9/20/2018

Shabbat Ha'azinu

Candles - Friday, September 21st @ 6:34pm
Havdalah - September 22nd @ 7:28pm
Kiddush this week sponsored by Jonathan Zamir,
to celebrate the arrival of Lilah

Sucot - Monday and Tuesday
Morning services will start at 9:30am
Kiddush in the Sucah

Ha’azinu is all poetry. Moses has delivered some long speeches in prose about the Nation of Israel. Describing their constitution and values and warning them of the dangers of assimilation and trying to emulate other nations and other cultures, of abandoning Judaism as many of us always have. Only a remnant remains faithful. Whey then does he feel the need to repeat it all in admittedly beautiful poetry?

Prose states thing clearly and usually simply. It is not open to multiple meanings even though it is open to interpretation. Just as the American Constitution is interpreted by Originalists who want to understand what the words meant originally. As opposed to the evolutionists who want to understand how they should mean now. But they can all agree on what the words actually are.

Usually when you want someone to do something you tell them in prose. Poetry is different. It uses words very differently. It either rhymes or repeats words with a rhythm or scansion. It is easier to remember. And in ancient times before printing presses, most people leant traditions through songs and oral communication. The beauty of poetry is that most people bring their own imagination to understanding the message.

We know that people are different. Some like reading. Some like singing. Some like painting. People experience and describe their worlds differently and are inspired in different ways.

That was why Moses felt the need to convey his message both in prose and in poetry so that we might receive the message, each one of us, according to our temperaments and preferences.


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.

9/13/2018

Shabbat Vayeyleh, Shabbat Shuvah

Candles - Friday, September 14 @ 6:45pm
Havdalah - September 15 @ 15 @ 7:40pm

Yom Kipur
Fast begins Tuesday, September 18 @ 6:40pm
Kol Nidrei 6:45pm
Yom Kipur Torah reading - Wednesday @ 10:30am
Neilah 6:00pm
Fast ends 7:33pm

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur is called Shabbat Shuva. Normally translated “the Shabbat of repentance.” But in fact, it does not really mean that. Repentance is when you have done something bad which you regret. The word Shuvameans rather to return. And return means something else. You can return from somewhere without necessarily having done any act that is wrong or without having committed a sin at all.

According to most authorities, there is no explicit command in the Torah to repent. Though Ramban (Nachmanides) did, in fact, say there was. The Torah initially uses the words Shav, Tashuvsimply to mean to return to the dust or home. Later in the Book of Devarim the words are used to describe Israelites returning to God and God returning to Israel after they turned their backs on him.

We may never have been close to God. We may never have lived religious lives. We nowadays call someone who becomes religious a Baal Teshuva. This does not necessarily mean that he or she has returned to something, because they may never have had it. Rather that they have found something new.

It means raising one’s game to reach a higher, more conscious, more spiritual level. So, when the Torah talks about God returning to Israel, it is not as if God has behaved badly or was irreligious. Just that there was no relationship and now God is open to it. We have an opportunity to explore the possibility of having one or of upping our game to make it more intense and meaningful. It means in other words, to establish or enhance a relationship.


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.

9/06/2018

Shabbat Nitzavim & Rosh Hashana

Candles - September 7th @ 6:58pm
Havdalah - September 8th @ 7:52pm

Erev Rosh Hashana
Sunday, September 9th
Candles @ 6:55pm
Evening service @ 7:00pm

1st Day of Rosh Hashana
Monday, September 10th
Shacharit 9:30am
Torah @ 10:45am
Shofar @ 11:30am
Musaf @ 11:30am
Sermon @ 12:15pm
Evening service @ 7:00pm

2nd Day of Rosh Hashana
Tuesday, September 11th
Shacharit @ 9:30am
Torah @ 10:45am
Shofar @ 11:30am
Musaf @ 11:30am
Sermon @ 12:15pm
Festival ends @ 7:47pm

This week’s reading from the Torah, Nitzavim, is yet another last will and testament of Moses before he dies. In it he gathers everyone together to reiterate the covenant, the contract, between God and the Jewish people. That it is a voluntary contract, and it is really up to us to decide if we wish to accept it or not. Which sounds strange given all the terrible things that he says will happen to us if we reject or abandon the Torah, which is what connects us specifically, as Jews, to God. But in fact, this is no more than a parent warning children that if they make the wrong decisions in life, there will be severe consequences.

What I have always found remarkable is that Moses specifically addresses everyone, in this massive public assembly. Male, female, old, young, even babies. Those born Jewish and those who decide to join. How can children have any idea of what they are expected to commit to?

I suggest it implies that subconsciously children could have been aware of such a significant event. Parents bringing their children to this great event in itself would have an impact on children. That, after all, has been the secret of our survival--our ability (or inability) to pass on to our children what matters to us. That was the test of how important something was to the parents. Children soon work out what matters to their parents and how much. This has an important impact on them. Not the only one of course; society is very strong and seductive. But even an attachment that is weak and lies dormant can always revive.


8/23/2018

Shabbat Ki Teytzey

Candles - Friday, August 24th @ 7:21pm
Havdalah - August 25th @ 8:14pm

“You must not have in your pocket different weights, larger or smaller. And you must not have different measures in your home. But you should have honest and true measures and weights so that you will have a long life on this earth that God gives you.” (Deut. 25:13)

It refers to business dealings. One is forbidden to deceive either through false or deceptive weights and measures, stealing a bit here and measuring out less there, not being honest. Yes it was referring to primitive ways of measuring goods at work and when one sells or exchanges from home. And it is expanded by the rabbis to cover most forms of deception or dishonesty in business transactions, in buying or selling. It can equally apply to a barman not pouring out the right amount for a drink or watering the alcohol down.

Together with honoring your parents and respecting nature, this is one of the three laws in the Torah that specifically mention long life. And it is a fundamental principle of life in general, that just as human life needs families to take care of each other, so society needs trade and bartering to survive. And you cannot have reliable, trustworthy trade if the traders are dishonest and set out to swindle their victims.

People often say the Torah is far too concerned with petty rituals and unimportant laws. But here is another example of the Torah’s concern for fundamental principles of human interaction, to ensure that society in general can function effectively.

8/16/2018

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles - Friday, August 17th @ 7:31pm
Havdalah - August 18th @ 8:25pm

“Do not move the boundary of your friend which earlier people had established in your inheritance.”
(Deut 19:14)

Amongst the laws of this week’s reading is the one about not moving another person’s boundaries. This is one of the best examples I can find of how an ancient Torah law has changed over the years to be just as relevant today as it was then.

Originally this was designed to protect tribal land and prevent people from surreptitiously or illegally moving tribal property lines in the Land of Israel. There was already a law against stealing. So this added an extra definition of stealing by using devious methods to claim something that was not theirs and thereby deprive someone.

The first stage in its development came when there were no tribal lands anymore (after the exiles). Then this law changed to apply to any property anywhere in the world. Then it was applied to taking a burial plot that someone else had reserved. By medieval times it was used to prevent someone depriving someone else of their livelihood and even to bringing in an outside expert when there were perfectly capable local ones. Nowadays halachic experts will apply it to intellectual property, copyright, and all the things that corrupt societies now take advantage of without fear of retribution. It is a shame that China doesn’t apply this biblical law to its industrial thieves.

8/09/2018

Shabbat Re'ey

Candles - Friday, August 10th @ 7:41pm
Havdalah - August 11th @ 8:34pm
Rosh Hodesh Ellul - Shabbat and Sunday

It is a feature of the book of Devarim that its emphasis on past events is often at variance with earlier books. And that certain ideas are introduced that are also new. The Torah this week, repeats several times the obligation to worship God with Simha, Joy. To be happy on our festivals and in life in general!

In truth Simhadoes not mean happy. It means joyful, and joyful is a word that describes doing things that have a positive effect. It involves delighting in the gifts of this world but also in helping other people.

So, we have three examples here. One is eating. Enjoying food but being careful what we eat. The second is helping the people, the poor and the disadvantaged because that too makes us appreciate what we have. And the third concerns our lifestyles. Celebrating holy days together with our families. All these give us joy. And in all of these we appreciate the greatness of God in giving us these rules to remind us of creation, humanity, and our relationship with God that helps us cope with the pressures of life.

And that is why in this same parsha reminds us three times do the right thing. Vasitah haYashar beynei HaShem. Another example of something not said in earlier books. You must do what is right in the eyes of God. But isn’t doing the right thing simply keeping the commandments? Obviously not otherwise there would be no need to add this. The Torah tells us what commands we should keep in order to try to be a good person. But it is not enough just to do them as a boring routine. We need to try to achieve the spirit of the law too and that is what joy really means.

As the great mystical Rebbi Nahman of Bratslav used to sing: “The biggest of commandments is to be in a state of simha, joy, all the time.”

8/02/2018

Shabbat Eykev

Candles - August 3rd @ 7:49 pm
Havdalah - August 4th @ 8:45pm

Maybe you will say “My strength and my firm hand have acquired this great prize” but you should remember it is God who has given you the strength to do all this so that you can keep your agreement with Him” (Deut. 8:17).

Moses continues his series of speeches to the Israelites before he dies and in preparation for their invasion of Canaan. He repeats that the land is “flowing with milk and honey.” Yet he warns everyone against overestimating their strength. Of course, without manpower you cannot achieve such conquests. But manpower alone is not enough. Otherwise young, nimble start-up companies would never be able to outsmart old established huge companies. But they often do. Because they have both energy and spirit.

It is obvious that without effort very little can be accomplished. Buteffort is not enough. And this speech is designed to persuade the people that they need something more, spiritual dimension. This why this phrase “don’t say that my strength has…has acquired all this” is often used when we celebrate great victories like Hanuka. And it is the same nowadays with regard to our lives and successes and the achievements of Israel. It could not have all happened without our spirit and the spirit of our people. Sure, having a strong army helps, so does a good brain. But having the spirit is just as important.

We succeeded because we focus on building. On being positive. While our enemies focus on negativity on destruction.

7/26/2018

Shabbat Va'et Hanan

Candles - July 27th @ 7:56pm
Havdalah - July 28th @ 8:51pm

One of the parts of the Torah that anti-Semites love to throw back in our faces is the command given by God to destroy the Canaanite people and their pagan religious idols and places of worship. Which is repeated this week. What kind of God commands us to destroy women and children?

The obvious answer is that we are talking about different times and a different world. After all, it was three and a half thousand years ago. Barely two hundred years ago the United States attacked and destroyed native Americans mercilessly. And we don't need to mention the Nazis, Mexican drug cartels or ISIS. In several countries, women and children today are still being killed because they profess a different religion. To criticize for something that is over three thousand years ago is plain stupid. The Torah was speaking then, not now.

But there is another way of looking at this. At no time did the Israelites actually succeed or even make a serious attempt to destroy the Canaanites unless they attacked first. As was the case with the Amalekites and the Emorites. And the Canaanites and their religion continued to thrive and survive in Judea and Israel for nearly a thousand years after the Torah commanded their destruction. Until the Assyrians under Tiglat Pileser wiped or drove them out.

So how did the Israelites understand the command of the Torah? I think they understood it both metaphorically and practically.

Metaphorically God is saying that the Canaanites presented an existential threat to the Israelites and the Torah because of their different culture, their immorality and corruption. And as long as they were there, that threat would remain. As indeed it did and many Israelite and Judean kings kept on falling back into Canaanite paganism, even turning the Temple into a place idolatry. Which ultimately led to the destruction of the Israelite kingdoms.

On the practical side, the Torah actually says that God would not get rid of the Canaanites right away because de-populating a vast area could be harmful both ecologically and defensively. So that the Torah itself recognizes the need for compromise. It recognizes that even if it presents us with ideals and commands, most of us are going to be unable to live up to them. It is not a perfect world.

The Canaanites were the symbol of every culture we come up against. Their values are not ours. And yet for good practical reasons, many of us continue to live amongst other cultures and nations. Even if living in our own country is the ideal, we may have to compromise and we always did since the Babylonian exile. And yet we see that when we do unless we hold firmly to our own values we will indeed be swallowed up. Millions of us will lose our Jewish identity as has happened in the past, many times.

The Torah was warning us of the dangers of being influenced and uses graphic language to stress how serious the challenge was…and remains.

7/19/2018

Shabbat Devarim, Shabbat Hazon

Candles - Friday, July 20th @ 8:03pm
Havdalah - July 21st @ 8:57pm
Fast of Tisha B’Av - begins Saturday @ 8:22pm
ends Sunday @ 8:59pm

The Shabbat before the 9thof Av is always called Shabbat Hazon. “The Shabbat of the Vision.” Hazon is the first word of the prophet Isaiah’s book. The Haftarah is the first chapter of his great book of prophecies. Written in some of the most beautiful and moving Hebrew ever written. The core message is that the Jewish kingdom of Judea was going to be destroyed, together with Jerusalem and the Temple.

In his poetic visions, he imagines God describing the pain at being abandoned by the Jewish people. Not just that they stopped following Torah as some did. Others, it seems, did go through the rituals of Temple services and offered sacrifices. But their “hands were full of blood.” They were corrupt even when they were outwardly religious. As the text says, “They had become like the men of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

The values that God wanted were kindness and humanity. Being good people. Caring for the poor, the widows and the orphans. He wanted people to combine being religious with being good and charitable.

But Isaiah was also preaching against the incompetent and venal political leadership, that he said, would be the cause of the catastrophe. His complaint was both about moral and political decay. And we had ourselves to blame. The religious leadership and the political!

And yet we survived. Times change. Opportunities change. There are always chances to come back from the brink. However much Tisha B’Av is a record of our failures and tragedies, it is also a symbol of our capacity to rise again. That is true of us as a people and us as individuals. And the word Hazoncan be a vision of success as well as failure.

Something to ponder on Sunday.

7/12/2018

Shabbat Matot & Massei

Candles - July 13th @ 8:07 pm
Havdalah - July 14th @ 9:01 pm

This double Sedra starts off with the final battle against Midian and the need to purify cooking and eating untensils that had been used for idolatry. And then deals with some specifics of how the Land of Israel would be divided up amongst the tribes.

The huge challenge Moses faced was the request of two and a half tribes to stay on the East bank of the Jordan. Areas that came to be known as Gilead. What we now call the Golan and Transjordania. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and part of Menashe had huge flocks and herds. The East Bank plains were perfect for them. Their livelihood depended on it. Yet Moses feared that the split would have negative consequences.

The problem was political and psychological. All the Israelites combined to conquer the lands Bashan and the Emorites. If two and a half tribes stayed there on the East Bank that would leave the rest to conquer the West Bank of the Jordan on their own. Moses was caught in a dilemma that is very modern. Do you allow for individual choice? For the interests of some, if this conflicts with the needs of the whole? The individual or society? And how important a part does one’s livelihood play in one’s decision making?

We need to try to reconcile all of these factors. And that was the decision that Moses took. He allowed the two and a half tribes to stay and live on the East bank but only on condition that they would help the other tribes conquer the West Bank too.

Even so, historically he was right to worry that living away from the main body of the people would in due course lead to assimilation, and the disappearance of those tribes.

Hodesh Tov.

7/05/2018

Shabbat Pinhas

Candles - July 6th @ 8:10 pm
Havdalah - July 7th @ 9:05 pm

As Moses prepares to die, he asks God to appoint a successor. His words are “Someone who will go out before them, who will come in before them. Who will take them out and bring them in. So that the people will not be like a flock without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17).

This 'taking out' and 'bringing in' is what a shepherd does with his flock and this is the characteristic of a good leader. To set examples, to show concern and involvement. Not to be detached, remote or insensitive to the needs of people. And sadly, today in politics or the rabbinate this becoming rarer.

Why didn't Moses ask God to appoint one of his own two sons? There are several examples in the Bible of fathers wanting their sons to succeed them even though they were inadequate and even corrupt. The sons of Eli and Samuel for example. But our tradition gives us mixed messages.

On the one hand, the Talmud (Nedarim 71a) says “Why do children of Talmidei Chachamim ( scholars, rabbis) rarely become Talmidei Chachamim? So that one shouldn’t assume that Torah can be passed in like an inheritance.” One has to earn it not inherit it. Yet the Kingship became hereditary and so did the priesthood. When they both failed the rabbis introduced the Sanhedrin which was a meritocracy, to begin with. Although over time it too ended up having dynasties that eventually wore themselves out.

Medieval Jewry tended to reinstate heredity in the rabbinate and gave priority to sons. And Hasidism reintroduced the idea of sons taking over even when they were clearly second rate. The Bible does indeed talk about how one generation influences the next and how generations decline. But like so many areas it gives us different options and models.

Here in the USA, we have a similar conflict. Presidential families try to pass on hereditary leadership. Disrupters try to break those chains. Sometimes they work well. Sometimes not. It was for that reason that Moses could not decide and asked God to intervene.

6/28/2018

Shabbat Balak

Candles - June 29th @ 8:11pm
Havdalah - June 30th @ 9:05pm
Fast of the 17th Tammuz - Sunday, July 1st
Starting @ 4:20am, Ending @ 9:05pm

This week’s reading is named after Balak king of Moab in alliance with Midian. He invited Bilaam the renowned magician to come and curse the Israelites because Balak did not think he could defeat them using conventional means.

The whole of reading focuses on the character of the magician and how instead of cursing he ends up praising the Children of Israel and forecasting a great if difficult future. The narrative shows how although Bilaam thinks he is in control, infact it is God who pulls the strings of human life. Magic is just a human tool, unreliable and unpredictable.

Did Bilaam really exist or was he a myth? In 1967, archaeologists in Jordan found an inscription describing the visions of a prophet of Baal and Ashtoreth called Bilaam, the son of Be'or, who may be the same Bilaam mentioned here and in other passages of the Bible. They dated the inscription to around 840–760 BCE which is some four hundred years after the biblical narrative.

Clearly, Bilaam was an important character throughout the ancient Middle East. But was he really a magician or just a symbol of magic? Like Satan, a word also used in his context this week. The Torah diminishes him. Shows how his ass sees things he can’t and is wiser than him. The whole narrative is a polemic against magic and an assertion that Divine directions are the only ones that can be relied upon.

This Sunday we have the fast of the 17th of Tammuz in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem that led to the loss of two Temples and our national freedom. God may give us directions, even tell us that we will survive long term. But if we screw up, we face the consequences. It is not magic that gives us victories or defeats. It is our capacity to make the wrong decisions.

6/14/2018

Shabbat Korah

Candles - June 15th @ 8:09pm
Havdalah - June 16th @ 9:04pm

The rebellion, led by Korah, was the most serious challenge to his authority throughout the forty year period in the wilderness. It was not just a complaint against Moses personally, as others had, including Miriam and Aaron. It was an attempt at regime change. Which in fact was a challenge to God.

The punishment was that Korah and his family were swallowed up by an earthquake. “And the earth swallowed them up and their households and all the people that belonged to/were with Korah. And they went down, them and everything that was theirs.” (Bamidbar 16:32 & 33)

That seems pretty specific. It included his family and his children. And indeed, that was the assumption of the rabbis who wrote the Midrash. And yet a few chapters later the Torah says, “And the sons of Korah did not die.” (Bamidbar 21:11)

The Midrash gets around this problem by saying that down in the earth when it opened up, there was a sort of plateau, a promontory that the sons of Korah found to survive on and they managed to climb back out and preserve the family position as priests. It does sound rather fantastic. But there is another explanation.

The sons did not agree with their father. They were guiltless. The Torah says that sons are not punished for what their fathers do. But sons do not have to follow or repeat their parents’ mistakes. So that the sons of Korah were proof that it is possible to have a mind of one’s own.

According to Jewish Law, one must respect one’s parents even if they are sinners. But respect does not necessarily require you to follow them when their choices are wrong.

5/31/2018

Shabbat Beha'aloteha

Candles - June 1st @ 8:01 pm
Havdalah - June 2nd @ 8:57 pm

One of the challenges of reading the Torah in our modern world is that the Torah was not given or written under the same sort of rules as we are used to now. For example, the Torah does not always follow a logical sequence. The Talmud says “Ein Me’oochar Umukdam BaTorah.” The Torah does not necessarily follow chronological order. Every text can be interpreted differently. Prophecy in the Torah, for example, works on lots of different levels with different people. It does not always mean the same thing. The Torah often wants a message to be more important than the facts.

This week we will read about Moses asking his father-in-law to come with them into the Promised Land. And Jethro politely declines. Moses repeats the offer. And we don't know what happened. Did he go or did he stay? Except that later Jethro’s family did join the Israelites.

But earlier in Exodus 18:27 Jethro came to visit Moses and brought his wife and children in the first year of the Exodus. He says how much he identifies and accepts God. And he gave Moses advice to appoint seventy elders to help him. He then went home. Now a year later he seems to be back. And this time, it is God who tells Moses to appoint the seventy elders.

Is it a coincidence that the two issues, Jethro joining or going and the seventy elders are brought together, once in Exodus and now, here? Were these two separate incidents or the same? We don’t know for certain.

In reality the facts matter less than the idea. Even in our day different people see the same events differently. But it is still possible to agree on a message. When things happen, they are the result of a combination of several different factors, perspectives and situations. In psychology it is called Gestalt. You take the wider picture instead of focusing on details.

Perhaps it was God’s inspiration that led to Jethro’s advice. Perhaps he wanted to go but changed his mind. There are lots of possibilities. What matters are the ideas. There are options and we have ability to choose. And we pray for God to help us make the right decisions.

5/24/2018

Shabbat Naso

Candles - Friday, May 25th @ 7:58pm
Havdalah - May 26th @ 8.51pm

The third book of the Torah, the Book of Vayikra, is often called the Priestly Book, Torat Cohanim. Because it focuses mainly on the priests and their role in the Tabernacle. The Book of Bamidbar also mentions the role of the priests, including the well-known blessing that they still give to us all.

The difference in the two books is that in Bamidbar the emphasis is more on the individual. It is primarily concerned historically with the events that led to the Children of Israel being unprepared to enter the Promised Land in their second year of freedom and being sent back into the desert for forty years. And apart from the rebellions of those forty years, it adds few new laws. These focus on personal behavior. On knowing the spirit of the law and what happens when one tries to ignore it.

Naso contains two important laws. The first concerning a Nazirite is about when people choose to live a stricter life than the Torah commands. It raises the idea that being more religious is something we should all strive for. But that it is not always a good or healthy idea. Each person decides how far he or she wishes to go beyond the requirement of the law. It's a fine line and open to abuse. Because can think that being stricter automatically means they are better. And it does not.

The Second law, of the Sotah, is also about how far you go in trusting people. It concerns the breakdown of a marriage where the partners no longer trust each other even where there has been no actual betrayal. What both these laws teach us is that although there is a clear constitution and laws, very often the spirit is just as important as the actual law itself.

Without the spirit, a law can be a dead letter. If the previous book was concerned with the details of how to be a good priest and a pure person, this book underlines the idea of how important the spirit is. Everything may look good on the surface. But underneath it may not be.

This was what was lacking when the Israelites first emerged from slavery. It took a long time to learn how to live according to the spirit. In fact, the whole book has this theme of betrayal. Betrayal of God and each other.

Relationships with human beings and with God require goodwill and good intent, not just going through the motions.

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.

---

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.