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.