Innocent Arguments – Korach 5777

Innocent Arguments

Korach 5777

Have you ever looked back at a raging argument and tried to understand how it all began? Have you ever had the opportunity to step outside of a controversy and look at it in a dispassionate light?

 

Often times, if we are lucky enough to do so, we discover that the seed that was sown at the outset of this Titanic sized storm, was not only insignificant but possibly also innocent, but once the match has been struck the entire edifice is alight.

 

The Mishna’s definition of a Machlokes is that of Korach and his followers as detailed in this week’s Sedra. {It is interesting to note that the Mishna describes it as the ‘Machlokes of Korach and his followers’ and not as the ‘Machlokes of Korach and Moshe’.} We all know how it ended but how did it start? The flash point was ostensibly to oust Aaron as the Kohen Gadol, but the underlying issue was with Moshe’s authority. Therefore, Korach began with a Halachic question: if a room is filled with Sifrei Torah, each one containing 275 chapters, including the single one of the Shema, do we still need a Mezuzah with a but one single chapter on the doorpost?

 

Leaving aside the motive, on the face of it, the basis of the question seems innocent enough. {The motive, explain our commentators, was that Korach really believed that Moshe would say that no it did not need a Mezuzah, thus allowing him to question why the Community of Israel needed an extra Leader if they were all individually filled with Torah?} How did this innocent, and possibly quite valid Halachic question, explode into such a conflagration that ended with a miraculous opening of the earth and Divinely sent plague that killed thousands?

 

Korach’s mistake, and one that he was simply unable or obstinately unwilling to step back from, was confusing quality over quantity; thinking that he could drown out the truth with an avalanche of innuendos and well-argued polemics. So much within Halacha and Judaism is pin point specific, and so it should be, for Truth walks a very finely balanced line; there is no such thing as something being 99% true, it either is or it isn’t. Of course there is room for manoeuvre, Judaism was the inventor of compromise and case specific application, but those must work within the boundaries of the Law. If there is a Mitzvah to place a Mezuzah on the doorpost to a room then it doesn’t help if the room is filled with holy books, you still haven’t fulfilled your obligation to put one of the doorpost. That’s akin to saying that because someone has given so much to charity he doesn’t need to pay taxes. Or because I buy my wife presents so often, I don’t actually need to tell her that I love her! Extra credits are nice, but they don’t cancel out actual obligations.

 

A little bit of what is correct weighs far more than a ton of useless, even if well meant, platitudes.

 

Unfortunately it is a trap that we are all prone to; we cover up our deficiencies by drowning them with ‘good deeds’, when what might just be needed is one simple act. And such traps are so much harder to escape from, precisely because they are tied up with good. When one is categorically wrong it is easier, if humbling, to be able to ‘fess up. But when the mistake is wrapped up within the legitimacy of truth, albeit twisted, then it is so much harder to correct.

 

Korach’s argument is chosen by the Mishna as the prime example of a Machlokes specifically because it started so innocently. We all know that an evil person can create rift and poison an entire community, but how often do we fall into the innocent trap? It is specifically such an argument that the Mishna warns us about, because it is so easy to start but incredibly hard to end.

 

May Hashem grant us all the humility and intelligence to avoid these arguments,

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Dovid 

Climbing Complacency

Climbing Complacency

Shelach-Lecha 5777

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is rumoured to have said “whether you say you can or you can’t, you are right”.  So much in our world is dependent on mind-set and attitude. Capability and strength have a massive role to play, but a negative manner can cancel all of our raw talent in one fell swoop. And no one is immune.

 

The above, I believe, answers a difficult question from this week’s Sedra. Even before the spies set out on their disastrous mission Moshe changes Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua ‘in order to save him from the evil design of the spies’. Yet at this point those 12 men were all honest and upright religious leaders of the Jewish Nation. Similarly, as soon as they enter into the land, Calev the only other spy not to get caught up in their hysteria, detours to Hebron in order to pray at the Cave of Machpela that he too should not be part of their nefarious plan. Again, at this point Calev’s fellow spies were not yet speaking negatively about the Land of Israel. Nothing bad had happened yet, so why did Yehosua and Calev need the extra protection?

 

I would like to suggest that the root of their negative report about the Land, was sown at the very outset of their journey. This wasn’t a conscious decision, and at the start they were indeed all righteous men, worthy of that name, but they looked at the task ahead of the Jewish Nation and they gave up.

 

Moshe saw this defeat in their eyes and blessed his student Yehoshua that he shouldn’t be similarly affected, Calev recognized it as well and prayed for assistance. Defeatism is a most contagious disease and is not easily conquered. Once infected it runs rampant through an entire group and can destroy hopes and aspirations.

 

At this point I have to thank a group of 100 Frum bike riders from North Manchester for the inspiration for the above Torah thought and lesson. Once a year I join them as they remove their long black coats, stop eating cholent (albeit only for one Shabbat) and creak their legs over the crossbars of the most eclectic collection of bikes you have ever seen, most of which are old, heavy and fit for the scrap heap. Last year they were raising money for a special needs school and this year it is for a fertility charity, both here in Manchester. Last night we were given the route for the ride this Sunday, and a great big groan went up, for it is going to be hard. Never mind the distance of 100k, which is about 95k more than they have ridden since last year’s ride, it is the climbing involved. For this year, it starts North of Preston in the Forest of Bowland and includes over 1500 metres of climbing. To put that in perspective, on our hardest day in Israel, when we were a confident and fit group of riders all on full carbon fibre bikes with the latest in cycling technology, we only climbed 1300 metres! So this group of overweight riders, who are cycling on nothing more than enthusiasm alone started to groan.

 

I watched the rapidly and exponentially growing sense of defeat and was more than slightly alarmed, and being the only Rabbi on the group (yes, even when I ride with the Frummies of North Manc, I am still the only Rabbi!!), I stepped in and shared the above thought. I reminded them that if the couples whom we are trying to help looked at the difficult road ahead of them with the same defeatism they would never get married in the first place. If they knew that there were going to have months and years of anxiety, tears and frustration as their hopes for children were dashed month after month, then they would most definitely give up even before they began. And who could blame them.

 

The same is true of our life journey in general. If we saw all of our ups and downs, all of our difficulties and misfortunes before we set out on our life, then we could be forgiven for giving up. Yet, the Almighty tells us to just take the first step. Don’t be complacent, don’t pretend for a moment that it’s going to be a walk in the park, but don’t get caught up in the climb coming your way. At times we will need the extra help such as our Moshe blessing his student or Calev praying and seeking out the protection of our ancestors, but don’t give up before you’ve taken the first step.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Dovid

 

p.s. the tone on the rider’s WhatsApp group has taken a 180 degree turn and now they are so fired up that I am probably going to be the last one at the top of that mountain!

Free Food – Beha’alosecha and the unique complaint

Free Food

The Unique Complaint of Beha’alosecha

 

Rabbi Yisroel Ruzhin, was one of the pre-eminent Chassidic Rebbes of Ukraine and ran a Court that was the envy of Tsar Nicholas. Amongst his contemporaries, he was known as ‘Der Heliger’ – ‘The Holy One’ and is still regarded today as one of the leading lights of the Chassidic world and pre-war Europe, including by Rabbi Shimson Hirsch, the architype Modern-Orthodox intellectual.  At his instigation, the Tifferet Yisrael Shul, which received praise and funding from Kaiser Wilhelm, was built in the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

After he passed away his 6 sons all wanted to inherit his Tefillin, which were a much-treasured family heirloom going back to the times of the Baal Shem Tov, and they decided to make a silent auction. Before looking at their respective ‘bids’, the oldest son suggested that actually they should follow the time honoured Jewish custom and have a Gorel – a lottery. After the 5th son, Reb Dovid Moshe’s name was pulled out of the hat, they then (out of curiosity) looked at their ‘silent bids’. Unsurprisingly they saw, that Reb Dovid Moshe had bid: ‘everything I have’!

 

After my father told me that story this morning, I realised how appropriate it is for my weekly message. And no, its nothing to do with politics, although the analogies are simple to see.

 

Whether it is the statement in Ethics of the Fathers, ‘according to the pain is the reward’, or the old English saying, ‘the harder I practice, the luckier I get’; it is an unavoidable truth that we only get what we work for. {Let’s leave alone the minority whom we all complain about, for in truth everything washes out in the end – especially when we believe in an after-life!}

 

This is a theme that runs through our Sedra this week and is highlighted in particular when the Israelites complain about their food and wellbeing. Only this time the complaint leads to Moshe pretty much giving much and asking Hashem to take his life. (See Chief Rabbi Sacks’ article)

 

The uniqueness of this complaint was that we referenced all the good food that we ate in Egypt, ‘for free’. The Manna from Heaven and the water from Miriam’s Well were the perfect food, absolute nutrition and uniquely suitable for everyone, but it came with a price. The food in Egypt was accompanied by slavery, but there was no real price to it; we were being fed the same way that a farmer feeds his plough horse. In the desert however, Hashem was feeding us as a mother feeds her children; its free but it comes with a price. That price has no sticker or label on stating how much it costs, but it has a value that is beyond rubies; our commitment to our parents.

 

Moshe felt so much despair not at our complaint about food per se, but the fact that we weren’t committed to the cause. We weren’t prepared to put our effort into this relationship; we wanted it served to us on a silver platter. And that is what caused him to complain so bitterly to Hashem. Reb Dovid Moshe deserved his father’s Tefillin not because he was any better than his siblings, but because he understood that in order to inherit such a precious possession he had to be willing to give everything for them. These Tefillin had no financial worth, it was their intrinsic value of what they represented; a commitment to a way of life.

 

What price are we willing to pay to ensure that our children’s children will inherit our faith?

For The Sake Of Our Children – Shavuot 5777

For the sake of our children

I have already spilt too much ink this week, and although my words may have left one or two people ‘feeling’ better, I doubt that it made anyone ‘be’ safer. That 2nd option though, is the remit of the Government and Local Authority and on Shabbat I will be looking at the lessons I have had to learn from my last two weeks; coming straight from an amazing charity bike ride along the length of Israel into the madness (and inspiration) that has been Manchester this week. Today though I want to look at the juxtapositioning of the brutal and targeted murder of a children’s concert with the upcoming Chag of Shavuot.

 

There is a famous Midrash that describes Hashem first offering the Torah to every Nation on Earth, only for them to reject it as they were unwilling to accept certain restrictions such as murder, Kashrut, family purity etc. When the Jewish Nation was asked, we famously responded, ‘Na’aseh vNishmah’ – we will do and we will listen.

 

However that wasn’t the end of the story, for Hashem then asked us for our guarantors; who could we put forward that would guarantee that we would indeed keep the Torah? Automatically our eyes turned towards our ancestors; Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaackov together with Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. But Hashem wouldn’t accept them as they were already beyond this physical world. We offered our Rabbis and Teachers, but they too were rejected as being unable to ensure that the common man and woman would actually behave. We suggested our Prophets Moshe and Aaron, we tried our hand with the Celestial Beings, we even called on Heaven and Earth, but Hashem wouldn’t accept any of them.

 

In desperation, we suggested our own children, minors and infants; and with them standing as our eternal guarantors the Almighty was prepared to hand over to us His most precious possession the Torah.

 

The act of creating a child may be the most selfish and animalistic instinct that we have, but the lifelong job of raising and educating them, protecting and nurturing them is the most selfless and divine purpose of our entire existence. We pour our heart and soul into ensuring that they are properly educated, fed and clothed, we spend the vast proportion of our income and pretty much our entire existence on ensuring their safety and health and continued growth into adulthood. At times we may tear our hair out at their antics (regardless of their age and supposed maturity – sorry daddy), but nothing can move our hearts as much as seeing them achieve their potential. We will stand in the way of any danger that confronts our baby and we will enwrap them in our arms to protect them from all harm, real or imagined. They will disturb our sleep for years, but I for one cannot go to sleep without softly kissing their foreheads as they lie peacefully in their little beds.

 

We invest everything we have for the sake of our children, but at the end of the day they are our guarantors.

 

Hashem did not want Rabbis or Prophets, He was unsatisfied with our Forefathers and Mothers, He would not accept Angels or even Reality itself, all He wanted was the promise of our Children. And for over 3,300 years that is what we have given to Him.

 

This Shavuot, Wednesday 31 May, bring them along to Shul. Let them once again stand on the Bimah as we receive the Torah, our guiding light and moral compass, with our little ones acting as our eternal guarantors. I cannot physically (or politically) make anyone safer, but maybe we can feel safer and in some small way actually be safer, as we once again look to our children and their education as our promise for an eternal future.

 

Shabbat Shalom

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.”
Page 2 of 512345