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.


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.


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.


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.