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What Is The Reason: High School Students Ask Print E-mail

What Is The ReasonI received the following list of questions from a group of high school students. I will attempt to answer a few each week in this column. I invite you to share your answers with them in the comment section.
1) Why do we kill someone for being a wayward son?
2) Why is it bad to break Shabbat?
3) What's the point of a kippah?
4) Though different customs are perfectly acceptable, why have different Jewish sects become so hostile to one another?
5)  Why would god consider you an adult when your 13? and judge you from that point when no one can make proper decision at that age?
6) Why do people say it is asur to play sports competitively on shabbos?
7) Why do we have to put tefillin everyday? (it gets very annoying)
8)Why do we say a Bracha for washing hands after we actually do the Mitzvah? (Usually, we say a Bracha before doing the Mitzvah.)
9) What are the halachic problems with masturbation and how can we control the amount we do it?
10) How does a bracha work?
11) If a person has a set time when he will die, then why do we pray for sick people?
12) If I know the purpose of a Kippah is to know that God is above me then why do i have to wear it when I'm learning or eating?
13) Why is there a law about touching girls?
14) When rabbis says your actions could affect others around you, I don't believe its fair because everyone should be held accountable for their own actions rather then suffering from that of a friends…. I know we are all connected but it seems unfair?
15) Why can't we have sex before marriage?
16) Why do we have to daven three times a day?
17) Why do miracles never happen to me?
18) Why are there halachot that don't have reasons?
19) Why can't G-d respond back to us?
20) What is the point of tzizit? What do they protect you from?
21) How does god punish us nowadays? there are people who become rich off crimes and they seem to be living good lives.
22) Why does g-d not let us know he is still with us?
23) How will we know who is the true mashiach?
24) What is hell really like?
25) Why do we have mezuzot? It seems like over time they have become in some sense useless?
26) Isn't it contradictory that we take the eggs from the mother bird, but then the torah tells us to be nice to animals? What is the reason behind this mitzvah, it appears cruel.?
27) In davening, why do we ask G-d for things we need when he knows everything?
28) What is Ayin Harah? How do we know that is real?
29) If God likes it better for us to go faster to His Mitzvot why can’t we drive to shul on Shabbat and get there quicker?
30) Why are drugs bad from a torah standpoint? They make you feel good, they ease your pains, and expand your horizons.
31) Why do most rabbis try to control their students out of school affairs? In theory if they try and influence their students and hint to the right way then the students would probably follow at least one thing the rabbi pushes for with a full heart.
32) Why are there so many complications in the torah? It seems to turn people away.

I. Why do we kill someone for being a wayward son?

The question should be phrased as, “Why would the Torah instruct us to execute the “Rebellious Son?” because the Gemara derives so many Halachot from the text, that make it impossible to fulfill this law. This Mitzvah is purely conceptual and not to be applied in practice. However, you deserve an opening answer before we examine this law for its deeper meaning.

The Torah wants us to teach our children that some of their immediate choices are actually a choice between life and death. Parents who fail to teach their children how to make decisions are considered as if they have killed their child!

A teenager’s frontal lobe, the part of the brain that makes choices, only begins to seriously develop during the ages of 13 – 21. A teenager is biologically more susceptible to impulse than an adult with a fully developed frontal lobe. That is why car insurance rates are higher for teens. The Torah wants parents to guide their children from the moment they are capable of understanding choices that they have too be more careful with their decisions. What a child may consider “no problem,” may actually lead to death.

This Mitzvah is a challenge to teach our children to be choosers from the moment their brains begin this stage of development. Hence, this law applies only on the day of the rebellious Son’s bar mitzvah.

The son’s voice must perfectly match those of his father and mother. Sounds impossible, but the Torah is reminding us that at such an early age, the child is acting out behaviors learned from his parents. Whatever they see is an expression of their “voices,” they way they have taught and raised him.

This Mitzvah only applies to a child with a history of stealing in order to gorge on food and drink himself into a stupor. How did he reach this stage without more serious intervention by his parents and the community? The Torah is shaking the parents and community and saying, “You, by allowing this to happen and not taking steps to intervene, have killed this child!”

When the commentaries explain, that “the child is killed because of what he will become,” they are reminding parents to consider all their interaction with their children in terms of the long-term effect on their lives.

II. Why is it bad to break Shabbat?
For the same reason that you can’t drive your car at its maximum speed, up a steep hill, in extreme weather conditions for too long without causing damage. For the same reason that you cannot perform at your highest level in school every minute of every day without a break.

Your soul is a Ferrari that is gunning its engine to fly faster than the wind. Shabbat is the manual for the Ferrari. (I think of mine as a Lamborghini! Although there are days when it feels like a Kia, but even a Kia comes with instructions.)

Please forgive me, but I could not help but notice that you phrased your question in the negative, “breaking Shabbat,” rather than the positive, “How can we benefit from keeping Shabbat?” The way you phrased your question is actually the answer to your question:

The question seems to focus on the restrictions of Shabbat. We all have many things we want to do, and feel stifled when we can’t even do some basics. The question comes from that drive to do, to be active, to be busy, and to be free, and the sense that Shabbat, and, I suspect, Mitzvot in general, are restrictive.

We do more each day than we realize. Text messages, emails, internet, calls, turning on lights, writing, talking, relating, driving, shopping and a million more things, that we lose sight of most of what we do and just keep on pushing ourselves without pausing to think about why we do so much and what do we really want from life. We do, do, do, without being. The drive to “do” more, what you call “breaking Shabbat,” is just more “doing” rather than being.

Shabbat is a state of mind, what you have probably heard called a Neshama Yiteira – an Extra Soul – but actually a state of mind that helps you, if properly used, focus on you and not doing.

I urge you to refocus your question on the positives: What can we gain from Shabbat? How?

III. What's the point of a kippah?

The purpose of a Kippah is to wear a uniform that makes you self-aware.
The Kippah is a t-shirt with the emblem of our favorite team or player. Many people identify with a sports team or a specific player so much that they want to wear his number and jersey. The Kippah also serves as our team identification. It is our declaration that we are part of a specific team. This is all the more true when we see that we can identify someone as Yeshivish or Chassidish, or Modern Orthodox, or Mizrachi, simply by the Kippah he is wearing.

I have often seen people remove their Kippah before doing something wrong because they are embarrassed. The Kippah identifies us as being Jewish, and should remind us to be aware that other people are observing a Jew acting.

I openly admit that this is an incomplete answer as the Kippah worn all the time is a relatively recent custom! You have to tell me if you want more information.

IV. Though different customs are perfectly acceptable, why have different Jewish sects become so hostile to one another?

Yeshayahu Hanavi wondered about the same thing: “This one will say, ‘I am God’s,’ and the other one will call in the name of Jacob; one will sign his allegiance to God, and another will adopt the name Israel.” (Isaiah 44:5)

People like to believe that they are right, and that others who disagree are wrong. We are, in fact, more threatened by those whose beliefs are closer to ours than we are by those who believe in things we totally reject.

I do not want to excuse any hostility. There is no place for it in Judaism. However, how do you feel about people who consider you not observant because you may not be as Machmir – stringent – as are they? Do you ever get upset when someone insists that you must keep Mitzvot “because,” without any explanation? What is your reaction to the Neturei Karta who help the Palestinians and protest against Israel?

It is difficult to remain calm when someone attacks us or that which is precious to us.

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