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

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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.