12/29/2016

Mikeytz - Shabbat Chanukah

Candles Fri 30th December at 4:18 pm
Havdalah 31st at 5:18 pm

Yosef and Chanukah have been linked ever since the Talmud in Shabbat gave us the laws of Chanukah and then went on to talk about Joseph being thrown into the pit which was empty and had no water but did have snakes and scorpions.

You might think the connection between Joseph and the Mikeytz is that, as this week, it often happens that the Torah reading on Shabbat is about Joseph emerging from the pit his brothers threw him into. Then he was thrown into the pit of the prison in Egypt by Potiphar. From all this he emerged to become the master of the country. And this is usually read on the Shabbat of Chanukah where the Jewish people emerged from the heel of alien oppression to gain control of their own destiny when they defeated the Syrian Greeks. A fitting message of hope this week where Obama and Kerry have revealed their antipathy towards Israel blaming it alone for the stalemate in the Middle East.

The Talmud however implies something more. The light of Chanukah lasting as long as it did, defied natural law. Similarly, Joseph being thrown into pit of snakes survived. This too defied nature. The rabbis were eager to stress that survival physically is important but not enough. We need spiritual survival too and that is not a matter of arms or winning wars. And that is why the Haftarah this week contains the message of hope to Zerubavel that he would lead the Jews exiled in Babylon back home “Neither by strength nor buy might but by the spirit of God do the Jews survive.”

And yet in addition to our faith, we must do what we can physically to survive. And Joseph represents this combination.

The more I read about Joseph the more impressed I am. The way he rebounded from one disaster after another, how he worked hard to reach the top time and time again and how when he got there he knew how to keep both his boss and the masses happy, avoid offending entrenched priestly interests, running an economy with booms and busts and avoiding irrational exuberance. And throughout it all, the lows and the high, he preserved his spiritual integrity and values. A poster boy for Jewish talent and adaptability. Yet, clearly he had the spiritual dimension. The faith in God that kept him going.

The fact is the narratives of the Torah lend themselves to multiple possibilities and variations. Sometimes one aspect seems more relevant than the other. But each one of us is invited to find the interpretation that most suits our own predicament and circumstances. The real significance for us of the story is the lesson we draw from it.

12/22/2016

Shabbat Vayeyshev

Candles Friday 23 December 4:12pm
Havdalah 24th 5:07pm
1st Evening/1st light of Chanukah December 24th
Rosh Hodesh Tevet Friday 30th December

There are lots of dreams in the book of Bereishit (Genesis). Last week we read about Jacob’s dream as he ran away from his brother. This week we read about Joseph and his dreams as well as those of the Egyptian Pharaoh and his head baker and his sommelier. Dreams are an important part of all of our lives. But are they significant?

They have always played a very important role in ancient civilizations as oracles, used to predict the future. The Talmud devotes a lot of space to explaining the significance or other wise of dreams. Some rabbis are skeptical. They say dreams depend entirely on interpretations. But these are often either biased or dependent on how much money one is prepared to pay for a good interpretation. Some eve say that every dream contains some nonsense. Others give detailed explanations of what the significance is of events, animals, objects and situations in dreams. Some consider them predictors of the future. People were always on the lookout to take advantage. For opportunities to make money playing on the pain, the insecurity and credulity of simple folk.

The Torah was written long before anyone had heard of Freud and his “Interpretation of Dreams.” But we can apply some of his ideas to explain the dreams mentioned here. Jacob’s angels climbing up to heaven and down clearly reflected his anxiety at leaving the security and protection of his family and his land.

Joseph’s dreams of leadership were fostered by Jacob appointing him as his successor and encouraging his sense of exceptionalism. The butcher and the butler were dreaming about how they had failed in their tasks and were desperate for another chance to prove themselves. And Pharaoh as monarch of a troubled land was worrying about supplies of food for his starving masses and will have been thinking about good years and bad years.

Joseph’s gift was not just for interpretation. His advice was crucial. He might have used his psychological skills to get to the bottom of the dreams. But he used his brain and logic to devise a practical and effective way of dealing with the anxieties and of those who told him their dreams. That was his success.

Dreams tell us a great deal about ourselves. They tell us about things we fear but are reluctant to express. Often dreams of things in the future are no more than our brains describing what we want to happen nor fear happening. They release suppressed anxieties and wishes. Freud taught us not be afraid of them but to use dreams therapeutically to understand ourselves better.

12/15/2016

Shabbat Vayishlah

Candles 4:10pm Friday Dec 16th
Havdalah 5:05 Dec 17th

The Talmud tells us that we should not favor one child over another. Surely this is obvious. Of course, it is not, as this week’s reading illustrates. The Talmud was referring to Joseph’s coat of stripes or colors that marked him out from the other brothers. But really, the problem started before. With Abraham favoring Isaac and Isaac favoring Esau.

Now Jacob is returning home from Haran to face Esau who he assumes still wants to kill him. He divides his camp into different groups to face the oncoming assault. He puts the concubines and their children first, then Leah and hers and finally Rachel and Joseph. Arguing, so says the Torah, that if Esau bent on revenge, takes his anger out on the first groups, he might allow the last to survive.

Just think of the psychological damage this does. A father is prepared to sacrifice ten of his children in the hope that the other may live. No wonder they grew to resent Joseph. And their father too.

My mother always used to tell me she loved me and loved all her children equally. But even so, I always thought she preferred the younger ones. I know it was illogical. Children are illogical and so are most adults. I guess there was nothing my mother could have done or said to reassure me. But I have no doubt my younger siblings thought that I got preferential treatment as the eldest. Sometimes one can never get it right.

Different children have different strengths and weaknesses. We can validate those differences without treating them unfairly. Good parents are aware of the dangers of favoritism.

We are told to take lessons from how our biblical forbears acted, how they treated their children, for better and for worse. But In the end, we take responsibility for our actions.

12/08/2016

Shabbat Vayeytzey

Candles December 9th 4:08pm
Havdalah 10th 5:03pm

Jacob left home. Esau threatened to kill him. But Rebekah could not say anything negative about him to her husband because Esau was his favorite. So, she claimed that Jacob had to leave to find a wife, as Isaac had, back home in Ur.

It’s an interesting side note, that despite the family being economic migrants and now were in the third generation of living in their adopted country, they still thought of Ur as their “home” both physically and culturally. Bad as Laban might have been, they still preferred his family to the local Canaanites.

But the main and recurring theme over these weeks of Torah reading, is the use of language, to mislead, to impress, to cover up intentions and to deceive. Language, Lashon, comes from the word for the tongue. The tongue is only the mouth piece of the mind. And the human mind is an enormously unpredictable and unreliable organ. It is best at deceiving itself! We humans are notoriously credulous and unreliable.

In the end the only thing we can judge are actions. How people behave. And the fact is that we are able to differentiate and the Torah differentiates between people whose actions are positive and humane and those whose actions are only self-serving. We judge by the results, not the words. And by what is better for humans, for society and for values.

12/01/2016

Shabbat Toldot

Candles December 2nd 4:10pm
Havdalah December 3rd 5:05pm

The character of Ishmael is ambiguous. He made fun of Isaac. He was driven out and went to live a life of preying on others. Yet his home became the home of Isaac, Be’er LeChai Roi and together Isaac and Esau buried their father and the hatchet. Similarly, Esau. He is ambiguous.

We see him first as a devious hunter, in contrast to the straighter, home body Jacob. He is a man of instant gratification. He wants his soup now at any cost. He disregards the responsibilities of the Birth Right. He marries against his parents’ wishes. He is too impetuous to be a good leader. But he is not all bad. He is a good son, serving game to his father. When he is denied the Blessing, he cries. And in the end, we know he will be reconciled to Jacob.

So why does the Midrash (the tradition of explaining the Torah texts) set out to make both of them all negative with no shred of good. Ishmael is a thief and a bully. Esau ids a rapist, a lier and a killer.

One answer may be the historical. Ishmael was associated with Islam, Esau with Rome and Christianity. When the Midrashim were compiled both empires were oppressing the Jews. Esau and Ishmael were codes for the causes of their suffering. Making them out to be completely evil was therapeutic and comforting.

But the Midrash itself also says that we judge people by the results, by their legacy. It is possible to say that all of the characters in the Torah are ambiguous, with different sides to their characters. What matters are the results. And if they are negative, if the succeeding generations fail in their moral missions, it is a reflection on their progenitors.

11/25/2016

Shabbat Hayey Sarah

Candles Friday 25th
November 4:11pm
Havdalah 26th 5:06pm

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Kislev
Thursday December 1st

Life goes on. Yitzhak must have been traumatized by his near sacrifice. His mother has died and now Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzhak.

Last week the Torah repeated the story of Avraham telling Sarah to say she was his sister to save them both. First from Pharaoh and then from Avimelech. In each case, there are significant differences that illuminate the background of the cultures they encounter, how facts are interpreted and how information is gathered.

This week we have the story of how Avraham bought the cave at Machpela. Two versions of what happened. Avrahams and Efron’s. Two sides to the negotiations. Then there’s the story of Eliezer’s quest for a wife for his master’s son. Again, two versions. Why does the Torah repeat narratives? It is carelessness? Surely not. Oral traditions are passed on and so are written texts. They always have a purpose, a message and a lesson. Sometimes the subject matter is wars and heroes. Sometimes the triumphs of Kings. Here it is the struggle to follow a spiritual and ethical way of life, one that is determine by God rather than humans.

First the Torah describes the mission, the instructions and the possible outcomes. Then after the events Eliezer repeats the events in talking to Rivkah’s family. There are differences. For example, Avraham says nothing about the test at the well of asking the girls for water. Avraham says nothing about his family whereas Eliezer does.

The commentators suggest that repetitions are intentional. In life, there are always different ways of looking at events. And human beings are different and react differently according to the situations we find ourselves in. There is a difference between Eliezer the servant, obedient to his master. And Eliezer the man, who interprets his master’s wishes and then responds to circumstances, using initiative rather than simply following instructions.

The Torah expects obedience but it also values proactivity and human agency.

11/17/2016

Shabbat Vayeyra

Candles November 18th 4:15pm
Havdalah November 19th 5:09pm

Sarai is barren. In a kind of precursor of surrogacy, her maid Hagar gives birth to a child fathered by Avram. Last week we saw the tension rise between mistress and slave, and Hagar runs away.

At a well called Be’er LeChai Roi (a well where I see life), she is reassured by a Divine message that her son, Yishmael, will survive and be a great ma. But meanwhile she should go back and accept her position.

This week matters get worse. When Yitzchak is born, Yishmael makes fun. Sarai thinks he will be a bad influence and asks Avraham to send mother and child away. Avraham resists. Surprising, given his relationship with Sarai. But God tells him to do as she says.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. They wander in the desert. One is again surprised that Avraham did not set them up in a safe location or indeed make better provision for them. But one is also surprised that Hagar, thinking that Ishmael is dying, puts him under a bush and goes and sits further away to see what will happen. It sounds very much like Miriam standing from afar to see what happens to baby Moshe. But here it sounds that Hagar is either bereft of feeling or so distressed that she is in a state of denial.

Then she sees the well. The same well as before, B’eer Lechai Roi, and everything ends happily. They set up home there, and Yishmael thrives. Not only, but later on this is the very place where Yitschak comes to live. They are reconciled and get on together.

So the whole thing seems is staged. Hagar knew where she was going. Avraham knew she would be taken care of, and it all ends happily. Until three-and-half-thousand years later!!!

11/03/2016

Shabbat Noach

Candles Friday Nov 4th 5:28pm
Havdalah 5th 6:22pm

After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard (Genesis Chapter 9.20). He makes wine, gets drunk and ends up naked on the floor of his tent. His grandson Canaan sees him and runs to tell his father and uncles. They do not want to see their father naked and so they take a sheet between two and walk backwards until they have covered him. When Noah wakes “he realizes what Canaan has done to him.” We are not told what he did. The Midrash suggests a range of salacious possibilities, from rape to castration. Either way Noah curses Canaan. Later, in the Torah, Abraham’s nephew Lot, too, will get drunk and commit incest with his daughters.

On one level this narrative hints as to why the Canaanite tribes were regarded as corrupt and dispossessed by the Israelites. They were sexually corrupt.

But on another level, it tells us of the dangers of alcohol. Whereas the Torah insists on using wine as part of religious ceremonial, it also warns of the dangers of getting drunk.

Sigmund Freud accused Moses of being a killjoy. But Moses allowed alcohol. He just knew its risks and limitations. The Torah wants us to enjoy life but to be aware of what can happen if we do not exercise discretion.

We see in our times how much alcohol is responsible for sexual crimes, particularly at colleges. I suggest it is because if kids are forbidden to drink alcohol, when they do get a chance, they go overboard. But if as in most Jewish families, one is allowed alcohol in moderation and under defined conditions, drunkenness is less prevalent. Similarly, if you are careful with whom you drink, you will be more likely to avoid bad company and less likely to be seduced away from Jewish life.

10/20/2016

Shabbat & Succot Timetable

Friday, October 21st
Candles 5:47pm

Shabbat, October 22nd
Service 9:30am
Kiddush in Suca 11:30am
Class on Book of Samuel 12:30pm

Sunday, October 23rd
Candles 5:43pm

Shmini Atzeret, October 24th
Service 9:30am
Candles 6:37pm
Evening Service 6:00pm

Simchat Torah, October 25th
Service 9:30am
Dancing 11:45am
Lunch 12:30pm

10/06/2016

REVISED Timetable for Yom Kipur 2016

TUESDAY October 11th
Yom Kipur
Candles/Fast Begins 6:03 pm
Kol Nidrei 6:30pm


WEDNESDAY October 12th
Yom Kipur
Shacharit 9:30 am
Torah 10:45 am
Musaf 11:45 am
Sermon 12:45 pm
Mincha 4:00 pm
Neila 5:30 pm
Fast ends 6:55 pm

Please remember not to bring cell phones to the synagogue and to respect the atmosphere for those who wish to pray and mediate. If you want to talk, please do so outside the sanctuary. And please ask your children play outside and not disturb those praying. Thank You.

Shabbat Vayeylech, Shabbat Shuvah

Candles Friday 7th October 6:09pm
Havdalah 8th 7:01pm

The Shabbat in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur is always called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Repentance. In medieval and early modernity together with Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach, these were the only times the rabbi of a community would give a public sermon. Otherwise the rabbi was a scholar you interacted with to study or to help you solve your problems. Before Pesach he spoke about the laws of Pesach and on Shabbat Shuva he talked about the importance of repentance.

Now you might wonder why we need to talk so much about repentance? Selihot during Ellul, Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kipur. Why in addition do we need a special Shabbat? Some might argue we are such sinners that we need this and more. Besides for all the days we talk about repenting, very few sinners actually seem to repent at all.

The Torah actually never talks about repentance, Teshuvah, in the way we use it today. It uses it only in terms of returning to God and indeed of God returning to us. And even on Yom Kipur the Torah only talks about Kapara, atonement. Not Teshuvah. And we know that atonement is different in that it requires one repaying the loss or damage one has done to other humans and asking for their forgiveness. Kapara therefore is transactional. Teshuvah on the other hand, seems emotional, spiritual, getting closer to someone, to God. And Teshuvah can apply to a whole nation, a whole people. It is a different phenomenon to Kapara. It is one that should be with us permanently, every day, week and month.

Teshuvah, as we use the word now, was a rabbinic innovation, an attempt to say to people that just as it is important to relate to humans , so we must try to relate to God or to Torah or to the Jewish people. Of course that is implicit in the Torah. But given the long history of Jews abandoning Torah and the Jewish people, the rabbis of the Talmudic era obviously thought it important to try to emphasize the positive aspect of Teshuvah. Not just to atone for mistakes. But to create a more positive relationship. And that, as we know takes time, whether with people or an ideal; every day, Shabbat, as well as Festivals.

9/29/2016

Timetable for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur 2016/ 5777

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

ROSH HASHANA

Erev Rosh Hashana
Candles 6.17pm Evening service 7 pm

1st Day Rosh Hashana Monday 3rd October
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Shofar 11.30 am
Musaf 11.40 pm
Sermon 12.45 pm
Evening service 6.30 pm

2nd Day Rosh Hashana Tuesday 4th October
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Shofar 11.30am
Musaf 11.40 pm
Sermon 12.45 pm
Festival ends 7.08pm

Shabbat Shuva 7th October
Candles for Shabbat 6.09 pm
Shabbat Morning 8th October, services as usual
Havdalah 7.01pm

YOM KIPUR

Yom Kipur Kol Nidrei Tuesday 11th
Candles Fast Begins 6.02 pm
Mincha 6.30 pm & Kol Nidrei 6.45pm

Yom Kipur Wednesday 12th
Shacharit 9.30 am
Torah 10.45 am
Musaf 12.00 am
Sermon 1.15pm
Mincha 3.00 pm
Neilah 5.00pm Fast ends 6.05 pm

Please remember not to bring cell phones to the synagogue and to respect the atmosphere for those who wish to pray and mediate. If you want to talk, please do so outside the sanctuary. And please ask your children play outside and not disturb those praying. Thank You.

Shabbat Nitzavim

Candles Friday 30th September 6:20pm
Havdalah 7:15pm

Cy Aminzadeh’s Bar Mitzvah
Services this coming Shabbat only will be held at
The Pratt House
58 East 68th Street (South West corner with Park Lane)

There are several “contracts” between God and Israel in the Torah. But this final one includes a new idea, that of choice. “You may think you are blessed (if you do not want to accept this contract) and be in peace, for I am only following my heart’s desire (free will).” That looks like a reasonable deal. But then the Torah goes on to warn such a person that abandoning God will have awful consequences. Is there not a contradiction between the right to choose and the threat of disaster of the choice is a wrong one?

The Torah, given its age and context, presents God to us as a positive source of love and on the other hand as an authority. A parent, combining love and authority. We may bridle at the idea of an authority telling us what to do. But is this not how all parents have to function? Everyone knows one’s child will have the freedom to make his or her own choices to some degree. How often do children indeed rebel against their parents. Parents may know the consequences of giving a child freedom, of imposing no constraints, of not trying to argue against decisions. So we say to kids, “it is your choice but I warn you. It is not going turn out so well.” Sometimes parents are wrong. But very often children regret the lack of guidance from parents as much as too much.

Thousands of years ago, as today, the challenge is between having standards and values as opposed to self-indulgence and no constraints. The value systems are the ones that we are being asked to choose and fight for. Because, as the saying goes “No Pain, No Gain.”

9/22/2016

Shabbat Ki Tavo

Candles Friday 23rd September at 6:30pm
Havdalah 24th at 7:24pm

There’s a very unusual ceremony in this week’s part of the Torah. When the tribes cross over the river Jordan and settle on the West Bank they were commanded to gather on the two mountains, Gerizim and Eval, which can be found near the city now called Nablus. To this day they are considered holy by the Samaritans. Their Temple was on Gerizim. This was because these mountains are actually mentioned in the Torah. Unlike Mount Zion which is only hinted at.

Ceremony consisted of tribes divided into two groups, six tribes on each mountain. The priests stood in the valley between with the Ark. And they turned to the group on Gerizim and proclaimed a blessing for those who did the right thing. And then they turned to Mount Eyval and proclaimed a curse for those who did not. And everyone answered “Amen.” In this context the curses and the blessings simply meant that one path would be positive and beneficial and the other would be negative and destructive.

The Torah gives a list of actions starting with “A person who makes and idol in secret” and on through a list of other forbidden acts, like adultery, theft, dishonesty and adultery that usually are done secretly rather than in the open.

One is bound to wonder why it wasn’t enough just to bless those who keep the Torah in general and curse those who do not. Why focus specifically on actions that are secret, done in private?

We don’t know if this event ever took place. There is no record. So as with many things in the Torah we are left to discover its significance and relevance to us now. But clearly the Torah is warning people in general against being deceitful and two faced if they wanted to establish an ethical and just society.

I suggest that it is brilliantly relevant. In this era of social media we tell the world a lot about ourselves. We like to show everyone our good and the positive side. But we hide the secret and the negative. Some people don't seem to know the difference between private and public. And some have no sense of shame.

What the Torah tells is that what you do in private determines the person you really are. We can all put on a good public face. It is when no one is watching that we reveal who we really are.

9/15/2016

Shabbat Ki Teytzey

Candles Friday Sept. 16th 6:42pm
Havdalah 17th 7:36pm

What happens when a marriage breaks down irretrievably? The Torah in this week’s reading and the Talmud both say that if there is a genuine grievance, and it is not just frivolous, then one may divorce. One appears before a Rabbinic Court of Law, a Beth Din. Terms have to be agreed for financial affairs and settlements and care of any children. Then the scribe writes out the wording of the divorce bill, called a Get. It is handed to the woman. She must agree to accept it. Then after waiting a short while, both parties may marry again. Problems may arise where a husband abandons the religion and refuses to grant a divorce, but that is an issue for some other time.

Here I am concerned with the very idea of divorce. In many Christian communities, divorce is never acceptable. You know the famous phrase that is still used occasionally in their ceremonies that couple promise to love each other “till death do us part.” Judaism does not take that view. There are few guarantees in life, and the reason given for allowing divorce is the famous phrase “Love Your Neighbor.” Which is followed by “Do not hate your brother (or sister) in your heart.” We must do whatever we can to avoid hatred and tension. They are debilitating. Where two people end up hating each other, we must strive to give them both an opportunity to live without debilitating negativity that can take the joy out of life.

Divorce is not something Judaism welcomes. A happy marriage is the greatest of gifts. But marriage is not easy. We believe that relationships need to be worked on. One has to persevere. And children need a loving, stable environment. But people change. People make mistakes. Life is rarely perfect, and most of us have to overcome one sort of disadvantage or another. But if one has genuinely tried, the Torah allows for a couple to split. As the book of Proverbs says, “Better to live on the edge of a roof in peace than in a magnificent house where there is argument and strife.”

9/08/2016

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles Friday September 9th 6:54pm
Havdalah 10th 7:47

This week the Torah we read, Shoftim, contains the main elements of the Jewish Judicial process.

It includes the important proviso that if there is anything unclear in Jewish law, any unresolved disputes or new issues that have to be decided upon, one approaches the Judicial authorities for a binding “learned opinion.” It is, in its way, like having a Supreme Court.

The Torah suggests that such a court be made up either of Priests or Judges. Both types of were entrusted by the Torah with the management of the law after Moses. Over time both priests and biblical Judges, one representing religious authority, the other the civil, changed. Either because they were not longer necessary (the Temple was destroyed) or superseded (by kings).

Two thousand years ago the role of deciding on law and custom, was transferred to the great Talmudic rabbis. They included brilliant men of fierce integrity, knowledge and authority and their decisions have remained the core of our constitution. The Torah if you like is the constitution. What the rabbis introduced was like the amendments to the constitution.

Over time, as we were scattered, the authority of a single institution disappeared. Each community and its rabbis made their own decisions as circumstances arose. All based of course on or derived from the constitution. But adding according to custom and circumstance.

Now we no longer have a single authority. However, the constitution remains intact. But nowadays we have no final Court of Appeal. And that is what explains all the differences even amongst the most Orthodox. In one way the lack of unanimity and authority is confusing and complicated. But in another, we have the advantage of variety and alternatives.

It is now up to us as to decide which authority we choose to obey or which community we join. And indeed the Talmud approved of this, saying that each person should “Get their own rabbi,” that is, someone to consult. But they also said one should not just go from one rabbi to another until one gets the answer one is looking for!

9/01/2016

Shabbat Re’eh

Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 2nd 7:06pm
Havdalah 3rd 7:59pm

What was the role of the Prophet? It was to convince people to behave in a good and spiritual way. It is true that some of them, particularly in the early days, performed miracles. But Moses is known for his words not the miracles, that anyway never seemed to have had a long term effect.

This week we have the law of the false prophet. If someone calling himself a prophet comes and performs miracles and the aim of these miracles is to get us to abandon our religion and our people, we must not listen to him. This is a test of our faith. Very strange. So miracles do not mean anything unless the message is the right one.

What then was the point of the miracles in the bible? There is a difference between God’s miracles and those of humans. Human beings are adept at illusion and delusion, tricks that seem like miracles but are not. But people who do not know the tricks can easily be fooled. It is true some people are so insecure they need miracles. But really it is the message that counts.

We do not think people are great because they play tricks or make predictions that may or may not come true. We do not idolize or sanctify. That is why none of the primary figures of other religions impress us. Moses was and is great because of the Torah and it is the Torah that defines us. False prophets pretend to be what they are not. We must beware, even of those who seem outwardly to be religious. As the Torah tells, we need to look beneath the surface.

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It is traditional to start saying Selihot during the month of Ellul in preparation for Rosh Hashannah. Selichot are poems, written in medieval times that remind us of our obligation to be good people and to ask God for forgiveness for ignoring His commands. As for other human beings, we must ask them to forgive us directly. It is quality that matters not quantity. Better to say a little every day, even one line, and think about it than to say a lot of meaningless words just for the sake of it.

8/25/2016

Shabbat Eykev

Candles Friday 26th August 7:17pm
Havdalah 27th 8:15pm
Rosh Hodesh Ellul next Shabbat and Sunday

“If you obey my commands…then I will send the rains in good time.” The Second Paragraph of the Shema implies a direct correlation between keeping God’s commandments and being rewarded with the world’s bounty and thriving. Conversely, betraying God brings about destruction and the failure of the physical world to produce food.

On a rational level this does not make sense, nor do we see any such strict correlation in real life. Quite the contrary. Bad people often do well and you could say that Israel has flourished when non-religious secular Jews applied themselves to improving its agricultural productivity. Success often relies on international trade and factors that have nothing to do with being a good, spiritual person.

One response is to say that this is all metaphorical. What the Torah is talking about is mental attitude, not reward and punishment. That when one feels closer to God, one looks at the world and one’s own life, more positively. One feels blessed, more content and at ease. Whereas anxiety, depression, and frustration are all the hallmarks of a materialist society.

Another is that this is not meant personally but nationally. As a people we thrive when we are united in our mission and our heritage. Otherwise we are divided and in a state of conflict.

But another way of looking at this text is historical and archaeological. All the declarations of ancient Mesopotamian and Persian kings included a very specific formula. It went like this. “If you obey me, your king, and keep my laws and treaties I will protect you. The rains will come in their time. The land will be fruitful and your wives. You will have plenty to eat and drink. You will be happy and content. But if you reject me as your king and disobey my rules, the rains will not come, the land will be destroyed and there will be no food and you will be killed and your children enslaved.”

In other words, the Torah is using language that would have been familiar in its day as the formulaic contract between a monarch and his people rather, a contract between God and Israel rather than a statement of theological truth.

8/18/2016

Shabbat VaEthanan

Candles Friday 19th August 7:27pm
Havdalah 20th at 8:21pm

This week’s reading includes a repeat of the Ten Commandments and the Shema. Taken together, the first declaration of the Ten Commandments “I am the God who has taken you out of Egypt “and the Shema “Listen Israel, God is your God and there is only One God” we have the very core of Jewish ideas. We do not have complicated theologies telling us in detail how and what to believe, just these very basic general concepts.

In each statement there are two separate ideas. “I am God” is an existentialist statement. That there is such a thing as God. It is then up to us to find a way of making sense of this idea but more than that of trying to experience it. You can try to compel people to act. You can insist on behavior and then check to see if someone acts on it or not. But it is very hard to find out if someone really does believe in an idea even if they say they do. So “I Am” is like saying “I am your father or your mother.” That is the situation. The House of Israel has been associated with God one way or another for thousands of years. But it is up to you as an individual whether you want to have a relationship with your father or mother or not!

The Second part of the statement “I took you out of Egypt.” It is a reference to the past. God exists in history. Once again it is up to you whether you want to be part of that historical chain or not. The Torah can encourage but it cannot force.

And so with the Shema. God is connected to Israel, to the Jewish people. It is up to you whether you can or want to identify with them. And secondly there is only one God. God requires obedience to this single idea. You can’t be loyal to conflicting interests. Loyalty has to be unique. That means not worshipping other gods, other values, other ways of life.

Both of these are so hard and yet both are so rewarding. But they involve making positive decisions. They don’t happen accidentally or without effort. They invite you to commit. To be part of a great spiritual and physical project.

8/11/2016

Shabbat Devarim

Candles 7:37pm
Havdalah 8:31pm
Fast of Tisha B’Av Starts Saturday 8pm. Ends Sunday 8:27pm
Maariv and Lamentations Saturday night at 9pm

The Ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av is the most important fast in our calendar after Yom Kipur. It commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the loss of our land twice in our history. In 586 BCE at the hands of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. And in 70 CE by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus his son.

For Persian Jewry, exile to what was first Babylon and then became part of the Persian Empire, was the start of the history of the longest lasting community outside Israel. It had its ups and downs, periods of peace and periods of oppression. But it is a heritage we are justly very proud of.

There are many Persian traditions that other communities do not have. Particularly in respect of Mordechai and Esther. But one I had never heard of before I joined our community was that of Sarach Bat Asher. She is mentioned in the Torah as Jacob’s granddaughter. But whenever a woman is mentioned in the Bible it is always because she was a remarkable and impressive person in her own right even when new may have lost the specific details of her achievements.

The Midrash says she was the longest living female ever and that she was present when Joseph died. She was the only person three hundred years later who knew where he was buried so that his bones could be taken out of Egypt and buried in Israel. I don’t think we are meant to take this literally any more than another strictly Persian story.

Sarach it seems discovered an underground passage all the way to Babylon that enabled the exiles to travel to their new homes avoiding the scorching heat of the desert. The idea behind these stories is the importance of memory and tradition.

The Talmud tells that on both occasions when our temples and land were destroyed it was because we were let down both by our political and our religious leaders who made bad decisions and by the uncharitable and selfish attitude of our own people.

We will fast on Saturday night and Sunday and pray we learn from our mistakes.

Shabbat Shalom and fast well.

7/28/2016

Shabbat Pinhas

Candles July 29th 7:54pm
Havdalah 30th 8:48pm
Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Av Friday August 5th

After dealing with Pinhas and his dramatic action to stop the moral collapse of the Israelite princes and a serious plague, the Torah switches to a census of the remaining Israelites. It seems a totally unconnected transition. The clue to the link lies in the fact that this time, the census focuses on families. Each tribe is broken down into family units.

The Bible establishes three units. The Nation, the Children of Israel, which is broken down into Tribes and Tribes are divided into Families. On the face of it this conflicts with the administrative division that Jethro recommended that the people be subdivided into “thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18.25).

That division that Jethro recommended was purely administrative. It could be used for the military, for taxation and to apply justice as well as social services. It was a system that the government, in whichever form, could apply. It was a tool of leadership whoever or whatever the leadership was.

Tribes were a more religious, historical and cultural level of divisions. Each with its own territory, religious functions and histories. The leader, Moses, had to exercise control at the national level. The princes of the tribes exercised it on a personal level. But tribes were large, some 60,000 strong. It was left to families to take on the responsibility for moral values and bringing up the children.

The Crisis with Midian attacked the core of the family unit. If husbands were abandoning their homes and families for idolatry and prostitution, the whole family unit would suffer. And if they were behaving this way, clearly their parents had not succeeded in passing family values on. They had it seems left all of this to Moses. They had relinquished their roles. Which of course is what happens in all dictatorships, all authoritarian regimes. The trouble is that when this happens, the collapse is all the more dramatic. It is up to families to take responsibility for their children. Not to leave it to society in general.

7/21/2016

Shabbat Balak

Candles Friday 22nd July 8:01pm
Havdalah 23rd 8:55pm
Fast of Shivah Assar Be Tammuz
Starts Sunday morning 4:15am
Ends at 8:55pm

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6) Five calamities befell the Jewish people on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:

Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai after they made the Golden Calf
The daily tamid sacrifice could not be brought because the Babylonian siege cut off supplies to the Temple
The walls of Jerusalem were breached (the first step towards the destruction of the Temple), and Apostomus burned a Torah scroll
An idol was erected in the Temple.

There is so much here that is both contradictory and historically uncertain. Which Temple was it? When was the tamid sacrifice discontinued? Who was Apostomus? The answer is we do not know for certain!

The Babylonian Talmud places the second and fifth tragedies in the First Temple but dates the breach of Jerusalem to the Second Temple period.
Jerusalem of the First Temple, on the other hand, was breached on the 9th of Tammuz. However, the Jerusalem Talmud states that the breach of Jerusalem in the First Temple occurred on 17th Tammuz.

Apostomus according to Josephus was a Roman soldier in 50 ACE who seized a Torah-scroll and, burned it in public. But the burning of a Torah came later at the time of the Hadrianic persecutions when Chanania ben Teradyon, one of the most distinguished men of the time, was wrapped in a Torah-scroll and burned. According to the Jerusalem Talmud Apostomus burned the Torah at the narrow pass of Lydda. Others suggest that Apostomus was no other than Antiochus Epiphanes and another opinion is that "Apostomus" is the Hebrew transcription for the Latin "Faustinus," and that the name of Julius Severus, who was sent by Hadrian to put down the Bar Cochba rebellion, in which case the setting up of an idol in the sanctuary would have to be taken to refer to the dedication of a temple of Zeus upon the consecrated ground of the Temple.

The fact is we do not know. So why do we still insist on keeping the fast? The answer simply is this. The Seventeenth of Tammuz is the start of a three-week period of sadness and mourning that culminates with Tisha B’Av when both Temples, both Jewish States were destroyed and the people exiled.

In both cases Rabbinic tradition says that we were the cause of our own downfall because we were divided, politically and socially. The rich did not care for the poor. Half the Jews were opposed to the other half. The many of the rabbis were corrupt and we made the wrong decisions because we allowed the mob, popular opinion to influence policies.

That message is so true today. Just as relevant as it ever was. Whether in Israel or the USA. That is why we fast to examine ourselves to see if we can improve, be better and avoid the mistakes and tragedies of the past.

7/14/2016

Shabbat Chukat

Candles Friday 15th at 8:06pm
Havdalah 16th at 9pm

We are having a special Kiddush this week kindly donated by Mar & Mrs. Anonymous in memory of their parents.

There is a crisis, in this week’s Torah reading, as happens often with the children of Israel. Once again they are complaining about Moses and his leadership. We think we are divided and self-destructive. Believe me it was worse then. In response there is a plague of poisonous snakes. Moses made a bronze snake, put it up on a pole, and whenever people looked at it, they were cured. We think the symbol of medicine, the snake entwining a pole, comes from Greece, but clearly it has earlier origins.

The rabbis were disturbed at the implication of this. “Can images of snakes really cure people?” they asked in the Mishna. But “when they looked up at the image their thoughts were conducted upwards to God and that was what cured them.” The symbol itself was not important. It was the function of getting people to think of God and by doing that they themselves became better people, they felt more uplifted and spiritual and this helped them recover. A sort of faith healing process.

Sadly, as often happens, people come to think that the symbol itself is what cures. And that was why King Hezekiah destroyed the snake because people were worshipping it (2nd Kings 18 & Talmud Brachot 10a).

Today most people I meet seem to think the Mezuzah is a kind of magic talisman that protects one’s home. It is not! The point of the Mezuzah is that it reminds us of the Torah, parts of which are on the scroll inside. If our homes are run along Jewish lines, it this that gives us blessings and helps us cope with the tragedies of life and uplifts us. But the Mezuzah itself is not what protects us magically.

(The Hazzan will be away this Shabbat so those of you who don’t like my style of reading from the Torah, etc., better take a week off!)

6/30/2016

Shabbat Shelah Leha

Candles Friday 1st July 8:11 pm
Havdalah 2nd 9:06 pm
Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Tammuz Wednesday & Thursday

Ten spies came back from Canaan and said “We can’t do It” (Numbers 13:31). Two said “Yes we can” (Numbers 14:8). Now I agree it’s not quite the same percentage as 48% saying let’s stay in Europe and 52% who said “No Thank You.” But parables are never 100% exact neither are analogies. But they can make a point.

“OK,” said Moses, “let’s take a vote.” And the majority said, “No, thank you. We’d rather go back to the way it was.” (Numbers 14:2) Moses said, “I am terribly sorry but the Egyptians don’t want you back any more, at least not on your terms. So you are now stuck. You don’t want to go forward and you can’t go back. It’s going to take another generation until we sort this mess out.” (Numbers 14:33).

“Oh no,” they said, “how terrible. We have changed our minds we really do want to go up.” (Numbers 14:39).

Moses replied, “Sorry, too late, you can’t. They don’t want to negotiate” (Numbers 14:41).

The people who complained insisted, “Let us try anyway, perhaps they will let us in after all” (Numbers 14:44).

“Well it is on your own heads,” said Moses. And sure enough they got a walloping (Numbers 14 :45).

And so it took a whole generation until the millennials got into power and decided to go in after all and undo the mess their parents had made (Numbers 14:33).

The moral of the story is that you do not leave major decisions to the mob to decide. Democracy means having sensible leaders who are not afraid to make unpopular decisions, not those who leave difficult decisions to a popular referendum. It was true of Moses and its true of us. If the popular vote messed up Britain just make sure it doesn't mess up the USA too!

Happy Independence Day, 4th of July.

6/23/2016

Shabbat Behaaloteha

Candles Friday June 24th 8:11pm
Havdalah June 25th 9:06pm

Moses is having difficulty managing the fractious, rebellious Children of Israel. His solution is to empower seventy elders to share the burden. But they need to be very special men and inspired as well. The candidates are gathered together in the Tent of Assembly but two men Eldad and Medad, who should have been there, were left outside. We are not told why. The Talmud says they were modest and wanted to avoid leadership positions. Although they showed all the qualities of leadership and inspiration, because they chose to remain outside and were talking about leadership and its responsibilities, they appeared to be a threat to Moses’s authority.

Joshua his zealous assistant wanted to remove them. Moses said no. “If only everyone was a prophet and all people were inspired by the Divine spirit.”

What an impressive man he was. He had no problem with challenges. If the motive was right, then criticism or another point of view was only to be valued. But he went further. His was an amazingly egalitarian point of view. Some people get appointed to high office. Some do not. But everyone can be inspired and be a good person no matter whether they play a public or a private role. Everyone has the capacity for greatness in one way or another. Just as any parent, rabbi, or teacher should want everyone to excel, even if they disagree.

6/16/2016

Shabbat Naso

Candles Friday 17th at 8:10pm
Havdalah 18th at 9:05pm

The ordeal of the Sotah comes in the context of having an ideal society in which reconciliation is more important than suspicion. Trial by ordeal was a very common way in the ancient world of trying to resolve situations in which there were indications of fault but no clear evidence. Just the threat was enough to get people to admit. Trial by ordeal was common in Europe and America until the seventeenth century.

A Sotah was a woman who had defied authority, but there was no clear evidence she had done something wrong sexually, that she had betrayed her husband. Although it is framed in terms of a wife betraying a husband, some commentators see it as a metaphor for any betrayal. A climate of mistrust was a threat to the stability of society.

But it did seem in the Bible rather unfair that husbands had this right rather than women. So initially the rabbis declared that the man was tested just as much as the woman was. But even so there came a moment when Rebi Yohanan Ben Zakai (two thousand years ago) declared that he would suspend this right because the men of his generation were not on a higher level that they deserved this privilege granted in the Torah.

Just think about how Rebi Yohanan was able to suspend and in effect make a biblical law inoperative. Actually there were quite a few other examples. Such legislative innovation that was possible once, no longer seems possible. Is this because our rabbis nowadays don’t have the authority or do not want the authority?

It’s not easy to decide what stays and what goes. People often pressurize rabbis to make concessions and they are not strong enough to withstand pressure. That is why there is consensus nowadays to make changes very reluctantly. But that does not mean it is not possible altogether.

6/09/2016

Shabbat Bamidbar & Shavuot

Candles Friday 10th 8:07pm

Shabbat Morning
Service 9:30am

Great Kiddush sponsored by the Aminzadeh and Mahfar families
Please come and bring your friends.

Saturday Night candles and Shavuot begins 9:02pm

First Day Shavuot June 11th
Sunday morning Service 9:30am

Second Day Shavuot Candles 9:03pm

Monday June 12th
Morning service 9:30am

Festival ends 9:03pm

It seems strange that a crucial book of the Torah should be called BaMidbar, in the Wilderness. Of course the simple answer is that the books of the Torah were not originally given names and when somewhere some two thousand years ago, the rabbis decided to do so, they simply used the first Hebrew noun of the book as an easy handle.

However this book tells us about the forty years that the Children of Israel spent in the wilderness until the old generation died out and a new one was ready to march into the land.

It starts with all the pomp of organizing the refugees into units and subdivisions, administered by its hierarchies, given their positions and marching orders in preparation for the invasion of Canaan. The people were thus knocked into shape, in place, with banners flying, an impressive array. But the whole thing fell apart because the morale was not there. The slaves still thought like slaves. They were not ready to fight. It would take another forty years, a whole generation.

There’s a new book out called “GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. In it she argues that success is not dependent on birth or brains or ambition, but on grit, perseverance in the face of adversity and challenge.

That was what was missing and that in the end was what forty years in the Wilderness provided. Outward shows of impressive strength are useless if the inner core is not really confident. It was the barren, gritty, dusty wilderness, where nothing happens, which was the crucible out of which a new gritty people emerged. It’s not just the raw material that counts as much as determination. We may be outnumbered and under attack all the time. But with the will to succeed, great things can be achieved.

6/02/2016

Shabbat Behukotai

Candles Friday 3rd June 8:03pm
Havdalah 4th 8:58pm
Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Sivan

Next Week Shavuot is Sunday and Monday.
Services 9:30am

The Book of Leviticus, having listed what is required to be a good person, ends with the Tochecha, the warning, that if we abandon Torah our future will be dire. We will sink to the lowest levels of the people around us. On the other hand, if we keep them, we will flourish.

There are those who take this literally. I have heard it said that as Israel becomes more religious, morally she is stronger and better able to withstand assault. That the reason we lost two Temples was because we were not good people and did not follow Torah. I am wary of treating the Torah the way we treat astrology or Nostradamus or anyone who tries to predict the future. It's a fool’s game. Even most financial advisors using all the latest technology can’t get it right most of the time.

We should behave well because it is the right way to behave. But history does show that when many Jews marry out or disappear, it is left to the few who remain committed to keep the flame alight. The Torah uses poetry and symbolism to describe good and bad possibilities and the options. In the end we are the ones who make the choices.

But notice the difference in the text. It starts off positively. “If you live according to My rules and if you keep My commandments and do them you will be blessed.” No it doesn’t say there’s any guarantee of a long wealthy life devoid of pain or illness.

But then it goes on to say that “If you despise and if your soul hates My commandments and breaks our covenant, bad things will follow.” Why does the first part just talk about “keeping” whereas the second part talks about “hating”?

I keep on coming across Jews who say they hate Jewish Law. It’s too strict. Too much. Get’s in the way of having fun. They want to be free to be like everyone else. Well if that’s what you want. That is what you will get.

The Torah does not expect everyone to keep everything. But neither does it expect one to hate or revile something whose only aim is to help you live a more meaningful life. Perhaps you do not keep all you should, but that’s no reason for thinking it is bad and pointless.

5/26/2016

Shabbat Behar

Candles Friday 27th May 7:58pm
Havdalah 28th at 8:53pm

This week’s reading from the Torah is concerned with the concept of servitude in all its various forms. The Torah tries, way ahead of its time, to ameliorate the psychological damage of servitude, of never knowing when one’s life might be one’s own again, free from obligations to others, free from carrying the burden of debt perpetually. Even today so many human beings are indentured or enslaved by circumstances. Legislation was designed to limit indebtedness, to give people the opportunity to try again, a second chance. As well as the command to employers not to be harsh or oppress their workers.

But tucked in amongst the legislation is the command “Al Tonoo” 25.14. The Talmud derives from this the laws of Onaah. Literally not to oppress people. And the Talmud divided this Torah principle into two separate issues. Onaah meant taking advantage of people in business. Where you knew they needed something, you had to avoid taking advantage either by overcharging, misleading or holding up the deal out of spite. In other words, it referred to what we call ethical business practices, one of the most ignored of all Biblical laws even amongst the supposedly committed.

The second use of Onaah is “Onaat Devarim,” not to use words, language, to oppress someone. This includes not just lying, bullying and raking up the past but it also means using language aggressively and brutally, the way so many politicians do nowadays. Speaking gently, softly with forethought and consideration is one of the core Biblical ideals. Brutality, physical, mental or verbal is a sign that such a person is not a good human being.

5/19/2016

Shabbat Emor

Candles Friday 20th May 7:51pm
Havdalah 21st 8:47pm

The Priests of old, had to be in a constant state of ritual purity. So that whenever they were called upon to perform in the Tabernacle or Temple they would be ready. Purity had nothing to do with what we call cleanliness. You might be covered in mud from tip to toe and still be “impure” or more accurately, “unprepared.” And as clean as a whistle. But if you were, say, in a hall with a dead body, no matter how far away, you would be impure. This was all part of the mystique of separateness that priests of all different religions underwent to maintain a distance and state of constant preparedness for holy service. If one did become “unprepared,” the Mikvah, special pool of water, was the symbolic process of returning to a state of “religious normality.” Here too, even if you were the cleanest possible, you still had to dip in.

All this ancient ritual, ceremonial, the sort of protocol we see reflected in Church and State ceremonies today, is something that we moderns find very difficult to feel enthusiastic about. So is there anything we can learn from this?

First of all, the Torah specifically says that a priest who, as normal rule, would have nothing to do with burying or attending to a dead person, could and should get involved with members of his family, even those who are not priests. The obligation to ensure that the dead are buried and that family takes priority over ceremonial ritual is particularly important nowadays. Too many people who become more religious think this requires them to limit contact with their less religious family. This is not what the Torah wants.

The other important lesson is that the Torah juxtaposes the role of the priest with keeping the festivals. There each person in his or her way becomes a priest, a holy person, for the duration of the festival. The home parallels the Temple. We can understand the need for public ceremony and community cohesion. But it is what we do in our homes, our private lives, that is the core of Jewish religious life.

5/12/2016

Shabbat Kedoshim

Friday May 13th Candles 7:45pm
Havdalah May 14th 8:40pm

This week’s reading, according to the Midrash, was delivered publicly to the Children of Israel as a group, because “most of the important principles of the Torah can be found here.”

When one looks at the text one can see why this is so. For example, love you neighbor as yourself. Do not hate your neighbor. Do not take revenge. Be kind to the stranger. Respect your parents. Respect the elderly. Do not lie or tell tales about others. That is all pretty impressive moral stuff. But interlinked with it all is the emphasis on what we call ritual, keeping special days different, being careful about what you eat. The two are interconnected. Morality and ritual are linked. It is behavior that either confirms or negates your morality, not slogans.

That’s why the full sentence reads “Love your neighbor as yourself, I am God.” Being kind or loving could be a utilitarian imperative. It makes sense. It can be beneficial. Ritual on the other hand seems pointless. But if we are doing it all as an act of commitment to God, then ritual has a higher purpose.

The text starts with this general exhortation to be holy. “Be holy for this is Godly.” To most of us that sounds scary. Who is holy? Only a very boring, ascetic saint surely. And none of us a saint. But in Hebrew the word for Holy is Kadosh, and Kadosh literally means being different. Not necessarily perfect. A knife for example is not perfect or holy. It can be used well, say to prepare food. It can be used badly. To stab someone. It is the way it is used, how it is used that is either good or bad.

We have our bodies, including our minds, which can be used in many different ways. It is up to us to use them well, productively, and ethically.

5/05/2016

Shabbat Aharei Mot

Friday 6th Candles 7:38pm
7th Havdalah 8:34pm

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Iyar

Friday is the 13th day of the Omer

This coming Shabbat 7th March we have a double event:

Tony Zand is sponsoring the Kiddish in memory of his beloved wife Zoreh
and
We are having a Younger Generation event sponsored by
Nico Moinian, Jonathan Moinian, Jessie Zamir,
and Jonathan and Ashley Zamir

It's going to be really special. Pease come!

“Do not imitate the behavior of the Egyptians amongst who you lived and do not behave in the same way as the Canaanites do, in whose land you are going to live.”

For more than three thousand years this has been the major challenge that has faced the Jewish people. However many of us have been killed by those who have tried to destroy us, by far greater is the number who have disappeared because they preferred to fit in and assimilate into other cultures. Once it was Egyptian and Canaanite, then Greece and Rome, followed by Christianity and Islam and now it is Capitalism or Socialism.

Why is this warning about following the herd, mentioned to introduce the list of people we cannot have sex with? The fact is that sex is probably the most powerful motive for so much of human behavior. It is so powerful an attraction, it dominates our lives at every level, from advertising cars to popular music to pornography. It is everywhere exercising its powerful magnetism. No one is immune. It overpowers logic and the capacity of the brain to think rationally. And yet it I also the greatest pleasure, the greatest gift we have because it alone enables us to reproduce and procreate. Which is why the Talmud says it is also so good!

We humans tend to be so easily influenced. How else does one explain the powerful attraction of Paganism then and Materialism now that both scream at us “Do it, enjoy yourselves and to hell with the consequences”? We all know that choosing a partner just because of physical attraction is the craziest of reasons and yet it dominates most of our choices. This can’t make sense especially when a surgeon’s knife can transform almost any body. Yet we fall for it all the time.

What the Torah said so many millennia ago still resonates. We are too easily seduced!

4/28/2016

Last Days of Pesah (days 7 & 8)

7th Day
Thursday evening, April 28, Candles @ 7:30pm
Friday April 29
Morning Service @ 9:30
(Song of the Sea)

8th Day
Friday evening, April 29, Candles @ 7:31pm
Shabbat Morning service @ 9:30pm
(Song of Songs)

Shabbat and Festival end April 30 @ 8:30pm
Eat Hametz from 9:00pm

4/21/2016

Pesach 2016 & Shabbat

Thursday evening April 21st:
Bedikat Hametz - Search for Hametz after 8pm.
Sell your Hametz:
Email Rabbi Rosen (jeremyrosen(at)msn.com) with details of locations before midnight.

Friday 22nd:
Stop eating Hametz by 9:51am; Burn Hametz by 11:08am

Candles Friday 22nd @ 7:23pm
1st Seder Night

Pesach 1st Day & Shabbat Morning 23rd April, Service 9:30am
Prayer for Tal (Dew)

Candles for Second Day: Saturday 23rd April 8:19pm
Second Seder Night
Start Counting the Omer after 8:40pm

Sunday April 24th: 2nd Day Pesach
Sunday Morning Service 9:30am

Happy Pesach wherever you are!

4/14/2016

Shabbat Metzorah

Shabbat HaGadol

Candles Friday 15th April 7:16pm
April 16th Havdalah 8:12pm

Mazal Tov for Mathew Gatan’s Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.

The Shabbat before Pesach is always called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. There are several reasons that are given. Some concern the past and others the future.

The past: This was the Shabbat before the Exodus. The slaves were told to be ready and their preparations must have alerted the Egyptians that something was afoot. Yet they do not appear to have bee afraid. Daubing blood on their doorposts to distinguish the Israelites from Egyptians meant that they were prepared to take a very positive to identify themselves as being different. Commitment involves action. Shabbat HaGadol, therefore, stands for a historic moment of identification.

The Haftarah on Shabbat HaGadol hints at a totally different significance. It comes from the Prophet Malachi and ends “ Behold I am sending you Elijah the prophet before the arrival of that great ( Gadol) and awesome day.” This idea that at some time in the future we will reach a higher spiritual standard than we have today is a very significant theological part of Judaism. It is the optimistic goal of improving ourselves and making this world a better place for everyone.

These two opposite ideas are indeed the bedrock of Jewish ideology. We have a long history of surviving to represent an ethical spiritual example of how humans should and can behave on earth. But we know we are nowhere near perfect. So we also look to the future because we are required to strive for a higher state for ourselves and for humanity. We are inspired by the past and aspire to the future. That is how we should all live.

4/07/2016

Shabbat Tazriah

Shabbat HaHodesh, Rosh Hodesh Nisan
Candles April 8th 7:09pm
Havdalah 9th 8:05pm

When we look at the Torah, the sequence of topics and laws often strike us as random and without design. But in reality there is a clear structure and message.

Three and half thousand years ago, the Israelite nation and its way of life began to create a unique system of living. After Sinai and the Covenental Two Tablets of Stone we call the Ten Commandments, the Torah followed those principles with chapters on civil law. From there it moved on to the community center, the Tabernacle.

Once it had been built the book of Vayikra, Leviticus, deals with the sacrificial ceremonies that took place every day of the year. In those days they were the central symbols of the nation. The community also required civil servants, supported by the people, to ensure it functioned effectively. The priests were commissioned and supported to perform these communal ceremonies. But they also took care of the social, medical and educational class of the Israelites.

From the public spaces and sacrifices the Torah moves on to the private spaces and matters of child birth, health and the need to provide a caring, healthy environment. Any significant change in a person’s physical state whether it is childbirth or disease, presents a challenge. One has to care of the person, give them time to recuperate and at the same time protect the community from plague.

These chapters we now read officially deal with leprosy but its not the disease of that name we are familiar with today. Rather it symbolizes any infection or decay that affects our bodies, our fabrics and our structures. The priest had to identify the problem and then prescribe the cure.

The lesson we learn is that we need to take care of ourselves and our environment. The physical and the spirtual are interconnected and the role of the priest ideally was to bring both aspects together in the life of the community. We no longer expect priests to do these things. Instead we all need to recognize and deal with these issues ourselves and delegate where necessary to experts.

***

This Shabbat April 9th Ms. Mahin Moezinia, children, grandchildren,
and their families will be sponsoring the Kiddush and Luncheon
on Shabbat, Saturday April 9th
at the Persian Jewish Center at Park East Synagogue
Service ends 12:00 pm

In memory and leilui neshamot for the upcoming of anniversaries of
Nedjatolah Moezinia
Nazanine Moezinia Sarafzadeh

In addition, we are privileged to host two soildiers from Tzahal, The Israel Armed Forces. We have two amazing soldiers coming.

https://www.standwithus.com/campaigns/soldiers/

In fact, their engagement went viral online during Operation Protective Edge. This is the link to the original post on facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/photos/a.350931762688.151625.19459912688/10152268618767689/?type=1&theater

http://www.standwithus.com/news/article.asp?id=3426

3/31/2016

Shabbat Shmini

Parashat Parah
Shabbat Mevarchin, Rosh Hodesh Nissan
Candles 1 April 7:01pm
Havdalah 2nd 7.59pm

The system of sacrifices expands this week (beyond blood and certain fats) to the laws of what animals, birds and fish we can and cannot eat. It's a progression that makes sense. Originally according to our tradition humans were not carnivores. Only after Noah’s flood when he celebrated his survival by sacrificing animals to God, do animals feature as food for humans in the Bible. Food for the Gods, metaphorically of course, and then food for humans.

Eating therefore represents not just human growth but spiritual growth too. And it is only if we take it seriously and invest in it that we can benefit. Otherwise like everything else in life and on earth it can be taken to extremes and become destructive instead of beneficial. Just think of obesity and corrosive diets. Similarly as with animals, their lives can be humane or cruel and inhuman. I venture to suggest, impishly or wishfully, that if we have moved beyond animal sacrifices to prayer, perhaps soon we will move beyond killing animals for food!

The rules of diet in the Torah are designed to make everything holy, special, considered. They are designed to get us to stop and think before we act. The actual origins and reasons are lost in time. As a rule the Torah does not give explanations. But origins matter less than how we apply them in the present. Does it matter how using a knife and fork evolved or whether they are efficient ways of getting food to our mouths in a Western society?

In theory of course any random selection of animals might be selected to be untouchable or uneatable. What a religious culture does is to create a system that everyone who wants to, joins in with. In sharing these rules with others, we create commonality, community and facilities. A meal can bring people together. A meal as a religious occasion brings religious people together.

Just as we are meant to think about the origins of our food, our responsibility for producing and protecting it, so too we are meant to think about other human beings, to be sensitive and protective towards them; the poor, the stranger and the “other.” Even if others do not. We must.

3/24/2016

Shabbat Tsav

Candles Friday, March 25th 6:54pm
Havdalah March 26th 7:50pm

HAPPY PURIM!

Thank you again to Joe Minion and Morad Ghadamian and their families
for last night's packed and exciting Megillah reading and reception.

Last week the Torah gave a list of the animals (and vegetarian options) that constituted the Sacrificial system. There has always been a difference of opinion as to whether the sacrifices would return if the Temple were to be re-built. Our prayers are full of requests to bring them back. But this might be a nostalgic desire to return to a time when we controlled our own destiny and when God’s law was accepted more readily than it is today.

Maimonides said in his Guide To The Perplexed, that sacrifices were only a temporary concession to the universal mood at the time that saw sacrifices as the obvious way to connect with God. Nowadays we prefer prayer and meditation. Perhaps we will change again in our preferences. Even those who think sacrifices will return concede that Elijah will prepare for such a moment and that we have no idea how exactly he will instruct us in the Divine Service.

This is of course purely theoretical at this stage. So for us we look at these chapters and try to learn moral lessons from them that are relevant today.

This week the order of sacrifices switches from content, to methodology. Last week the order was Olah, the community offering to God, Minha the personal offering, Shelamim those that bring people together. And finally the various forms of Sin Offerings, Hataot, when one tries to rectify a situation or action. The message here is that there are three levels of responsibility, God, Personal and Communal.

This week as we involve the Priests in the ceremonies, the order is Minha, Hatot and Shelamim. The priorities differ. If priests act on behalf of the community they must establish the correct relationship with God first. This requires them to ensure that any failures or errors in their own lives have to be corrected before they can turn to service the community. And that is what we need in our leaders today, that should set themselves right before they dare to try to to tell others what to do!

3/17/2016

Shabbat Vayikra, Shabbat Zachor

Candles Friday, 18th at 6:46pm
Havdalah 19th at 7:42pm

The Shabbat before Purim is always Shabbat Zachor, when we read an additional extract from the second Sefer Torah.

“Remember what Amalek did to to you on your way out of Egypt. They lay in wait for you and they struck your rear, the weakest of you while you were tired and struggling. They had no respect for God. So when God gives you rest from your enemies around in the land which God is going to give you, you should rub out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget” (Deuteronomy 25.17 and see also Exodus 17.8).

This is regarded as a positive command that falls on everyone. But what exactly does it mean?

On the face of it it distinguishes Amalek from all the other tribes that inhabited the Land of Canaan. One might well understand the Canaanites fighting Israel to protect their territory. But Amalek was not being threatened. And whereas all the other tribes who chose to attack Israel did so front on, facing male opponents, the Amalekites alone went deviously for the rear, the invalids, the women and children.

This law is worded in such a way as to emphasize its specific relation to the Land that God was going to give Israel. And so under King Saul the Amalekites under their king Agag again attacked and Saul was commanded to destroy them. Hundreds of years later when the Assyrians invaded they exiled all the local tribes they conquered and replaced them with others from the far corners of their empire.

Indeed, the Mishna (Yadayim 4.4) says that since Sennacherib it is impossible to identify any of the local tribes and nations any more.

Uniquely the Torah tells both to “remember” and “not to forget.” Why the repetition? Clearly this is more than a specific command related to one period in History. The Amalekites have come to symbolize anti-Semitism, hatred of Jews for no valid or fair reason. “Remembering” implies the past. “Not forgetting” implies that the challenge continues. Although anti Semitism comes in waves, still the virus has remained embedded in humanity since Amalek Though we must be very careful not to assume all who hate or disagree with us are Amalekites.

This is why we celebrate Purim, to record the challenge, the danger that does not go away. The best way to combat it is, positively, not to forget our own identity but to nurture it. And by not forgetting to combat it and imagining it will disappear. Indeed, Haman is called an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite. Hatred was in his genes! And above all, we celebrate our good fortune when we can live free of fear by giving charity to those less fortunate and gifts to friends to celebrate community and humanity. In the end love survives and is more effective than hatred.

***
PLEASE NOTE:

We will read the Megillah on Wednesday March 23rd at 7pm at Park East in the Mezzanine.

This will be followed by a reception, drinks, and a festive meal, very kindly sponsored by Joe Moinian and family and Morad Ghadamian and family.

Please come, and invite your friends.

3/10/2016

Shabbat Pekudei

Candles 5:40pm Friday, March 11th
Havdalah 12th 6:35pm

Younger Generation Kiddush Sponsored by
Dror and Gershoony families.

Purim Megillah Wednesday, March 23rd 7pm

The Book of Exodus ends with a confusing paragraph. The Tabernacle has been built and dedicated. The Divine Cloud descends on the Tent of Meeting and the Glory of God fills the Tabernacle. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting and God filled the Tabernacle. And the Children of Israel would only continue their travels when the clouds lifted. Otherwise there was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night throughout the period of their travels.

Were there two locations? There was the Tent of Assembly, the place where everyone gathered to consult, where “government” and “the judiciary” were based. And in addition the Mishkan, tabernacle for religious ceremonies. Or were they both the same, just using different terms for different functions? In Solomon’s Temple the judiciary did indeed sit in halls adjacent to the main area of worship and sacrifice.

If Moshe could never enter because God’s presence was there when did he ever get the chance to go inside? Only it seems when they were travelling with the cloud leading the way. That doesn’t make sense. And similarly when would the sacrifices be made if God’s presence was filling the Tabernacle? One way of replying is to say it was a miracle, supernatural and its pointless to ask questions because there are no answers. Traditional commentators come up with different theories to rationalize the texts.

The other way is to look at it symbolically. There’s the physical world, the world of structures and matter. And there is a spiritual world that is represented by fire and cloud, both symbols of something beyond normal bodily experiences. The whole purpose of the Tabernacle was to remind people of the two different spheres of human activity. There is “God’s” space and then there is the human space. They are very different. Just as there always was a private and a public, male and female. And to this day religion deals with both spheres. But in most religions the external building plays the primary role in reminding people of the spiritual. In our tradition it is the inner spirituality represented by the home! That is why the home is called “the little tabernacle.”

3/03/2016

Shabbat Vayakhel

Parashat Shekalim
Friday March 4th Candles 5:31pm
Havdalah the 5th at 6:39pm
Shabbat Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Adar 2 Thursday and Friday

The Torah describes how the Tabernacle was built. Quite apart from the construction, what strikes us significant is how the people donated all the raw material. Bearing in mind that they had emerged from Egypt as slaves, the amount of gold and silver and precious stones and material they donated seems enormous. And there was so much coming in that in the end Moses had to proclaim that enough was enough. Where did it all come from? Was it the pay off they were given by the Egyptians to get out after the plagues? Did they take advantage of the trade routes through Sinai to deal or to protect caravans? We can only speculate.

Those who could give, gave. Those who had skills in weaving, metalwork and jewelry donated them to the project. But I am struck also by the fact that both men and women donated together and worked together on the project. This was a communal effort in the full sense of the word. Everyone contributed one way or another.

The Torah describes the men and women who contributed as being “Chacham Lev,” of Wise Heart. What did that mean? Chochma is usually translated as “Wisdom,” and Lev is sometimes used for “brain” and sometimes for “heart.” For a long time people thought emotions were based in the heart which is why we have red hearts on Valentines Day and use hearts to symbolize love. Logically we might as well use thumbs!!

I suggest that what the Torah is making the point that there were two requirements, the skill, but also the feeling, the commitment and passion. A building in itself, a skill in itself can be so much more beneficial if the intentions that go into it are good too.

2/25/2016

Shabbat Ki Tisah

Candles Friday 16th Feb 5:23pm
Havdalah 27th 6:19pm

Why did the Children of Israel make the Golden calf? They had after all supposedly seen the miracles in Egypt, the miracles in the desert, the Sinai revelation, why would they possibly think a piece of metal could have done it all? One explanation is that they thought everything was really done by Moses (however much he might have said that it was all God, they could at least see him). Now he had gone, disappeared up the mountain for longer than most humans could survive without supplies. But if they had already been told that there should be no other gods why would they now make one? Maybe they were so used in Egypt to seeing animal representations as gods, all they were doing was returning to what was familiar.

The question continues, long after. Throughout the period of the Judges and the Kings, the Children of Israel were constantly seduced by other gods. It wasn’t just that they were defeated and adopted the victor’s deities. They actively seemed to have been prone to idolatry. Why?

When you think of it, idolatry is no more than having a placebo or a symbol that relieves you of having to think for yourself. Like superstition it's a placebo for dealing with the unknown. But it always was more. Worshipping nature encouraged doing whatever came naturally, the easy pleasurable, indulgent. Imagine having a choice between an orgy and a religious service!

Monotheism, Torah, is demanding. It requires one to take responsibility and to think before acting. Most people don't like being told what to do. And it's the same today. Many Jews really worship money and doing what it is easy. Only a small percentage are willing to discipline themselves and their children to lead religious, ethical and controlled lives. It is human nature. And we are as human as everyone else.

2/18/2016

Shabbat Tetsaveh


Candles Friday 19th 5:15pm

Havdalah 20th 6:15pm


Younger Generation Kiddush sponsored by the
Youdeem, Moussazadeh, and Harrouche families.

Before describing the ceremonial clothes of the priests, the Torah talks about keeping a flame alight in the Tabernacle (the eternal flame). The symbolism is a powerful one, that the spirit of God and of the people, burns constantly.

But what of the priests? Apart from the symbolism of calling up a Cohen and a Levi first whenever we read the Torah and the custom of redeeming first born boys from the priesthood, the whole paraphernalia of the priesthood has not been part of Judaism for two thousand years. Rabbis are not priests. Ironically the idea of priests has survived in Christianity.

In its original form the priests had a much greater role than just the ceremonial tabernacle service. They were supposed to be a class of people who were dedicated to the community full time through education, pastoral support and leadership. Throughout the first thousand years of Jewish history they failed more often than they succeeded and fell pray to the usual vices of materialism, selfishness, and power. Perhaps that is why we have managed so well without them.

But as with the eternal light, there is an important message. A community survives and thrives only when there enough people care and work for its spiritual and emotional needs as much as the physical. Originally this duty devolved on the Firstborn, then it switched to the Priesthood, and now it falls on those who choose voluntarily to commit themselves to serving the community. They are the ones that, in all the different ways they choose to do it, keep the flame alight.

2/11/2016

Shabbat Terumah

Candles Friday 12th 5:06pm
Havdalah 13th at 6:03pm

Kiddush sponsored this Shabbat by Mrs Parvin Benarosh
for her late father Eshagh Ben Mokhtar Hakim ע״ה

The Torah now starts a series of chapters that describe the construction of the Tabernacle in great detail. Of course we know that both in Egypt and Mesopotamia temples and palaces were the core of any city and society. It was a matter of national pride to describe them in intricate detail. The more intricate the more authority and power they projected. These structures had to be finer and richer than any other.

This reminds us the the Torah is not just a document with a legal, spiritual and tribal message. It is a composition of culture in the widest sense. Every aspect of an early society, its constitution and its values is documented and earlier traditions are incorporated into new ones.

The earlier laws and traditions have been describing the behavioral requirements and civil laws. How individuals relate to each other. In this context the home, the family is the core unit. Now we turn to the public arena, the need for a focal point , where the community gets together for worship, information and for justice and redress.

Which aspect of life is more important? This is a debate the later commentators were preoccupied with. Did the public come before or after the private? Was the Tabernacle a response to the moral collapse of the Golden Calf and developed after the Sinai Revelation because clearly one needed something more to give the community a sense of togetherness? Was it an after though? Or was it designed before Sinai as an integral part of the revelation? Is private more important for national survival or private? What we can see is how important the public was then and still is.

This dichotomy remains today as one of the core issues of identity. Individuality or communality? Actually we need them both.

2/04/2016

Shabbat Mishpatim

Candles Friday 5th Feb 4:58pm
Havdalah 6th Feb 5:54pm
Rosh Hodesh Adar Rishon Tuesday and Wednesday

Once we start reading about the legal system in the Torah, we move away from narrative, human conflict and the passions of life and turn towards system, law and governance. The two are not meant to stand in opposition but to complement each other. No society can function effectively without a legal system, without property rights and social obligations. However, to succeed in life one needs the more ephemeral good will and concern and need to relate to other human beings. As the Torah is a document that concerns individuals and society, it contains both.

But it is not static. Jewish law like any constitutional system is constantly being interpreted, added to and modified to meet new and different circumstances. No system stays the same otherwise it simply collapses under its own irrelevance.

So when we read this week “…an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, a burn for for a burn and a bruise for bruise…” it is possible that once upon a time people took this literally. It goes back, after all, further in time than the Torah to Mesopotamian law. But if you look at context in Torah you will see in Exodus chapter 21.24 that the laws before and after all talk about financial compensation, not literally a life or limb.

Perhaps this was simply commonsense. How could a judge deal with a toothless man who had knocked out the tooth of someone with a full set? Or one eyed man who out out the eye of a two eyed human would be completely blind if you took out his other eye? People bruise differently. How could you guarantee a fair bruise equivalent? Was it practical necessity that brought about a change or a change in attitude, mentality, civilization? How come we stopped treating it literally more than two thousand years ago but there are millions of humans in other religions to this day who still insist on taking it literally?

You need laws to require fair compensation. But you need different kinds of ideas to deal with what is fair and just. That is why the Torah uses one word MISHPAT for keeping the Law and another TSEDEK for behaving in an ethical and caring way. Ideally both are required for a just society.