For The Sake Of Our Children – Shavuot 5777

For the sake of our children

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Shabbat Shalom

The Road That Is Hope – Thoughts after attending the Manchester Vigil

Together with tens of thousands, if not more, I stood in the sunshine of Albert Square as the City I love gathered in a vigil to mourn the 22. It felt incongruous; the sun shining so brightly on a day that was so dark. Where was the typical Manchester weather? Where was the rain and the dark clouds? Had the angels stopped crying on this day?


But as I stood there, I looked around at the faces of my fellow Mancunians. Perched on top of one of the Square’s monuments was a young man whose arm was still bruised and red from his most recent tattoo, and standing by his side was a woman still dressed in her smart business suit. Next to me was a mother and her child, not more than six years old, whilst directly in front was a veteran, a man who had seen war back in the 1940’s. Standing at the base of the Square’s tree was a group of students from the Manchester University and a cadre of Street Preachers all dressed in blue. There were Jews, there were Sikhs, there were Christians and there were Muslims, people of all religions and none, all standing there with a Faith in humanity that outweighed any terror or misguided fanatic.


And so as I stood there in the sunshine I realised how appropriate it was. Yes, Manchester is a City in mourning, a city that has had its heart rent asunder with the loss of 22 precious and pure souls, with the pain and suffering of many many more, but it is also a city that has a heart that beats strong.


I first heard the news last night whilst driving back from a charity dinner in North Manchester and at that moment all we knew was that a loud bang had been heard at the Arena. Then as the news slowly filtered in over the next few hours, I did what everyone else does at these times; as we naturally look first to see if any of our loved ones were caught up in the bombing, if anyone we know has been killed or injured, if one of our community has been hurt. We ring our family and friends, we send out a call to our contacts and community members, and we wait with trepidation as one by one they signal that they are well; even if some are only safe through miracles and good luck.


As the news came in of the numbers killed and injured, we once again breathed a sigh of relief as we counted our children and loved ones safe at home, but it was tinged with pain as we thought of those who are still waiting for news of their loved ones. We answered the calls from our relatives and friends abroad reassuring them that we are fine, but we can’t help but think of those whose phones will continue to ring with no one to answer it.


Once the immediate panic is over, we are reminded that we are all actually one and in fact I have lost loved ones in this attack. For this isn’t about religion or race, gender or community, it is about people. Every child or young person killed or injured in the attack is someone’s baby and loved one. When we said extra Psalms and prayers in the Synagogue today we prayed for everyone in the Arena, regardless of their faith or belief.


I spent the last week riding through the Holy Land with a mixed group of Jews and Christians; we rode through Israeli and Arab villages and were greeted with love and smiles at all times. My first appointment this week, mere hours after landing back in England, was at an interfaith ceremony at the Christie Hospital. We unveiled a tapestry, stitched and embroidered by a cross communal group of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The message on that tapestry was “All paths lead to hope”.


This Shabbat in Shul I will reflect on that message, but with a twist. For as well as all paths leading to hope, the paths themselves must be ones of hope. Our journey must be one that doesn’t just lead to hope, but is also hope in and of itself. Our mission in this world and our lives on this earth, are not just a means to an end, but have a purpose itself. Our journey must be one of hope.


We pray for all those injured, for the souls of those who were brutally murdered and for the pain of the parents and siblings who are having to face their greatest nightmare. May the Almighty heal the injured, comfort the mourners and shelter the souls of the pure ones under His wings. Most importantly of all, may He implant into our hearts the true love that we must have for each other and the bravery to journey together in hope and peace.


For as I stood there in the bright sunshine of Manchester’s Albert Square what I felt was Hope. As the hairs stood up on the back of neck when the crowd cheered Manchester’s Chief Constable what I heard was Hope. As my ears rang with the clapping of thousands of hands as Tony Walsh read his poem ‘This is the place’ what resonated through my body was Hope.


Rabbi Dovid

Vayakhel-Pekudei, #HASHTAGS and the Westminster Attack




We had just finished saying a Psalm and a special Refuah Shleima for those injured in the Westminster attack when my phone pinged telling me that the death toll had risen to three. With that message came the now ubiquitous sign of the times: #PrayForLondon was trending on social media!


There are as ever those who criticise such hashtags and question their value, but I wonder whether they are in fact missing the point. We live in such a cosmopolitan society and with the ever-increasing march of technology the world has simultaneously become much smaller and paradoxically ever larger. We are instantly connected to events transpiring half-way across the globe whilst having less and less real face time with those living within our own group. The mobile phone, the ultimate symbol of connectivity and communication, is now the biggest cause of disconnect. It’s a sign of the times, but the least commonly used feature on the mobile is now the actual call button!


A main strap-line for ShabbatUK was ‘disconnect to reconnect’, as we were all told to put away our mobile phones (and all other electronical devices!), to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the real world. But whilst the Mitzvah of Shabbat is the first paragraph of the week’s Sedra, it is not where I draw inspiration from this week, but rather from the names of the double Sedra themselves: Vayakhel and Pekudei.


Vayakhel means to gather together. This was the day after the original Yom Kippur when Moshe gathered the entire Jewish Nation together as one group in order to give us the commandment to build the Mishkan (which was prefaced by the Mitzvah of Shabbat to remind us that even the building of the ‘Home for Hashem’ did not override Shabbat).


Pekudei means to count, and this was the obligation to count each individual donation given to the building fund.


These two words, thrown together as a double Sedra are seemingly contradictory; to gather everyone together as one large mass and to count them individually! But that is precisely the message and entire ethos of the Torah and Judaism. We are our strongest when we are united as one, and that combined strength comes specifically from our own individual strength. It’s not just the ‘sum of its parts is greater than the whole’, it’s that there is no whole without the individual parts. When the farmer took his Ma’aser – the annual tithe, he couldn’t just take one tenth of his flock from the herd, but was obligated to count each animal individually and to set aside every tenth one that went by. It’s a central line in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer from Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur; that although we are gathered in Shul as one large Minyan, nevertheless we are all passing under the Almighty’s staff individually to get judged.


We ride on the flow of the communal current, but we must all swim ourselves.


In an age when we can with minimum effort be part of a global crowd, when with one click of a button we can join an international movement, it’s all too easy for us to think that we have now fulfilled our duty. “I’ve signed up. I’m on the inside.” I see the hashtag as a reminder that we can’t just ‘click to like’, but we must do our individual bit as well. Be part of the crowd, but play your part within that crowd.

As I write this message, pictures are coming in of the vigil held in Central London and the masses gathered there. A show of unity and defiance. A mark of respect and courage. Everyone there was and is part of the ‘community of strength’ but they also had to each individually turn up and play their individual part.


May the Almighty heal all those injured in the attack and grant comfort to those bereft of loved ones and shelter the souls of those so cruelly murdered.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid