5/17/2018

Shabbat BaMidbar

Shabbat Candles - Friday, May 18th @ 7:49pm
Shavuot Candles - Saturday, May 19th @ 8:45pm
Shavuot - Sunday, May 20th and Monday, May 21st
Services Sunday and Monday @ 9:30am

We start the fourth book of the Torah Bamidbar (The Desert) optimistically with preparations to invade Canaan. But sadly, the Children of Israel are turned back to spend forty years wandering in the desert. Those forty years are passed over very quickly with little comment. There are several lessons. In life one often faces setbacks. Things do not always work out the way we expect. But if we maintain our vision and long term goals, spending time rebuilding our confidence may be painful, but the process can be curative. We should not despair. Even setbacks, or periods of retrenchment, that seem negative, can be beneficial in the end. Whether the challenges come from our own failings or from irrational hatred and prejudice, even if the whole world seems to be against us, a period in the desert, BaMidbar, may do us a lot of good.

Shavuot, like all Biblical festivals, has three levels of meaning. The first is the agricultural, the harvest festival and first fruits which played such an important part of ancient life. But are just as important nowadays in providing us with food. Even if we ‘rich world’ city dwellers take it all for granted and have little idea of what farm life is really like. One is at the mercy of nature. Good harvests may be followed by terrible ones. That is why the need for spiritual support becomes crucial. Both in the hopes of avoiding disaster and in praying for nature to function normally. We take all this for granted most of the time.

Secondly, there is the national dimension. Shavuot is the anniversary of receiving the Torah on Sinai. Regardless of when or how it happened, it is our constitution. Our contribution to the world. Our lifeline as the core of our Jewish identity.

And finally, the personal, the need to value every moment of our lives. To be aware, alert and proactive. We have counted 49 days since Pesah, seven weeks. Self-awareness, by making every day count, every day of our lives important, to grow as people, to strive to be better. This is why counting the days to Shavuot is a discipline that helps train us to think more. This is Shavuot’s message as well.

5/10/2018

Shabbat Behar & Behukotai

Candles - May 11th @ 7:42 pm
Havdalah - May 12th @ 8.38pm
Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Iyar

This week adds a new ethical imperative, a law against hurting other human beings. The prohibition of Ona’ah. Making someone else suffer either through actions, unfair business activities or abusive language. Both in this regard and in last weeks “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” the sentence concludes with the declaration “I Am God.” In other words, we should do something that is right because God said so, not because we think so.

Why and how do we decide that something is right?

Two English thinkers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill developed the idea of Utilitarianism, that seeking good for a society requires that something, some action will benefit the greatest number within a society. But in his book “Utilitarianism” Mill goes further and says that those actions are right in the degree to which they promote happiness. And wrong if they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Happiness is intended to give pleasure, and the absence of pain; and unhappiness is pain, and the denial of pleasure. This was how the American Declaration of Independence came to include the words"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But what is happiness? Many people interpret it differently. And sometimes doing the right thing does not make one happy. Like visiting a sick person in a hospital. And if we take avoiding pain literally we will never have an inoculation or an operation. As for pleasure, some take pleasure in harming others. Should we go by what the majority wants? That too can be dangerous. Most Germans were in favor of killing Jews barely 80 years ago. What about those who think it is good to destroy Israel? This why many thinkers tried to modify utilitarianism to talk about benefit rather than pleasure. But then who decides on benefit? Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot?

This why the Torah says that loving one’s neighbor and not oppressing another human should not be done because they make sense, or benefit us in return. But because there is an objective code, from a force greater than human beings and what humans think is right. We need God. We need a standard that cannot be fiddled with.

5/03/2018

Shabbat Emor

Candles - May 5th @ 7:35pm
Havdalah - May 5th @ 8:31pm

Morning Service @ 9:30am
Mothers Day parents and children Shabbat
lunch (11:45am) and play

The part of the Torah we read this week is also the one we most commonly have on festivals. It contains is the most comprehensive of all the lists of festivals in the Torah.

The list of festivals starts off with Shabbat. But the Torah also calls all festivals a Shabbat. Yom Kipur is Shabbat Shabbaton, the Shabbat of all Shabbatot. The Jewish calendar is marked by months and years. But also, by weeks and days. The list includes the command to count the days and weeks of the Omer from Pesah to Shavuot which we are in the middle of now. Seven weeks, forty-nine days.

Each festival brings a new experience. Just as Shabbat is a break in our weekly lives, so festivals introduce some new seasonal or historical experience. Concerned with recognizing nature and our historical tradition. The Omer is clearly agricultural, seasonal. The time from the barley harvest till the wheat. But why is it so important today?

I think it is because the Omer introduces us to another layer of spirituality. There are the big events, the major festivals. In between, we mark the months. All of this s to make us more aware, of nature, our lives and the need to break routines. But how do we measure our days? Shabbat is important to ensure that we have one spiritual day in our weeks. What about every other day? Isn’t every day important in its own way? The whole business of counting, every evening for forty-nine evenings, forty-nine, days reminds us to remember and to value our days, every day.

As with most things, we know it all in theory. The Torah pushes us to do something to show we know, we care and we value. Every little day. Not just the big ones.

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th Street every Monday from 1:30pm-3:00pm.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.

4/26/2018

Shabbat Aharei Mot & Kedoshim

Candles - April 27th @ 7:28 pm
Havdalah - April 28th @ 8:24pm
LaG BaOmer - Thursday, April 3rd
Next Shabbat, May 5th - Family lunch and entertainment

Perhaps the most famous and most quoted phrase in the Torah,VeAhavta LeReyaha Ka comes this week when we read “moha,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But the question is what does it actually mean? Can you command someone to love another person? Are we expected to love our neighbors in the same way that we love our wives, husbands, children? Is it meant just to be a cliché, a slogan like “make love and not war”? And to take it a stage further, how do we understand Reyaha, your neighbor, your friend, your co-citizen, all Jews, all non-Jews?

These questions were raised more than two thousand years ago. The great leader Hillel responded with his interpretation of what the Torah meant. He said, in Aramaic, which was the common language amongst most Jews and indeed most Persians at that time. “Mai DeSani Lah, Lehaverha Lo Taavid.” What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend.”

Hundreds of years later Christianity took Hillel’s words and slightly twisted them into their slogan “Do to others, as you would have them do to you.” Instead of the negative, do not, they suggested the positive, do. Is there a significant difference? The Christian version is actually closer to the Torah’s positive statement. But it is too vague. Hillel’s, is indeed, negative. But it is more practical.

Most of us cannot agree on what we want. But we can certainly agree on what we don't want. We want to avoid pain and discomfort and alienation. We want to avoid bad things. But we cannot always agree on who or what is right and good. After all, most religions set out to do good. But they are more likely to do harm when they try to impose on others.

Communism set out to create a perfect, good society where everyone was equal. Where everyone was free. But it ended up creating horrible, corrupt societies. Even medicine was adopted the negative “Do no harm.” While we cannot agree on how we define a good person, we can all agree that anyone who harms or hurts others is bad. And how do we define harm? By something that you would not want done to you. That is common to everyone no matter what religion or no religion.

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th Street every Monday from 1:30pm-3:00pm.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.

4/19/2018

Shabbat Tazria & Metzorah

Hag HaAtzmaut Sameah
Happy Israel Independence Day

Candles - Friday, April 20th @ 7:21 pm
Havdalah - April 21st @ 8:17 pm

The two combined sections of the Torah this week, are concerned with purity, physical and spiritual, in ways that on the surface seem either non-sensical or irrelevant. They may have applied once but not anymore. And yet there is an important psychological message that is really relevant today.

The whole of the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus, has an underlying theme of Havdalah. “Lehavdil beyn hatahor ve hatamey.” Differentiating between the holy and the profane, the spiritual and the mundane, the ethical and the unethical, the healthy and the unhealthy. It is the principle of holistic medicine. That one has to involve all of the body, the mind and the spirit in order to be truly healthy.

The first difference is between the priests and the laymen. It is not that one is better than the other. Just that one group of people are dedicated to serving the community and acting on its behalf religiously. Just as some of us take jobs that serve the community and others work to further their own careers. It is not that one is better, just different. We need both.

Then the Torah talks about the difference between humans who prepare themselves to enter holy spaces like the Temple, who have to purify themselves symbolically to rise to a higher different level. Spaces create atmospheres and help us recognize that different places require different preparation, dress, conduct, mood.

From there we move on to our eating differently. All creatures eat. But some think before they eat. Appreciate the gift of food and try to eat healthily and not greedily. By preparing food in our way we help make our homes holy places too. Then we move on to different physical states. What happens to the body in pregnancy and giving birth. What an amazing miracle it is and yet dangerous and disruptive. Life is like that, the beauty and the pain. And we have to deal with both sensitively.

The Torah goes on to talk about what is often called leprosy. But is not the actual disease that we know nowadays. Because the leprosy we call, only attacks human bodies. Whereas here we are going to talk about where clothes, buildings are attacked by what looks like fungus and rot. So, we are really discussing differentiating, healthy from unhealthy. How important it is to live in a healthy environment.

The rabbis were eager to understand these laws in a holistic way. If you neglect the physical, you will end up neglecting the moral and the ethical. Someone who gossips, tells tales, damages others with words is unhealthy morally. And bad people generate negativity. But it is not just negative behavior. It is also negative thoughts that can debilitate.

The Torah will go on to talk in the weeks ahead about the difference between holy actions of an ethical nature, as opposed to unethical, unholy behavior. The state of being Kadosh, being Holy, which every one of us should aspire to. Because this is the higher standard that God requires of us.

This theme of difference, Havdalah, is the challenge we face all the time. How to be better people. How not to be dragged down to the lowest levels of society. The Torah challenges us all the time to try to raise our game. Not by just thinking about it, having good intentions. But by acting, in our daily life. By having rituals, ceremonies, mitzvot, to remind us constantly to be better human beings morally. To be sensitive to the different states of other human beings whether in distress or sickness or health and happiness. Instead of looking to society for our standards, we need to look to Torah.

*****

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly "What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't" class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th St every Monday from 1:30pm - 3:00pm.

*****

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.

4/12/2018

Shabbat Shmini

Rosh Hodesh Iyar Sunday and Monday
Friday, April 13 - Candles @ 7:13 pm
April 14th - Havdalah @ 8:09 pm

The two sons of Aaron were killed when they attempted to intervene in the ceremony of the dedication of the Tabernacle. Moses tried to comfort his brother. The Torah says “Vayidom Aharon.” Which is translated almost by every commentator as "Aaron remained silent." Silent in the face of this tragedy. And in one way this is consistent with his character. Remember he did not get worked up or emotional over the Golden Calf. He listened, and he did what he believed was the right thing to do under the circumstances. But he was passive.

The Head of my Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Rav Hayim Shmulevitz, ז״ל had a different version. The Hebrew word Dom, can indeed mean silent. But it can also mean blood. Aaron’s blood, in other words, was boiling. He was angry, emotional, even if he did not argue with Moses or God.

Sometimes remaining silent, being a Stoic, is not the right response. Sometimes one should get angry. One should. One needs to scream, to cry out against abuse or injustice and express one’s pain. There is a Midrash that criticizes Job for remaining silent and not crying out against the unfairness of his suffering, his loss.

The lesson is that we have a moral obligation and a spiritual obligation to say something, to cry out when we feel pain or see something wrong. When actions that strike us as unacceptable. Even if we may not be able to do anything about it, still, silence may be the only response sometimes but it is not always right. Either personally or communally.

*****

The third volume of Commitment and Controversy: Living in Two Worlds, my collected blogs and essays, is now out and available on Amazon, as are the earlier volumes.

*****

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly "What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't" class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th St every Monday from 1:30pm - 3:00pm.

*****

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site will combine my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.

3/22/2018

Shabbat Tsav & Shabbat Hagadol

Candles - Friday, March 23rd @ 6:51pm
Havdalah - March 24th @ 7:47pm

The Shabbat before Pesah is called Shabbat HaGadol,
the Great, or Important, Shabbat.

It is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud. As a custom, it appears in the medieval Tur Shulhan Aruh where this reason is given. The Israelites in Egypt were commanded to prepare a lamb for the Pesah sacrifice days before the plague of the First Born and the Exodus which occurred on Shabbat. This was an open affront to Egyptians who worshipped sheep. Yet miraculously there were no reprisals. Another reason given is that Haftorah on Shabbat HaGadol mentions “That great and awesome day when God will usher in a new era of freedom, peace and understanding.” One reason in the past and one in the future. History and redemption.

But there are other possibilities. The sectarian Samaritans, Sadducees and Karaites both thought that Pesah should always fall on Shabbat. The counter custom developed to make sure that no one mistook this Shabbat before Pesah for the First Day of Pesah itself, by calling it Shabbat HaGadol instead. Similarly, Christians celebrated the Holy Weekend before Easter as a Great Sabbath (others called it the Black Sabbath). That was why we called the Shabbat before Pesah the Great Shabbat to distinguish ours from theirs.

It was also the custom for Rabbis to give only two sermons during the year in the synagogue (as opposed to the Study Houses). Before Yom Kippur on Shabbat Shuvah and before Pesah on Shabbat HaGadol. The one before Pesah was long because the rabbi spoke at length about the complicated laws of Hametz and Matzah. Because the sermon sent on for so long that was why it was called Shabbat HaGadol. Nowadays when rabbis often speak for too long all year round most congregants would probably prefer to call it Shabbat Hakatzar. The short, not the long!

If you need to sell your Hametz at home or your office, please email me authorizing me to do it for you and specify the location of the Hametz.

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Pesah Timetable 2018

Thursday evening, March 29th: Bedikat Hametz
Search for Hametz after 8pm

Friday, March 30th: 
Stop eating Hametz by 10:54am
Burn Hametz by 11:57am

Friday Night Candles @ 7:01pm
1st Seder Night

Saturday, March 31st: Pesach 1st Day
Shabbat Morning Service @ 9:30 am

Candles Second Day @ 8:08 pm
2nd Seder Night
Start Counting the Omer @ 8:40pm

Sunday, April 1st:  2nd Day Pesah
Sunday Morning Service @ 9.30am
Havdalah @ 8:10pm

Thursday, April 5th: 7th Day Pesah Candles @ 7:07pm

Friday, April 6th: Morning Service @ 9:30 am
Friday, April 6th: Candles @ 7:08 

Saturday, April 7th: Pesah 8th Day
Shabbat Morning Service @ 9:30am
Havdalah - Pesah Ends @ 8:17pm

Happy Pesah, wherever you are!

3/15/2018

Shabbat Vayikra

Candles - Friday, March 16th @ 6:51pm
Havdalah - March 17th @ 7:40pm

Rosh Hodesh Nisan
Shabbat HaHodesh

The Book of Vayikra that we begin this week, introduces the subject of sacrifices. Something that was considered the natural way to worship God then, and still is in parts of the world today. But the idea no longer makes make much sense to us. Even the Biblical Prophets complained that the Israelites thought that giving sacrifices was more important than being a good person. That they could commit all sorts of crimes and think that coming to the Temple and sacrificing, would atone for their crimes.

In the English language, a sacrifice means giving up something (hopefully for a good reason). To sacrifice one’s pawn in a game of chess. To sacrifice one’s life for a cause. To sacrifice a career or a relationship. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, Korban, means to get closer to someone. You give in order to achieve something. Now we know full well that it is easy to give a present in the hope of getting love or preference in return. But the real achievement is to strengthen a relationship by giving of oneself, time, love, energy, effort.

In more primitive societies the simple act of giving an animal was regarded as the best way to show love or commitment. We do it to God by giving time, by communicating through prayer and meditation. And that is the lesson we can learn today from sacrifices.

The Torah divided sacrifices into three categories. The first was to demonstrate our commitment to God and to maintain the Sanctuary on behalf of the community. We do this now by supporting religious and communal institutions and Israel.

The Second was to atone for failures and mistakes. But as the Torah says, this only works if we really mean it. If it is just a way out, it is meaningless.

The third was to show gratitude to family, friends, those who help us and support for the poor.

But what really matters is the intent, the feeling. If a sacrifice, a donation, a present is just an act, without love or commitment, without the desire to be a better person, a better partner, a better friend, it is as misguided and pointless as thinking that money buys love.

* * *

If you need to sell your Hametz at home or your office, please email me authorizing me to do it for you and specify the location of the Hametz.

3/08/2018

Shabbat Vayakhel & Pekudei

Shabbat Parah
Shabbat Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Nisan (next Shabbat)

Candles - March 9th @ 5:36pm
Havdalah - March 10th @ 6:32pm

The two combined parts of the Torah we read this week are all concerned with designing, building and dedicating the Tabernacle. It makes technical and dull reading unless you are an architect or an interior designer. But as always, beneath the surface, there are some important themes.

Whereas most of the Torah is concerned with personal behavior, moral and ethical values, this week we are concerned with community and the community buildings. Everyone, male and female, was involved in the construction in one way or another and the financing was based both on a communal tax and personal contributions of goods or skills. Honesty and trust, says the Torah, was the primary condition of both of the donors, the collectors and the contractors. The Mishkan was not just a building that housed the religious center but also the judicial. It was the symbol of Jewish life.

But as we know, putting up buildings will only achieve something of value, if what goes on inside is of value. Times change. The public buildings disappeared. What was left? Us!

That is why the rabbis called our homes a Mikdash Me’At, a mini Tabernacle. And what we learn from this is the qualities needed to construct the Tabernacle are those we need to build and decorate our homes. Spiritual as well as physical.

This is the secret of our survival now. Home life and home values, that require the same qualities, dedication, commitment, contribution, honesty and hard work as the Tabernacle did. And that is why every time the Torah describes the Tabernacle it also reiterates the command of Shabbat. For it is Shabbat that took priority over public life and encourages us to focus on being together, at home, with our families, to invest in our Jewish life.

2/28/2018

Purim Wednesday Evening

The Persian Jewish Center will be
reading the Megillah this evening @ 6:30pm
at Park East Synagogue

There will also be a children's party and entertainment at 6pm
and a supper party for adults at 8pm

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly "What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't" class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th St every Monday from 1:30pm - 3:00pm.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

I invite you to join me at my website: www.jeremyrosen.com. This site combines my weekly blog with other commentary and writings. It is also the easiest way to get in touch with me.

If you would like to subscribe to automatically receive my blog, please go to the website and fill out the "Subscribe To My List" form on the right side of the homepage.

2/22/2018

Shabbat Tetzaveh, Shabbat Zahor

Candles - Friday, February 23rd @ 5:20pm
Havdalah - February 24th @ 6:06pm

Special Kiddush is sponsored by Kayvan and Yassi Hakim
to celebrate the arrival of their granddaughter
Scarlett Yasmin Lalezarian, (Hebrew name Sarah)

Mazal Tov to parents Michelle and Michael

Fast of Esther Wednesday 5:24 am-6:06 pm
Purim Megillah 6:30pm

The Shabbat before Purim is always called Shabbat Zahor, the Shabbat to remember. We read from a second Sefer Torah, the part that records how Amalek attacked the Israelites as they came out of Egypt. Even though the Israelites intentionally diverted their route to avoid conflict. Amalek attacked from behind, the weak and the exhausted. The Israelites were forced to fight despite their lack of preparedness. And they won. The Torah then commands the Israelites to remember, to never forget Amalek. Whereas the Torah commanded the Israelites not to hate other tribes or even the Egyptians.

The reason was that Amalek represented baseless hatred, without cause. Other Canaanites might have had just cause to attack. Israel was after all threatening them. But Amalek had no cause.

Now Amalek as a tribe, disappeared, together with all Canaanites, during the Assyrian invasions and expulsions 2,700 years ago. There is no record of their existence after that time. But it is true that Haman, in the story of Purim, is called Haman the descendant of Agag, an Amalekite King mentioned in the book of Judges. So that although Amalek as a tribe does not exist, individuals who are the equivalent of Amalek, still do. Anyone who hates Jews for no valid reason.

And as we see, there are plenty of them still around. Which is why we celebrate Purim and remember Amalek in order to be strong and survive. After all the best reply to Hitler was that we survived him and are still here whereas his Thousand Year Empire is not.

Happy Purim!

2/15/2018

Shabbat Terumah

Candles - Friday, February 16th @ 5:12pm
Havdalah - February 17th @ 6:08pm

In the Torah, we read about the construction of the tabernacle, as the focal point of the Israelite community. It was a temporary, collapsible structure. And it combined the role of the religious sanctuary with the judicial center and the political, of the people.

In the Haftarah, we jump from Moses, around three thousand three hundred years ago, to the time of King Solomon two thousand nine hundred years ago. He transferred the Tabernacle into the Temple which replaced it, but maintained its dual role.

The idea of a sanctuary, a holy place, as the center of our people has, since the destruction of the Second Temple been transferred into the idea that the text, the Bible and the Talmud are the core of our religious life as individuals and as a people.

But what we also learn this week is that everyone had to contribute to its construction. Each according to his or her skills, assets or ability. Everyone, as we would say nowadays, had to have skin in the game. It is only when everyone feels invested that we can flourish and survive. It is as true today as it was then even if the structures have disappeared or changed. It's the message that counts and our involvement that keeps it alive.

2/08/2018

Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Mevarhin, Shabbat Shekalim

Rosh Hodesh Adar - Thursday & Friday
Candles - Friday, February 9th 2 5:03pm
Havdalah - February 10th @ 6:00pm

Last week we read about the fundamental principles of Judaism. This week we begin the listing of the detailed laws of the “Jewish Constitution.” Thanks to archaeology and historical research, we can see that many of the laws in the Torah were already part of earlier codes in the Middle East and Egypt and elsewhere. The most famous is the Hammurabi Code which dates roughly to the time of Abraham and parts of it can be seen in the British Museum.

It is not surprising that laws existed long before Moses. After all civilizations around the world date back thousands and hundreds of thousands of years. They might have been pagan, but they still had laws of various kinds. Even the Torah itself tells us about early laws like those that applied to Noah and pre-existed Sinai.

If so what was unique about Israelite laws? In earlier codes, different standards applied to different classes and sexes within the society. Aristocrats were treated much more favorably than the poor or servants. Men had privileges over women. The greatness of the Torah constitution was its civil law treatment of everyone, including strangers, equally under the law. Yes, there were differences in regard to ritual and temple service, certain tasks allocated only to priests. And women and men although treated equally in terms of status were certainly not equal in the way are now in the free, modern world. Outsiders did not have the same privileges unless they became citizens, but they were protected in ways that Jews under Christianity and Islam were not.

But to me the important difference was the introduction of a dual system, of Justice and Charity. Mishpat and Tsedek. Sometimes the law can seem rigid and inhuman. By insisting on care, concern for humanity as well as the law itself you combine the two core principles that made the Torah unique. Important as law is, humanity even more important. We need both. Either without the other is inadequate as we can see in our society how often the best of laws can go wrong or be applied unfairly.

2/01/2018

Shabbat Yitro

Candles - Friday, February 2nd @ 4:55pm
Havdalah - February 3rd @ 5:51 pm

The last of the Ten Commandments, the Aseret HaDibrot is “Lo Tahmod.” It has for hundreds of years been translated into English as “Do not covet.” A strange word that we rarely use nowadays. What does it really mean?

The Hebrew word literally means to desire something, passionately or lustfully. So, is the Torah telling us we should not desire someone else’s wife or property? That, after all, is just a thought, a mental process. And the Torah does not punish us for our thoughts. Of course, there can be bad thoughts. They can be very destructive. And mystically, having bad thoughts, like mixing in bad company, or even depression, can have a very negative effect on us. But is this commandment Lo Tahmod about thoughts alone?

No, it isn’t. The Talmud says that the punishable offence is when you take steps, actions to take something you desire that belongs to someone else, away from them. By encouraging them, say, to divorce their wife so that you can marry her, or get someone to sell a building reluctantly because it helps your portfolio. The actions count much more than the thought.

Even so, the thought is wrong morally. We respect private property and we respect relationships. We might like the look of someone else’s car or dog. We can appreciate nice people and nice things. Appreciation and desire are two different emotions.

But if we desire what is not ours, then we are going against the Torah. The Torah wants us to be good people. Good for ourselves and good for others. Not to envy what others have. That's why in addition to laws there are also moral principles and correct positive thoughts in the Torah.

1/25/2018

Shabbat Beshalah

Friday, January 26th - Candles @ 4:46pm
January 27th - Havdalah @ 5:42pm

Kiddush & Luncheon to welcome Zoe Tate Gohari

The Children of Israel leave Egypt and they come up against the Red Sea. No tunnels or bridges. How are they going to get across? And to make matters worse, the Egyptian army is pursuing them and getting closer. They are trapped and desperate. They turn to Moses who asks God what to do. God says, “Don’t cry out to me. Start moving.”

Which sounds strange to us because we have been brought up to think precisely that. That when things get tough we pray. We do indeed pray to God for help.

So here they were doing what they were expected to do. But God says to Moses, “Stop praying to me, just get on with it.” He tells Moses to stretch out his arm with the staff over the waters and they begin to part. And the children of Israel cross to safety.

The Rabbinic commentators tell us more than the text. They suggest that even after Moses raised his hand the water began to recede, but slowly. It did not suddenly turn into hard dryland. Still, no one had the courage to step into the water. Who was going to be the first to jump in? Who was prepared to lead? It took one person to take the decision to act, a man called Nahshon Ben Aminadav, the brother in law of Aaron. He jumped in and when everyone saw that he did not drown, they followed.

It makes me think of our own community. Joe has jumped in to lead and buy a building. It is up to the rest of us to follow.

1/18/2018

Shabbat Bo

Candles - Friday, January 19th @ 4:38pm
Havdalah - January 20th @ 5:34pm

Just before the final plague results in Pharaoh allowing the Hebrew slaves to leave, God instructs Moses to give the first religious commands to the Hebrew people as a whole. It is the command to keep the Pesah in Egypt with special laws that will only apply to that specific night. The Children of Israel had to daub the blood of the Pesah sacrifice on their doorposts. They had to eat the sacrifice dressed in their travelling clothes with their shoes on their feet and staff in hand. They would not be allowed to leave any food left over and to roast it in such a way as to ensure there would be no need to wash up pots and pans afterwards. And the meat would have to be eaten together in the family with Matzah and bitter herbs. And it would have to be eaten in a hurry, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The Torah specifically says four times “when your children ask you why” (three times here and a fourth in Devarim, which is why four sons ask four questions on the Seder Night). And you, the parents, have to reply and answer them. The rituals are really just tools to hang ideas on. To remind them of our history, of our traditions.

Our survival is due to our passing on the traditions from one generation to the next. But it doesn’t happen automatically. We should not rely on schools to do that. And we should not just command obedience. We need to encourage. We as parents have a personal obligation to know in order to transmit. But think of it. Most religions require obedience without question. But we encourage questions. We encourage debate and education. We like to be challenged.

The sad fact is that nowadays too few parents have the knowledge to respond to their children. And as a result, most Seder nights do not involve discussion or debate. We think only of the food and some strange customs and rituals. But in truth the food is secondary. It's the message of survival of overcoming setbacks and opposition that we have always encountered that has made us strong. The rituals are ways of reminding us and reinforcing our identity and making things more meaningful.

1/11/2018

Shabbat Vayeyra

Candles - Friday, January 12th @ 4:30pm
Havdalah - January 13th @ 5:29pm

Kiddush this week kindly sponsored by the Dror family.
Everyone is welcome, and please bring your friends.

Before the plagues begin, God tells Moshe, “I am going to make you a god to Pharaoh.” Everyone needs some certainty, some greater power or value than themselves. Pharaoh thought his Egyptian gods were that certainty. But God told Moses that in the end, when Pharaoh lost confidence in his own system, he would come to realize that Moses was greater than he was.

The ten plagues slowly but steadily undermine Pharaoh’s supreme and absolute authority. All the things he relied upon to sustain him as the most powerful human being of his era, were attacked. Starting with his dependence on magic, then the River Nile and from water to land, then air, until finally death. All the things they depended on. Everything they had faith in. The process was one of removing all sense of control over the universe. How else could a nation of downtrodden slaves challenge the mightiest power?

But as we have seen, it is possible for the most incompetent, venal and cruel despots to hang on to power. After the plague of locusts, the servants of Pharaoh said to him “How long will we be held to ransom by these people. Let them go and worship YHVH their God before Egypt is destroyed.” Pharaoh could maintain his grip on power through force and fear. But once the ordinary people begin to doubt him and wonder whether he knows what he is doing, the end is in sight.

Even so, the Torah describes a process that takes time. Bad people and bad States do not always change right away. Slavery in Egypt lasted for three hundred years. The Roman Empire lasted for some four hundred years. Communists controlled Russia from 1917 till 1991. Venezuela has been suffering and Chavez and Maduro since 1997 and Iran under the Mullahs since 1979. But when the masses begin to rebel, the end is inevitable even if it takes time.

1/04/2018

Shabbat Shemot

Candles - January 5th @ 4:23pm
Havdalah - January 6th @ 5:20pm

Pharaoh’s daughter is a remarkable character in a period of amazing, strong women. Ziporah , Moses’s wife supported and protected him. Yoheved, Moses’s mother defied the order not to have male children or to kill them. Miriam his sister played a role in keeping an eye on him in his hiding place and then acted as an intermediary to ensure that Moses was taken care of by his mother. Not to mention the midwives.

Pharaoh’s daughter defied her father. She knew Moses was an Israelite baby but adopted him as her own. Interestingly there is a debate as to whether the name Moses was Egyptian, based on an ancient Egyptian word for water, Moos. This is why the Midrash says that he also had a Hebrew name which was Yekutiel. Other Midrashim say that he had seven different names and each one of his family called him a different one. Or whether Moses was a Hebrew name that she intentionally gave him. As the Torah says, deriving from the Hebrew ”to pull out” of the water. In which case where did she learn Hebrew?

Much later, in the Book of Chronicles, Pharaoh’s daughter is called Bitya, the Daughter of God. A nice Jewish name. When she went down to the river it was as part of the ceremony of conversion and the river was a Mikvah. She had already committed to Judaism when she found Moses and brought him up to know his background and to be a leader of his people. Which is why the Torah said that although he was brought in the Palace, he went out to see what was happening to “his people".

Imagine the courage it must have taken to defy the most powerful monarch in earth. This story is part of an important theme of how crucial women have always been in the struggle for Jewish survival. It is not just the personal character and fortitude of women but also their roles in determining the character of the home. Which is why marrying someone committed to the religion for its own sake is so essential for Jewish survival.