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.

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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.