Shabbat Hukat/Rosh Hodesh Tamuz

Candles Friday 27th 8:11pm
Havdalah 28th 9:06pm

We jump almost 40 years to the start of the invasion of Canaan. As the Children of Israel approach they first encounter Edom (descendents of Esav). They send ambassadors asking for permission to pass through. They stress their family ties and expect some reciprocity or at least no opposition. They offer to compensate them for anything they use on the way. Edom refuses and marches out to block them. Israel is disappointed but it does not go to war. The decision is to go round instead.

The Amalekites, kings Og of Bashan and Sihon of the Emorites all assume this is a sign of weakness and so try to attack Israel. They are destroyed and their lands are confiscated. Some modern liberals argue that the Israelites were barbaric in destroying these tribes. But in many ways they represent the sort of implacable hostility, the jihadi hatred we encounter nowadays in the same area.

The moral is clear. One has to choose ones battles. Sometimes one decides that for various reasons one would prefer to avoid conflict. Sometimes ones offers to negotiate and compromise. Caution is not necessarily a sign of weakness and if our enemies mistake it for that they are going to suffer. The message is clear. One does not treat every enemy in the same way. But when there is no alternative one either stands ones ground and one defeats the opposition or one is lost.

In the Middle East if you are not brutal and fanatical you are presumed to be weak. If you try to be humane you are perceived as soft. It is easy for people living in peace with secure boundaries and abstract ideals to attack Israel. And it is true we should not descend to the level of brutality the others use. But our strength and ability to defend ourselves is what the Torah instructs us to do and is what in the end ensures we survive.


Shabbat Korach/Shabbat Mevarchin/Rosh Hodesh Tamuz

Candles Friday 20th 8:10pm
Havdalah 21st 9:05pm

This week’s Torah reading, Korach, is named after the bad guy who lead a rebellion against Moses because he felt that the way Moses was allocating powerful “government ministries” was based on nepotism. In fact the Torah stresses that Moses was acting according to a higher authority.

The commentators argue about Korach’s motive. Was it power or more wealth he wanted? Perhaps he genuinely disagreed with Moses on religious and political issues. No one could accuse Moses of not listening to another point of view or indeed to criticisms. He had an open mind. And that is the measure of a great leader. Moses was the most humble of men. He was not at all arrogant. But he could be and was decisive once he evaluated the situation and made up his mind.

That is the quality of good leadership whether in politics, business or even choosing a partner in life. Sadly we are witnessing one of the most unsuccessful periods in American foreign policy ever in which almost every decision has shown weakness and an incapacity to understand the mentality of the people one is dealing with. America has backed the wrong people and refused to help those who might have been more effective. You might like to re-read the 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer “The Ugly American” or Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana” or recall Neville Chamberlain to know how disastrous such an approach is and that this has happened before.

What it does show is that Israel cannot rely on its alliance with the USA, however beneficial, to protect it. Every red line has been crossed with no response. Moses would never have let that happen.


Shabbat Shelah Leha

Candles Friday 13th 8:08pm
Havdalah 14th 9:03pm

What is a spy? Surely we mean by this a person who is acting undercover, usually deception is involved and often extra judicial slaying, James Bond! At the moment in the USA we are concerned at Governments spying on their citizens. Yet the very fact that there is talk about reaching a compromise with Edward Snowden suggests they are not altogether happy about what has been going on in their name and perhaps they have been breaking their own rules. But is all information gathering spying? I don’t think so.

In this week’s reading God says to Moses that he should send men to reconnoiter ( laToor) the Land of Canaan in preparation for invasion. They were not technically spies. They were told to “tour” the land and gather information, bring back a report. From their own account they were quiet open and interacted openly with the local inhabitants and reported conversations.

But later on in the last book of the Torah when Moses recounts these events years later, he uses different words. He says that the Children of Israel asked him to send men to “undermine” the land (Lahpor). That clearly implied undercover action aimed at bringing the Canaanites down. And of course we know it ended badly. You see intent makes a huge difference.