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?

Greetings from Jerusalem – 10 Tevet – Vayigash 5777

Greetings from Jerusalem

Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations


This Shabbat Nachi and I will be celebrating with our family in Jerusalem as we prepare for her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah on Sunday. We therefore have a run of Shabbat, the Fast of Tevet on Sunday and the Bar Mitzvah on Sunday evening, culminating in the call-up by the Kotel on Monday morning.


The Fast of Tevet of course commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nevuchadnetzar and the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The other two fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, commemorate the breach of Jerusalem’s walls and the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash respectively.


So being here in Jerusalem for this weekend is especially poignant.


On the face of it, the two fasts in Tammuz and Av would seem to be more significant and be commemorating more severe events than the fast of Tevet; surely the actual breach of the walls is more severe than the mere besieging of them, not to mention the subsequent destruction of the Temple. However it is only the fast of Tevet that can override Shabbat, whereas the other fasts would be postponed to the Sunday.


The unique quality of this fast is that it commemorates not just the tragedy and destruction committed by the enemy, but also the failings of the Jewish people at that time. When the siege began, we were once again exhorted by the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah to repent, except this time we refused to listen. At that moment the future, the destiny of Jerusalem and the Bet Hamikdash was in our hands, yet we failed to grasp the opportunity and ultimately paid the highest of prices.


So for Nachi and I, to be commemorating a Bar Mitzvah at the end of this Fast day, to stand the next morning by the Kotel and witness another link being made in the chain of our Jewish tradition; to see a young man accept the responsibility to behave in the manner described by our Prophets and the Torah, takes on an added significance here in Jerusalem on this date.


Yet it is not just the day after the Fast, but also the day before hand. In years gone-by there used to be a fast of the 9th and we mention it in our Selichot on the 10th. Amongst other events, the significance of this date was the preparation for the siege of Jerusalem; Nevuchadnetzar needed to prepare his forces, he had to position his army and then close the trap on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus whilst the 9th seems to be even less significant than the 10th, it is in fact a milestone within our history and an important lesson for us all. Before the events that ultimately culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple could begin, the enemy needed to gather his forces. Encircling a city doesn’t happen by itself and before the trap was sprung the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Hezzekiah really had an opportunity to change the course of history. Yet we failed.


For this date to fall on a Shabbat, and especially the week when we read of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, brought about because Judah was prepared to sacrifice his life for the safety of Benjamin, should be a lesson to us all. Rather than being forced together by a siege let us instead unite together out of a shared destiny, a proud history and a bond of family and faith.


There is unfortunately much that divides the Jewish Nation at the moment, both religiously and politically, and we – as ever – have the choice how we deal with it. We are masters of our own destiny, but until we take responsibility for both our own actions and for the welfare of our brothers and sisters, then we may as well sit back and watch as the enemy encircles Jerusalem and prepares for its destruction.


Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Fast,


Rabbi Dovid