To Choose A Nation…And to live with that choice – Va’era 5777

To Choose A Nation

And to live with that choice

Va’era 5777

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

According to Jewish thought it was definitely the chicken; for everything was created in a complete form. Adam wasn’t created as an embryo, or indeed a twinkle in his father’s eye, but was rather a fully formed adult. Diamonds which take billions of years to form, were already inbuilt into the lava of the earth. Stars which are light years away from our planet, were immediately visible to Adam.

 

Thus it was definitely the chicken which came first. But, what came first in our relationship with Hashem; us being His people or Him being our G-d?

 

Incidentally, the Talmud poses a similar question about who is to return first; us to Hashem in Teshuvah or Him to us in redemption?

 

However, in Hashem’s discussion with Moshe at the start of this week’s Sedra, He seems to imply, twice over, that He comes first: “I will take you for Me as a Nation, and act as a G-d for you”, only after that does the verse continue: “you will recognize that it is I your G-d who is freeing you.” (Va’era 6:7)

 

Hashem takes the obligation towards us before we accept His Kingship over us!

 

That Talmud also takes that view, and rules (in an ingenious Talmudical argument – for another time) that the Almighty is obligated to return to us even before we return to Him!

 

It isn’t though all a one-way street. The verse continues; “and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out of Egypt.”

 

We have an obligation to know Hashem.

 

We struggle to know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but we are commanded to know Hashem! And knowing doesn’t just mean to be aware of, it requires us to know. To inquire and ascertain the truth, to delve into the questions of life and come to a conclusion.

 

But it doesn’t even stop there, for that knowledge isn’t just of a time gone by, it’s not just to be aware that once-upon-a-time this G-d took us out of Egypt. But rather He demands of us to know that He is taking us now, in the present tense not in the distant past!

 

I don’t know about you, but at times I find that hard. It’s not always easy. But there again, no one said it was supposed to be or was going to be. However I do take courage from the fact that we have been doing this for so long, that no matter what the world (and G-d) has thrown at us, we have still continued. Maybe it’s because He chose us first, maybe it’s because we have nowhere else to turn, or maybe because it’s just the truth; but as the world prepares to stand still and commemorate the International Holocaust Memorial Day, I take courage from our tenacity and also from G-d’s promise to constantly free us and also from His commitment to adopt us as His nation.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Inaugurations and Leaders – Shemos 5777

Today the world changes. At least that is what the press are saying. With the Inauguration of President Trump the world will no longer be the same, and we begin a new era. Whilst I am sure that it will change, I am not going to speculate whether it will be for better or for worse, or whether Hilary would have been any better, rather I will quote my predecessor Rabbi Carlebach: “{Shul} Presidents come and go, but the Rabbi is here to stay!”

 

Nothing happens by chance and the fact that this specific Inauguration is happening on this Friday, Erev Parshat Shemot behoves us to look at the elevation of another leader, the man who epitomised humility and an absolute reluctance to accept the mantle of leadership.

 

The drama began when Moshe was already 80 years old, and according to the Midrash had been the King of Middian for 40 years. He had left Egypt decades earlier, fleeing for his life when his first intervention to save a Jewish slave had resulted in Pharaoh sentencing him to death; a fate he only just escaped – miraculously. He was now happily married to Tziporah and enjoying his life as a shepherd, following in the tradition of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaackov and their families (and later on by the young King David). Away from the troubles of the world and able to concentrate on their personal connection to the Almighty, removed from the politics and strife of city living, they focused on spirituality and the relationship of the Creator and His world.

 

All this was questioned when he saw the Burning Bush (no relationship to an American President!). G-d reminds him of his early years and his compassion exhibited back then, He recalls his true mission in life. But Moshe was having none of it, and he steadfastly refuses to accept this responsibility. He wasn’t indifferent to the Israelite’s suffering, but he simply couldn’t see himself as their saviour. According to Rashi, Moshe and Hashem argued for six straight days until on the seventh day things come to a head, (parallels to the 6 days of creation and the completion of the world on Shabbat are entirely accurate and the focus of a separate essay).

 

The verse says ‘Vayichar Af’ and Hashem became angry with Moshe – after six days of refusing, after throwing every single excuse in the book, Hashem finally becomes angry. Rabbi Yosi in Tractate Zevachim says that the result of this anger was that Moshe lost the Priesthood and instead it went to Aaron and his descendants.

 

What though was it that caused this anger? What specifically was it the Moshe said?

 

The previous verse details Moshe’s last ditch plea. He said: “shelach no b’yad tishlach”, please send the one you usually send. Moshe’s final reason not to accept the mantle of leadership was that he knew he would not finish the job, he knew the future of what was to be, that it would not be him who would take the Jewish People into the Land of Israel, neither for the first time nor for the final time at the coming of Moshiach. He begged of Hashem to please send the final redeemer right there and then. What was the use, Moshe argued for this ‘partial’ redemption?

 

And it was that specific argument that angered Hashem; Moshe’s complaint about his physical capability was met with a logical response, his complaint about the Jewish people’s reluctance to listen to him was similarly met with a reasoned response, but his complaint that there was no use to this redemption, that he didn’t want to be part of it unless he could personally finish the job and take us into the Land of Israel was met with anger.

 

Questioning our suitability to lead is fine. Even questioning the merit of those we will lead has its place (although Moshe was punished for that), but questioning the purpose of a redemption is beyond the pale. Refusing to begin something good and worthwhile for the people just because you know (or think that you know), that it will not be completed and will still require more work is never an option. Reluctance, humility and questions are accepted, but never despair for the future. We are all charged with doing our job, regardless of what we believe the future might have in store.

 

That this is also the Shabbat before the International Holocaust Memorial Day (on Fri 27 Jan), re-enforces the awesome and at times frightening responsibility that we all have to doing our bit and ensuring the future of the Jewish people regardless of how bleak we might feel the immediate future to be.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Dovid

Greetings from Jerusalem – Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations

Greetings from Jerusalem

Juxtapositioning of Fasts and Celebrations

Vayigash 5777

 

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

 

 

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