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.