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!