash etc., this world is only a small part of our eternal spiritual existence. We enter this world in order to fulfill a specific G-d given mission. When we have achieved what we came here to accomplish, then our time in this world is up. Therefore, rather than saying that someone died, we use the expression ‘departed,’ which indicates that the person is only departing from this world, while his or her soul lives forever. Rabbi Tucainsky in his book, Gesher Hachaim (the Bridge of Life), gives a parable of twins in the womb. One believes that departing the womb is the end of life, whereas the other believes that it is just the beginning. “Rabbi Ya’akov says, This World is the antechamber that leads to the Next World. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you can enter the banquet hall” (Pirkei Avot 4:16). We cannot prove absolutely that there is life after death. That’s where emunah (belief) comes in. However, many stories of near death experiences by both Jews and non-Jews confirm the Torah descriptions of the afterlife.

Perceiving the Hidden Good in Every Hardship
Originally, Adam and Eve were supposed to have been immortal. However, when they ate from the Tree and brought evil into the world and into themselves, their bodies were no longer pure enough to enjoy eternal life. Death and decomposition of the physical became necessary as the purification process that allows the recharged soul to re-enter the renewed body at the end of days. Due to the impurity that we ingested by eating from the Tree, we now suffer negative emotions such as jealousy, power- greed and cravings. When we work on our character and our cravings, we purify our body and enable the soul to dominate the body. This can also be accomplished through suffering and sickness (May we be able to avoid it!). Illness causes the body to disintegrate, thus allowing the soul to dominate. Consequently, the purpose of illness and suffering is to act as purifying agents, as it states, “Just as salt rectifies meat, so does suffering clean the sins of a person” (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 5a). When we believe in the Almighty, Who is ultimate good, we have faith that even though we cannot understand why good people have to suffer, there is a deeper reason that actually is for the benefit of each person. One day, in another lifetime, when we reach a different level of consciousness, it will all make sense, and we will be able to perceive the hidden good of every hardship.

Dying through a Divine Kiss
In this week’s parasha both Miriam and Aharon pass away:
וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל הָעֵדָה מִדְבַּר צִן בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם בְּקָדֵשׁ וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם:
(ספר במדבר פרק כ  פסוק א)
“Then the children of Israel and the whole congregation came into the desert of Zin, in the first month and the people abode in Kadesh. Then Miriam died there, and was buried there” (Bamidbar 20:1).

The Talmud teaches that both of them died by a Divine kiss (Baba Batra 17a). What does it mean to die through a Supernal kiss?  Rambam explains that when a person who has perfected himself to a high degree is about to die, his understanding of the higher worlds, which are usually far beyond our grasp, becomes clearer. Thus, the soul is happy to leave the body and get closer to Hashem. This happiness results from Hashem’s kindness which makes death so much easier. In such a case, the moment of death is not even noticed (Moreh Nevuchim 3:51). Death through a Divine kiss is compared to the ease with which a hair can be removed from milk. In the case of the wicked, death is compared to a ball of wool entangled in thorns which need to be yanked away in order to remove them (Berachot 8a). Since hair represents materialism and milk is spiritual in its white purity, why is the lightest of all forms of death compared to removing a hair from milk and not the other way around? In truth, hair represents the body and milk the soul. However, spiritual giants such as Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were almost all soul. The part of their body which was not illuminated by their soul was like a tiny, thin, little peel- like a minute hair that could easily be removed in order to allow their souls to bask in the rays of the Divine spiritual realms (Rabbi Label Lam, Thus, the degree of difficulty of death corresponds to the extent of the soul’s entanglement within the coarseness of the body.

Reunited with the Divine
How do we know that Miriam indeed died through a Divine kiss? It states about both Moshe and Aharon that they died עַל פִּי הָשֵׁם/al pi Hashem – by Hashem’s mouth. This expression is not used in regards to Miriam. Rabbi Abahu said, Miriam also died through a [Divine] kiss, as it states, “there,” which is the same word used to describe Moshe’s death. “Moshe died there, the servant of Hashem in the Land of Moav by the mouth of Hashem” (Baba Batra 17a). “The righteous are alive even when they die” (Berachot 18a). They don’t die in this world only there – in the-World-to-Come. Hashem shows them the greatness of the light, which is their portion in the afterlife. Then because of their great love and desire to be reunited with the light of Hashem, they do not want to return to this world. “There” – in the World-to-Come they are gathered to their people and reunited with the Divine (Kedushat Halevi, Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdizchov 1898).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Can I not Be Free and Let My Hair Loose?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Korach

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
When I was reading your commentary on the parsha I came across the story about On’s wife. The commentary was in English, and for me, the crux seems to hang on the precise translation of ONE word. In the English translation of Tractate Sanhedrin it says that On’s wife “untied” her hair- not uncovered! To me, this implies that her hair was braided or otherwise bound, and she unbraided it or let it down. Perhaps, that was a sign that she was getting ready to be intimate with her husband? Do you know what the exact Hebrew word is in Talmud Sanhedrin? Moreover, the fact that she saved her husband’s life by untying her hair seems to indicate, that releasing the hair is a positive thing. It equals saving lives, and therefore it must be good to untie or reveal the hair! I don’t see any of these sources being clear enough to justify the obligation to cover one's hair. I also still can’t accept this whole notion that just because they covered their hair then, therefore, we must cover it now. Also, how come the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife showed hair from under her hats? Thanks for your time and patience.
Tammy Locks (name changed)

Dear Tammy,
As always, I’m happy to answer your questions. You are correct. In Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a, the wife of On ben Pelet is described as disarranging her hair. The original Aramaic in the Talmud is וסתרתה למזיה/v’sitrata l’mezeiah. She ‘let her hair loose’ to discourage the congregation of Korach from entering their house, in order to collect her husband to join his rebellion against Moshe and Aharon. Seeing her flowing hair, they retreated. In this way, On’s wife indeed saved her husband’s life, by preventing him from joining Korach’s congregation and sharing their fate of being buried alive or burned by heavenly fire. when the earth opened to swallow them up. Since, the mitzvah to save lives overrides all other mitzvot, the act of On’s wife was, therefore, as you write, extremely good and a mitzvah, just as it is a mitzvah to drive a car on Shabbat in order to bring a woman in labor to the birthing clinic. The commentaries explain that On’s wife acted this way because the hair of a [married] woman is considered to be the same as her private parts (שער באשה ערוה) (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 24a, Yad Rama, Sanhedrin 109b). On’s wife knew how holy all of Israel is. Even the opponents of Moshe and Aharon would not enter a house where the hair of a married woman is loose. If the hair of a married woman was normally uncovered, why would just untying her hair make Jewish men turn away? Rather it makes sense that the men turned away since they were not used to seeing a a married woman’s lose and uncovered hair.

Additional Holiness Requires More Coverings
I get numerous questions regarding hair covering; a topic that I already addressed in Parashat Naso, so I will be brief. I understand that it is a burning issue and that it is very difficult for many women to cover their hair, especially when living in a secular society. I imagine that you want to be free and let it all loose, rather than experience the restrictive feeling of being all covered up. I know the feeling, for I used to have long loose hair. I have exchanged my graceful dangling locks with long flowing colorful hair scarves, which became kind of my trademark! The makeover was never difficult. In Jerusalem, 1979, when I became newly religious and part of the Yeshiva world, hair covering was considered a crown of honor. Single women could hardly wait until they got married and adorn themselves by wrapping their hair with a beautiful flowing scarf. Our hair covering attested that we had finally entered the higher echelon of married women. There is a principle in the Torah that the holier something is, the more covering it needs. This is why the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) is carefully covered, as well as all the vessels in the Mishkan (tabernacle). When a woman marries, she rises to a state of greater holiness, as she is now ready to become a mother in Israel, and a partner with Hashem in bringing holy souls into the world. For this reason, she needs more coverings than a single woman does (Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Ish u’beito).

Did All Famous Rebbetzins Cover All of Their Hair?
In regards to your question concerning the wife of the seventh Lubavicher Rabbi, showing part of her hair under her hats, my Chabad friends believe that she was wearing a wig under her hat, although it certainly doesn’t look like that in the photos. In any case, the photos that show the most hair were taken in the privacy of her dining room. Most of the public photos show less than a tefach of hair (the width of two fingers at the forehead and down to the ears), which is permitted according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer, 1 Siman 58). It seems to me that there is too much preoccupation with what this and that Rebbetzin wears or doesn’t wear. The late Rebbetzin, Chaya Mussia may also have struggled with hair covering, like many Chassidic young women, who came from Russia in the early 20th century, influenced by the enlightenment movement and the decline in observance under the Communist regime. Perhaps this is what spurred her husband, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, to engage in a systematic campaign to promote and restore the mitzvah of hair covering for observant, married women. The Rebbe asserted that Jewish law demands that all – and not just part – of a married woman’s hair be covered (Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 75:2, Tzemach Tzedek, Responsa Even Haezer 139). He wanted to supplant the widespread aversion to appearing different and “too Jewish” with a strong sense of identity and pride. Still, he was sensitive to a woman’s concern with her appearance. For this reason, he advocated the wearing of wigs as opposed to scarves, which he recognized as an unattractive, even untenable option for most Jewish young women in America. The Rebbe worried that most women, even the more pious, would not wear scarves consistently and in a manner that covered all of their hair (

Hair Covering Preserves a Woman’s Energy
Today, exciting headscarves have received a great renaissance. “Wrapunzel,” celebrating the art of head wrapping is only one example of the revival of women’s hair-coverings. You can be creative with your wrappings, using several scarves in different colors, tying them in new and artistic ways. Some women may prefer a fancy hat or even a wig. The choice is theirs, as long as they find a way of covering their hair that feels good to them. Here is a reason for women’s hair covering that I found really convincing: hair contains the lowest energy/matter ratio. That is why one can completely severe the hair all the way to the scalp while experiencing minimal pain. When the spiritual energy is reduced to a minimum, the potential for negativity and unholiness grows vastly. Spiritual forces of darkness, the kelipah, seek to feed off that type of weakened/darkened energy. By covering her hair, the woman prevents spiritual energy from flowing to the wrong places, while maintaining it for herself and her immediate family (Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro).

Kabbalistic Blessings 
The Zohar explains that by covering her hair, a woman brings tremendous blessings to herself and her family. A wife must be covered, even in the inside corners of her home. If she keeps this, it is written, “Your children are like olive plants” (Tehillim 128:3). What does it mean, “Like olive plants”? Just as an olive tree does not lose its leaves in winter or summer and is more valuable than other trees, so, too, will her sons be elevated above others. Her husband will also be blessed in everything, with the blessings above and with the blessings below, with wealth, children and grandchildren. This is what is meant by, “Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears Hashem” (Ibid. 4), and “Hashem shall bless you out of Tzion: and you shall see the good of Yerushalayim all the days of your life, and you shall see your children’s children, and peace upon Yisrael” (Tehillim 128:5-6); (Zohar Part 3, 126a).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is it Dangerous to Live in Israel?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Shelach
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I grew up in NY and received a Chareidi education. While I love my family and my community, I somehow feel out of place here. I’m yearning for greater spirituality and closeness to Hashem and really wanted to live in the Holy Land or at the very least visit and get inspired. When I asked my Rabbi about going to Israel, he responded that it is not a good idea, because it is dangerous. So, I listened to my Rabbi and stayed in NY for an entire year, but I still feel torn. I want to respect my Rabbi, but on the other hand, I’m really miserable and lonely in NY, and my heart is telling me that my place is in Israel. What do you think? I really hope you can help advise me what to do, because I cannot go on like this.
Fayga Samuels (name changed)

Dear Fayga,
B'erot student trip to Kever Shimshon (Samson)
I commend you on your desire to do the right thing and respect your Rabbi. It is indeed very important in the Torah that we respect our Rabbis, otherwise each person would just do “whatever is straight in their eyes” and that would certainly undermine the authority of Jewish law. On the other hand, if your Rabbi tells you to disregard a fundamental mitzvah in the Torah, which numerous other respectable Orthodox Rabbis uphold, then you cannot follow your rabbi blindly. The soul of every Jew has a Divine spark, and when we truly yearn for closeness with Hashem and for truth, we receive guidance, that may differ from our Rabbis’ advice. When we desire to respect our rabbis, yet simultaneously listen to our inner voice, we can ask our Rabbi for advice rather than for a halachic decision which is binding upon us. The nature of your question to your rabbi sounds more like a request for advice rather than for a halachic ruling, and it is therefore not binding.

Overcoming Fears to Receive Hashem’s Protection
In this week’s parasha, we learn about the sin of the spies. They were the selected leaders of their tribes. Nevertheless, they sinned because they thought it was dangerous to conquer the Land of Israel. For thousands of years, throughout the generations, we still bear the consequences of the sin of the spies. Thus, we fast for their sin and ours every year on the 9th of Av. Hashem has promised us the Land of Israel numerous times, and in recent time, He has wrought great miracles for us, so that after two thousand years of exile, finally, the Promised Land is once again in Jewish hands. Nevertheless, we are still filled with fears, because we do not have enough bitachon, (trust) in Hashem’s promise. I’m not just blaming your rabbi; we all share some of his fear, each of us with a different fear threshold. For some people, the entire land of Israel seems dangerous. Others fear visiting the settlements on the other side of the green line. Then again, some people are afraid to pray at the holy burial site of our patriarchs and matriarchs in the city of Chevron. Even some of the most courageous of us may still be afraid to drive through Arab settlements, in our own country! Divine providence and protection depends on the level of our bitachon. “He who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness” (Tehillim 32:10). If a person’s trust in Hashem is perfect, the angels of Heaven watch his every footstep, so that nothing in the world can possibly harm him (Toldot Ya’akov Yosef, Parashat Mikeitz). Even if many harsh decrees have been passed in Heaven against a person, his trust in Hashem can protect him and prevent the punishment from befalling him (The Ba’al Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov).  As David HaMelech said, “He who trusts in Hashem is like the Mountain of Tzion, which will never falter and will remain forever” (Tehillim 121:1). Thus, the more we trust Hashem, and delight in the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, the more we draw down His Divine providence and protection. This is congruent with the concept of the law of attraction, so popular in the new age movement.

Continuing the Sin of the Spies
“The great sages would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, kiss its stones, and roll in its dust. as, it states ‘Behold, your servants hold her stones dear and cherish her dust’” (Tehillim 102:15); (Rambam, Laws of Kings 5:10). Why does the Rambam include these deeds in his halacha book? We would expect such stories to belong in a book of Jewish ethics, rather than in a book of Jewish law. The reason is to teach us that it is not enough to live in the Land of Israel. We are moreover obligated to love our good and Holy Land. The sin of the spies was that they spoke Lashon Hara about the Land of Israel, saying, “It is a land that eats its inhabitants” (Bamidbar 13:32), thus making the land undesirable to their generation. They moreover sinned by their fear and lack of trusting in Hashem, saying, that it is impossible to conquer the Promised Land. Although the prohibition of Lashon Hara only pertains to speaking about people, and not about trees and stones, it is still forbidden to speak Lashon Hara about the Land of Israel. The reason is that speaking badly about the Land of Israel prevents the revelation of Hashem’s name in the world, which specifically is revealed in the Holy Land. Therefore, the punishment of those who speak against the Land of Israel is very serious. Even the holy generation, who received the Torah at Sinai, was punished by the decree of death and 40 years of wandering in the desert because of their despondency regarding the Land of Israel (Rav Eliezer Melamed, Yishuv Ha’Aretz p. 15).

Protecting the General Community of Israel from Danger
We can’t really be sure where in the world it is dangerous to live. Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in both North America and Europe. Life in general is dangerous. Just getting into a car anywhere…. but we cannot live in constant fear. When our time is up, it’s up. So, we may as well live where we can best serve Hashem, and for a Jew that is in Eretz Yisrael. If every Jew was afraid to live in the Land of Israel, it would not only be much more dangerous to live in Israel, it would be extremely dangerous for a Jew to live anywhere in the world. The fact that the Land of Israel is in Jewish hands ensures that a holocaust can never be repeated. Even if it would be more dangerous to live in Israel than elsewhere, we are still required to endanger ourselves somewhat, to save the lives of another Jew, as it states, “You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow’s blood” (Vayikra 19:16). Rabbi Melamed teaches that to live in a Yishuv, in a disputed area that borders Arab villages protects the lives of Jews in the rest of Israel. Therefore, it is a great mitzvah to live in such a place even if it may be somewhat dangerous, since this protects the general community of Israel from danger.   

The Merit of Eretz Yisrael Protects Us
The merit of the Land of Israel protects us from danger. The Ba’al HaTanya wrote when he was released from prison: “This was all Hashem’s doing. He has arranged this by virtue of the merit of the Holy Land and its inhabitants. This is what stood by our side and will always assist in relieving us from the oppressor and delivering us from distress” (David Tzvi Hillman, Iggrot Ba’a HaTanya, 62). This concept can be found in “I will remember My covenant with Ya’acov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham I will remember and I will remember the Land” (Vayikra 26:42). Rashi asks why the Patriarchs are written in the reverse. He explains, that Ya’acov the youngest is worthy to bring redemption, but if he is not sufficiently worthy, then Yitzchak is with him; but if he is not sufficiently worthy, then Avraham is with him (Rashi, Ibid.). Rabbi Teichtal takes Rashi’s commentary a step further and explains that we can learn from the sequence of our Torah verses, that even if the merit of all the Patriarchs runs out, still “I will remember the land” –the merit of Eretz Yisrael will deliver us from distress (Eim HaBanim Semeichah pp. 33-34). Your soul, Fayga, yearns to live in Israel since it knows the truth: there is nothing to fear when it comes to the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel – a mitzvah which is the equivalent of all the Mitzvot in the Torah (Sifrei, Parashat Re’eh 28).  “A person should live in the land of Israel – even in a city where the majority are non-Jews. He should not live outside of Israel, even in a city that is predominately populated by Jews” (Rambam, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Melachim 5:12). So, I hope that you will follow your heart and join us in the Holy Land!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Is Judaism Racist?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat B’ha’alotcha

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
There is something that really bothers me alot in the Torah. Why does the Torah relegate Cham’s descendants – the African black people- to be slaves? This seems to touch upon racism and intolerance. Personally, my son is Tibetan (Mongol). In my large family, there is a lot of diversity and a real deep openness to different ethnic groups and cultures. Diversity, unity and solidarity are important qualities towards which we should all aspire. So why does the Torah, at times, seem so chauvinistic, favouring only Jews – the Chosen People? What’s wrong with coloured people? Wasn’t Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, black? Also Yishmael, the father of the Arab nations, is called a “wild person” in the Torah. I believe that redemption will come when we all learn true tolerance, love and forgiveness.
Anna Newman (name changed)

Dear Anna,
Herbal Workshop in Rebbetzin's Garden
Hashem gives every person, no matter from which ethnic culture or tribe a chance to rectify himself and get close to Him- each person according to his own particular way. Every human being, regardless of race or color, is Hashem’s dear and beloved child. However, this world is a linear world of hierarchy with different levels. Just as genetic predisposition is an important factor in the intelligence of people, so, too, there are different soul-levels according to their spiritual genetics. Although we are all created by G-d, some souls are purer channels for His Infinite Light, whereas other souls are surrounded by denser קליפות/kelipot – husks. Avraham and Sarah purified their souls through their immense kindness to all mankind and via the incredible tests that they went through with flying colors. Their soul rectification was so profound that it penetrated the very fibers of their being. Consequently, they were able to pass down their spiritual genetics to their son, Yitzchak, who in turn passed them down to his son, Ya’acov. All twelve sons of Ya’acov inherited this elevated soul-level from Avraham and Sarah. They became the twelve tribes of Israel from whom the Jewish people stem. Just as Avraham and Sarah were chosen to be teachers and beneficiaries of humankind, so, too, the role of Israel is to be “a light to the nations” (Yesha’yahu 49:6), by facilitating the soul rectification of all peoples.

Inheriting Evil
We all have free will, but when someone repeatedly chooses to do evil, then he causes the husk surrounding his soul to become denser and denser, making the rectification of his soul more difficult.   This is what happened to the evil Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart during the first five plagues, thereby causing Hashem to harden his heart during the final five plagues (see Rashi, Shemot 7:3). Certain evil actions have negative soul consequences not only for the perpetrator but also for his descendants. This was the case with the Amonite and Moabite men who became the antithesis of the Jewish people by their refusal to offer bread and water to the Israelites – the descendants of Avraham whom they owed their very existence, since he saved their forefather, Lot from annihilation. Thus, Amonite and Moabite men forfeited their male descendants’ opportunity to convert and become part of the Jewish people (Devarim 23:4).

The Curse of Canaan
We can answer your question about the curse of Cham’s descendants in a similar vein. Cham committed immorality with his father, Noach, either by raping or castrating him (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 70a cited in Rashi on Bereishit 9:22). The basis for the assertion that Noach was castrated is the fact that Noach cursed Cham’s fourth son, Canaan, (see Bereishit 9:25 and 10:6), because Cham prevented Noach from fathering a fourth son. The curse had absolutely nothing to do with skin color, but it is interesting to notice the repetition of the wordעֶבֶד /eved – slave/servant in Canaan’s curse:

“He said, Cursed be Canaan; anעֶבֶד /eved – slave/servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. He said, Blessed be Hashem, the G-d of Shem; but Canaan shall be his servant.
G-d shall enlarge Yafet, he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; but Canaan shall be his servant” (Bereishit 9:25-27).

This curse was fulfilled in the history of the African people who indeed were slaves for centuries.

Righteous Black Jews
The ability to convert excludes Judaism from being racist. There are many great colored converts who are fully accepted into the Jewish fold, regardless of their skin color. One of my best friends, who lives in Bat Ayin, has skin as black as pitch, while being an incredibly beautiful woman inside and out. Every person has an opportunity for rectification; even someone whose soul is enclosed by a dense husk due to his sins whether in this incarnation or in a prior incarnation or due to the sins of his parents. His rectification may be challenging, but nevertheless, he still has the opportunity to choose good and crack his husk, allowing the light of his soul to shine through. Regarding Yishmael, he has the great merit of being Avraham’s son. Nevertheless, “He shall be a wild person means that his descendants will engage in wars with all the nations. At first he will win over all the nations, but he will be conquered in the end (Ramban, Bereishit 16:12). In addition, the land of Israel was given to Yitzchak and his descendants- not to Yishmael and his children. When the descendants of Yishmael recognize this, then they too receive their rectification.

Who was the Cushite Woman?
במדבר פרק יב:א וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח:
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite woman…” (Bamidbar 12:1).

There are different opinions regarding the identity of the Cushite woman. Besides Rashi’s well-known commentary that it refers to Tziporah, both the midrash and Arizal explain that Moshe was actually married to an Ethiopian woman, before he met Tziporah. According to the Midrash, Moshe was eighteen years old when he ran away from Pharaoh’s palace and ended up in the land of Cush. After spending ten years in their army, he successfully helped them conquer a very fortified city. They made him king over them and gave him the Cushite noble woman (the wife of the late, previous king) for a wife. But Moshe feared the G-d of his forefathers and did not have intimacy with her, because he remembered how Avraham made his servant Eliezer swear, saying: “Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan” (Bereishit 24:37). After Moshe had ruled over Ethiopia for forty years, his ‘wife’ complained to the ministers: “Behold, for forty years this one has ruled over Cush, but he has never touched me, and he has never worshiped our idols!” They then agreed to make her son the king, and sent Moshe away with lots of gifts and with great honor. At this time, Moshe was 67 years old. It was still dangerous for him to return to Egypt, so he traveled to Midian, where he met Yitro. When Moshe told Yitro about what happened to him in Ethiopia, Yitro was concerned that the Ethiopians would become hostile to him if he offered Moshe asylum. He, therefore, threw Moshe into prison for ten years. After being let of out of jail, Moshe married Yitro’s daughter Tziporah, who had secretly sustained him while in prison. She bore him two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 2:168).

Was Tziporah, Moshe’s Wife Black?
The only name of Moshe’s wife written in the Torah is Tziporah (Shemot 2:16-22, 4:25, 18:2). Thus, Rashi associates the Cushite woman with Tziporah. Scripture calls her black to imply that all agreed as to her beauty, just as all agree to the blackness of an Ethiopian. Moreover, the numerical value of כֻשִׁית/Cushite (736) is the same as that of יפת מראה/yafat mareh – “a woman of beautiful appearance.” Just as a כֻּשִׁי/Cushi –a black skinned Ethiopian sticks out among white people, likewise Tziporah was noticeably different from others through her good deeds. Therefore, she was called כֻּשִׁית/Cushit – black skinned. Israel, too, are called Cushim, as it states, “You are like the children of the Cushites to Me, O children of Israel. Says Hashem” (Amos 9:7). Thus being associated with a כושי/Cushi – black-skinned person is used as a compliment in the Torah. May we not then conclude that Judaism is far from being racist?