Shabbat v. Chanukah

Shabbat Miketz

Shabbat Chanukah 5777

It’s the 2nd longest Sedra in the entire Torah. We jump from under 6,000 letters last week, to nearly 8,000 this week, and that’s without the 2nd Sefer for Chanukah.


Yup, it’s a long one.


So let’s look instead at a comment made this week by Chief Rabbi Sacks.


Discussing an interesting law about Shabbat v. Chanukah, he notes a ruling that if on Friday-Chanukah one only has a single candle, then the Shabbat light overrides the Chanukah Menorah.


This, he says, is because the importance of the family home and peace amongst the family, represented and promoted by the Shabbat candles, trumps the light of the military victory of Chanukah. Even though Chanukah was a greater miracle, even though without it we would have no Shabbat or Jewish Home at all, nevertheless the Shalom Bayis is more important.


I really love that idea. One of the quirks of our calendar, is that the 5th Candle of Chanukah can never be on a Friday night. The first time that the lit candles outnumber the unlit ones can never be on a Shabbat, nevertheless we will always have the Shabbat candles. Regardless of what night Chanukah it is, regardless of where we are on the scale of Chanukah candles, we will still be kindling the Shabbat candles.


This year, the last three days of Chanukah really emphasise our moral and religious victory over the Syrian-Greeks, {yes, it was the Seleucid branch of the Greek Empire, based in modern day Syria, who oppressed and tried to annihilate the Jews – some things never change!).


The 6th Candle is on Rosh Chodesh which they tried to ban, attempting to disrupt the cycle of family life and festivals.


The 7th Candle is on Shabbat which they also tried to ban, attempting to remove the vital quality of Shabbat and Shalom Bayis.


The 8th Candle always connects to the Mitzvah of Bris Milah which was also the subject of a Seleucid ban attempting to deny the connection between the Jewish body and Hashem.


Yet here we are, still celebrating Rosh Chodesh and our calendar. Still lighting the Shabbat candles and bringing peace to the world. And here we are, still performing the Bris Milah and cementing our Covenant with the Almighty, understanding that our connection with Him is not just theological and for the soul, but is practical and for our physical body and self as well.


Chanukah is more than latkes and donuts, it’s even more that the lights themselves; it’s about our connection, our commitment and our responsibility.


Let’s hope and pray that these candles can truly bring some much needed light and morality in a world that is currently sadly lacking both.


Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom, a Gut Chodesh and a Lichtiker Chanukah,

Rabbi Dovid

Innocence in Disguise – Vayieshev 5777

It’s back; for the third and final time in the Book of Breishis we encounter our longest Trop (musical note), the Shalsheles.  Here it is placed on the word “וימאן and he refused”, when Yoseph resisted the (quite vigorous) overtures from Potiphar’s wife. (39:8 – the 2nd Passuk in Shishi)


According to what we have said previously that the Shalsheles denotes cognitive dissonance, this would seem to imply that Yosef actually did want to give in and accept her offer. In his heart that is what he wanted, but his mind won over and he was eventually able to resist. But even that resistance didn’t stand strong, for three verses later we are told how Yoseph came home on a festive day to ‘do his work’, knowing that no-one else would be in the house. Yes, ‘to do his work’ is (according to one opinion in the Talmud) a euphemism for giving in to Potiphera’s overtures!


However, what I find even more fascinating is not that Yoseph, identified by the Torah itself as a Tzaddik, was actually prepared to commit adultery, it’s the fact that he didn’t! The Talmud explains that what stopped Yoseph from sinning was when he saw the reflection of his face, which resembled that of his father Yaackov, in Potiphera’s eyes. Do you know how close you need to be to someone to see your face in their eyes? Plus he was already naked!


Cognitive dissonance indeed.


The temptation must have been overwhelming, except he didn’t give in.


It takes two to tango, and the second player in this episode Potiphera is always castigated as an evil woman. However, it would seem from a close reading of the Biblical commentators that she wasn’t entirely bad. She is compared with Tamar who earlier on in the Sedra is credited with acting for the sake of Heaven and thus being blessed with sons who would be the ancestors of Kings and indeed Moshiach. Where though is Potiphera’s righteousness? She tried to seduce an innocent young man, and then when she fails she causes him to be cast into jail.


Rashi explains that Potiphera had seen prophetically that she was destined to have children from Yoseph; she knew her destiny and was prepared to pursue it even though it would have put her in a difficult position. Then when her first plan fails, she understood that it was not through her specifically but rather her daughter* Osnat who would marry Yoseph and bear his children. She then embarks on a plan to keep Yoseph in Egypt until Osnat would be old enough to marry, even though it casts her in a negative light. All in order to play her part in the Divine Plan, which she had been privileged to have been made privy to.


The Rebbe draws our attention to this Rashi and notes how easy it is to judge someone unfavourably when we are not in full knowledge of the facts.


Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a Lichtiger Chanukah,


Rabbi Dovid

*Osnat was actually the adopted daughter of the Potiphars, and was in fact the biological daughter of Dinah and it was only when Yoseph saw an amulet that she wore stating her ancestry that he agreed to marry her.

Sticks, Stones and Names

Sticks, Stones and Names

Vayishlach 5777

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me.” A school ground phrase that was first printed in the 1870’s; referred to back then as an ‘old adage’, and some have even tried to connect it to various verses in Psalms.


Truth be told though, the wounds inflicted by sticks and stones will often heal, whereas names can leave scars that last forever.


The opposite is also true; you can raise a child up to dizzying heights and set them on the course of success simply by giving them a good name. As the Mishna says “a good name rises over them all’. (Ethics of the Fathers 4:13)


In this week’s Torah portion we read of Yaackov’s name change to Yisroel following on from his midnight battle with the angel of Eisav. This is the beginning of stage two in our history, when we go from being known as Ivrim to Israelites. (See here for the significance of the name Ivri.) When giving Yaackov his new name the angel says: כי שרית עם אלוהים ועם אנשים ותוכל – for you struggled with angel and man and you succeeded. What is puzzling though, is that the new name Yisroel is etymologically connected with the word struggle. His new name is given for the struggle not for the victory!


That though is precisely why that name was give. The Jewish nation had progressed onto stage two; no longer were we just Ivrim – constantly relegated to the other side, but now we were princes of Hashem, for Yisroel is translated as Sar-el – Prince of G-d. This name was how we were known once we were given the Promised Land, when we were riding high with the Temple in Jerusalem and were the pride of the Fertile Crescent.


This is precisely why the angel connected it to the struggle and not the victory.


Anyone can win a battle, but it takes a man to struggle.


Quite tellingly, even after the blessing of his new elevated name, the Torah still uses the name Yaackov. One would have thought that that name, so given for he was holding on to the heel (Ekev – Yaackov), would now be relegated to history. But that is not the case, and indeed in our Amidah we call on Hashem the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaackov. What happened to this new elevated and princely name Yisroel?


We are back to the struggle and the impact of a name. Were we to be given the name ‘Prince of G-d’, were our past struggles to be totally erased and forgotten, were we to focus on the victory and not the struggle then it wouldn’t last long. It would be a name but not an identity. It would be a gift bestowed upon us by an angel, but not our well-deserved destiny. As they say in the hallowed halls of the SAS, “Its far harder to keep your Green Beret, than it is to get it in the first place”.  


Just being given the name Yisroel, even if it is fully deserved does not mean that our job is done; we need to keep struggling, we need to maintain the work necessary to carry that name.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Dovid

Cushions and Monuments – Vayetzeh 5777

Cushions and Monuments

Stones From Start To Finish

Vayetze is one long closed paragraph. It is the longest such paragraph in the Torah, being over 7500 letters long. It is not surprising therefore, that there is a direct correlation between its start and finish, even though over 34 years had passed in the interim.


We begin with Yaackov stopping for the night on his midnight dash fleeing from his brother Esav. This of course had been pre-empted by the sudden setting of the sun, thereby prompting him to stop on Mount Moriah, which would later on become the Temple Mount. Before going to sleep, Yaackov takes from the stones on the mountain top and arranges them around his head as protection.


The Sedra ends with Yaackov once again taking stones and arranging them. This time it is when he makes a pact with his father-in-law Lavan, who was disappointed that he had not been able to send off his daughters in a fitting manner. This monument of stones was in essence a permanent truce between Yaackov and Lavan as well as their descendants for all time.


What though is the correlation, if any, between these two incidences?


The Biblical Grammarians point out the use of the letter ‘vav’ as a dynamic introduction on both occasions. ויקח מאבני המקום “and he took from the stones of the place” (Gen 28:11), and then again והמצפה אשר אמר – “and the watch tower” (Gen 31:49).


When Yaackov stopped to rest at the beginning of his epic journey, he makes a conscious decision to take from the stones of the place and arrange them as a protection around his head. He was heading out into the wide world with which he was going to have to interact, but he took from that world and asked the Almighty to work together with him and protect him on his journey.


34 years later, at the end of that journey (and our Sedra), he was being challenged by Lavan; he was told that he could not take back that which he had made in the Disapora with him to the Holy Land. Yaackov responded by once again taking from the stones of the place and this time setting them up as a witness, with the Almighty acting as the guarantor. He told Lavan that all his achievements, everything that he had gained whilst away from his father’s house, whilst in exile away from the Holy Land, was specifically for use back home.


{Lavan tried to then corrupt it by calling the monument by a local name, but Yaackov gave it its Hebrew and spiritually significant name.}


This Sedra in essence mirrors our life.


When we are born, we are like Yaackov at the beginning of his journey and it is our duty, often played out by our parents, to take from this world and ask the Almighty to grant us the protection to enable us to do our job. After 120 years, when we prepare to return to our Father in Heaven, we need to be able to say to the world, ‘everything that I have achieved whilst on my journey here has a purpose, it wasn’t just for use whilst in exile, but is actually a watch tower that guards over me whilst I go back home – and the Almighty is my witness to this.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid


{Thanks to my Hebrew Professor C Fierstone for the inspiration for this article}





Blameless Eisav? Toldot 5777

Blameless Eisav? Toldot 5777

Ying and Yang. Dark and Light. Good and Bad.


This week we are introduced to twins who could not have been more different to each other; Yaackov and Eisav.


Yaackov is the diligent Torah student, whereas Esav is the hunter. Their mother is promised that one will rise whilst the other falls; and indeed, the rise and fall of their respective empires, Rome and Israel have truly been in contrast to each other. In Cheder we were taught that Eisav was the epitome of a naughty boy, doomed already from birth to pursue idol worship and throw off the shackles of his father’s household.


Interestingly though, when describing the twins entrance into maturity, the end of their childhood (and according to many, their Bar Mitzvah), the Torah says Vayigdeloo Hane’arim – and the lads grew up (25:27).


Whilst the literal meaning of this is simply that Yaackov and Eisav were now legally adults, the Zohar throws a whole new spin on the Passuk. This verse, says the Zohar, is referring to the twins spiritual standing and it indicates that they were both Gedolim, spiritual giants following in the footsteps of Avraham and Yitzchak.


Yes, Eisav as well as Yaackov (for the Torah uses the plural verb), was a Tzaddik!


Either we need to re-evaluate our opinion of Eisav or the definition of a Tzaddik.


At this point in my Rabbinical career, I don’t really want to start questioning the status of Tzaddikim, so let us instead question our traditional views about Eisav. Here was a man, born to Yitzchak and Rivka, a grandchild of Avraham and Sarah, and a twin to Yaackov. Both nurture and nature dictated that he would be a good boy, that he would grow spiritually and religiously.


Which indeed he did, although it would seem that it wasn’t easy. For whilst the Torah testifies that when the twins were Bar Mitzvahed they were both righteous, it also tells us that whilst in utero, Eisav was already drawn towards idol worship. The Zohar attributes this change in Eisav’s behaviour to Avraham’s dedication and influence; he educated his grandson to overcome his natural tendencies. Avraham is described as being the epitome of the attribute of Chessed – loving kindness, and he showered his grandson, his confused and embattled grandson, with loving education and support.


What went wrong then? Why does Eisav ultimately revert to type? What happened during his adolescence to unpick all the good work accomplished during his childhood?


The simple answer is that Avraham, his loving, kind, understanding and patient grandfather passed away. Eisav lost his mentor and the one man who believed in him. It became so easy for him to slide, to pick up his natural tendencies to misbehave and let it all unravel.


But what about his father? Yitzchak was the opposite of Avraham, he was Gevurah – strict discipline to Avraham’s Chessed – loving kindness. {The child of this marriage was Yaackov who embodied the attribute of Tifferes – beauty in balance.}


This isn’t to blame Yitzchak; his discipline was necessary, for without it Avraham’s kindness will get overrun. But rather it is to stress the importance of maintaining the loving traditions and the ‘old world education’ of yesteryear. The love of Yiddishkiet that our Bubbas and Zeides gift to their Einicklech must continue even when they are no longer physically around. We have an awesome responsibility to ensure that their passion for transmitting a love and appreciation of Torah remains.


So the next time we see a rebellious child, a modern day Eisav, stop to think for a moment before we condemn him out of hand. Ask yourself what would be different if her Bubba was here to guide with a loving hand and a soft cheek to rest against. We need education and discipline, we need to maintain rules and regulations, but we also need to hear the cry of the child as they crave that loving kindness of our Zeideh Avraham.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid


Greetings From New York – Chayei Sarah 5777

Greetings From New York – Chayei Sarah 5777

5000 Rabbis In The Big Apple

Greetings from New York. No, I’m not in Trump Tower and neither can I confirm or deny any reports about any possible up and coming ambassadorial posting!


I am here for the annual Lubavitch Conference – the Kinus Hashluchim, with 5,000 of my colleagues, from around the world; every Continent and pretty much every country is represented here. The potpourri of languages and dialects, expertise and interests, age and experience is just breath-taking and inspiring. Shacharis this morning was a kaleidoscope of color and sound.


The Kinus, is always the weekend of Shabbat Mevarchim Kislev; which this year coincides with Thanksgiving Day in the US of A, so the plane was full of Americans returning home for ‘The Holidays’. One of my fellow travellers, asked why on earth we would have the convention on this weekend? My answer was simply to show him the ‘class photo’! There’s no way, you can get so many beards in the same place and the same time, without having the date set in the calendar; carved in stone. Immovable.


However, whilst the date is always the same, the Sedra of the week can differ depending on that year’s cycle. This year it is the Sedra of Chayei Sarah, which is basically a Shidduch story from start to finish. The Sedra though, also contains the Shalsheles, the musical note described in last week’s post as representing cognitive dissonance.


Which of those two; the Shidduch or the Shalsheles is more suited to the Kinus, a gathering of 5,000 Rabbis?


You would probably say that the answer is obvious, and you would be correct: Rabbis and Cognitive Dissonance are as similar as chalk and cheese! However, as mentioned last week, the use of the Shalsheles in this week’s Sedra, describes Eliezer’s specific hesitance; in his heart, he wanted his mission to fail so that Yitzchak would marry his own daughter, whereas in his mind, he knew that for the safety of Avraham’s legacy, for the future of the Jewish Nation, he needed his mission to be a success.


It’s how every Shidduch begins; psychologically we are individual beings, but emotionally we need to have a partner. In the words of the Torah; ‘it’s not good for man to be alone’. For some it might be the exact opposite; emotionally, after a lifetime of being a singular individual they are most comfortable in their own emotions and feelings, but psychologically they know that they need a spouse.


And that is why I value the Kinus so much. I grew up and was educated in the Lubavitch system, my friends and family are and were Lubavitchers. Both psychologically and emotionally I am Lubavitch, but for the last 15 years, 98% of my professional life; I, together with Nachi and the girls, have lived and breathed the Ashkenaz/Modern Orthodox/Anglo Jewry/United Synagogue world.


At times, even if it is only subconsciously, there is a cognitive dissonance – and it can go both ways: emotionally I may miss the Minhagim of my youth, but psychologically I know my responsibility, or the alternative; psychologically I may hanker after the Lubavitch Davenning but emotionally I look around at ‘my shul’ and my friends here and now.


The Kinus cures that emotional/psychological struggle, specifically by highlighting and emphasising it! You get a massive injection of Lubavitch, you are literally immersed 24/7 over a very intense 4 days with the message of Chabad Shlichus. But at the same time, it reminds each of us there of our mission; to help each and every Jew to be the best that they can be. If I have been lucky enough to achieve anything in my Rabbinate, it is down to my specific education and upbringing in the Lubavitch system. It’s what drives me to be what I aim for; it inspires me to reach out to everyone and join them in their individual journey of Judaism.


This trip to the Big Apple highlights the beauty of cognitive dissonance. It renews my batteries to enable me to utilise both my emotional and psychological connections with all of you. 


I look forward to seeing you all next week, refreshed and invigorated as we begin the month of Kislev and get ready for Chanukah and our various Shul activities.


Shabbat Shalom – A Guten Shabbos


Rabbi Dovid


p.s. The shalsheles isn’t used again for another 4 weeks, so this is the last on that topic (maybe).

Musical Attraction – {Vayerah 5777}

I love posh sounding words and phrases and remember teaching Chaya what ‘penultimate’ meant when she was just approaching her third birthday!


In this week’s Sedra its the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’ that really makes me chuckle. No, I don’t know how to say it in Hebrew, but its actually the musical note utilised to represent that concept, that interests me. {Check out the word ‘liminal’ as well!!}


I’m referring of course to the ‘Shalshelet’ the longest musical note (trop) in the Torah, and used only 4 times; 3 in the Book of Breishis and once in the Book of Vayikra.


The very first use is in our Sedra when Lot and his family are fleeing the destruction of Sodom (19:16).


It is placed on top of the word ‘Va’yismamah’ – and he hesitated.


What is the cognitive dissonance here? It’s Lots’ hesitation. His mind knows that he must flee from his city; it and everything in it is being utterly destroyed in an upheaval from below and above. Yet his heart is still pinning for the wealth and honour that was accorded to him in Sodom.


He knows the right course of action, but he is being emotionally torn.


The Shalsheles, the long musical note {It is 30 notes long and it goes up and down the scale three complete times} on that word, poetically and beautifully describes the see-saw of emotions, the there-and-back journey of the mind and heart.


Whilst this musical note might only appear 4 times in the Torah, and only another 3 times across the entire Prophets and Scriptures, I believe that its message is one that resonates in our daily lives. Very often we are torn between what is intellectually/morally/religiously correct and what is emotionally strong. This is true in many areas of our lives; familial, religious, political, occupational.


Lot experiences it when he has to flee from Sodom. Eliezer (Avraham’s servant) experiences it when he has to find a wife for Yitzchak, as in truth he wanted his own daughter to marry him (24:12), and the most famous example is when Yosef is being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, he is torn between the physical and emotional attraction and the knowledge that what he was about to do was wrong (39:8).


The final example is when Moshe has to offer a Sacrifice before anointing his brother Aaron, when he actually wanted it for himself; his religious obligation was being torn by personal desires (Vayikra 8:23).


In every example, the Torah specifically tells us that this cognitive dissonance took place, that these individuals, ranging from Lot – a resident of Sodom, and Eliezer – a mere servant through to Yosef and Moshe, all struggled with it. Yet in the end, they all made the right choice. They didn’t obfuscate for too long, they struggled but in the end they elucidated the situation and did what was right!! (See what I did there!!)


No one is free from the emotional journey. No one is given absolute smooth sailing. Everyone struggles with what feels right and what is right.


Yet, just because you struggle doesn’t mean that you give up or that you are bad. It just means that you are human and that G-d trusts you, otherwise He wouldn’t have put you in the situation in the first place.


So next time you might struggle; grab that long musical note, sing the song of cognitive dissonance and know that you are not alone. Many have been there before you, many will be there after you, and please G-d you too will do what is right.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid

Crossing The River – Avraham and Politics Lech-Lecha 5777

Crossing The River – Avraham and Politics

Lech-Lecha 5777

I was once asked to give a theological and historical picture of Judaism to a mixed school assembly in a Catholic School – in 5 minutes!!


With absolutely no pre warning either.


I decided to focus on the three separate names that Jews have been known by: Ivrim, Israelites and Jews.


Ivrim comes from this week’s Sedra, when we are introduced to Avraham the Ivri, named such because he ‘crossed over’ the River. “Vaya’avor Avraham B’aretz” 12:6.


This became a feature of Avraham’s life; the need to cross over to the other side.


But not just geographically; he had to cross the theological and moral river as well. He stood on the opposite side to the moral and religious beliefs common at that time. But this was his mission, his job in this world; to make a stand for what was right, even if it meant standing alone on the opposite side of the raging rivers.


As our father and ancestor, as the progenitor of our faith and religion, he is obviously a role model and compass holder for each and every one of us throughout time and history. And it is this aspect of Judaism and the name of Ivrim that we often need to embrace, and probably never more so than today.


The world has become a very interesting, and nervous place. Political norms are not being followed, and the supposedly accepted world order is not necessarily being adhered to. At times we may find ourselves on the ‘other side of the river’, either by choice or by design. We may be the lead ship making the waves or possibly just caught up in the current, but whichever way it is, the responsibility is still the same.


I am not here to declare one way or another, not for the political change movement in our own country and definitely not for the recent events over the pond (although I have heard that Queen Elizabeth II has declared the end of the American experiment, and will be imminently resuming leadership over her colony!).


However, what I would like (and feel it is my right and obligation) to comment on, is the method and behaviour being employed in trying to achieve that change.


Avraham was successful, the name Ivri stuck, not necessarily because of his message per se, but more due to his modus operandi. He knew that what he was saying was radical, the ‘people’ were ready (possibly) for change. The old world order was being turned on its head, and what he was preaching was going to upset the apple cart, but the way he went about his mission was with dignity and respect. Avraham was different in his message, but more importantly in his delivery of that message. He was an ‘Ivri’ not just in content but also in context and behaviour.


You don’t make people’s lives better, their monetary, physical and psychological wellbeing, simply by worsening that of those around them. You don’t make people feel better, just by belittling others. You can’t raise a man to greater heights, by pushing down his peers and betters.


To make the world a better place, you can’t just minimise, belittle, ignore and marginalise those who you disagree with.


So my dear friends, in this week when we receive our first title: Ivri, the first name given to the Jewish Nation; I call on you to stand on the opposite side of the river, to be different. To swim against the flow and challenge yourself to call for change, but not necessarily for a change in the actual politics, but more for the tone of those politics.


To respect the other. To see that they to, are on the other side of the river. To recognise the Ivri in each person.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid


{The names of Israel and Jew, represent very different outlooks and responsibilities, more about them another time}.

New Beginnings – Same Numbers {Noach 5777}

New Beginnings – Same Numbers

Noach 5777

I love discovering numbers and patterns, and the re-occurring themes and motifs within texts and Sedras.


The purpose of Creation, the reason why Hashem made this world, was for Mankind to live in it and make it a better place. As He told Adam in B’reishis 2:15 “he was put in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it”.


Unfortunately we sort of lost our way a bit, and due to the absolute corruption of the early generations, Hashem brought the flood. But once Noach and his family exited the Ark, we were commanded to start the same job over again.


That second attempt at making this world a better place begins with a verse in this week’s Sedra (8:14) when “on the 17th day of the 2nd month, the earth dried out” {and Noach could exit the Ark to re-start our mission}.


That verse, signalling our 2nd attempt at making this world a fit dwelling place for Hashem, has exactly the same numerical value as the first verse in the Torah, when we are essentially given the job for the first time!


The Gematriyah (the value of the letters) in B’reishis 1:1 ‘In the beginning Hashem created” are identical to the Gematriyah of B’reishis 8:14. They both equal 2701!


The number itself doesn’t mean anything, but I think the fact that both verses do have the same value tells us something quite profound.


After the Flood, Noach could have been forgiven for thinking that although he had been saved, it wasn’t exactly ‘business as usual’. Were our past mistakes going to continue to haunt us, or were we free to really start afresh? Would Hashem forgive us for messing up His beautiful new world?


The answer, it seems, was Yes. We were being offered a real 2nd chance with no strings attached. The restart was identical to the first one. Mankind was once again being offered the chance to form a partnership with Hashem; to make this world a better place.


I find tremendous motivation in that. We often make mistakes and have to ask our loved ones, our parents, teachers or friends, to allow us to start over. But the restart always comes with baggage; emotional, psychological or physical which can hinder our progress. But here mankind, you and me, were told by Hashem that we were being given an absolutely clean slate; a real fresh start and new beginning.


Let us take courage from that and understand that from Hashem’s perspective each day is a real new beginning; every day we are given an opportunity the partner with the Creator of the world. Our past mistakes are behind us, so seize the day and do something positive.

Beginnings, New Things And……. {B’reishis 5777}

Beginnings, New Things And…….

B’reishis 5777

A phrase that I grew up with from my earliest years states: “vee m’n firtzich oif Shabbos B’reishis, azoi gayt dee gantze yohr” – “How we conduct ourselves on Shabbos B’reishis, so flows the whole year”. (Not that I needed to translate that for any of you, but just in case…)


This week symbolises new beginnings, opportunities, hopes and dreams. It describes the very first footsteps of mankind, walking on a pristine new world. The stars studding a previously ink-black sky and a moon casting its first silvery shadow. The soil had never been furrowed and no ships had sailed across the oceans.


Everything that happened did so for the first time in history. Imagine being the first person ever to witness a flower opening or to see the sun set over the ocean. Being the first one ever to hear the morning chorus of the birds or the patter of raindrops on the earth.


Imagine being presented with a history book and a quill and told to write the very first words.


That was Adam and Eve way back then, and it is also each and every one of us right here and now. I once heard someone say that he is jealous of his son who had not yet watched a certain movie. When I ask him why, he said that’s because his son still had the opportunity to watch it for the very first time! I told him to sit down with his son and to watch it with him, to be part of that new experience, to see it with fresh eyes. To make it new.


The cycle of the Jewish calendar is repetitive, and indeed the word for year in Hebrew – Shanah, is etymologically connected to Sheni – to repeat, the second one. However, our challenge it to see that new cycle as being something new, its why the Hebrew word for Month – Chodesh is derived from the word Chodosh – new. Each Shanah, each repetition must also be a Chodesh, something new.


We start that new cycle this week, we’ve rolled the Sefer Torah back to the very beginning and will once again read the Sedra of B’reishis. We will read of new beginnings, but will we accept the challenge to see them in our own lives?