12/26/2013

Shabbat Va’eyra

Candles 4:15pm
Havdalah 5:11pm

What does the Torah mean when it talks about “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”? Does it mean that Pharaoh had no choice, that he was a forced by Divine Will to act the way he did? In which case why was he punished?

Remember that the Torah uses language both poetically and in a context that people at the time would have understood. As the rabbis say “The Torah speaks in the language human beings use.” We know how people are conditioned by genes, society and subliminal advertising to act in predictable ways. Humans are indeed predictable and even so they act irrationally all the time. Does that mean they have no choices? If I describe someone is stubborn that might just mean he or she is very fixed in an opinion and refuse to listen to reason. Does that mean they have no choice? I don’t think so.

Pharaoh was so convinced his civilization was the most advanced and best of his age he could not conceive that another might be better or might have something else to offer. Ironically nowadays there are so many fads, fake religions and placebos that we are conditioned to accept anything that brings us passing relief. And others amongst us are so sure religion has nothing to offer they harden their hearts against living a religious life.

We are conditioned like Pharaoh to ignore all the wonderful things our own tradition has , proved and tested over thousands of years, in favor of any passing fad. And conversely many religious leaders refuse to face the reality of the good things that modernity has to offer. Our hearts are indeed hardened just like Pharaoh’s.

12/19/2013

Shabbat Shemot

Candles Friday 20th at 4:11pm.
Havdalah 21st at 5:07pm.

We know a great deal about Yosef’s youth and his history from an early age. We know a great deal about Avraham after he arrived in Canaan. But the Torah tells us nothing about his early development. To be sure the Midrash offers us a range of stories but Midrash is not Torah. With Moshe too there are huge gaps in his life. Like Yosef we know a lot about his early life and after the Exodus we know a lot about his final forty years. But between the time when he ran away to Midian as a young man and the age of over seventy when he experienced the Divine presence at the burning bush, we know nothing, nothing of a half century’s worth of his life.

We might speculate that this time was spent in meditation, in preparing himself spiritually for his great task. But when he encounters the burning bush the Torah says, “He was frightened to look.” One commentator suggests that he had not at all been prepared for this moment and that was why he was surprised and frightened and tried his best to get out of the task he was given. In which case the question of the missing years is even more puzzling.

But there is a message. No matter what corrupt a society Avrahm came from, no matter what time Moshe had to spend in isolation amongst pagans, it was what they became that mattered. We all go through different periods in our lives, some more productive than others. But we must always be looking to grow. It is what we become that counts.

12/12/2013

Shabbat Vayehi

Candles Friday 4:10pm
Havdalah Saturday 5:04pm

Friday is also the fast of Asara BeTevet from dawn till 4:49 pm

When Yaakov dies, in this week’s Sedra, he is embalmed by the Egyptians who were experts in mummification. We are naturally surprised. According to the Jewish tradition one does not mummify a body or put it on display after death. Rather we bury it as soon as possible. This looks like a massive concession to Egyptian culture or perhaps a sign of how assimilated the children of Jacob had become. Yosef had risen to the very top of Egyptian society. We know he looked and lived like an Egyptian and that was why the brothers could not recognize him. And so perhaps there was pressure for him to do what all good Egyptians did.

Yet he did not put Yaakov in a pyramid. He did follow his dying wish to be taken to the family tomb in the cave of Machpela. And there he was buried. But to get there his body had to travel for weeks through very hot barren territory. Perhaps the mummification was not after all a concession to Egyptian culture, just a very practical way of preserving the body for its long journey in this world. And Yosef himself did not allow his body to put in a mausoleum but in a box ready to move when his people did.

The lesson is clear. We all make some concessions to the dominant non-Jewish society we live in, in our clothes, customs even attitudes. At different times in our lives we are less religious and at other times more. But it is the final impression we leave behind, the impact we have on the next generation that matters. And Yaakov finally buried in the Cave of Machpela is the ultimate symbol of his belonging to us, his descendants and the land that we as a people originated from.

The fast we have on Friday reminds us of how we ourselves were responsible for losing what we were given by HaShem. We must not make that mistake again.

12/05/2013

Shabbat Vayigash

Candles Dec 6th 4:08pm
Havdalah Dec 7th 5:03pm

One of the amazing features of Yosef’s economic response to the famine was to nationalize the land of Egypt and set its people to work the land that now belonged to Pharaoh. This way the Government had the responsibility to ensure its people did not starve and had a vested interest in their productivity.

Even more surprising was that he did not take away the lands of the priests. This is amazing since under the Law of Moses the priests had no tribal land allocation. The role of the priests was to serve the community, not become a wealthy aristocracy. But sadly during the first thousand years of Jewish history, despite this, the priesthood did indeed turn into a wealthy and corrupt aristocracy (as the story of Hanukah illustrates).

So why did Yosef allow the Egyptian priesthood to retain its lands? There are two possibilities. One is that he needed to have then on his side. They were such an important power group in Egyptian society they could have blocked him, the way that Ayatollahs were able to undermine the Shah.

Secondly it might be that if he wanted his religion to be respected, he had to show respect himself to the Egyptian religion. Showing respect to another religion, regardless of how different or opposed to one’s own, is diplomatically a wise policy. It does not mean one is validating the other or accepting it, just that if one wants one’s own religion to be respected one must accord respect to others. That after all is what distinguishes American society from so many other regimes in the world today.

11/28/2013

Shabbat Mikeytz

Friday 29th Shabbat candles @ 4:10pm, Chanukah candles beforehand
Havdalah 30th @ 5:10pm

The clash between Jewish values and Greek values is epitomized by the Hanukah revolt 2,168 years go. Many people think that it is impossible to combine being Jewish with any other ideas. But there were High Priests who tried to combine Greece and Jerusalem. The massive community in Alexandria, typified 2,000 years ago by Philo, was able to preserve a strong Jewish identity while absorbing Greek language and philosophy. Judaism learnt from Greece about schools and dialectical debate. Whenever there is a clash of civilizations both sides have an impact on each other.

What distinguished the great Biblical leaders Avraham, Yosef and Moshe was that they were all exposed to other societies. While he was in Egypt Yosef learnt how to speak and relate to Egyptians. He knew about their civilization. So that when the opportunity arose he was able right away to step into a leadership role because he understood the mentality. Some commentators suggest that he learnt from the butler and the baker how the Pharaoh’s court worked and the protocols of communication.

Some of his strength stemmed from Divine inspiration, his dreams and his commitment to his Israelite values. But much also came from knowing about Egypt and understanding what they were doing well and what they were doing badly. Thus with advantage of both he was able to take a more objective view and rise higher than anyone else. Exactly the same could be said of Moshe when his turn came.

Shabbat Shalom and Hanukah Sameach and Happy Thanksgiving.

11/21/2013

Shabbat Vayeyshev

Candles Friday 22nd at 4:13pm
Havdalah 23rd at 5:10pm

Wednesday 27th, First Night of Hanukah.

Candles to be lit as soon after dusk as possible and to burn for at least 30minutes.


Brothers! The Torah is full of stories of sibling rivalry, of brothers fighting brothers. It started with Cain and Abel and it continued on through Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau and Jacob’s twelve sons. The splits amongst the tribes continued. During the period of the Judges tribes competed with tribes, sometimes killing each other, as in the case of Yiftach ( Jepthah ) and the tribe of Ephraim ( Judges 12) or the civil war against the tribe of Benjamin ( Judges 17). After Solomon we had two kingdoms, Judah with Benjamin against Yosef and the 10 Northern tribes. They often fought and killed each other.

However divided we are today its nothing compared to then. Exile brought the tribes together in Babylon but after the return the divisions were between the Priesthood, the Sadducees and the rest of the population. Hanukah, which we celebrate this week, was a conflict that rally came about only because we were divided against ourselves into warring camps, the aristocratic priestly caste which was pro Greek and the popular Rabbinic Nationalists.

Is the Torah trying to tell us that rivalry is inevitable but that we must learn how to control it so that it doesn’t get out of hand? Perhaps the wider message is that humans beings are intrinsically competitive, perhaps it’s the animal instinct within us that everyone wants to be the Alpha Male. Maybe we need that drive to survive and succeed. But if we let it get out of hand it can cause suffering and disaster. Every human quality can be used for good and for evil. That’s why we need to reminded constantly of our religious values and to be reined in a little so as to use our energy productively. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah!

11/14/2013

Shabbat Vayishlach

Candles Friday 15th at 4:17pm
Havdalah 16th at 5:12pm

Yaakov is coming back home with his wives, children and wealth but is frightened of what his brother Esav will do. The last contact he had with him, Esav threatened to kill him as soon as his father Yitschak had died and Yitschak is still, amazingly, alive. But he had nowhere else to go. He could not turn back to Lavan. And when he hears that Esav is coming towards him with 400 men, hardly a welcoming party, more like a war party, he is terrified. Not just for himself but for his wives and children.

That night we see Yaakov on the East bank of the river Yabok having moved all his family and goods across towards the West Bank. The Midrash says that he was just collecting a few left behind pots and pans and this shows how important it is not to waste things, not to take even the smallest material things for granted. But there is another Midrash that says that Yaakov was inclined to flee until the Angel fought with him and persuaded him to stand his ground.

We all face at some stage a crisis, whether it is personal, in business or in school and the problems seem insurmountable. Our natural tendency is to avoid pain and run away or pretend there is no problem at all. Here the message is clear. Do not run away. Face up to them. We are not of Yaakov’s greatness but we should try nevertheless.

11/07/2013

Shabbat Vayeytzey

Candles, Friday 8th @ 4:24pm
Havdalah, Saturday 9th @ 5:20pm

Yaakov leaves his parents’ home and travels east back to Rivkah’s family. The last person to make that journey was Eliezer who went to find a wife for Yitzhak. But this time Yaakov knows he has to stay away because Esav wants to kill him and it will be many years before he returns. Avraham had made that journey but Yitzchak never had to move very far and he had a much easier life. Even so he too had his conflicts with local lords. All three men loved their wives and yet both had to deal with women who suffered because they could not bear children. We tend to think that Yitzhak had it easiest but perhaps the trauma he suffered when he was nearly sacrificed clouded everything good that happened.

Sometimes our difficulties are of our own making. Sometimes they are the result of external circumstances. It’s strange that the Torah keeps on pointing put to us how challenging life was for those people closest God. But the fact is that it is the struggle to overcome challenges that makes us who we are. People who have it too easy rarely achieve great things.

Whenever we think we have it good, you can bet something will bring us back to earth. But it’s the way we overcome the difficulties that matters. That is why Yaakov, the one who struggled most, gave his name to us as a people, Yisrael, “he who struggles with God and man.” Perhaps that’s why anti-Semitism never goes away. It forces us to try harder.

10/31/2013

Shabbat Toldot

Candles 5:32pm
Havdalah 6:30pm

Shabbat Mervarchin
Rosh Hodesh Kislev Sunday and Monday

The Torah this week is all about the rivalry and tension between Yaakov and Esav. They were twins but completely different in appearance, temperament and mentality. The competition between them fills these chapters. As the tension gets worse Rivkah decides she must part the brothers and wants to send Yaakov off to her family to build his life in another country. Yitzhak clearly is reluctant. She does not tell him that she fears Esav might kill Yaakov. Instead she persuades him that Yaakov needs to get away from the Canaanite environment and avoid marrying the local girls. She might think he is a bad influence but she does not criticize or demean Esav or let it come between her and her husband.

The Torah says that Yitzhak then sent Yaakov to his brother-in-law Lavan the son of Betuel the brother of Rivkah the mother of Yaakov and Esav. Why did the Torah put Esav after Yaakov? Why did the Torah mention that Rivkah was the mother of both of them, specifically here?

In many families there is sibling rivalry. Sometimes it’s worse than others. A wise parent knows that each child must be given the space and the circumstances to thrive as an individual. Even if children come from the same parents, they are different in capacity and personality. Parents may be inclined to feel closer to or more proud of one or another but they have to be very careful to avoid showing it. Sometimes one or another may need to move away. Sometimes they have to pursue different careers or create their own personal businesses. Despite the differences, despite the different cities they may inhabit, they remain the children of their parents, for better or for worse.

10/24/2013

Shabbat Chayey Sara

Candles 5:40 pm
Havdalah 6:35 pm

Avraham sends his manager, Eliezer of Damascus, to go back to his home town to find a wife for Isaac. The Torah actually gives three significantly different versions of what happened. It’s a bit like “She said” “He said.” First of all Avraham calls in Eliezer and gives him instructions. Then Eliezer amplifies those instructions and makes his own decision on the spot. And finally in telling the story of what happened to Rivkah’s family, he changes some details as well. What is going on here? Which version was the truth? The answer is that all of them contain aspects of the truth. Truth like history, often depends on who sees what when.

Avraham gave instructions that were brief and the point. But he left out some obvious issues. He didn’t say anything about the character of the girl, only her background. Does this mean it didn’t matter to him? Of course not and Eliezer realized that behind Abrahams instructions there was a far deeper issue of being a moral, God fearing person. When Eliezer gets to meet her family and realizes that they are motivated by other considerations, he modified his narrative to win their approval. Does this mean he was dishonest or that the Torah condones white lies? Not at all! It is just that we all see things from different angles with different priorities. Very often to achieve what we want or to persuade someone, we need to find the right way of conveying our intent. The way you present something is as important as the message itself.

Any agent if he is to succeed must try to understand more than just the instructions. He must try to gauge what is really needed in any particular situation and what is really wanted. The Torah recognizes that people are different, their values differ as do their capacities and motives. This narrative highlights these differences and tells us that if we want to succeed we must be prepared to look at things from very different angles and determine what the priorities are.

10/17/2013

Shabbat Vayeyra


Candles Friday 18th at 5:50pm

Havdalah 19th at 6:45pm


Do you believe in angels? Of course it depends on what you think angels are. Are they supernatural beings in white shifts and sets of wings (usually with long blond hair) as much religious imagery imagines them? Or are they simply human beings who play a part in the Divine plan?

The Hebrew word for “angel,” MALACH, is identical to the Hebrew word for a messenger. And the messengers who appeared to Avraham looked like human beings, like ordinary men. That was why he washed their feet , offered them food and suggested they rest and take a nap.

There are many cases in the Torah where human beings play a part in the unfolding of the Divine Will and they are called both “men” and “messengers.” There is the man who finds Josef lost and directs him towards his fate. Rashi says he was an angel but the Torah describes him as a man. Messengers, malachim, appear throughout the Bible and only afterwards does their appearance strike us as miraculous.

If a doctor predicts that someone will get better or conceive, he or she may be acting on the basis of expertise but also perhaps on intuition. If someone predicts a political catastrophe this may guesswork, it may be based on special information. It may be what we call inspiration. But these are still human beings even if what they see happening is part of the Divine Will.

I believe we are all capable of being angels in one way or another if and when we carry out something that The Master of the Universe requires of us; either to help other human being or even sometimes to cause negative things to happen. Even the negative can be part of the Divine since everything is part of a much greater system and plan.

It is the message itself that is the essence, not the way it is communicated. As we are humans the message has to come in a way that we can make sense of.

8/22/2013

Schedule for Next Two Weeks

Shabbat Ki Tavo
August 23rd Candles 7.23pm
24th Havdalah 8.16pm

Shabbat Netzavim Vayeleh
August 30th Candles 7.13pm 31st
Havdalah 8.11pm

Rosh Hashanah
Wednesday evening September 4th Candles 7.05pm
First Day Thursday 5th Service 9.30am Candles 8.11pm
Second Day Friday 6th Service 9.30am Candles 7.00pm

Shabbat Shuvah
Service 9.30am
Havdalah 8.00pm



I will be away until Rosh Hashanah.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jeremy

8/08/2013

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles Friday 9th at 7.42pm
Havdalah 10th at 8.36pm

“9. When you come into the land which the Lord is giving you, you shall not imitate the other nations or learn to do the bad things that they do. 10. You must not use divination, soothsayers, enchanters, spell makers, charmers, mediums, wizards or people who claim to speak to spirits and souls of the dead. 12. For people who do these things are detested by the Lord. 13. You should only go to the Lord your God.”

It is so clear from the Torah we read this week that we should have nothing to do with astrologers, tarot card readers or even religious Jews who use spells or magic or claim to speak to the dead or have special powers. In the same way it is strange how we recite prayers to God whom we ignore throughout the year without  living religious lives.

As the saying goes “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” When people are a crisis they turn to anything and everything. Despite what the Torah says we remain a highly superstitious and credulous people and the less we know the more superstitious we are. You might say that is just human nature. In fact it’s no bad thing when something bad happens to stop and examine our values.

The fact is that we can, all of us, develop a close personal relationship with God although most of us do not bother to. So when we are desperate we have an existing relationship to draw strength from.  We simply have to come terms with life and death. We cannot know why God allows some to get better and others do not. There is no logic to it that we humans can discover.

Nevertheless if we turn to God in a crisis surely we should be investing in that relationship. Otherwise we treat God like a casino machine. We put some money in and we pray and hope we will win the jackpot. It might work. You might be lucky. But it makes much more sense to invest wisely throughout the year.

Religion is indeed an investment. It helps us strengthen ourselves, fortify our spirit to deal with bad times and enjoy the good ones by sharing and helping others.

REMEMBER: Rosh Hashanah is Sept 5th & 6th

8/02/2013

Shabbat Re'ey

Candles August 2nd at 7:51pm
Havdalah August 3rd at 8:44pm
Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Ellul Tuesday Aug 6th & Wednesday 7th

We start saying Slihot, extra prayers every morning in preparation for the Holy Days.

So much of this week’s reading is devoted to warning the Children of Israel not to follow the religion and fashions of the Canaanites they were coming to displace. The Israelite mission was to live a considered, thoughtful life, not the random, superstitious, loose and indulgent life of the pagans.

What characterized Canaanite paganism was the disguising of one’s true outward and inward self. Masks, body paint, tattoos and defacing, were all characteristic of their pagan religion, as well as child sacrifice and torture.

Judaism encouraged pleasure but in a disciplined and controlled way. In Paganism it was “do whatever you feel like it.” This is why the Torah warns against four seemingly disconnected things this week that really make the one essential point of what differentiates us, ethically, from others.

“Each person did whatever was right in his or her eyes.” Without religious standards we are in danger of being completely self-indulgent. “I can do whatever I feel like.” This undermines morality and a fair, caring society.

“Do not write or deface your bodies.” Tattooing or defacing one’s body was a mark of primitive pagan societies. It was then and is now a signal to show others that we are the same as everyone else and we share their values.

“These are the animals you my eat.” By controlling what and how we eat we are forced to stop and think, to consider, what our life and values are, every time we sit down to eat. That is how one builds up patterns of thoughtful, Godly behavior.

“If your friends entice you.” Peer group pressure and fashion exert a very powerful pressure on us. So many youngsters get into trouble nowadays because they are bullied or scared to go against the popular stream or be made fun or simply because they want be different and hold on to a different morality.

Written three thousand years these statements are still true today. They combine to define what being different amounts to. If we allow pagan influences to determine how we behave, we are no different to the Canaanites of old.

7/26/2013

Shabbat Ekev

Candles Friday, July 26th 7:58pm
Havdalah July 27th 8:52pm

The Torah continues, this week, with Moshe’s long oration to the Children of Israel before he dies. In it he highlights the issues that he thinks are going to lead to a loss of faith and the danger that they might abandon their faith. Without someone as strong as he was to keep them together and to impose discipline, he feared they would fall apart.

Some of the words he uses are unusual. For example the Sedra is called Ekev after its second word. Literally it means a heel, like Yaakov holding on to the heel of his brother Esav. Here it means ‘consequence,’ like one step following another. There are consequences to our actions.

Rashi quotes the Midrash and says it means to suggest that if you can keep the small commandments , the ones we tend to disregard, those we metaphorically crush underfoot, then you will find dealing with the heavier, more demanding commandments much more easy.

That is so true. How often do I hear people say that they can accept the big issues, the existence of God, not to murder, to be kind to people. But they have no time for all the petty small rules of Judaism, restrictions on what to eat, keeping Shabbat. The sad fact is like any discipline, like keeping fit, like dieting, like treating people with consideration, the small details are important. Getting into a routine does make the harder stuff easier to cope with. Regularly having to control your ego in small ways helps get you in the routine so that you can control your ego on the big issues!

Moshe was a great psychiatrist as well as being a great leader.

7/19/2013

Shabbat VaEtchanan

Candles Friday, July 19th at 8pm
Havdalah July 20th at 8:55pm

Shabbat Nahamu

Moshe repeats the Torah at the end of his life. This week includes a second statement of the Ten Commandments. It is forty years since they were heard for the first time. In this version there are minor differences from the original in Exodus 20. Some might put them down to ‘senior’ lapses but the fact is that they all add an extra dimension to the original, while preserving the essence.

For example in Exodus it says “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat,” Remember the Shabbat. But here in Devarim it says “Shamor et Yom Hashabbat,” Keep the Shabbat. They are two different words but they supplement each other. To remember something without acting on it is clearly incomplete. To remember the Shabbat, shall we say intellectually as a good idea in theory, but not in action by actually keeping it, would be a sort of contradiction.

But why do we need two words when one might do? Very often human words are inadequate. We need, like coats of paint, to add layers to fully express our meaning. So it is with Torah. The written text often leaves things ambiguous. “Do not kill” for example makes no allowance for manslaughter or self-defense. That is why the Torah sometimes repeats using other words. It is also why the Oral Law fills in the blanks or helps clarify what is meant by the text.

When you read the text in the Torah this week and compare it with Exodus you will find other variations. Each difference between the two versions covers exactly the same ground but in a slightly different way. This all explains why Torah is such a complex text and why for thousands of years we have gone on interpreting and expanding it.

6/13/2013

Shabbat Hukat

Candles June 14th at 8:10pm
Havdalah June 15th at 9:05pm

Aaron died in the fortieth year after coming out of Egypt and he was buried on the mountain called Hor. But not long later when Moshe dies the Torah specifies “ Moshe the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor; but no man knows his grave till this day.”

What was the difference between Aaron’s burial place and Moshe’s? We don’t know where either was buried. On the other hand the Cave of Machpela where Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were buried is recorded and we believe we know where it is even now. What is the difference? One answer is that because Moshe and Aaron were buried outside the Land of Israel God did want us to go on pilgrimages beyond our borders.

But there’s another lesson. Our tradition says that God did not want people to know where Moshe was buried so that people would not worship him or his grave. How different from nowadays when we seem to have a very fetish of going to the graves of dead rabbis. If we were not supposed to go to Moshe’s grave how much more so should we not go to lesser beings?

So is the difference that Moshe was so much greater or is the difference that in Moshe’s case it was Torah he brought to us that was the crucial issue and nothing should detract from our reverence for Torah rather than the human vehicle who brought it to us? That would also explain the difference between Aaron and Moshe. We don’t know where Aaron was buried either. Sure it was up a specific mountain but that’s a huge area and very difficult to get to. But Aaron was not associated with giving the Torah to the same degree as Moshe. We do not call it the Torah of Aaron. Moshe on the other hand was buried in a valley. Easily accessible. That’s why we were not told where it was , so as not to go looking.

So really the Torah gives us two different ways of relating to the dead. Some prefer to visit the graves of their loved ones and some do not. Some know where to go or how to find where their parents are buried. And some nowadays would be unable to go because their parents graves are in hostile territory.

What matters is not the grave but whether and how we keep the memory alive within ourselves and in the way we honor our parents and follow the good examples they gave us as human beings and as Jews.

6/06/2013

Shabbat Korah

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Tammuz
Candles Friday 7th 8:05pm. Havdalah 8th at 9:00pm

The rebellion against Moshe’s authority by Korah and his co-conspirators was the most serious challenge to his leadership in the Bible. It came after the 10 spies had revealed deep insecurity within the Children of Israel. This was followed by Miriam and Aharon showing how Moshe’s own family was challenging him. Then Korah, a close relative, one of the Levites, tried to overthrow him and then all the discontents rallied to his banner. This apparent collapse of Moshe’s support within the top echelons of the people mirrors the collapse of trust in God.

There are in my view two lessons. One is that one tragedy is often followed by another. Once ones physical body loses its strength, then other illnesses tend to follow. The body becomes weaker and it is harder to fight back and regain strength. That’s true personally and nationally.

Similarly when we experience reverses in our personal lives, business or career, we often lose a measure of confidence and we might feel sorry for ourselves and sink into depression or develop an exaggerated sense of failure.

Moshe’ reaction to the reverses run’s the gamut of dignified detachment, anger, denial and self- doubt. Yet somehow he managed to fight back, to regain his confidence and re-assert his leadership which remained unchallenged then until his death. It helped that God was on his side. But it required his own inner strength and character to harness that support.

5/30/2013

Shabbat Shelach Lecha

Mevarchin Rosh Chodesh Tammuz

Candles Friday, May 31, 8:00pm
Havdalah May 1, 9:00pm

The episode of the spies who returned from Canaan showed beyond doubt that the Children of Israel were not yet ready psychologically to start the invasion of Canaan. A whole generation had to pass before the actual invasion under Joshua.

But after they had all crumbled when ten of the spies said they faced the prospect of a hard battle, a group of them decided to try nevertheless and go up on their own initiative. Moshe warmed them that the time was not right. God had decreed that the people were not ready and would have to wait before trying again. There was no point, he said in a desperate attempt to try now. It would not succeed.

And in fact they were decisively beaten by the Amalekites and the Canaanites who forty years later they had no problem seeing off.

And so it is with us. Sometimes we fail, either in our personal lives or our professions and business. We do not achieve what we hoped for, a deal collapses or the person we are pursuing rejects us. There are those who would say one should go back and try again right away. But this story seems to be saying that if the time is not right, it is better to pause and redirect ones energies than just blindly trying again and again. To be sure sometimes perseverance does pay off. But one must not be afraid of just walking away and trying something different.

5/23/2013

Shabbat Behaalotecha

May 24th, Candles 7:54pm
May 25th, Havdalah 8:50pm

The seven branch menorah that stood in the Tabernacle and the Temple, made of solid gold, was the symbol of God’s presence amongst us. One light, the westernmost, was kept burning all the time, the wicks were changed, oil added once every twenty four hours. In the desert where the people wandered after they left Egypt, this Divine presence was represented by cloud during the day and fire at night, both of which had practical functions, shade and illumination. But once they were settled the single light replaced them both.

The difference was that the cloud and the fire were provided for them. The menorah on the other hand, they needed to take care of themselves.

And so it is with us. When we start our lives our parents are responsible for keeping the flame of our tradition alive and tending our needs both spiritual and physical. But as we grow and become independent, we are then responsible for making the effort ourselves.

So too as many of our community head off to their summer homes and away from the support structure of our community, one will have to try that much harder to make sure the Jewish component of our lives us not diluted and suppressed by the material delights and distractions of our summer lives.

This message is also reinforced by the famous phrase we read this week “Vayehi Binsoah HaAron” "When the Ark begins to move we say, “Arise God and scatter your enemies.”” When we are on the move we are more vulnerable, not just physically but spiritually, unfamiliar territory, new challenges. That’s when we need to reinforce our Jewish life.

5/09/2013

Timetable for the next ten days:

Shabbat Bamidbar
Rosh Chodesh Sivan Friday
Candles Friday May 10th, 7:40 pm
Havdalah May 11th, 8:35pm

Shavuot May 15 & 16
Summer Harvest Festival and the Anniversary of the Ten Commandments

1st Day Tuesday Evening May 14th, Candles 7:45pm
Wednesday morning May 15th, Service 9:30 am
Shavuot 2nd Day Wednesday Evening, Candles 8:35 pm
Thursday Morning May 16th, Service 9:30 am
Thursday Evening, Festival ends 8:45pm

Shabbat Naso
Friday May 17th, Candles 7:50 pm
Havdalah 18th 8:40pm

5/02/2013

Shabbat Behar-Behukotai

Candles Friday May 4th, 7:34pm
Havdalah May 5th, 8:30pm

Rosh Hodesh Sivan Friday 10th May

The last chapters of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) seem to have no common thread. Behukotai is dominated by the ‘Toheha,’ the frightening warning to the Israelites about what disasters would befall them if they strayed from the path of the Torah. It is harsh, brutal and sadly accurately predicts what did in fact happen. We have always been a “Stiff necked people” and our individuality has been both a strength and weakness. Yet as the Torah says, we have always returned from the brink of extinction.

And then after chapters of crushing condemnation comes the seemingly irrelevant piece about valuations. One could symbolically dedicate oneself to the Temple as an act of religious charity, and the amount one had to pay to release oneself from this commitment was laid out in the Torah. What’s the connection?

I suggest it is a message for us as parents and teachers. We need to set standards and demand discipline. How else can we pass on any positive values? But this comes across as harsh and even sometimes cruel. If you tell a child to stop gorging on chocolates, it will consider you to be cruel by its standards. You know what’s best for its diet and health. But it still thinks you’re being harsh.

We need to be the parents who rebuke and warn our children of the consequences of over indulgence. But at the same time we need to appreciate their good points, how valuable they are. They are after all the children of God as well as ours.

It is these two aspects of education that the Torah is teaching us. We must be firm and strict but it should be balanced with love and appreciation of the importance of each person, regardless of his or her strengths and weaknesses. God values them even if they disobey him and so must we.

4/25/2013

Shabbat Emor

Candles Friday 7:27pm
Havdalah Saturday 8:25pm

There is a reference in this week’s reading to cursing. The Torah forbids cursing whether it is God, parents, princes, judges or even the deaf. The opposite, of course, is to bless. What does it mean to curse? What does it mean to bless?

A curse cannot be magic, hocus pocus. After all we are explicitly forbidden in the Torah to make any sort of use of magic, witchcraft or wizardry. So God could not possibly approve of it. However a curse in the Bible does not simply mean to want something bad to happen to someone. It means more than that; it shows one has no feelings for someone and one positively wants to distance oneself from them.

The fact that we are told not to curse judges and officers of the State also means that we have to avoid undermining our leadership. This obviously does not mean one cannot disagree or try to change leadership. But one cannot undermine the institution of society. Not cursing a deaf person means not taking advantage of someone’s disability. And not cursing God means not to deny the very basis of one’s religious life and the structure of morality which we believe comes from God. Cursing in the Torah is an act of alienation and this always has consequences. Bad behavior, having no values, will be lead to bad endings. Of course if a bad person curses you that in itself is a blessing, for your values and his are diametrically opposed.

Today there are still people who pretend they can curse people in order to scare them into submission. But this cannot mean that they can do or cause someone harm unless that person is so frightened that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. God does not curse people random. It may appear so in that often we suffer unreasonable loss and pain. But that cannot be because of Divine will if we have done nothing to deserve it. It may come about either because nature has its own rules or because we act inappropriately or carelessly.

A blessing on the other hand means that I care, that I wish you well. But it is neither a guarantee of success nor a prevention of bad things happening. It can give one love and support and the courage to carry on in the face of tragedy.

That is why I do not take curses seriously. I take God seriously and if one feels there are forces ranged against one, the answer is to connect with God directly by living a Godly life or at the very least by saying the Shema at a moment of crisis. And there can be no greater reassurance than that.

4/21/2013

Shabbat Acharei Mot and Kedoshim

Candles Friday 7:20 pm
Havdalah Saturday 8:18pm

The fifth of the Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and your mother” Exodus 20. In this week’s reading, Leviticus 19, we have a variation. “A person should fear his mother and his father.” Notice how the order of the parents is inverted. The Rabbis say that since one’s natural tendency is to honor one’s mother more than one’s father. That is why in the Ten Commandments when it talks about honor, the father is mentioned first to emphasize that even if one’s father is a stern, forbidding character, one should nevertheless ensure that one does honor him as much as mother.

And when it comes to fear, the mother is mentioned first because the natural tendency is to fear one’s father more than one’s mother. Actually “fear” is a poor translation. The Hebrew “Yirah” means respect, even awe, but not fear. The Hebrew word for fear is “Pachad.”

The relationship with one’s parents requires the warmer, honor, love. But it also requires the respect, the slight distance that they deserve for acting as God’s agents in raising and taking care of their children.

Interestingly exactly the same balance between honor and respect is repeated in the Bible about God. We are told to honor and indeed to love and at the same time to respect and be in awe. The two very different emotions are significant. A love without responsibility and duty, is as bad as duty without love or care. We always need to find a balance.

4/12/2013

Shabbat Tazriah & Metzorah

Candles Friday 7:12pm
Havdalah 8:10pm

We two parts of the Torah we read this week, sound antiquated and obscure to most of us. The main theme is about diseases and infections that affect clothes and buildings as well as humans. The Torah describes the process of calling in the Cohen, to evaluate the problem, perhaps recommend quarantine and then the stages of healing or repairing that culminate in offering thanks for the resolution.

But first the Torah refers to childbirth. Until recently childbirth was dangerous and often fatal. In previous generations so many mothers and children died in the process of birth. Yet it is the greatest miracle of human life. Still, what starts with the greatest pleasure can end in the greatest pain.

The Torah always combines the physical and the spiritual. Its approach is what we now call ‘holistic.’ The rituals presented here in the Torah are designed to give time and care to the mother to enable her to regain her strength and recover from what is often a traumatic experience. And she needs time to adjust from the stress and dislocation of birth.

By juxtaposing childbirth with illness in the Torah, the message is that whenever the body goes through a shock or a transformation, we need to be sensitive to what people are going through and help them in the process of healing and getting back to normal. Not only but any crisis we go through in life should give us a heightened sense of the glory of life when things function properly and an appreciation of God in helping our recovery. A holistic solution includes both the physical and the spiritual.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jeremy

If you know anyone who you think should be getting this weekly message, please have them send me their email address and they will be put on the list.

4/04/2013

Shabbat Shemini

Rosh Chodesh Iyar next Wed and Thurs

Candles Friday 7:05pm, Havdalah 8:05 pm

Someone said to me last week that he believed in God but not in religion. I don’t really understand what “Believing in Religion” means. You don’t ‘believe’ in the Constitution of the United States. You accept it, you choose (or not) to abide by it. The Jewish religion is something to be practiced as a way of life that is designed to help you think before you act. The seemingly pointless rituals are to get you into habits of thinking and acting, more than vaguely believing.

But what I think he meant was that he could subscribe to the broader moral imperatives of God’s law, being a good person, helping others. The rituals on the other hand were too irksome and meaningless. So he didn’t want to follow them. That’s rather like believing in the idea of charity but not actually wanting to give any money to the poor or a deserving cause.

It’s all very well to say “I love music.” But what if you rarely listen to it, never go to concerts or buy any music? The importance of music in your life is negligible. It’s a joke. Or believing in being fit and healthy but never exercising? Or eating healthy but you only buy Big Macs?

If you just down a meal and never think of where the food came from, how fortunate you are, how many others are starving, how important healthy nutritious food is, then you are no different to an animal that takes stuff in at one end and finally expels it at the other. As Aristotle said, the considered life is what we should all be aiming at and religion, in theory at least, is designed for that.

This week we read about the kosher animals, fish and birds we are allowed to eat. It is not just a matter of which ones, although there are very good reasons as to why some animals, fish and fowl are preferred to others. You could still make a pig of yourself eating kosher food!!! But the purpose of the rules is to get you to stop and think as you prepare food and as you eat it. To stop and think before you stuff your face.

So happy eating, and don’t get annoyed with religion for trying to get you to think before you act.

3/21/2013

Shabbat Tsav Shabbat HaGadol

Candles Friday 6:50pm
Havdalah 7:47 pm

The Shabbat before Pesach is always called Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. Lots of different reasons are given. They range from the miracle in Egypt to the debate about whether Pesach should always be on a Shabbat, to Christian persecutions during Easter and on to the tradition of studying in preparation for the Seder.

If you look at the last line of the Haftarah however it this seems to me to be the original message. It comes from the Prophet Malachi:
“I am going to send Eliyahu the prophet before that great and awesome day when he will reconcile fathers to sons and sons to fathers.”
Pesach is a time of redemption. This may come from Divine Intervention but it may also come from our own efforts.Just as Pesach in Egypt was the redemption of the people and this led to our identity and security as a free people, so too one day our people will again be reconciled and united and live in peace without threats and hatred swirling around us. And this is the great message of Pesach for us. Whether it is on a personal or a national level, if we remain enslaved and crippled by needless hatred or a failure of relationships we will be unable to reach our maximum potential or find true peace. Shabbat HaGadol reminds us of this vital need for reconciliation even before we sit down to enjoy the Seder.

Shabbat Shalom and Pesach Sameach.

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TIME TABLE FOR PESACH 2013:

March 25th to April 2nd

Monday March 25 Erev Pesach (Stop eating Hametz by 10:18 am & burn by 11:28 am)

Candles 6.53 pm First Seder after 7.30pm

Tuesday March 26 First Day Shacharit 9:30am

Candles 7.49 pm Second Seder after 7:45pm

Wednesday March 27 Second Day Shacharit 9:30am

Havdalah & Ends 7.50pm

Friday March 29 - Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach Candles 6:59pm

Shabbat March 30 Shacharit 9:30am

Sunday, March 31 Candle Lighting 6:59 pm

Monday, April 1 Seventh Day of Pesach Shahrit 9:30 am

Candle Lighting after 7:56 pm

Tuesday, April 2 Eighth Day of Pesach Shacharit 9:30am

Havdalah Festival ends 7:57 pm.

3/15/2013

Shabbat Vayikra

Candles Friday 6:43pm
Havdalah 7:39pm

Vayikra is the Book of the Torah that goes into greatest detail about the sacrifices that we no longer perform. Nevertheless as with everything else in the Torah there are lessons we can learn that are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.

Amongst the many different kinds of sacrifices there was the Chata’at the Sin Offering. If one had done something wrong the first thing one had to do was to confess, Vidui. Not to a priest but directly to God. Only then could one proceed with the atonement. And this is why on Yom Kipur we have all those poetic confessions written into the prayerbook to help jog our memories and perhaps remind us of mistakes we may have made.

Actually confessing nowadays is something we tend to do to our therapists or our psychologists. And the aim is the same. Only by admitting or as they say "owning" up to one's mistakes can one hope to put things right. Consider how amazing this is. Freud’s great discovery of psychoanalysis is barely a hundred years old. Yet here three thousand years ago the Torah encourages us to express ourselves, to talk out the problem, to use God as a therapist in space, for free!

Shabbat Shalom.

2/14/2013

Shabbat Terumah

Candles Friday 15th at 5:11
Havdalah 16th at 6:07

The commentators disagree as to whether the Tabernacle was always part of the plan for the Israelite community or whether it was only introduced after the Golden Calf episode as a response to the need for some physical central focal point.

Religious life is a constant balance between the home and the synagogue, the private and the public. Torah requires of us to invest in both and that is why we have family meals, with blessings and celebrations at home and at the same time we come to the synagogue for services together. Sometimes the home takes priority and sometimes the community.

After the Israelites came out of Egypt they complained about the lack of water and food. This basic need seems to have overridden all the miracles that they were blessed with. Even the dramatic presence of God on Sinai could not stop the grumbling. It was only when everyone was involved in creating something, in building the Tabernacle, that there is no more mention of rebellion or dissatisfaction.

The fact is we humans need challenges and we need to be kept busy. On a personal level, we often get depressed or suffer setbacks. Complaining usually gets us nowhere. There’s no point in giving up and falling into paralysis. We need to be kept busy and set targets for ourselves each day. Similarly as a community we only come together when there is a project that requires our involvement.

That is why the chapters on the Tabernacle are so long and repetitive in contrast to the narrative and the laws, which are concise. It’s the constant discipline of having something to do that forces us to get on with our lives instead of giving up. The daily rituals have their benefits.

NEXT WEEK: Don’t forget on Saturday night, February 23rd, we will be reading the Megilah at 7 pm in our synagogue.

2/08/2013

Shabbat Mishpatim

Shabbat Shekalim and Mevarchin Chodesh Adar
Candles Friday 5:02pm
Havdalah on Saturday at 5:58pm

The word Shekel literally means something that is weighed. Early coins were simply weights and measures and used initially in barter. But as we know from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice the word became one of abuse. As if only Jews used coins and money. The first bankers were the Assyrians and Babylonians over four thousand years ago. Then came the Greeks who were the main rivals of Jewish merchants around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago and their fierce rivalry often led to violence. The Italians came to dominate Medieval European finance until the Germans, the French and the Spaniards overtook them. The Dutch and the British dominated the financial world in the West but the Americans soon took over the top spot. “Wall Street” became the code for “Rich Bankers.” Soon no doubt it will be the turn of the Chinese.

The Shekel however symbolized something very different to us Jews. It symbolized charity and community. The Torah commanded each Israelite to donate half a Shekel each year to ensure that the Tabernacle and later the Temple, were financed and supported by the whole people. Throughout the periods of the Temples all Jews wherever they lived accepted this obligation, a tax in effect, to support the central sanctuary of the people. The shekel therefore became the test of identification with the nation. After the destruction it turned into an annual donation sustaining the Jews who continuously returned to live in the Land of Israel often under terribly harsh and debilitating circumstances.

The Mishna tells us that at the start of the month of Adar they used to announce the obligation to donate and started collecting. So the Shabbat when we announce the month of Adar, as we do this weekend, became the time to remember our obligations to help the poor prepare for Pesach and to ensure that our communal coffers were replenished. The Shekel doesn’t just mean Israeli currency. It stands for charity and community.

Now is a good time to remind you that Purim will be on Sunday February 24th, which means we will be having our annual Megilah reading on Saturday night the 23rd at 7 pm.

1/31/2013

Shabbat Yitro

Candles 4.54pm
Havdalah 5.50pm

The chapters we read this week include the Ten Commandments, the basic principles of Jewish life. But there is another important theme that runs through these chapters, that of family. First of all Jethro, the father- in-law of Moses came to visit Moses and brought his wife and sons with. Moses the leader, isolated and under constant pressure, needed to have his family around him for emotional support. Of course he had his brother and sister there, but the special bond of immediate family, wife and children, primary and irreplaceable. Moses was so concerned about his wife and children that even though when he set out from Midian he took them with, when he met Aaron he realized how difficult the conditions were there and sent them back to Midian for their own safety.

And then of course in the Ten Commandments, the law to respect and honor ones parents is so important, it is included in the first five, those laws that relate to God rather than to other human beings. From all this we learn how important family is for ones protection as one grows up. One needs to recognize that debt and try to repay it. But most important are the moral lessons of Torah because they help as we go on to build our own lives and create families of our own. In the end the most important task in our lives is to live the good and a spiritual life. So the text starts with family but goes on to assert the importance of a set of values and good behavior, because in the end each one of has to stand on his or her own two feet and accept responsibility for ones actions.

PURIM:
Put it in your diaries-->We will read the Megilla and have a party at 7:00 pm, Saturday night, February 23rd.

www.jeremyrosen.blogspot.com

1/26/2013

Shabbat BeShalach

Candles 4:45pm
Havdalah 5:41pm

The Children of Israel come out of Egypt. It is like a rebirth. But almost immediately they are faced with one crisis after another. The Egyptian army pursues them. There is no water, no food. They complain against Moses, Aharon and God. The Amalekites attack them. Yet they come through all these difficulties. There is one word that is repeated at each of these stages, the word NISa. It means a test, in the way that Avraham was ‘tested’ when he was asked to kill his own son. The same letters in Hebrew that mean ‘Test,’ NUN SAMECH, also stand for NES, a miracle, something amazing.

We are tested from the moment we are born. Things do not always go the way we want or expect them to. But this is part of life, the process that either makes s or breaks us. It is not a matter of whether God tests us but that life itself tests us. If all we do is complain about it the problems we face, we will never overcome difficulties and progress. But if we do, then we are stronger for having survived the tests. So it was with Avraham, so it was with the Children of Israel and so it is today with us whether in Israel or the diaspora. But we come through. We are survivors.

We are constantly tested. That is the miracle of life, that we are challenged. And each time we survive it is a small miracle. Life is made up of lots of little miracles if we can only recognize them. When we are in pain we only see the dark side. But when we survive through to the other side, then we see light, whether it is physical or spiritual light. And that is worth singing about!

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And remember my blog at www.jeremyrosen.blogspot.com

1/17/2013

Shabbat Bo

Candles Friday 4:37pm
Havdalah 5:33pm

Our sincerest condolences to Morad Ghadamian
on the loss of his mother Jahan Bat Bibijan A”H

The long saga of plagues finally comes to an end and Pharaoh literally drives the Children of Israel out of Egypt. What was the point of the plagues and why didn’t God simply start with the last one and avoid the whole charade?

Pharaoh was convinced his society, its values and religion was the most advanced and technically superior to any other in his day. Moses had to find a way both of changing his mind and persuading the Children of Israel that they themselves had a religion that could offer them something Egypt could not. It is not very different to those nowadays who think that modern society because it is technically advanced no longer needs religion.

The plagues all show the limits of the physical world and the shortcomings of Pharaoh’s magicians and priests. The water supply is affected. Lice and boils attack the people the way viruses do nowadays. The produce of the earth and its livestock are destroyed. The winds bring locusts, the skies hail and the atmosphere brings pollution and death. The wise Egyptian ‘scientists’ are shown to be ineffectual and their gods powerless. It’s a classic case of undermining and showing the limitations of everything the Egyptians relied upon.

And so it is today. All the false gods of wealth, fame, security and stability have been undermined. Politicians are incapable of acting together. Scientists cannot not help our souls or fill the spiritual vacuum.

God, religion does not replace all these of course but it does point out their limitations of the physical world. To feel genuinely at peace and happy we need the spiritual as well. But we are set in our ways. We think we are right and we have no need for another way of looking at things. And that’s why too often, only tragedy or disaster get us to rethink and change direction.

1/03/2013

Shabbat Shemot

Mevarchin Rosh Chodesh Shevat next Shabbat
Candles 4:22 pm. Havdalah 5:18pm

Exodus starts with slavery and then leads into freedom. Like many themes in the Torah we moderns might think them dated. There is no slavery nowadays. But that’s not true. Still, today real old fashioned slavery continues in parts of Africa, the Arab World and the East. So we who are really free, have much to be grateful for.

The Torah repeats “Remember that you were Slaves in the Land of Egypt” so that we should be sensitive to oppression and forced servitude. Nowadays one can expand this to include the way one treats ones family members and employees. Refusing to deal with issues, failing to communicate, bullying, they are all symptoms of oppression and the victim feels trapped, enslaved metaphorically.

And there’s another kind of slavery; being enslaved to fashion, money, peer group pressure even unquestioned opinions and ideas. The most common form of slavery nowadays is being a slave to society. It is not an exaggeration to say that people are enslaved to their phones and cannot survive without then even one day a week! I have seen people lose their businesses and families simply because they would not or could not change their way of looking at things. Sometimes people are trapped, enslaved in a situation where they feel and are made to feel worthless. So when we read about freedom from slavery let us not only think of Hebrew slaves then. Many of us are still enslaved today.

Next Shabbat I will be in Jerusalem. Looking forward to seeing you when I return.
My weekly blog is at www.jeremyrosen.blogspot.com.