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.