12/31/2015

Shabbat Shemot

Candles Friday 1st Jan 4:19pm
Havdalah 2nd Jan 5:15pm

The Children of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Moshe encounters God at the Burning Bush and he is told that he will become the agent of their freedom, their leader. He resists the mission. Finally he gives in. But he asks God to give him some more information as to what or who God is. “Who shall I tell (the people) has sent me?” after all they feel they have been abandoned. On what basis would they possibly understand the Divine appearance after some 300 years?

God replies with the puzzling epigram “I am what I am.” Which really sounds like a brush off. But the Hebrew “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” is better translated “I will be what I will be.” Even so, what does it mean?

The past has gone and cannot be retrieved. If one is to survive and succeed one MUST think of the future. The present might even be disastrous and painful. All one has to hope for is a better future. The role of God/religion is to help us cope, a framework to assist us drive onwards. It helps if we can project to a better time ahead. And that was what the enslaved Israelites needed, all refugees, need to hear.

The idea of God being the future has a philosophical explanation. All material objects in the universe change. The only thing that cannot change is something non-material. God as philosophers understand the idea is indeed some thing unchangeable, non material. For the idea of God to have any value it must be of something beyond the physical. That was what the Torah meant by saying “I will be.” Unlike any other thing you have ever encountered. But of course you need to make the effort to make sense of it too.

Now I am sure that is far too philosophical and abstract a concept for an enslaved people living thousands of years ago to grasp or indeed for most human beings now to understand. But we can translate it into a very common expression we all use, “Trust me.”

It is like the parent who moves away from a child while teaching him or her to walk or ride a bike. It is a tactic to help them learn to take their first independent steps. No matter how distant we may feel from the idea of God, we need to constantly remind ourselves that it is all around us, waiting for us to take the next step.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New secular year!

12/24/2015

Shabbat Vayehi

Friday December 25th Candles 4:14pm
Havdalah 26th 5:09pm

The Book of Bereishit ends with Yaakov and Yosef’s deaths. Just before he dies Yaakov blesses his sons but in so doing makes important comments on past events and significant predictions about the future.

Most of the sons are given two or three lines like Reuven, the first born, who is dismissed as unstable. An obvious justification for the first born being passed over. He plays little part in the future of the Jewish people because his interest was purely material ( the tribe preferred to stay on the East bank where the grazing was better).

But Yehudah and Yosef are given five lines. As we know, some five hundred years later the monarchy would begin with Saul of Benjamin but then pass to David of Yehudah and remained with his dynasty until the Babylonian exile in 586. But after David’s son Shlomo the tribes split into to separate countries. Yehudah in the south and the ten tribes who were identified with Yosef in the North. So Yaakov’s predictions came true. Yehudah and Yosef were the dominant tribes of our people.

But Yaakov also says that Yehudah would rule from “when they come to Shiloh” or “until the coming of Shiloh.” Shiloh was where the Tabernacle was for most of the time before it ultimately became absorbed into the Temple. What did Yaakov mean? That Temple in Yehudah would would then take over from Shilo? Or as some commentators suggest until the Messiah comes ( Shiloh became a code word for that). But it’s strange that nowhere else in the Torah is there any mention of a Messiah in the sense that we use it today.

Academics, or cynics might say that these predictions were in fact later insertions to justify the historical outcome and to give messianic hope in exile.. There are always two ways of looking at things, the scientific and the spiritual. I believe both are valuable. We can use our brains and our souls to experience the world we inhabit and to derive spiritual guidance to cope with the challenges.

12/17/2015

Shabbat Vayigash

Candles Friday 18th 4:10pm
Havdalah 19th 5:05pm
Fast of the Tenth of Tevet on Tuesday starts 6:04am, ends 5:06pm

Yosef is appointed by Pharaoh to administer the whole of his empire. He gathers in, buys up, the surplus crops during the good years so that when famine strikes the country is well taken care of. He sells food to the needy. When their money runs out he buys up their land and finally turns them all into serfs to Pharaoh. Only the priests are allowed to retain their estates. He does his job magnificently being loyal exclusively to Pharaoh and recognizing the importance of preserving the status of the State religion even if it is not his.

One might understand the resentment towards him coming from the masses. Even if he was able to keep then alive, every day they worked on Pharaoh’s estates they must have cursed him. This happened in Medieval Europe when “Court” Jews were often advisors to the monarchs, sometimes managed their affairs and farmed their taxes. They too were loyal to their masters but hated by the peasants.

But its interesting that the hatred of Yosef and his people comes not from the masses so much as from ta new Pharaoh who you might have expected to be grateful to Yosef for enriching him and saving his realm. Instead he enslaved the Israelites. Clearly he resented Yosef and his people. And do it was with Jews in Europe and the Middle East. Often the rulers who benefitted most from Jewish advice and expertise turned in those same people who had helped him. Just look up the stories of the Oppenheimers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the way the Rothschilds were treated in Britain in the early nineteenth century and Jews under Islam.

Too often those who owe most, show the least gratitude. Sadly, it’s human nature to resent those we owe a lot to. But a good person does good regardless of whether he or she is appreciated or not.

11/19/2015

Shabbat Vayeytzey

Candles Friday 20th 4:15pm
Havdalah 21st 5:09pm

Yaakov has to run away from home because of Esav’s threat to kill him. But Rivkah knows that if she says that to her husband he might not believe her because of his bias towards to his first born. So she uses the argument that to find a wife for Yaakov, he, like his father before him has to go back to Ur to the family they left behind. The psychology of Rivkah’s interaction with her husband is fascinating. But I am interested here in the idea of the constant returning, in each generation, to the family’s origins and birthplace. Surely if God had commanded Avraham to leave and that the new world would be better, why this need to go back all the time?

We know that back in Ur people were not very nice and were still pagans. Lavan typifies the negative. On the other hand, Rivkah and then Leah and Rachel represent the good. And conversely in the “Promised Land” that Avraham moved to, with its Canaanites, cities of Sodom and Amorah, most of the locals are pretty bad too.

In the constant procession of life, no matter where we go, we are constantly being drawn back to our origins and our earlier loyalties no mater whether in our new situations things are good or not. The challenge we all face is to try to be better human beings wherever we are and whatever the environment. We have to deal with private, personal challenges and with social political ones.

We draw on the past and use it to avoid mistakes and to help us learn. But our origins, however we have left them behind, and regardless of how negative they might have been, are still part of us. The Torah is telling us to recognize and accept our past, and not try to ignore it.

11/12/2015

Shabbat Toldot

Candles Friday 13th 4:20pm
Havdalah 14th 5:15pm

The main narrative this week is the struggle to win Isaac’s blessing. On the face of it Rivkah and Yaakov conspire to deceive Yitzchak so that instead of his blessing going to Esav, it goes to Yaakov. The story is full of hints that Yitzchak really does know that something is not as it should be. But the bigger question is why, when he realizes the deception, does he stand by it instead of retracting and re-issuing the blessing to Esav? Is this a matter of deception or rather of a struggle between human values and Divine (or physical versus cerebral)? In the end Yitchak comes to realize that there is a greater power and purpose.

On a purely physical level Isaac loves Esav as his first born and this love survives Esav’s rejection of many of Yitzchak’s values. Its like a parent’s love for a delinquent child. Esav might be a good leader of a band of brigands and thieves. But Yaakov clearly is a better leader for a tradition of reflection, self control and long term strategy. Indeed ironically Yitzchak here is the champion of physicality and Rivkah of the Divine and the spiritual (after all God has told her that Ya'akov, Jacob, is going to be the greater of the twins).

Everything the Torah has been telling us is about conflicted relationships, between peoples, husbands and wives and, bothers. And love is a crucial ingredient repeated as the core of the relationship between husbands and wives and children. But love is not the only criterion. It is as susceptible to deceit as is the word of God capable of being misunderstood. As ever the Torah advocates balance.

11/05/2015

Shabbat Hayey Sarah

Candles Friday 4:27pm 6th Nov.
Havdalah 7th 5:21pm
Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Kislev Thursday 12th, Friday 13th

Avraham lives a long and very difficult life. We have seen him have to contend with physical disasters, different rulers and standards, warring armies and conflicts within his marriage and his family. Running through all this is his faith and even there, it misled him into thinking that God wanted him to kill his son Isaac.

This week in the final chapters of his life he has deal with the issues of language, meaning and intent.

Despite the promise that all the land would one day belong to his children, he has to buy a burial cave for his wife from the local Hittite ruler. Ephron says he may have a burial ground for nothing but Avraham realizes he does not really mean it.

Avraham does not want to take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanite tribes. They are going to be displaced precisely because of their immorality. Instead he sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. He specifically commands him to go back to “my land and my birthplace.” And his only other condition is that Isaac should not go back to live there. He says nothing about his family.

The servant understands that character is the crucial issue. He comes across Rivkah, almost by accident though of course we know it is not. She has all the qualities he knows Avraham wants in daughter in law. And when he starts to negotiate, he tells them that Avraham specifically insisted that he go back to his family for his son’s wife.

Was it the servant’s own initiative, to mention the family, to help seal the deal? Or was the Torah as it often is, concise and brief in conveying Avraham’s request? We cannot know. As with everything in the Torah it is the moral message that matters more than historicity or modern ways of analyzing texts.

Avraham has to deal with every aspect of human life. He has to steer through unknown and unpredictable waters. In a way that we all do today. In doing this he is constantly focusing on the wider issues of how to establish an ethical and spiritual tradition. We will all make mistakes and wrong judgments no matter how careful we are. But if we set our moral and religious goals and always have them mind, we will have a legacy to pass on that we can proud of.

10/22/2015

Shabbat Leh Leha

Candles Friday October 22 5:44pm
Havdalah 23rd 6:38pm

Kiddush in memory of Mr Molemzadeh ע״ה

Avraham is regarded as the founder of Monotheism. What makes him so remarkable is that his religious commitment did not lead him to withdraw into his own private world, but he interacted with everyone he came into contact with. Hecwas literally a man of the world. One might think that he was the equivalent of the New Age belief that love conquers all and if you accept all human beings as good everyone will love you.

Abraham clearely distinguishes between people you can deal with and those you cannot. He lives in an era of tribal warfare and climatic disasters. A famine forces him down to Egypt for food and he enters into a treaty with Pharaoh. His wife is the diplomatic pawn and when Pharoah discovers it they are “bought off” and leave. He encounters Malchizedek, a priest. He recognizes him as a good man and gives him tithes. He gets caught up in a fight between the kings of Sodom and Amora and invading kings. He succeeds in fighting off the aggressors and rescuing his nephew Lot. But he refuses any money from them, recognizing they are corrupt even though he didv accept money from Pharaoh. He will not touch tainted money. There are some people you can deal with. Others you must avoid.

It sounds strange that he is promised Divine blessing and yet he faces such human, personal and natural obstacles. No one said it would be easy. A blessing is no guarantee, only a spur to try harder to succeed.

10/15/2015

Shabbat Noah


Candles Friday 16th 5:54pm
Havdalah 17th at 6.48pm

Kidush this week kindly hosted by Hana and Clement Salama
In memory of Hana's late beloved father Shalom ben Sarah and Eliezer z"l
Noah, for all that he “walked with God” did not have any impact on the people around him beyond his immediate family. They were the only humans he managed to persuade to join him.

After the flood, the Torah gives some rules (later known as the Seven Noah commands for humanity in general) to help regenerated humanity try to succeed a second time. This theme of a second chance, started with Adam and Eve, goes on to Noah’s flood and continues with the Children of Israel getting a second chance after the Golden Calf.

But why do humans mess up so often?

Some people suggest humans are inherently evil. The Torah this week offers this alternative explanation. “There is an inclination (tendency) within the heart of humanity that is bad from childhood/youth”(Genesis 8.21).

In other words we are not born bad or good. We are born with capacities to do good or bad and these capacities are influenced by home, society and opportunity. The role of religion is to ensure that the other tendency, to do good and be kind, is developed and encouraged too. Sometimes it will overcome selfish egos but sometimes it will not.

The Torah gives us advice but of course it is up to us to make the right decisions.

9/27/2015

Sucot Timetable 2015

1st Day
Sunday Evening 27th Sept. Candles at 6.25pm
1st Day Monday 28th
Morning Service 9.30am
Lulav & Etrog 10.15am We have sets available for everyone’s use.
Sermon 11.30am
Kiddush in Sucah
Lunch sponsored by the Moussazadeh family in memory of their father and husband.
Everyone in the community is welcome.
Candles for Second Day 7.18pm


2nd Day
Tuesday 29th
Morning Service 9.30am
Lulav & Etrog 10.15am We have sets available for everyone’s use.
Sermon 11.30am
Kiddush in Sucah
Havdalah 7.25pm

Shabbat Friday 2nd October
Candles 6.15pm
Shabbat 3rd
Morning Service 9.30am
Havdalah 7.10pm

Shmini Atzeret
Sunday Evening Oct 4th at 6.15pm
Monday Oct 4th
Morning Service 9.30am
Sermon 11.30am
Candles 7.07pm

Simhat Torah
Monday Evening Oct 5th with main Park East service at 6.30pm

Simhat Torah
Tuesday 6th
Morning Service 9.30am
Musaf ends 11.30
Dancing & Kiddush
Community lunch, kindly sponsored by
Joe Moinian and Ebby Moussazadeh
WE NEED TO KNOW IF YOU ARE COMING
PLEASE EMAIL NUMBERS TO tonyzand@aol.com

Festival ends 7.06pm


Shabbat October 10th
First Younger Generation Kiddush of the season.
Service starts at 9.30am and ends at 11.30am. Followed by sermon and Kiddush Lunch sponsored by Jonathan Aghravi

9/13/2015

Timetable for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur 2015/ 5776

Services at Park East Lexington and East 68th upstairs in the Gym.

ROSH HASHANA
Erev Rosh Hashana Sunday 13th September
Candles 6.49pm Evening service 7 pm
1st Day Rosh Hashana Monday 14th September
Shacharit 9.00 am
Torah 10.30 am
Shofar 11.30 am
Musaph 12.00 pm
Sermon 1.00 pm
Evening service 6.30 pm

2nd Day Rosh Hashana Tuesday 15th September
Shacharit 9.00 am
Torah 10.30 am
Shofar 11.30am
Musaf 12.00 pm
Sermon 1.00 pm
Festival ends 7.40 pm

DONT FORGET TO LEAVE YOUR MOBILES, CELLPHONES, I PHONES, I PADS AND OTHER ELECTRONIC GEAR AT HOME! GOD DOESN'T USE THEM!!!!

9/10/2015

Shabbat Netzavim

Candles 6:52pm
Havdalah 7:45pm

This week’s very short reading from the Torah tackles the question of what it means to be Jewish. We use the word Brit, Covenant to describe this connection but there are several Brits in the Torah. There is the covenant with Avraham over the Land. Then there is the covenant of circumcision. Later comes the covenant at Sinai to the “constitution.” These three are very physical and practical. They deal with the material.

In the Torah this week we deal with the more mystical covenants. There is the personal commitment to God, the religious. And there is a commitment to the people. These depend much more on how we feel personally. They are subjective.

We need both. Every group needs to have its common ideas, morality and culture. But every individual needs to make a personal commitment too.

The Torah says that we have the freedom to accept or reject. Accepting means Jewish continuity, survival and a meaningful life. Rejection means abandoning the faith and the people. That is the choice we all have and each one of us resolves it in his or her own way and degree.

Shabbat Shalom and a very sweet and healthy New Year.

8/27/2015

Shabbat Ki Teytzey

Candles Friday 28th 7:15pm
Havdalah 29th 8:08pm

This weeks reading continues the recapitulation of the biblical laws first given in Exodus. But whereas last week’s dealt mainly with government and social affairs, this week we deal mainly with personal morality. How the individual should behave rather than the state.

The most important underlying themes are that there are consequences! If you marry for the wrong reason you produce unhappy families. Unhappy families produce unhappy kids. People who are badly brought up are more likely to commit crimes. And the Torah goes in to list the sorts of crimes it feels strongly about. Treating parents, women, workers, the poor and animals cruelly, violently or harshly. And yet the famous principle this week is that “fathers do not die for sons, sons do not die for fathers, a person dies for his own crimes” (27.16).

I wonder if there isn’t an interesting lesson. Some people are givers, charitable, caring for the welfare of others. But some are takers, only seeking gratification for themselves. When it says in Exodus that “the bad actions of fathers are visited onto the next generation” it doesn't mean punishment. But it does mean that there are consequences. I wonder if it all has anything to with family values! And yet I know so many cases where the sons behave so much better than their fathers. We have the freedom to make better choices.

8/21/2015

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles 7:26pm
Havdalah 8:19pm

This week’s reading from the Torah is one if the most important from a legal point of view. Like the Doomsday Book or indeed the American Constitution, it is the basis of Jewish law in terms of principles and foundations. Of course over thousands of years like all other systems it has advanced and developed.

The first principle (Deut.16.18) is that one needs an enforceable legal system open to everyone. No one, neither religious nor political should ever be above the law. This is particularly true of such phenomena as revenge killing and vendettas and honor killings (19) all have continued to plague society long, long after the Torah was given.

The Judicial system requires honesty, (16.19) the honesty the Judges, the system and at least of two witnesses (no circumstantial evidence unlike the USA). Something that is still far from universal today.

Any system requires a process of appeal and a framework for change (17.8)

Torah also deals with international affairs, that one must always pursue peace before going to war as a last resort (20.10).

Society has to accept responsibility for its failures. An unsolved crime becomes the responsibility of everyone (21).

The Torah is not only concerned with religious ritual but life in general.

8/13/2015

Shabbat Re’ey

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 14th 7:36pm
Havdalah 15th at 8:29pm

Mazal Tov to the Hazzan Uriel Suliman his wife and family family for the birth of their second daughter.

The Torah here in this week’s reading, mandates a specific “place” where the Israelites were to sacrifice to God. Originally whenever anyone wanted to eat meat they had to bring it to the sanctuary where it was sacrificed, its blood, fats and inedible parts removed and then divided up between the owners and the priests.

During the wilderness period the sanctuary was collapsible and moved with the people. After the death of Moshe in the Land of Israel the tabernacle continued to move for some two hundred years from Gilgal to Shiloh and to Nov with interludes where the enemy captured it. According to the Mishna in Zevahim for much of this period, people also sacrificed (killed for food) on Bamot, High places that were also associated with pagan worship. It was not until Solomon’s reign that the Temple was built and a single permanent “ place” became established in Jerusalem.

When the Northern Kingdom split after Solomon’s death two temples were built at Dan and Bethel and once again pagan practices became widespread.

The Samaritans established their Temple on Mount Gerzim. They argued that mounts Gerizim and Eyyval (near Nablus today) were specifically mentioned in the Torah whereas Jerusalem and Mount Zion were not. To this day there is here they worship and sacrifice. The Samaritans also reject the innovations of Rabbinic Judaism. There are very few of them left now, caught between Islam and Judaism. But in a way they were right. Jerusalem was not mandated in the Torah. It was established much later and reinforced by rabbinic tradition.

People often ask why, if Judaism has changed Judaism so much, do we have to abide by all their additional laws interpretations. But it is obvious that the genius of the rabbis was to know what it required to keep us alive in exile as a people and would enable us to reach the miraculous stage of re-establishing ourselves in our homeland.

Where as those who rejected rabbinic Judaism, whether they were Samaritans, Kaarites or indeed reformers? They flourished for a while but eventually failed to become the dominant force in Judaism. In the long term the rabbis ensured our survival.

8/06/2015

Shabbat Eykev

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 7th 7:45pm
Havdalah 8th 8:38pm

There are many problematic sentences in the early chapters of Devarim where Moshe, forty years after the events took place gives a slightly different perspective. For example in Bamidbar it is God who commands them to send spies into Canaan. Here in Deuteronomy it is the people who come to Moshe and ask for it.

But there is also a contrast in Devarim itself in regard to the Canaanites. On the one hand in Chapter 7 it says that the Israelites must destroy the Seven Canaanite nations completely and not intermarry with them. Well, if you destroy them then of course you cannot intermarry. But then in Chapter8 Moshe says that God will not let them be driven out right away. It will take time. Because otherwise, if you depopulate the countryside, it will go to waste. One had to be realistic. Nevertheless, the goal should remain even if it was and is impractical.

From this it is possible to learn that the Torah did not expect a mass slaughter. But rather the commands were meant as warnings that we would be surrounded by very bad influences morally. It would be a priority to avoid them as much as possible. The Torah often uses hyperbole to stress how dangerous something is. Historically we know the Israelites never succeeded completely in removing them.

And so today, there is much that goes on in the world we live in here and Israel that is bad and morally dangerous. But there are very obvious reasons why we cannot just destroy what we disapprove of. We often have to live with it and find ways of toleration and accommodation. That is why the Torah says the commandments are to help us live, not die by them.

7/17/2015

Shabbat Matot and Masei

Candles Friday 17th July 8:05pm
Havdalah Saturday 9:00pm

The Nine Days of mourning leading up to the Ninth of Av start on Friday

The last chapters of the book of Bamidbar culminate in the final preparations to invade Canaan. They deal with demarcating the territory the Israelites will claim and allocating the land between the tribes. But the reading begins with blood and ends with blood. It starts with the destruction of the Midianites and makes very uncomfortable reading. It ends with the rules about cities of refuge where accidental murderers can flee for protection from the blood letting of vendetta revenge slaying.

The sequence goes like this. To cleanse the land of corrupt, dangerous people whose culture is one of cruelty, immorality and paganism Israel had to resort to violence or perish itself. That was how things were done three and a half thousand years ago. Even now as we live, this principle of conquest is actually happening around the globe despite all the conventions and treaties and noble sentiments at the UN.

But once the state has been established one has to turn to its inner health and sanctity. Even if killing is sanctioned by the state to protect the state, we have to guard against thinking that that is the norm, the natural state of things. So to heighten sensitivity the law has not only to deal with murder but also with manslaughter and accidental death. That is why the Torah reiterates the notion that in ones territory one must have in place a system to deal with violence and places of refuge and sanctuary. Whatever else they are a constant reminder of the dangers of violence.

King Solomon said there is a time for everything, for war and for peace. But one has to be constantly on guard against letting violence get out of hand or become ‘normal’.

7/09/2015

Shabbat Pinhas

Candles Friday 8:09pm
Havdalah Saturday 9:03pm

When Moses is told that it is time for him to die, his only response is that someone has to be appointed to lead the people. It is remarkable in that he chose not to recommend anyone to God but accepted the Divine choice.

It is true that Moses had two sons. We don’t know what happened to them. Perhaps they pre-deceased him. It is also true that Joshua had been Moses’s assistant since the first year of the Exodus and he and Calev were the only two men who would go from Egypt to the Land of Canaan. But that did not mean that either would necessarily have the character to become the leader.

But Joshua is twice referred to as a man of “Ruah” Spirit, as well as wisdom. He showed he had rational, administrative qualities as well as religious, spiritual ones. This combination is what him uniquely able to carry on Moshe’s work even though no one suggests he reached the same heights that Moses did.

Moses and Joshua, like Aaron and Elazar the priests, were chosen by God rather than man. This way of appointing leaders only lasted for only a brief period. Samuel was the last of the great leaders who had a Divine Mandate. From then onwards, with occasional notable exceptions, the leadership of the Jewish people was neither impressive nor spiritual. Consistently, our leadership has failed us.

But we have survived because we are a different, egalitarian, contentious, and stiff-necked people. The fact is that these are the very qualities needed to cope and survive, even if leadership often lets us down.

7/02/2015

Shabbat Balak

Friday 3rd July Candles 8:11pm
Havdalah 9:06pm

Fast of Shiva Asar (17th) B’Tammuz is postponed from Shabbat to Sunday

Happy 4th of July

In the poetry that Bilaam the Magician declaims about the Children of Israel, he makes the remarkable statement:

“A people that dwells alone and is not numbered amongst the nations.”

What does he mean? The Hebrew words “U’Bagoyim Lo Yitchashav” Yitchashav, numbered, counted, regarded, can mean:

a) we are so small we hardly count
b) we are unique because of our Torah and our religious culture
c) we are special because we have survived longer than any other
d) we are not valued by other nations.

The fact is that all these possibilities are true.

We are not taken seriously because we are so small. In fact this should be grounds for admiration. Instead it is the cause of disdain and envy.

We are disliked because we reject other religions which only infuriates them.

We have survived despite all attempts to destroy us. And people hate us for this.

The United Nations simply picks on Israel above and beyond any other nation and anti Semitism remains a disease in the minds of so many human beings.

Was Bilaam cursing us or blessing us? In one way you might call it a curse and that's why so many Jews try to escape from their Judaism. But at the same time it is a blessing that we have survived and will.

The Fast of Tammuz and the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av remind us of our failures. But we need to remember our successes too. Bilaam reminds us of that in his famous words “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov“ "Your tents, Jacob, are very good" Our tents, our families our traditions are good, they have enabled us to survive.

6/18/2015

Shabbat Korach

Friday Evening 19th June Candles 8:10pm
Havdalah 20th 9:05pm

Several times when Moses is challenged in the Torah and he fears for his life, the text says “Vayipol Al Panav” “And he fell on his face.” What does this mean? Does it really literally mean he fell flat on his face? That must have hurt and we are commanded not to hurt ourselves. I don’t think we are meant to take it literally. It could mean to bow down in an act of submission. In which case it would be what we call Nefillat Apayim when we bow our heads on to our arms when we say Tachanun, prayers for forgiveness during normal weekday prayers. Or when on Yom Kippur we bow down to God. We don’t actually fall on our faces. But our heads are bowed in submission.

So did Moses fall on his face before God as a way of saying “I have failed you?”

Perhaps he was submitting to his accusers, something that seems very unlikely.

The first time it is used in the Torah is the case of Cain who killed his brother. When his sacrifice was not accepted it says “His face fell.” In other words his face betrayed his inner feelings. He was angry, insulted, disappointed and it showed.

Our faces really do betray us. A clever face reader can tell a huge amount about a person from his or her facial expressions. That's one of the tricks magicians, gypsy palm readers, even kabbalists use! I have often heard the expression “You should only see your face now.” We blush, blink or twitch. We have what card players call a “tell.” It takes a great deal of discipline to control our facial expressions which most of us do not have.

So what Moses was showing, was how angry he was at these stupid, arrogant, ungrateful self-serving rebels and perhaps also his fear that God might, as he threatened, destroy those who attacked his messenger on earth.

6/04/2015

Shabbat Beha’alotecha

Candles Friday June 6th at 8:05pm
Havdalah June 7th at 9:00pm

We are delighted to announce that Pej and Michele Barlavi will be naming their baby daughter Milla with us this coming Shabbat. Dr & Mrs Ray Youssefyeh, uncle and aunt, will be hosting a special Kiddush in honor of the occasion.

We have reached the part of the Torah that deals with the time the Children of Israel spent in the Sinai Desert. It was a place we know today to be largely barren with occasional water holes and oases. It cannot have been easy for anyone.

And so its only natural that people were under pressure, stress, strain and deprivation and began to complain instead of counting their blessings. After all that's what we do nowadays all the time.

But complaints fall into several categories, genuine complaints, altogether dishonest complaints and badly framed or inappropriate complaints. We see them all in this weeks reading.

Yitro, Moses’s father in law is constructive. He analyses the situation. He sees that Moses has not organized his administration effectively and so he gives him constructive advice.

The people then complain about the food they are getting. They are not starving, they just do not like it. But in saying how wonderful it was in Egypt we know they are being dishonest. They are distorting reality to suit their polemic.

Miriam and Aaron have what they believe is a legitimate complaint against Moses though there are different interpretations as to exactly what it was. But the punishment comes because of the way in which their objections were made public. It was the manner of the complaint that was wrong.

This is a challenge to us all today. We may see something we think is wrong or that we are unhappy about at home or at work. We have to find the right way of airing it, the sensitive and tactful approach rather than being provocative and aggressive.

5/28/2015

Shabbat Naso

Candles Friday May 29th 8pm
Havdalah May 30th 8:55pm

This week’s reading from the Torah includes the most famous blessing in Judaism. It is the blessing that priests gave the Children of Israel in the Temple. And today it is the one remaining public priestly ritual (as opposed to the custom of calling priests and levites to the Torah first). It is the blessing that the Cohanim give every day in some communities and on festivals in others.

It is the blessing that parents give their children in Friday Nights. And increasingly it is the blessing given to the bride and groom before marriage.

“May God bless you protect you. May God shine light upon you and be kind to you. May look favorably upon you and give you peace.”

It is a beautiful, universal wish. The priest is not giving the blessing. God is. The priest is just the vehicle.

The text has God saying “This is how you will bless the people of Israel... You will use My Name, for I am blessing them.”

What do we mean by “ blessing”? When we use the word it means that we wish you well and want the best for you. It is the ultimate expression of love and concern. Similarly with God it is an expression of a caring and involved relationship.

And yet it is so sad that for all the thousands of years it has been recited, we, as a people, have not had and we still do not have peace. We are still surrounded by those who wish to destroy us.

History proceeds slowly but inexorably. Humans have been evolving for millions of years. A thousand years is just a blink of an eye. One day it will come to pass.

5/21/2015

Shabbat Bamidbar

Candles Friday 22nd 7:53pm

Festival of Shavuot
Begins and light Candles Saturday 23rd at 8:49pm

Sunday 24th 1st Day Shavuot
Service 9:30am

Monday 25th 2nd Day Shavuot
Service 9:30am
Festival ends 8:50pm

We start reading the book of Bamidbar, named after the wilderness where we were formed into a people. The desert seems barren but it isn’t if you look beyond the superficial. Its silence has been the cradle of spirituality in contrast to the bustle and noise of cities.

Shavuot ( Saturday Night) is both a harvest festival and the anniversary of the revelation on Mount Sinai when the Torah became the constitution of the Children of Israel.

It combines the importance of the physical, material world we live in, that we rely on and have responsibility for. It also reminds us that without a moral code and spiritual dimension our lives cannot be complete.

Torah values the ability to appreciate quiet, silence in which we can nurture our souls before venturing out into the busy, selfish material world that also need to survive. Silence is where we can go to recharge our batteries! The desert is where one can be completely alone. But one needs to come back into community and civilization.

The festival reminds us of another world. Another experience and another soul.

4/30/2015

Shabbat Acharei Mot & Kedoshim

Candles Friday 1st May 7:32pm
Havdalah 2nd May 8:15 pm

LAG (the 33rd) Day of the Omer is on Thursday,
when the period of national mourning ends.

The whole of the Book of Leviticus, Vayikrah, is called the Book of Holiness. So far it has been concerned with Sacrifices, Priests, Ritual Purity and Impurity through disease. All things that have not been applicable for two thousand years and even then did not apply outside of the Land of Israel. So what is their relevance, their message for us today?

These ideas, common to all early societies divided space into areas of ordinary activity and areas of holy activity. They divided humans into states in which they could come into Holy places and states in which they could not come into holy places. This was all the equivalent to what we would nowadays call State and Religious Ceremonial. The King inhabited his palace, his throne room, his space. Priests could enter their sanctuary spaces. Ordinary people could either watch from outside or if they wanted to come closer they had to be in a special state. Just as nowadays we might exclude people with communicable diseases or with arms or if they posed a threat.

But holiness did not just refer to public spaces and places. It applied every day in the way people behaved towards each other. If one wanted to be included in a community one had to behave in a particular way. Otherwise one was excluded.

That is why this week we read about what we would call ethical issues, the ways people were expected to behave. It starts with matters of sexual standards, immorality, incest and abuse and then goes on to deal with how to treat other human beings fairly and with consideration.

Being a good person is not just a matter of abiding by the law, by ones outward behavior. Just as important is how one behaves morally towards others, when ones actions must be “holy,” good and ethical too.

4/24/2015

Shabbat Tazriah Metzorah

Candles Friday April 24th 7:25pm
Havdalah April 25th 8:21pm

The two sections we read this week both focus on the human body and the sorts of changes it is subject to. We start with miracle of childbirth. But the Torah recognizes that this amazing and frightening transformation that motherhood brings to the body and the mind is so powerful that it needs time for one to adjust back to normality. The great gift of life starts with pleasure but then proceeds through the incredible extended distortion of the female body and the pain of childbirth. The body and the mind need time to heal.

The Torah goes on to discusses other things that affect the human body outwardly like diseases of the skin, limbs and body. They are all occurrences that change us as we feel ourselves and as we are perceived by others. Because in Judaism we look at the world holistically we realize that the body affects the mind and vice versa. That is why the priests who also the doctors of those days sought to heal emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. And that is why in addition to the medical steps taken to heal and cure, there were also ceremonies and procedures to help ones mind and spirit recover too.

We never took the view, like some Christian denominations, that we should not try to cure but leave it all to God and prayer. We always believed in both. One needs the best medical treatment available but one also needs to be spiritually healthy too.

We are so very aware nowadays how things like stress and pressure can themselves cause the body to deteriorate and decline. It has taken thousands of years for us to realize that psychological illnesses are as significant as physical ones, that they interact and need treatment too.

But the Torah teaches that the other dimension, the spiritual one, also needs to be nurtured and be healthy. Otherwise simply treating the physical symptoms will not lead to a permanent cure, only a temporary one. We need doctors of the soul as well as of the body.

4/09/2015

Last Days of Pesah

7th Day Thursday Evening Candles 7.09pm

Friday 10th April service 9.30am
Friday Night candles 7.10pm

8th Day Shabbat 11th April Service 9.30am
Guest Speaker at 11.30am
Distinguished Neo-Conservative, Dr. Richard Perle,
advisor to three presidents
After his speech Dr. Perle will take questions, so come prepared!

Shabbat and Festival end 8.06pm

4/02/2015

Revised Pesah 2015 Timetable

First Days Thursday Night April 2nd Check for Hametz


Friday April 3rd
Fast of First born
Friday 8.00 A.M. minyan, with a Siyum, at 587 5th Ave. (between 47th & 48th Streets) 

We stop eating Hametz at 10.50am

Evening service Park East on 68th st. at 6.00 p.m.

First Seder Candles 7.02pm

Saturday 4th April 1st Day
Service 9.30am

Shabbat ends and Candles & Second Seder 7.59pm

Sunday 5th 2nd Day
Service 9.30am
Festival ends 8pm


Second Days
Thursday 9th April Candles 7.09pm


Friday April 10th 7th Day Candles 7.10pm
Service 9.30am

Saturday April11th 8th Day
Service 9.30am

Guest Speaker Dr Richard Perle

Havdalah 8.06pm


To sell your Hametz, please email the location to:
jeremyrosen(at)msn.com
before Friday morning April 3rd

3/31/2015

Timetable Pesah 2015

First Days

Thursday Night April 2nd Check for Hametz

Friday April 3rd we stop eating Hametz at 10.50am
First Seder Candles 7.02pm

Saturday 4th April 1st Day Service 9.30am
Shabbat ends and Candles & Second Seder 7.59pm

Sunday 5th 2nd Day Service 9.30am
Festival ends 8pm


Second Days

Thursday 9th April Candles 7.09pm

Friday April 10th 7th Day Candles 7.10pm

Saturday April 11th 8th Day Service 9.30am
Guest Speaker Dr Richard Perl
Special Kiddush hosted by Nico Moinian & Leilah Mohktardzadeh
Havdalah 8.06pm


To sell your Hametz please email giving location before Friday morning April 3 - jeremyrosen(at)msn.com.

3/26/2015

Shabbat Tsav

Shabbat Hagadol
Candles March 27th 6:55pm
Havadalah March 28th 7:51pm

The Shabbat before Pesach is always called “Shabbat HaGadol,” “the Great Shabbat.” It’s very unclear why. Explanations range from the past to present to the future.

The past:
The Exodus itself was such a miracle that it merited special treatment. Taking a sheep, sacred to the ancient Egyptians was an act of rebellion and the failure of the Egyptians to respond was a miracle.

Easter was the beginning of the season of persecutions when after hearing in Church about the crucifixion Christians were urged to avenge it by attacking Jews.

The Ka’arites believed that Pesach should always start on a Shabbat. So in order to distinguish our Pesach the rabbis called the Shabbat they called Pesah Shabbat HaGadol instead.

The present:
It was the occasion of extended study in preparation for Pesach. In Medieval times the rabbi would only give sermons, derashot, on this Shabbat and the one before Yom Kipur. It’s “greatness” lay in its emphasis on communal study.

Future:
The Haftarah from the book of Malachi (and Joel) mentions the Great Day of the Lord when we will be redeemed in the future and all able to live in peace. Shabbat HaGadol is that day.

The custom is Medieval in origin and probably was indeed a response to persecution. But in traditional rabbinic fashion their response was to look back to history and the past, to give the occasion immediate and present significance and to prepare and look forward to a better future.

That really is an encapsulation of the Jewish spirit, to revere tradition, to make it inspire and enrich our present and to strive to improve the future for us and our children.

Pesach begins next Friday night.

3/19/2015

Shabbat Vayikra

Shabbat HaHodesh
Rosh Hodesh Nissan
20th Candles 6:48pm
21st Havdalah 7:44pm

Special Kiddush sponsored by Jonathan Zamir and Yaron Shemesh
Please come and bring your friends.

Featuring Shahar Azani
Executive Director, StandWithUs Northeast Region

This Shabbat we welcome in the New Month of Nissan. Pesah is two weeks away. The extra reading from the Torah is the chapter in Exodus where the Children of Israel in Egypt are commanded to prepare for their freedom by making preparations to celebrate the Seder Meal on the night of their freedom.

They were given the freedom, the opportunity to publicly identify with their people and their God. They were to do this in two ways. The first was to defy the Pharaoh by doing something that went against the dominant culture, taking the lamb to sacrifice, something that offended Egyptian sensibilities.

But they also had to daub blood on their doorposts to identify their homes as Israelite homes.

We know from the Midrash that many Israelites refused to identify. They saw themselves as more Egyptian than Israelite. The result was that large numbers assimilated and simply disappeared from Jewish history.

A similar challenge faces Jewry today. Not just the political challenge of those who regard Israel as the cause of the world’s problems but the cultural one too. We are losing large numbers who refuse to identify.

That’s why it is so important for us to do our utmost to identify and encourage and support those who work to keep as many of us involved as possible.

3/12/2015

Shabbat Vayakhel and Pekudei


Shabbat Parah

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Nisan
Candles 13th 6:40pm
Havdalah 14th 7:36pm


The construction of the Tabernacle stopped for Shabbat and that is where we learn the principle of not doing manual labor on Shabbat. Most of the time when the Torah talks about Shabbat it is with reference to a cessation of work.

This week the Torah adds an extra law “Do not transfer fire in your dwellings on Shabbat.” This takes the prohibition of work out of the work place and into the home. But it raises a totally different category of what is forbidden on Shabbat.

We mistakenly think of life in Biblical period as primitive and in most parts of the world it was. We imagine that to get fire was difficult. You had to rub flints together. It was hard work. But that was what cavemen did. In the Middle East of those days Egypt was a highly sophisticated culture long before the Exodus. Think of the pyramids and other brilliant engineering feats. The Land of Israel was the meeting point between Egypt in the south and the great Hittite culture to the north and the Sumerian and Assyrian worlds of the east. All the latest knowledge and expertise flowed through that area where Israel is today. Making fire was as easy as matches are today. You had slow burning charcoal in metal containers. You just needed to put a piece if straw or wood in to the container, blow and voila you had a flame, not really what we would call hard work.

Fire was then like electricity is today. Imagine New York with no electricity. Everything would grind to a halt and with no television, computers, Ipads, elevators our normal life styles would be brought to a halt. If one had to think of only one item that enables our society to function it would electricity. And fire held that place then. Easily accessible it was what made leisure as well as war and industry possible. Fire was one of the four elements the Greeks thought the world was composed of.

Banning its use on Shabbat made a clear division between the material society around them and creating a totally different kind of atmosphere. Banning creating fire on Shabbat was a way of getting the Israelites to live in a completely different world for one day each week. Difference was what emphasized individuality and spirituality. The two factors that have preserved our separate culture to this day.

3/05/2015

Shabbat Ki Tisa

Candles Friday 6th at 5:32pm
Havdalah 8th at 6:30pm

Next Shabbat 14th March former Ambassador and Member of the Knesset and visiting professor in foreign affairs at Yeshivah University, Danny Ayalon, will be speaking.

This week we read about the Golden Calf and then Moses going back up the mountain to receive the second copy of the Ten Commandments, carved into stone. This is the third quite separate narrative in the Torah that describes the process of the revelation of Torah.

Uniquely here, after the second period of forty days and nights that Moses spent communing with God, when he comes down his face is so distorted with rays of light that the people are scared to look at him. So he puts on a mask to cover his face and only takes it off when he communes with God. What is going on here?

Clearly what Moses experienced with God was something so powerful that it changed the way he looked. Perhaps his eyes were wild with ecstasy. Perhaps his skin shone with enlightenment. Or if one wants to be rational, the two sets of forty days and nights of fasting made him look positively skeletal. Whatever, it was, Moses had to cover his face when talking to the people.

One explanation is that genuine spiritual experience makes us forget the mundane controls of ordinary life. In our excitement we can sometimes look and behave strangely. Our eyes move and oscillate. Our bodies sway and contort. This is one of the reasons given for covering eyes when we say the Shemah or when the priests bless us so as not to distract those who might be looking at us.

Normally in most societies masks are there to disguise, or used to make one look fierce or powerful. Here uniquely the mask is used to make Moses appear more human, not less. In spiritual terms the mask reminds us that in our daily dealings we disguise ourselves, we put on masks all the time, not literally but figuratively. Often these masks get in the way of being a spiritual person. The aim of every spiritual person is to try to remove as much or as many of the masks as possible.

2/27/2015

Shabbat Tetzaveh, Shabbat Zachor

Candles Friday 27th 5:25pm
Havdalah 28th 6:21pm
Megillah Wednesday Night 6:45pm at Park East

The Shabbat before Purim is always called Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance when we recall the unprovokeed irrational and cruel assault of Amalek on defenseless stragglers on their way out of Egypt. Amalek no longer exists. But Amalek signifies to us irrational hatred, prejudice, anti- Semitism.

We have suffered from it for thousands of years. The story of Esther and Haman’s desire to kill the Jews simply because they were different, dates back tothe Persian Empire in the century after Cyrus the Great.

But the fact is that ever since, whether under Christianity, Islam or Marxism, anti-Semitism has flourished. We have always had to fight for our survival except for afew exceptional centuries in between. Since the Second World War in Europeand America, as caring people reacted to the crimes of the Nazis we haveexperienced unprecedented freedom from discrimination although not fromsecret or covert anti-Semitism.

The revival of Jew hatred we are now witnessing in many areas of the Westernworld of course Islam makes the previous seventy years seem like a Golden Era.

But we will survive primarily because we remember who we are and what ourhistory is. The obligation to remember is an obligation not only to recall but alsoto ensure that we do not capitulate. That is why it is necessary to go on cryingfrom the rooftops about the dangers and the challenges of our opponents. Keeping quiet is never a solution.

That is what Purim reminds us of. Mordechai thought that if he told Esther not toreveal her Jewish background this would help. But in the end he came to realizethat being Jewish was not something to turn away from but something to beproud of.

2/19/2015

Shabbat Terumah

Candles 5:16pm
Havdalah 6:13pm

Remember the Gohari and Dror families are giving us a big Kiddush this coming Shabbat. Please bring your friends.

What are we to make of the two golden Cherubs the Torah commanded Moshe to have made to be placed on top of the Ark? The Torah says they faced each other from the edges of the Ark and their wings spread over the cover of the Ark. covered the Ark. Anyone familiar with archaeology will know that throughout the Middle East thousands of years ago, kings, priests and animals were depicted with wings. It is thought that the wings represented rising above the material world or that they indicated Divine power.

But if the Torah is so insistent that we may neither make nor have images of anything on earth, in the Heavens or Seas, why these Cherubs? The Midrash explains that the cherubs represented not gods but the Jewish people under God. When the people were united so too were the Cherubs. But when they were divided, the Cherubs remained apart too.

In early philosophy there was a debate as to how we humans learned things. Augustine said that we are born with a brain like a clean sheet and over time it gets written on as we experience new things. In fact Pirkei Avot says something like this comparing learning in one's youth to writing on a clean sheet.

But if we only learn from what we experience where does instinct come in and imagination? Where do we get the idea of flying unicorns or Dumbo from? The answer is that the brain combines elements it has seen to put together something fantastical.

Precisely because there are no flying human bodies, that is why this image was used to convey the idea that religious experience, too, is quite unlike anything we humans come across in our normal physical lives. In order to appreciate the Divine, we need to soar above the physical world, using our imagination and sense of poetry and wonder. We humans have the spiritual imagination, if only we use it, to rise above the mundane.

2/12/2015

Shabbat Mishpatim

Mevarchin Rosh Chodesh Adar next Friday
Candles 5:08pm
Havdalah 6:04 pm

“And they saw God and then they ate and drank.”

The Torah repeats part of the narrative of the Sinai revelation that we read last week. It is common for the Torah to go over a story and add new dimensions in order to convey additional lessons.

Last week we were told that the people had to wait at the bottom of the mountain while Aharon and the priests went half way up and only Moshe climbed to the summit to commune with God and receive the Torah. This week, towards the very end, we are told the Seventy Elders went up with the priests as well. And they “saw” God. By that is meant that they experienced a degree of enlightenment far more intense than the rest of the people down below.

But why does it say they then ate and drank?

Some people think that experiencing God or a mystical reality raises them up automatically to a higher level than ordinary mortals. But it does not in the sense that they still have to eat and drink and do all the physical things that everyone else has to. They are not super humans.

The fact that they ate and drank immediately afterwards teaches us that the spiritual world is there to help us live better and more meaningful lives, not necessarily to put us above other people. And this is reflected in the way we go about our lives daily, even in such mundane acts as the way we eat and drink.

Next Shabbat 21st we will be having another monthly special Shabbat Kiddush arranged by the new generation.

And the Purim Megilah will be read on Wednesday Evening March 4th

2/05/2015

Shabbat Yitro

Candles 4:59pm
Havdalah 5:56pm

You might say that this week we get the first example of Business Consultancy in the Torah. Yitro is Moshe’s father in law. He is priest in Midian and obviously successful in his administrative role as well as being a caring moral person as we learn from the way he took a penniless exile into his family.

Moshe worked for him for many years and proved himself trustworthy and effective as a shepherd. But now instead of sheep he has to deal with fractious human beings who argue and fight amongst themselves.

Yitro comes to visit Moshe bringing his family with and sees how Moshe is sitting from dawn to dusk dealing with the problems of the people. Yitro offers his opinion. “You will drive yourself into an early grave if you do not learn how to delegate.” Good leadership does not require dealing with every issue personally as much as seeing that there are good and effective people to delegate to and spread the load.

Yitro did not specify how many men Moshe should choose. But he did specify that they should all be men of moral strength and quality, true and honest who would not take bribes. I wonder how many politicians and leaders this could be said of nowadays, three thousand years later.

It is in the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, that the number was set at 70 and this is the origin of the system that led to the establishment of the Sanhedrin (adding one to ensure there would never be stalemate).

And unlike McKinsey, Bain and other consultants nowadays Yitro charged no fee and asked for no kickbacks.

1/16/2015

Shabbat Vaeyra

Candles Friday 16th 4.34pm
Havdalah 17th 5.30

Shabbat Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Shevat on Wednesday

The protracted negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh that were aimed at forcing him to release the Jews, raises a lot of questions. Why couldn’t God have achieved His ends in one fell swoop, in one go? Why did He give Moses certain signs and wonders to perform that Pharaohs magicians could copy? Why did Pharaoh keep on changing his mind each time he seemed like capitulating? And there are another set of questions that relate to the problem of the Jewish slaves not being very resilient and wanting to give up.

We have a long tradition of trying to read an important message into every narrative.

Some argue that the process was meant to weaken and chip away at Pharaoh’s resolve. Some say it was to persuade the people of the land that they should get rid of the slaves. And there are some who say it was a process that was necessary to convince the demoralized slaves themselves that they could actually overcome the powers they had been subjected to.

I prefer the mystical idea that our relationship with God is one of “Ratsui Veshuv” coming close and then stepping back. Sometimes we feel close and then feel alienated, sometimes joy, sometimes pain as both sides come close but then withdraw. All relationships go through these processes. It is only by slow steps and progress, by repeating and reassuring, one step forward, another back and then forward again that we get closer to the ones we love on earth and God beyond. Things that are worthwhile require a lot of effort and when things go wrong we really should keep on trying rather than giving up.

1/01/2015

Shabbat Veyechi

Candles Friday 4:20pm
Havdalah Saturday 5:16pm

What is a beracha, a blessing? What does it mean?

Just before Jacob dies, he blesses his grandsons Efraim and Menashe. We still use the words he used when we bless our children every Friday night before we sit down to the meal. This in addition of course to the text of the blessing the priests gave the people of Israel in the Temple.

After that Jacob calls all his sons together, not for a blessing “ to tell them what will be in the future.”

Very often the two very different concepts are confused. We think a beracha is some sort of promise or guarantee for the future.

A blessing, a beracha, is not a guarantee that the future will be rosy. It is not a declaration of certainty. It is an expression of love, care and concern. In a similar way when recite a beracha before enjoying anything material in this world we are expressing our gratitude, love and devotion to the Divine source of everything. When we bless our children we express our love and concern for them and the hope that life will be good to them.

What Jacob was telling all his sons was what he saw in their different characters and how that would affect them and their futures. That is a gift of prophecy that none of us have nowadays although a lot of professional mind readers, astrologers and card readers claim to be able to do. The Torah rejects such attempts to pre-empt or predict. Instead it demands of us that we are proactive and do our best to succeed in whatever area it may be. Humans are weak however and often need to find props.

But we all need the support of love that parents, family and friends can give us. And that is what a beracha really does, no more no less.