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.


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.


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.”


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.