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.