Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do bad things happen to good people? How can G-d allow innocent children to be killed?! If you’re looking for the answer to that question, you will not find it here.

This question is not new; it was asked by the prophet Jeremiah, it was asked by Asaph, and even asked by Moses. On at least two occasions Moses asked G-d to understand His ways, and each time he was told that he can’t know:

When G-d appeared to Moses at the burning bush, Moses asked G-d for His name. The response was "Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be)," hardly a complete answer. After the sin of the golden calf and G-d’s eventual forgiveness of the Jewish people, Moses asked, "Show me, now, Your glory!" G-d answered him “…you will see My, back but My face shall not be seen."

Although the question was asked, and continues to be asked, it is not answered. But, why? Can’t the Torah, the guidebook to life, include some relevant information as to the meaning of tragedy and suffering?

There is a reason G-d specifically doesn’t give a complete answer, He is teaching Moses something very important: The moment we can rationalize why a tragedy took place is the moment we lose a part of our humanity, we lose compassion. If G-d would reveal to us the purpose behind human suffering, we would not be able to share in the pain of the individual.

So, why do bad things happen to good people? I’m sure there is a reason but I don’t know it and truthfully, I’d rather not know.

So what can we do? How should we react? We should allow our emotions to respond and we should feel a deep sense of loss. And then we should turn the painful energy into good by channeling it for something positive. Add a mitzvah in your life; reach out to a family member, friend, neighbor or even a stranger; add in unadulterated goodness and kindness. The world can use it, and so can each one of us.

May we share good news!

The momentous menorah

The Menorah that you have been kindling this past week has more spiritual power than you may know. Surely you are aware that we light the Menorah on Chanukah to commemorate the miracle that took place over 2000 years ago in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. The oil that was only enough to last for one day, lasted for eight. So the Menorah we light on Chanukah is a remembrance to the Menorah that was lit in the Temple back then.

Surprising though it may seem, the Menorah we light – although just a remembrance to the Menorah of the Temple of old – is in many ways more spiritually charged than the original. The Menorah today has the ability to light up the spiritual “darkness” that surrounds.

The Menorah is customarily lit at the window or even outside in public, while the Menorah in the Temple had to be lit indoors, in a spiritual sanctuary. The influence of the “darkness” outside of the Temple was too much for it to overcome. And when the Syrian-Greeks defiled the purity of the Temple, the Menorah was not able to be lit.

Our Chanukah Menorah though is spiritually powerful enough, not only to be lit near the window or outside but to even influence the outside, to overcome the darkness. The Menorah reminds us of our ability to overcome the forces of darkness and share light and joy with others. And it encourages us to be proud of who we are and not feel the need to be ashamed of living and acting Jewish.

In short, the Chanukah Menorah gives us the spiritual fire-power to live Jewishly in a decidedly un-Jewish world.

Wishing you a happy and illuminated Chanukah! 

Do you live Chanukah or just celebrate it?

You celebrate Chanukah. Of course you do! You eat latkes (with sour cream… or do you prefer apple sauce?) and spin the dreidel. You even light the menorah at home every night of Chanukah. But have you ever tried to live Chanukah?

How does one “live” Chanukah, you ask?

Good question. First we have to remember what actually took place, what we are commemorating. As the saying goes, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” Right? Wrong.

You see, the threat to the Jewish people in the time of the Chanukah story was not a physical one. The Syrian-Greeks didn’t seek to eliminate Jews, they sought to eliminate Judaism. They tried to impose their Hellenistic culture on the Jewish people.

Not all the Jewish people of the time reacted the same way. Many of them, the more pragmatic ones, resolved to do the best they could considering the circumstances. Others liked the new Hellenistic lifestyle being introduced and they willingly joined the Syrian-Greeks. Only a small group of Jews, led by the famous Maccabees, responded with utmost determination and self sacrifice in the face of this negative influence.

Chanukah therefore represents the victory of the determined few who held steadfast to their beliefs, even to the extent of putting their life on the line, to stand up for what they knew to be true and correct.

The result is an amazingly potent holiday, with a powerful message for today. Chanukah gives us the spiritual fire-power to live Jewishly in a decidedly un-Jewish world.


All too often, the lighting of the menorah has been relegated to becoming a prop at the dinner table. Even if you haven’t always in the past, this year, please make sure to light the menorah every night of Chanukah and when you do, pause. Pause to marvel at the miracle of the Jewish flame that miraculously still burns after thousands of years of our enemies trying to extinguish it...

...And I want to thank you for being this year's link in the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition.

Here are a few points to ponder this Chanukah as you light the menorah:
1. Would I have joined the Maccabees in their battle against the Syrian-Greeks and religious persecution?
2. Does it trouble me that so few Jews are educated in the rudiments of their faith?
3. What am I prepared to do to reverse that trend in my own family?
4. Do I allow the Torah to illuminate my life?
5. Do my children understand how important Judaism is to me and my commitment to it?

Wishing you a happy and illuminated Chanukah! 

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