From a Nazi killing camp to a Terrorist attack in Jerusalem – the journey of a gold necklace

This Shabbat, 20th Av marks 16 years since the Sbaro bombing in Jerusalem. Here is a heart-warming story to emerge from that horror.

 

When a train filled with a large transport of Jewish prisoners arrived at one of the Nazi killing centres, many Polish gentiles came out to watch the latest group as they were taken away. As the disoriented Jews were gathering their possessions to take with them into the camp, a Nazi officer in charge called out to the villagers standing nearby, “Anything these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!”

 

Two Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman towards the back of the group, wearing a large, heavy, expensive coat. Not waiting for someone else to take the coat before them, they ran to the Jewish woman and knocked her to the ground, grabbed her coat and scurried away. Moving out of sight of the others, they quickly laid the coat down on the ground to divide the spoils of what was hiding inside.

 

Rummaging through the pockets, they giddily discovered gold jewellery, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms. They were thrilled with their find, but as they lifted the coat again, it still seemed heavier than it should. Upon further inspection, they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was …. a tiny baby girl!

 

Shocked at their discovery, one woman took pity and insisted to the other, “I don’t have any children, and I’m too old to give birth now. You take the gold and silver and let me have the baby.” The Polish woman took her new “daughter” home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well, but never telling her anything about her history. The girl excelled in her studies and even became a doctor, working as a paediatrician in a hospital in Poland.

 

When her “mother” passed away many years later, a visitor came to pay her respects. An old woman invited herself in and said to the daughter, “I want you to know that the woman that passed away last week was not your real mother …” and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. She did not believe her at first, but the old woman insisted.

 

“When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it, which must be Hebrew. I am sure that your mother kept the necklace. Go and see for yourself.” Indeed, the woman went into her deceased mother’s jewellery box and found the necklace just as the elderly lady had described. She was shocked. It was hard to fathom that she had been of Jewish descent, but the proof was right there in her hand.

 

As this was her only link to a previous life, she cherished the necklace. She had it enlarged to fit her neck and wore it every day, although she thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.

 

Sometime later, she went on holiday abroad and came across two Jewish boys standing on a main street, trying to interest Jewish passers-by to wrap Tefillin on their arms (for males) or accept Shabbos candles to light on Friday afternoon (for females). Seizing the opportunity, she told them her entire story and showed them the necklace. The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace but did not know about her status. They recommended that she write a letter to their mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L, explaining everything. If anyone would know what to do, it would be him.

 

She took their advice and sent off a letter that very same day. She received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she is a Jewish girl and perhaps she would consider using her medical skills in Israel where talented paediatricians were needed. Her curiosity was piqued and she travelled to Israel where she consulted a Beis Din who declared her Jewish. Soon she was accepted into a hospital to work, and eventually met her husband and raised a family.

 

In August 2001, a terrorist blew up the Sbarro cafe in the centre of Jerusalem. The injured were rushed to the hospital where this woman worked. One patient was brought in, an elderly man in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter who had become separated from him.

 

Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a description of a gold necklace that she was wearing. Eventually, they finally found her among the injured patients.

 

At the sight of this necklace, the paediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, “Where did you buy this necklace?”

 

“You can’t buy such a necklace,” he responded, “I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually, I made two identical pieces for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, and my other daughter did not survive the war.”

 

And this is the story of how a Jewish girl, brutally torn away from her mother on a Nazi camp platform almost sixty years ago, was reunited with her father.

 

[Adapted from the book “Heroes of Faith”, via Cindy Greenstein Vaughn]

Red Skies and Shabbat Wonders

Red Skies and Shabbat Wonders

Va’eschanan 5777

Walking to Shul last week for Shabbat Mincha, we were greeted by the most phenomenal sunset. The entire western sky was a deep and vibrant red, whilst to the east was a perfect double rainbow. Of course, we then debated what that meant, and what indeed was the meaning of red sky at night – shepherd’s delight; although one of the Minyan men said red sky at night – shepherd’s cottage alight!

 

But I was thinking about that when reading the repetition of the 10 Commandments in this week’s Sedra. There are a few grammatical changes from the first account of the 10 Commandments in the Sedra of Yisro, but those are due to the fact that this time Moshe is saying them as opposed to Hashem. However, when detailing the fourth commandment, the Mitzvah of Shabbat, we are presented with an entirely different reason for keeping the Mitzvah. In Yisro it is to remember the creation of the world, whereas in our Sedra of Va’eschanan it is to remember the Exodus from Egypt.

 

Why two totally different reasons for the same Mitzvah?

 

The answer is that neither of those are the reason for the Mitzvah of Shabbat, but rather a guide as to how to appreciate Shabbat. For Shabbat is unique in that it is actually about creating a partnership with Hashem and His involvement in the world. We stop working to remind ourselves that we aren’t the ones in charge of our livelihood, but are part of the greater story as written by the Master Author. The reason for the Mitzvah of Shabbat it to enforce that partnership.

 

The two aspects of Creation and the Exodus are guides as to how we understand that partnership and the reason for Shabbat.

 

When speaking to the Jewish Nation at Mount Sinai, Hashem was speaking to an inspired Nation, a Nation that could literally look at the world around them and see the Hand of Hashem. For them to understand Shabbat and our partnership with the Almighty it was enough to connect Shabbat with the 6 Days of Creation. 40 years later however, Moshe was speaking to a generation later on, to a Nation that was about to enter into the Holy Land and would have to be more intimately involved in nature. We would see the rising of the sun as the norm not as proof of Hashem. We would have to toil the earth ourselves instead of receiving the Manna from Heaven, and would understandably get lost in the nature and lose sight of the Divine Hand. Moshe therefore connected our partnership with Hashem that is spelt out by Shabbat with the Exodus as opposed to the Creation. We needed the ‘aha moment’, the miraculous nature of the Exodus as a visual reminder of Hashem constantly creating the world.

 

Moshe was telling that Generation, and indeed every Jew right until the 21st century and beyond, that whilst it might be nice to recognise Hashem’s constant connection with the world through the everyday nature of life, it is probably easier to do so when confronted by the different, unnatural and miraculous moments. Watching the daily sunrise might not do it, but seeing a spectacular bright red sunset probably does. A regular day in the office undoubtedly doesn’t, but bumping into the right contact at exactly the right moment, just when you are about to close the deal and desperately need their expertise, does – or at least it should!

 

Moshe was letting them and us know, that when we have those ‘aha moments’, such as the Exodus or the birth of a child, such as the miraculous rescue from the devastating car crash or the right-place/right-time event, that we need to grab hold of them as our personal gift. The gift that we are presented with every Shabbat, but unfortunately also take for granted. Shabbat is not just about letting Hashem into our lives, it is about letting ourselves recognize that Hashem is already part of lives.

Atoms and Intergalactic Winds

Atoms and Intergalactic Winds

Devarim 5777

 

An article in Thursday’s Guardian newspaper, must be in contention for the most dramatic opening paragraph since Genesis 1:1; “Nearly half of the atoms that make up our bodies may have formed beyond the Milky Way and travelled to the solar system on intergalactic winds driven by giant exploding stars, astronomers claim.”

 

The article continues in much the same vein, with descriptions of the intergalactic winds, and how we are “in some sense extragalactic visitors or immigrants in what we think of as our galaxy.” Even when reading those sentences as an Orthodox Jew with an unwavering believe in Genesis and the story of our Creation, I still see them as inspiring and dramatic. How though to view them, when they are read in light of this week’s traumatic twist in the Charlie Gard story?

 

Let me begin by stating the obvious, which has unfortunately been totally ignored by a lot of the Press, in particular the Right-Wing Press in the States: I am not privy to the full medical details of the case!! Like most people with an interest in the story, I have googled encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS or RRM2B) and am now an ‘expert’ in the field! I also know about the NBT treatment offered by a ‘specialist’ in the States. However, even though I might like to think of myself as having an A.A.D. (almost a doctor) qualification, I don’t and neither do any of the journalists! So, I am not here to criticise the staff and caring doctors and professionals at GOSH or to question at all their incredibly difficult journey in what has become a very public and political campaign. My heart goes out to them as much as it does to Charlie and his parents, Connie and Chris.

 

What I do want to do is to look at it as a father, as a Rabbi and as a patient/parent within the medical system.

 

Not many people are blessed with a smooth sailing through this world, and like many others Nachi and I have had our fair share of medical ups and downs. We have been blessed with good friends, and more importantly we have been privileged to count amongst our friends, doctors whom we not only trusted but who also recognised and understood our religious values and the guidelines by which we live our lives. One time in particular we were being pressurised by an outside consultant who wanted to go down a certain path, one that was categorically against Halacha. He meant well within his world and was simply following his professional expertise. But Nachi and I were being guided by principles that went higher and beyond those, it also helped that we had the support of our doctor friends. The specific details are not for me to share, but the principle was; Belief versus Medicine. Yes, the Torah tells us to live, and we are commanded to break pretty much every law to preserve life, but even that rule comes with Halachic boundaries, and the doctor wanted to break them.

 

I didn’t and couldn’t just view our journey as a medical process, I had to view it as one that came from far far away. In the words of the Guardian quoted above, we were extragalactic visitors. Although rather than being particles blown here from intergalactic winds driven by giant exploding stars, we were in fact part of the Infinite Being, driven here by His breath. We were vindicated in the end, but I would like to believe that even if we hadn’t been that our belief would have survived.

 

I cannot and will not attempt to answer why Charlie, his parents and indeed the doctors and staff at GOSH have had to endure this terrible episode. I am not a prophet or even a medical scientist, I am but a father of two lovely daughters who wouldn’t be here without the love, care and expertise of the professional medical world, and I cannot begin to imagine what everyone involved in this story has been going through.

 

But I do look at that opening paragraph, the one in Genesis as opposed to the one in the Guardian and I take faith from the fact there is a Divine Creator and whilst I might at times be baffled, exasperated and even furious with how His plan plays out in this world, I do respect the fact that our origin is from beyond the here and now. Our future however, is created from the here and now. By our behaviour. By the way we treat our children and vulnerable ones. By the way we work within the Law and not beyond it. If we can squeeze one benefit, if we can seek out even the minutest silver lining from this very grey cloud, I would humbly suggest that we consider the epic journey that is our lives. We are not just atoms flung together from a far-away galaxy beyond our time, we are part of a story. A story that has a definite and thought out beginning, a middle that we write ourselves with our actions and behaviour, and an end that goes beyond the stars to a future that shines a light on what can at times be a difficult journey.

 

My heart cries for Charlie, and whilst I do not understand His plan I do respect it. May the Almighty watch over him, treasure him and protect him. More importantly, may he grant his parents the strength to continue and to bless them with the love that they will need to continue in life.

Whovians and Women – Mattot-Massei 5777

Whovians & Women

Mattot-Masei 5777

As a ‘Whovian’ I was disappointed with this week’s news that the 14th Doctor would be a woman! And no, not because I’m sexist, but because I am disappointed that it was such news. If the Doctor can regenerate, can travel through space and time, if he can defeat an entire army of Daleks with nothing more than a screwdriver, sonic or not, then what is the big deal if he is a she? I know that this might identify me as a traitor, I will most probably be accused of not being a real Whovian, but those that have an issue with it have totally missed the whole concept of being a Time Lord.

 

And what greater example of a Time Lord than to pick up on something that began in last week’s Sedra, and then crosses over to the end of the 2nd of this week’s! Last week’s Sedra Pinchas, presents us with the issue of women inheriting. The original Halacha was that a daughter does not inherit her father’s portion in the Land of Israel. Along came the five daughters of Tzelafchad; Machla, Noah, Choglah, Milkah and Tirzah who complained that they were losing out. Their father had passed away a number of years earlier, although not due to being part of the Sin of the Spies, and his rightful inheritance in the Land of Israel was being lost simply because he had no sons. Their complaint is heard and the Halacha was changed to allow a daughter to inherit as well. There remained a caveat that she had to marry within her father’s Tribe so as to ensure that the property remained within that Tribe and not get swallowed up by another. But the Halacha was now changed.

 

Why though wasn’t it ‘correct and just’ to begin with? Surely Hashem knew what was right! Why was it necessary to manufacture the situation? We can’t just say that Hashem was offering us ‘free choice’, for if so why specifically this case and not any other?

 

I would like to suggest that this was the litmus test of the Jewish Nation, a young People who were about to enter into their Ancestral and Holy Land. How would they treat those people within society who by nature might be at a disadvantage? Helping out the stranger and the disabled, that is a profoundly Jewish trait, but it is also what is expected. How though were we going to deal with those whose disadvantage was not as blatant and obvious? And how do we deal with those who refuse to go quietly into the night, with those who don’t simply sulk away and nurse their grievances but without actually doing anything about it?

 

This was our test and we passed it. The daughters of Tzelafchad passed their test when they refused to simply accept the status quo. They taught a valuable lesson to Jewish women throughout our history; stand up and fight for what you believe in. And secondly, we as a Nation learnt our lesson, listen to our women and ensure that they too receive their fair share. It would have been all too easy for Hashem to write that law in the first place, but then we would never have gone on the journey of discovery and learnt that lesson. How fitting it is then, that the next Sedra (the start of this week’s double) records all of our journeys through the desert to get to the Land of Israel. The literal journey was not complete until we had gone along the spiritual and intellectual journey that culminated in equality for all. The final Halacha at the end of the double Mattot-Massei then records the actuality, that the five sisters did indeed inherit the land. This was no theoretical exercise, but also came to a real conclusion.

 

So yes, as a Whovian I was disappointed, but not because the Doctor was now a woman, but because the BBC made such a deal out of it. Or maybe it was just a cost cutting exercise by the BBC, since as we now all know, their female stars get paid substantially less than their male counterparts!

 

These Sedras are always read during the Three Weeks, where 1) we increase in our desire for a full return to the Land of Israel and 2) where we are reminded to treat everyone with respect.

 

May we merit to pass our ultimate litmus test and be rewarded with an end to our exile and a return to our ancestral home in peace and holiness.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Fake News – Pinchas 5777

Fake News or just a different perspective

Pinchas 5777

 

Whilst at a Rabbi’s conference this week in Bosworth, Warwickshire (yes, we do get to all the most exotic places) I was reconnected with an old Chassidic story. A Chossid from Kharkov, Ukraine was visiting Rabbi Shalom DovBer in Lubavitch, White Russia. The Rebbe asked him how things are in Kharkov. The Chossid answered that everything was good, people were friendly to each other, the learning was stimulating, the Davenning was inspirational and the Brotherhood of Chassidim was just as it should be. The Rebbe gave him a gold rouble and thanked him for his good news.

 

Later that day, another Chossid from Kharkov visited the Rebbe and was asked the same question. He however answered exactly the opposite and told the Rebbe how in truth everybody was fighting with each other, the learning was non-existent and the Davenning was flat and perfunctory; in short, the Brotherhood was at an all-time low. The Rebbe thanked him and sent him on his way, albeit without a gold rouble.

 

As luck would have it, that Shabbat the second Chossid became aware of what had transpired when his friend had gone to the Rebbe and given him his report. He was upset and complained to the Rebbe; why was I penalised for telling the truth? The other Chossid just told you a bubba meiseh and he got a gold rouble for it, surely I who told the truth should be likewise compensated.

 

The Rebbe replied and said “do you really think that I don’t know what is happening in Kharkov? I just wanted to know in which Kharkov you were living!”

 

What a powerful statement indeed. Kharkov is Kharkov, it’s down to us to decide which Kharkov we choose to live in.

 

In this week’s Sedra we are once again told about all of the Chagim, about Rosh Chodesh and the Appointed times. The one thing in common with all of these festivals, different to Shabbat, is that they occur due to our actions. We as a community, under the direction of the Sanhedrin, would declare the day Rosh Chodesh and thus the subsequent Chagim would fall on their appointed times.  Shabbat happens automatically, but Rosh Chodesh and the Chagim need our involvement. At times we might even miss seeing the new moon, Rosh Chodesh could be delayed because of the cloud or for any other reason and with that Yom Kippur would be celebrated a day late; we would in fact be eating on the day which officially would be Yom Kippur and fasting on what is officially a regular week day!

 

The Almighty created this paradox, whereby we can celebrate a festival on its wrong date, precisely because of the sentiments expressed in the story above. He knows the truth about Kharkov, about our world, He just wants to know which Kharkov are we living in. Can we see this world and elevate it? Can we look at our surroundings, be they our personal lives, our Shuls, our friends or our business, can we look at them and declare them good or do we complain?

 

This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand. It is about having the right positive attitude, for with that a normal day of the week can be transformed into an Appointed Time of the Almighty. That is our Power. That is His gift to us. Now what are we going to do with it?

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dovid

Jewish Flintstones – Balak 5777

Jewish Flintstones

Balak 5777

Yes, even the Flintstones were Jewish! And I’ll prove it to you.

 

This week’s Sedra records the attempt by Balak to hire the sorcerer Billam to curse the Jewish Nation. Unfortunately for him, it was money poured down the drain, as instead of curses, what flowed from Billam’s mouth were some of the most powerful and rich blessings written in the Torah. He tried multiple times, he tried to change his vantage point, he tried offering up sacrifices, but nothing worked and all he was able to say were blessings.

 

All of Billam’s blessings were said as parables, and one of those looked at the ancestry of our Nation. He describes our forebears Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaackov together with Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah as the sturdy rock mountains upon which our Nation rests. The powerful foundations which keep the Jewish People standing tall and strong regardless of the buffeting winds of change that have accompanied us throughout the millennia.

 

And here come the Flintstones, for instead of using the usual word for rocks and mountains, even and har, Billam uses the word tzur, which actually means a flint-stone! And as Billam told Balak at the very beginning of his quest; “only the words which Hashem puts in my mouth, can I say”, there is obviously a reason why he used tzur instead of har.

 

The unique quality of a flint stone is that although one can extract a spark from it, there is no evidence from the outside that this spark is there. In fact, if you break the flint stone into many small pieces, if you take it apart, you still can’t see the spark, although you can still produce one. Soak the stone in water and it makes no difference, the spark is still inherently there.

 

The reason is that the power of that spark is not just invisible, it is in fact not there within the flint, it is the flint. The potential is so much a part of the fabric of the flint that trying to extract it is a futile task. It is not a divisible part of the whole, it is the entity itself. That is why that word was chosen by Hashem to describe our ancestors, to portray the image of the foundations of the Jewish Nation. Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka together with Yaackov and Rochel and Leah are the DNA of each and every Jew. We don’t just wear our heart on our sleeve, we are our heart. And the beating heart of the 21st century Jew is the same as that of our father’s and mother’s heart 3000 years ago; one that is inherently made up of a spark. A spark that does not go out. A spark that cannot be divided from the flint. A spark that cannot be drowned, destroyed or ever be dulled. Strike a Jew, any Jew anywhere in time or place and what you will discover is the spark of G-dliness. And that spark can, and does, ignite a fire that will continue to burn.

 

Yes, the blessings of Billam were beautiful back then and they should inspire us today to go out and ignite the fire of another Jew. For remember, that no matter how many candles you light up, nothing gets detracted from your own flame.

 

 

Mature Learning – Chukas 5777

Mature Learning

Chukas 5777

I was asked a very straight forward question this week: If the Israelites were guided through the desert with the Clouds of Glory, why did Moshe ask the Edomites if they could pass through their land on the way to Israel? (See this week’s Sedra 20:14) Surely they should have just followed where the Clouds went, which in this instance was down South in order to circumnavigate Edom and enter Israel from the East of the River Jordan. So who was leading the Israelites, Moshe or the Clouds of Glory?

 

The strange thing is, that in over 30 years of learning that Sedra, and repeating it every single year, I had never been struck by that thought. I read it and just took it for granted that Moshe asked the Edomites, who then refused to grant permission. I may have been blinded by this very early example of anti-Semitism, or possibly just not curious enough.

 

My questioner was much like Albert Einstein, who is rumoured to have credited his amazing plethora of scientific discoveries on the fact that he was a slow developer as a young child. Thus when he was introduced to complicated topics later on in life, he couldn’t fall back on the conventional wisdom that everyone else had absorbed as children, but instead had to analyse them from a fresh point and with a more mature brain. If one learns Chumash properly for the first time as an adult, then you look at it with a mature brain and ask those questions.

 

I now had to think; why indeed did Moshe ask for permission? I was forced to relearn the Sedra, to look at it with a critical eye and not just read the Hebrew as a story. Either we were led by the Clouds of Glory and were blindly following the directions set for us by Hashem, or we were being led by Moshe and relying on his navigational, and in this instance ambassadorial, skills.

 

I have not yet come across an answer in any of the Biblical commentators, (possibly because there is a simple explanation that I have just not considered!) but I would like to suggest my own answer, and one that struck me from the very fact that I had never been bothered by the question in the first place.

 

At this point the Israelites were literally on the border of the Promised Land, their 40 years of wandering were up and they were about to make the transition from the generation of the desert to the generation of Israel. It was time for them to grow up. For the last 40 years they had been led with the Clouds of Glory, much like little children (we were called the Children of Israel!) but now it was time to look at the situation as adults and use our own skills, in this case as showcased by Moshe. It was now our own responsibility to discover our path through life. How indeed do we enter into the Land of Israel? How do we deal when confronted by an intransigent adversary? Does every problem need to be cracked or are we sometimes better off detouring in order to avoid them?

 

Learning Chumash in Cheder and even in Yeshiva, I was being led by my teachers but now I am being led by my students – and lucky am I. For that forces me to look at the text once again and ask the questions, analyse it and come to a deeper understanding and appreciation. Much like everything else in life.

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?