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.