The Road That Is Hope – Thoughts after attending the Manchester Vigil

Together with tens of thousands, if not more, I stood in the sunshine of Albert Square as the City I love gathered in a vigil to mourn the 22. It felt incongruous; the sun shining so brightly on a day that was so dark. Where was the typical Manchester weather? Where was the rain and the dark clouds? Had the angels stopped crying on this day?

 

But as I stood there, I looked around at the faces of my fellow Mancunians. Perched on top of one of the Square’s monuments was a young man whose arm was still bruised and red from his most recent tattoo, and standing by his side was a woman still dressed in her smart business suit. Next to me was a mother and her child, not more than six years old, whilst directly in front was a veteran, a man who had seen war back in the 1940’s. Standing at the base of the Square’s tree was a group of students from the Manchester University and a cadre of Street Preachers all dressed in blue. There were Jews, there were Sikhs, there were Christians and there were Muslims, people of all religions and none, all standing there with a Faith in humanity that outweighed any terror or misguided fanatic.

 

And so as I stood there in the sunshine I realised how appropriate it was. Yes, Manchester is a City in mourning, a city that has had its heart rent asunder with the loss of 22 precious and pure souls, with the pain and suffering of many many more, but it is also a city that has a heart that beats strong.

 

I first heard the news last night whilst driving back from a charity dinner in North Manchester and at that moment all we knew was that a loud bang had been heard at the Arena. Then as the news slowly filtered in over the next few hours, I did what everyone else does at these times; as we naturally look first to see if any of our loved ones were caught up in the bombing, if anyone we know has been killed or injured, if one of our community has been hurt. We ring our family and friends, we send out a call to our contacts and community members, and we wait with trepidation as one by one they signal that they are well; even if some are only safe through miracles and good luck.

 

As the news came in of the numbers killed and injured, we once again breathed a sigh of relief as we counted our children and loved ones safe at home, but it was tinged with pain as we thought of those who are still waiting for news of their loved ones. We answered the calls from our relatives and friends abroad reassuring them that we are fine, but we can’t help but think of those whose phones will continue to ring with no one to answer it.

 

Once the immediate panic is over, we are reminded that we are all actually one and in fact I have lost loved ones in this attack. For this isn’t about religion or race, gender or community, it is about people. Every child or young person killed or injured in the attack is someone’s baby and loved one. When we said extra Psalms and prayers in the Synagogue today we prayed for everyone in the Arena, regardless of their faith or belief.

 

I spent the last week riding through the Holy Land with a mixed group of Jews and Christians; we rode through Israeli and Arab villages and were greeted with love and smiles at all times. My first appointment this week, mere hours after landing back in England, was at an interfaith ceremony at the Christie Hospital. We unveiled a tapestry, stitched and embroidered by a cross communal group of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The message on that tapestry was “All paths lead to hope”.

 

This Shabbat in Shul I will reflect on that message, but with a twist. For as well as all paths leading to hope, the paths themselves must be ones of hope. Our journey must be one that doesn’t just lead to hope, but is also hope in and of itself. Our mission in this world and our lives on this earth, are not just a means to an end, but have a purpose itself. Our journey must be one of hope.

 

We pray for all those injured, for the souls of those who were brutally murdered and for the pain of the parents and siblings who are having to face their greatest nightmare. May the Almighty heal the injured, comfort the mourners and shelter the souls of the pure ones under His wings. Most importantly of all, may He implant into our hearts the true love that we must have for each other and the bravery to journey together in hope and peace.

 

For as I stood there in the bright sunshine of Manchester’s Albert Square what I felt was Hope. As the hairs stood up on the back of neck when the crowd cheered Manchester’s Chief Constable what I heard was Hope. As my ears rang with the clapping of thousands of hands as Tony Walsh read his poem ‘This is the place’ what resonated through my body was Hope.

 

Rabbi Dovid

A Buddhist’s Holy One Liner – Kedoshim 5777

A Buddhist’s Holy One Liner

Acharei- Kedoshim 5777

A chance encounter with a Buddhist earlier on today caused me to quickly analyse a verse from this week’s Sedra. He asked me for one sentence that could encapsulate Judaism, what is my one-liner as a Rabbi? This was at the end of a meeting, and I had not known up to that point what his religious or spiritual affiliation was, and I only had 60 seconds; I had been catapulted into ‘Just a Minute’!

The first verse that came to mind was the start of the Sedra: קדשים תהיו – you should be holy. He said I like it, it fits in with my philosophy. But I stopped him and said that actually it was the continuation of the verse that really spoke to me – ‘for I Hashem am holy”! Now that throws me; how is our holiness a reflection of Hashem’s? Why indeed is G-d’s holiness a valid reason for us to do likewise?

Now he was intrigued.

I explained that the word קדש – holy, also means to sanctify, to consecrate something, to set it aside. And that is my one-liner, for when G-d is set aside, when He/She/Whatever is sanctified and holy, it is not by virtue of being better than those around; G-d’s holiness is absolutely self-dependant. We don’t play Top-Trumps with G-d for there is nothing to compare Him to.

And that is the instruction at the start of the Sedra – be Holy by your own standards. You are not going to be judged in comparison with anyone else.

That of course works both ways; we can’t pat ourselves on the back when we (more often that not, erroneously) think that we are holier/frummer than someone else, but neither should we knock ourselves down when we think that we aren’t as good as them.

In the words of Rabbi Meir of Premishlan: “I’m not worried that when I get to heaven that they are going to ask me why I wasn’t as good as Moses was, but rather I’m petrified that they are going to ask me why I wasn’t as good a Meir could have been.”

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dovid

p.s. now you know why I never enter ‘Just a Minute’; too much repetition, far too much deviation, and G-d in heaven ‘just’ one minute!!

Freg a Sha’aloh

“Freg a Sha’aloh”

Lessons in prejudging from one little letter.

Tazria Metzora 5777

“freg a sha’aloh – is ez treif” – ask a question, and its treif. Thus have Anglo Jewry always believed, but what is the basis for that?

 

We could in fact argue that actually the opposite is true, and indeed the Talmud tells us that “koach d’hitayroh odif” – the power to permit something is greater. In other words, anyone can say that something is treif or forbidden, but it takes a knowledgeable authority to permit it and declare it Kosher etc. So freg a sha’aloh, you never know, it may yet turn out to be Kosher!

 

I mention this because of one little letter in this week’s Sedra. “When you will come to the Land……and the owner of the house will say to the Kohen, ‘there appears to me to be something like a Tzara’as lesion in my house.’ – כנגע נראה לי בבית” (Vayikra 14:34-35.) It is the ‘something like’, in Hebrew it’s the prefix ‘kaf’, that interests me.

 

The owner of the house, even if he were to be the most learned Rabbi or Prophet was not entitled to declare his house impure. Instead he had to call in the expert and get an official diagnosis; he had to freg a sha’aloh!

 

The reason for this is two-fold: 1) no one should ever be that quick to condemn themselves – or indeed anyone, leave it to the unconnected, third party, expert. 2) even if you were sure of the matter, and indeed you turned out to be correct, if you told the Kohen that you had a Tzara’as lesion in your house, rather than ‘something like a lesion’, you were in effect asking him to merely ‘rubber stamp’ your opinion!

 

I see here a powerful lesson for each and every one of us. Too often we follow the adage; if it quacks like a duck, if it waddles like a duck, if it looks like a duck – it’s a duck. It looks like someone has Tzara’as, it smells like they have been struck by Heaven – they must therefore be guilty.

 

We are therefore taught that even when we see it on ourselves (how much more so on someone else, when we definitely do not know all the facts), we are not allowed to pre-judge. Call in the expert and wait – you never know, it might not be Treif.

 

Oh, and don’t just go through the motions to get the expert/Kohen/Rabbi to confirm your ‘suspicions’ about the other person – wait for them to declare. This isn’t an exercise in proving you right, it’s a journey to discover the truth and to avoid declaring something, or even worse, someone Treif.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

History Avoidance – Shemini, Post Pesach 5777

History Avoidance

Listening to the radio on Thursday I heard Nigel Farage declare that he would not be standing as an MP in the forthcoming general elections. What was interesting, were the phone calls that followed, with a number of his ‘Chassidim’ (although, he might use a different term!!) exhorting him to reconsider. Their contention was: this is what you are needed for, this is your calling.

 

Not to draw parallels, but it did remind me of a conversation, recounted by Rashi, between Moshe and Aaron at the dedication of the Tabernacle in the opening verses of this week’s Sedra.

 

Having served as the Kohen Gadol for seven days of installation, Moshe now called Aaron forward to begin the actual Service in the Dedication ceremony and take his dutiful role as the permanent Kohen Gadol. But Aaron held back, he felt that he was not worthy of the position, primarily due to his involvement with the Golden Calf. Moshe responds and says: ‘Why are you embarrassed? You were chosen for this role’ – לכך נבחרת.

 

We have just celebrated Pesach, when in essence we became the ‘Chosen Nation’.  It is important to stress at this point, that this term does not denote a negative aspect about other nations, but rather an acceptance of a responsibility for our nation. It’s not about them, it’s about us.

 

The order of the Hagaddah follows the same route; first we mention that we were slaves, then it describes our origins as idol worshippers. On a night when we are celebrating our freedom, our birth as a nation, why do we make any mention at all of our ‘shady past’?! Sweep it under the carpet and move on. Celebrate the power of freedom and the heights of spirituality, not the lows of slavery and paganism.

 

But the message of last week’s Hagaddah and this week’s Sedra is that there is no avoiding our destiny and stepping off our chosen path of responsibility. We cannot claim unworthiness because of any past history. We can pretend, we can try to hide in the shadows, but if this is our route in life then the only person we are in fact hiding from is ourselves. In the words of my father: ‘you are only fooling yourself – and anybody can fool a fool’!!

 

It was true of Aaron, it was true of our Nation and it is true for each and every one of us.

2 Jews = 3 Opinions

120 Seconds on 7th Day Pesach and the lessons from different opinions amongst Jews

 

 

Exodus 14:13-14

But Moshe said to the People, “Have no fear.

  1. Stand firm and witness the deliverance that Hashem will perform for your today,
  2. For the Egyptians who you have seen today you will never see again.
  3. Hashem will do battle for you;
  4. You will remain silent.”

PhotoBombs, Yellow Cars and Streaks of Red

PhotoBombs, Yellow Cars and Streaks of Red

Shabbat Hagadol 5777

It started back in 2015 when a tourist complained. It escalated this January with vandalism. Then this week 100 protectors took to the streets in support.

 

All over a yellow car.

 

The offender, a car painted an alluring yellow, was accused of ruining the photo-shoots of tourists who had travelled for miles to see the picturesque village of Bidbury, home to the 14th century Cotswold cottages on Arlington Row.

 

The problem was that the owner, Mr Maddox, lived in the cottage and had simply parked his car outside his own home.

 

The tourists complained, vandals keyed the car and smashed the windows writing it off!

 

In support and solidarity, 100 owners of yellow cars (in all shapes, sizes and shades, from a Mini to a Lamborghini) processed through the village and Vauxhall have renamed that shade of paint to ‘Maddox Yellow’!

 

(Unfortunately, the 84 year old widower, has since given in to the vandals and replaced his car with a non-descript grey one!)

 

Pesach gets its name because Hashem passed-over our houses during the plague of the first-born. To ensure our protection we were commanded to paint the doorposts of our houses in red! We ruined the picturesque beauty of ancient Egypt with our splash of incongruous colour. But that was something that we had been doing for quite some time; standing out from the crowd. The Talmud tells us that we refused to change our dress, names or language throughout the entire two centuries we were in Egypt – including during the century of servitude and oppression.

 

Chief Rabbi Sacks summed it up brilliantly when he said (I believe it was just after the terrorist attack on 7-7) “Jews have always learnt to integrate but not assimilate”.

 

If Pesach teaches us one thing it is that our freedom cannot be bought by fading into the background and ignoring our heritage and customs. It is the Chag that raises Minhagim (ancient and new, authentic and bizarre) to a whole new level, and teaches us that what has given us the strength to survive is by respecting our surroundings, but not being drowned and suffocated by them.

 

Wishing you all a Chag Kasher v’Sameach,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Sacrifices – NOT!! – Vayikra 5777

Sacrifices – NOT!!

 

At some point a wordsmith better than I, will coin a more appropriate word to translate the Hebrew term Korban. The main focus of the entire book of Vayikra is purity and our personal relationship with the Divine, expressed in the minutiae of the Temple Service which of course revolved around the Korbanot.

 

The English word used is ‘sacrifice’.

 

This connotes giving something up and in the context of the Temple service, seems to imply that we are giving up the animal’s life!

 

I’ve sinned – time to slit an animals throat and move on with my life with clean hands!

I’ve been cured from a life-threatening illness – time to sprinkle some blood on the altar as thanks!

I brought a new life into this world – time to take an animal’s life in appreciation!

It’s Shabbat, it’s Rosh Chodesh, it’s Yom Tov – let’s bring an extra sacrifice.

 

Not exactly a moral or ethical act.

 

Can the Nation that gave us the very first moral code, the revolutionary Mitzvah of ‘Tzaar Ba’alei Chaim (not hurting our animals), that forbade hunting for pleasure, that insists on feeding our pets before our children etc etc etc, can that Nation and Divine Code really insist on sacrificing an animal’s life on the Altar of repentance, remembrance and thanks?

 

But is it truly about sacrificing?

 

For that matter, is anything within Judaism about sacrificing?

 

Do we sacrifice our taste-buds and appetite by adhering to Kashrut?

Do we sacrifice our sartorial desires and fashion sense by adhering to a dress-code?

Do we sacrifice our sexuality by adhering to family purity?

Do we sacrifice our free time by going to Shul?

 

The list goes one. In fact it is essentially 613 lines long!

 

A Korban is not a sacrifice. The Hebrew word Korban has its roots in k-r-v, to come close.

 

The whole point of Judaism, every positive Mitzvah and each negative Aveirah are about bridging the gap between the infinite Divine and the finite human being.

 

It’s not for nothing that the instruction to build the Tabernacle was prefaced by the Mitzvah of Shabbat, which more than any other Mitzvah reminds us that there is a Divine Creator to this world and that our every action must be in sync with His and aim to bring us both closer to each other.

 

The mechanics of how it works is the study of a lifetime, but the main point is that we were not put on this world to sacrifice ourselves, our happiness or our animals for G-d. We are put here to get closer and to be involved with the Cosmic plan of creation. If you think that you can just slit an animal’s throat and be atoned, sprinkle its blood and be done with expressing your thanks, then you have done nothing more than take an animal’s life – which is basically murder! You’ve not sacrificed an animal – you’ve sacrificed your moral code, your sacrificed your very essence of what it means to be a human being!

 

 

 

 

Vayakhel-Pekudei, #HASHTAGS and the Westminster Attack

#HASHTAGS!!

POST WESTMINSTER ATTACK

 

We had just finished saying a Psalm and a special Refuah Shleima for those injured in the Westminster attack when my phone pinged telling me that the death toll had risen to three. With that message came the now ubiquitous sign of the times: #PrayForLondon was trending on social media!

 

There are as ever those who criticise such hashtags and question their value, but I wonder whether they are in fact missing the point. We live in such a cosmopolitan society and with the ever-increasing march of technology the world has simultaneously become much smaller and paradoxically ever larger. We are instantly connected to events transpiring half-way across the globe whilst having less and less real face time with those living within our own group. The mobile phone, the ultimate symbol of connectivity and communication, is now the biggest cause of disconnect. It’s a sign of the times, but the least commonly used feature on the mobile is now the actual call button!

 

A main strap-line for ShabbatUK was ‘disconnect to reconnect’, as we were all told to put away our mobile phones (and all other electronical devices!), to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the real world. But whilst the Mitzvah of Shabbat is the first paragraph of the week’s Sedra, it is not where I draw inspiration from this week, but rather from the names of the double Sedra themselves: Vayakhel and Pekudei.

 

Vayakhel means to gather together. This was the day after the original Yom Kippur when Moshe gathered the entire Jewish Nation together as one group in order to give us the commandment to build the Mishkan (which was prefaced by the Mitzvah of Shabbat to remind us that even the building of the ‘Home for Hashem’ did not override Shabbat).

 

Pekudei means to count, and this was the obligation to count each individual donation given to the building fund.

 

These two words, thrown together as a double Sedra are seemingly contradictory; to gather everyone together as one large mass and to count them individually! But that is precisely the message and entire ethos of the Torah and Judaism. We are our strongest when we are united as one, and that combined strength comes specifically from our own individual strength. It’s not just the ‘sum of its parts is greater than the whole’, it’s that there is no whole without the individual parts. When the farmer took his Ma’aser – the annual tithe, he couldn’t just take one tenth of his flock from the herd, but was obligated to count each animal individually and to set aside every tenth one that went by. It’s a central line in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer from Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur; that although we are gathered in Shul as one large Minyan, nevertheless we are all passing under the Almighty’s staff individually to get judged.

 

We ride on the flow of the communal current, but we must all swim ourselves.

 

In an age when we can with minimum effort be part of a global crowd, when with one click of a button we can join an international movement, it’s all too easy for us to think that we have now fulfilled our duty. “I’ve signed up. I’m on the inside.” I see the hashtag as a reminder that we can’t just ‘click to like’, but we must do our individual bit as well. Be part of the crowd, but play your part within that crowd.

As I write this message, pictures are coming in of the vigil held in Central London and the masses gathered there. A show of unity and defiance. A mark of respect and courage. Everyone there was and is part of the ‘community of strength’ but they also had to each individually turn up and play their individual part.

 

May the Almighty heal all those injured in the attack and grant comfort to those bereft of loved ones and shelter the souls of those so cruelly murdered.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

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