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.