Achare Mot/ Kedoshim

How do we prepare for anything of importance in our life? 

First we must prepare ourselves physically and mentally. 

Physically, we put on our gear. 

Mentally, we need a specific mindset.

It is clear that one type of preparation without the other, does not work. 

We actually need both mental and physical preparation for success in anything important in our life.

Our heart should be aligned with our mind. 

It is like the Jewish concept of KAVANAH:

KAVANAH is the Hebrew word for having the intention, 

or inner connection to what we are doing. 

To do this, we need focus and preparation, 

And training is part of the preparation, and 

it is equivalent to the Hebrew word KEVAH.

The partner of KAVANAH is KEVAH, 

THERE MUST BE A BALANCE BETWEEN  

KAVANAH ( intention)

And

KEVAH ( routine ) the fixed and external parts,

Most things that we do with 

kevah, the external preparations, 

and kavanah, the internal intention,

will have a good outcome. 

How can we have one without the other?

In this week's parasha, 

Acharei Mot, 

we read about the rules for Aaron, the High Priest, when he entered the Holy of Holies to get rid of his sins and the sins of the Israelites.

There are many details in the way Aaron physically prepares to enter this holy place. These preparations are external; they are the kevah. 

• Aaron had to put on linen clothing, 

• The fire had to be built in a specific way. 

• He had to sacrifice the bull for atonement of his sins and to sprinkle the bull’s blood on the altar facing the direction toward G-D, sprinkling 7 times. 

All these details were G-d’s directions and they had to be followed specifically or else Aaron would die like his children had. 

Aaron’s sons died for lighting an unauthorized ‘strange fire’ !

G-d also had specific instructions on how to atone for the sins of the Israelites. 

Aaron had to place a lot for the two goats. 

One of the goats was to be for G-d, and the other for Azazel. 

G-d's goat later got sacrificed, 

while the goat marked for Azazel was taken to the wilderness and set free,

This goat carried all the Israelites’ sins.

• What is the internal aspect, 

the kavanah, 

of all these detailed preparations? 

• Why did Aaron have to put on linen clothing, why not leather? 

• What about the goat for Azazel? 

Don’t you think that it is wrong for a goat to carry sins that he didn’t even do? 

We live in a world of personalresponsibility. 

• Aren’t we accountable for our own wrongdoings? 

• So, what is the meaning of all this? 

• Where is the internal meaning, the kavanah in all of these rituals?

The Kavanah comes from our inner-self. 

We are accountable for our own sins. 

G-d probably chose a goat because the goat doesn’t know any better and it doesn’t affect him either, 

he is just going by his instincts. 

The goat was an object for the Israelites to look deeper into themselves and repent.

This parasha is telling us that as long as we really do repent for our sins, then we might be forgiven. 

If you are not repenting from our inner-self, then it is like wasted time and wasted words. 

So as for Azazel’s goat, 

G-d’s intention was to let us know that we can be free of our sins if we repent and really mean it.

The special rituals and sacrifices in this parasha were the external kevah.

The genuine repentant feelings of the High Priest, and of the people of Israel, were the internal kavanah. 

Both kevah and kavanah need each other to co-exist in a balance.

G-d does not care about the offerings from the sacrifices unless the Israelites fear G-d and truly repent for their sins. 

So, G-d wanted a repentance that came from the Israelites hearts, a repentance done with Kavanah.

The Israelites are defrauding G-d, 

but if they turn to G-d, 

then G-d will turn to them: 

“Shuvu Ely veashuva Aleichem.” 

We all prepare for things of importance in our lives. 

Some of us only do the external kevah at times without showing intention. 

Some of us might only have the passion, the kavanah, for things without taking the time for external preparation and all of the details. 

Freedom is important because we have and we want free will. 

This free will gives us the choice of how to prepare, and it gives us options to put our passion into things.

In this parashah, Aaron receives instructions for Yom Kippur. 

G-d tells Aaron that the sacrifices for his sins, and the sins of Israel, will be replaced by a Day of Atonement.  

We need limitations, and we also need to repent when we break them.

The limitations are like the kevah, they are at many times external people or rules telling us how to behave. 

Our free will to choose how we will live, and our ability to think or feel guilty for our wrong-doings is like our Kavanah. 

So in a way, freedom and repentance need each other to co-exist, just like Keva and Kavanah.

As Jewish people, we have learned to prepare both internally and externally, 

in other words:

to feel the Kavanah

and to do the Kevah, 

for what we do in our life.  

I hope we all understood that Aaron’s preparation in today’s Parasha needed to be accompanied by the true feeling of repentance that comes from Kavanah.

Tazria

TAZRIA, The price for a free speech!

 

There was a fourteen year old schoolgirl by the name of Hannah Smith.

 

She was Bright and outgoing, she enjoyed an active social life and seemed to have an exciting future ahead of her.

 

On the morning of 2 August 2013 Hannah was found hanged in her bedroom. She had committed suicide.

 

Seeking to understand what had happened, her family soon discovered that she had been the target of anonymous abusive posts on a social network website. 

 

Hannah was a victim of the latest variant of the oldest story in human history: the use of words as weapons by those seeking to inflict pain. 

 

The new version is called cyber-bullying.

 

The Jewish phrase for this kind of behaviour is lashon hara, 

 

evil speech, 

 

speech about people that is negative,

 

It means, quite simply, speaking badly about people, 

 

the sages regarded it as one of the worst of all sins. 

 

They said, astonishingly, that it is as bad as the three cardinal sins:

 

idolatry, murder and incest

 

The 3 combined. 

 

More significantly in the context of Hannah Smith they said 

it kills three people, 

 

the one who says it, 

the one he says it about, 

and the one who listens in.

 

The connection with this week’s parsha is straightforward. 

Tazria, is about a condition called:

 

tsara’at

 

sometimes translated as Leprosy!

 

The commentators asked themselves:

 

what is this condition ?

 

and 

 

why it should be given such prominence in the torah?

 

They concluded that it was precisely because it was a punishment for 

 

lashon hara, derogatory speech.

 

We can find many evidences in the Torah recording punishment with leprosis, it would be too Long now to enumerate all those evidences!

 

Why is the Torah so severe about lashon hara,?

 

branding it, as one of the worst of sins? 

 

Partly this has deep roots in the Jewish understanding of G-d

and the human condition. 

 

Judaism is less a religion of holy people and holy places than 

it is a religion of holy words.

 

G-d created the universe by words: 

 

“And G-d said, Let there be … and there was.” 

G-d reveals himself in words. 

 

He spoke to the patriarchs and the prophets and at Mount Sinai to the whole nation. 

 

Our very humanity has to do with our ability to use language. 

 

Language is life. 

 

Words are creative but also destructive. 

 

One sign of how seriously Judaism takes this is the prayer we say at the beginning and at the end of every Amidah, at least three times a day: 

 

“Open my lips so that my mouth may declare Your praise,” 

 

“My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech."

 

Despite everything, 

lashon hara remained a problem throughout Jewish history and still does today. 

 

Every leader is subject to it. 

 

Anyone from CEO to parent to Friend who seeks to be a leader has to confront the issue of lashon hara. 

 

Some people are envious. 

 

They gossip. 

 

They build themselves up by putting other people down. 

 

Evil speech generates negative energies. 

 

Cyber-bullying is the latest manifestation of lashon hara

 

In general the Internet is the most effective distributor of hate-speech ever invented, 

 

it bypasses the face-to-face , 

 

encounter that can sometimes 

induce shame, 

 

sensitivity 

 

The story of Hannah Smith and the other teenage suicides is a tragic reminder of how right the sages were to reject the idea that 

 

" words can never harm me,” 

 

and insist to the contrary that 

 

evil speech kills. 

 

Free speech is not speech that costs nothing. 

 

It is speech that respects the freedom and dignity of others. 

 

Forget this and free speech becomes very expensive indeed.

 

All of which helps us to understand the biblical idea of tsara’at

 

People engage in lashon hara because they think they can get away with it.

 

“It wasn’t me. I never said it. I didn’t mean it. I was misunderstood.” 

 

 

To put it at its simplest: as we behave to others so G-d behaves to us. 

 

Do not expect G-d to be kind to those who are unkind to their fellow humans.

 

Shemini

It is written in our Parasha of this week called SHEMINI:

 

ULAVDIL BEN HAKODESCH UVEN ACHOL!

 

To distinguish between

 

the holy and the secular!

 

The problem in the world today is 

 

that the Jews know how to make kiddush, as we just did before starting to eat, 

 

But,

 

They do not know how to make havdalah !

 

That means, they do not know how to distinguish between the holy and the secular!

 

 

 

One of the most moving rituals of the Jewish week, 

at the arrival of the eighth day, 

is the 

havdalah (“ the separation”) ceremony, 

we bid a sorrowful farewell to the warm comfort of the brief Shabbat with wine, spice and fire. 

the feelings we experience as we go through this act of 

‘separation’,

dividing the Sabbath from the rest of the week,

require the wine 

the sweet-smelling fragrances to refresh 

and 

re-invigorate our spirits 

when we sense the leave-taking of the Sabbath Queen.

As we recite the blessing over the fire,

recalling the teaching of our Sages 

that, 

fire was created by Adam on that first, primordial Saturday night!

we customarily look at our fingernails. 

Why our fingernails?

The most rational explanation is 

that we can see, in the reflection of the light, 

on one side of our fingers and not on the other, 

The actual power of light to provide enhanced vision.  

The early commentator Rabbi Menahem Meiri (citing the Gaonim) suggests that

when Adam was first created, his entire body was covered with the same strong substance of the fingernails as a protective coat. 

Subsequently, when the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil was eaten, 

this protective coat was removed

with only the finger-nails serving as a reminder of his earlier more protected and invincible state.  

This week's portion of Shemini opens, 

“And it was on the eighth day...."

It looks like everything happened on the eighth day?!

What is the significance of the eighth day, which gives this parasha portion its name?

The “eighth day” is indeed filled with significance. 

Let us return to the initial seven days of creation, when G-d created the heavens and the earth, and all of their hosts. 

On the sixth day He created the human being and placed him,

Adam together with his wife Eve

in the Garden of Eden. 

The first couple sinned by plucking the fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil from off the tree and eating it, 

Dividing good and evil from their Divine source,  

Good and evil became whatever the human being believed is good for him/her, and / or evil for him/her. 

That is why our mystical literature refers to Adam’s sin as his having                

" kitzetz banetiyot "

" removing the seed from its source. "

And so Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.

Then came the first Sabbath Day, 

When each individual can find refuge and comfort under the wings of the Divine Presence, 

the day when G-D especially extends His ‘arms’ to embrace the penitent. 

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah) teaches us that Adam recited the Psalm for the Sabbath Day for the first time, 

genuinely uplifted by the understanding that there is a road back to Eden 

and that it was paved with stones of repentance and repair.

And then came the first Saturday night, 

the beginning of the first eighth day. 

In Bereishit Rabbah 11,2 it is written: 

“ This was the first time that darkness began to descend upon the world…. 

And G-D prepared two flint stones for Adam,

Adam rubbed them together and there emerged fire.” 

Therefore, the first ‘eighth’ day is parallel to the very first day: 

on the first day G-d created light for the world, 

and on the eighth day Adam created light and warmth for the world.

But it goes much deeper than that. 

• On the seven days of creation, G-d created a world for the human being to live in.

• On the eighth day Adam discovered,

through fire,

how he could repair and improve that world, 

• re-create that world as a true picture of the Divine. 

Fire is the human response to G-d’s light.  

But fire is a double-edged sword:

- it can strengthen and purify, 

   or 

- it can also petrify.

          •  •  •  •  •

- it can bring light and warmth, 

or 

- it can bring cannon fire and nuclear destruction. 

The blessing over fire, 

which attributes fire to its ultimate Divine source, 

must remind us that we must serve G-d in accordance with His Divine laws, 

that we dare not remove our creativity from its Divine direction. 

To do so, would be a repetition of Adam’s original sin.

G-d sent down His Divine light and fire as a sign that He accepted our Sanctuary, 

Human hands created fire

but human hands must use that fire to recreate and not to destroy. 

And therefore we look at our fingers as we make the blessing over fire every Saturday night, 

the beginning of our weekly “eighth day.” 

We are telling ourselves that everything,

the entire future of our lives and our world

lies in our own hands!

Shabat Hol Hamoed Pesach

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pessah

A Pull to the Past,                                 A Push into the Future!

My laptop computer was old and I wanted to replace it with the latest version!

It made it all the way to three years of age,

Which,  in computer years,  is a fairly average lifespan. 

I decided then to replace it, but not just by another computer, 

replacingitwith a laptop, with of course a MAC version, the latest of the latest, which just came out!

Went to an Apple Store, and ended up waiting over two hours in line for it. 

This, by the way, was weeks after the new model was released. 

But such was the demand and interest for it,  

that people waited patiently outside the store for hours. 

And when I left, the line was no shorter. 

Technology, wears out quick, 

 

This brings me to the not so insightful observation that our culture and society is fixated constantly on new technologies!

They are in grade 8 and they are already at the point where they can say, 

" When I was a younger, things were different!" 

The truth is the world is changing so quickly, you can be quite a bit younger than my eighth graders and remember a time when technology played a significantly different role in people's lives.

This change is exciting in many ways 

It's driving people to stand in lines for hours outside of Apple stores 

to be a part of it. 

But it also comes with its own set of challenges that affect us deeply, both as Jews but even more broadly as human beings.

And today we can see how one of the things that changed was that:

older people now turn to younger people to teach them. 

So grandparents are asking grandchildren for help. 

While there have been instances of revolutions led by the young before, 

their normal pattern has been for information and wisdom 

and 

teaching to go from older generation to the younger. 

Parents teach their children and teachers their students. 

In that way, when one is looking for guidance and answers one is accustomed to looking historical precedent for wisdom. 

If an individual wants to learn something, they go to sources within a tradition. 

 

But the world that we live in now is not memory-oriented, it is future oriented.

If there is a problem or an issue, then we will soon develop a solution to it.

Our world is filled with a tension between reverence for the old and eager anticipation for the new

And that tension actually finds an expression of sorts in Passover.

• On the one hand, 

Passover is a time for powerful memory and recollection. 

It is a holiday dedicated to the telling of a story. We were slaves in Egypt and G-D freed us. 

• On the other hand though, 

Passover is not just about the past, it is about the future. 

Redemption is always future oriented. 

Redemption means to look with hope at a better world, a world to come. 


For the ancient Israelites, the Exodus was not just the end of slavery. 

It was the beginning of freedom and a new life. 

Not long after the Exodus, the Israelites were at Sinai and there received the laws that would be the building blocks of all future Jewish communities. 

Passover is a time of looking ahead. 

As we started Passover, we look not just backwards, but forward. 

We count the omer, which began the second night of Passover, as we just did a few days ago. 

We count for seven weeks until we get to Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments. 

Passover looks back, but it also looks forward.

And the lesson to be learned from that is that we benefit from such a tension: 

a pull to the past and a push into the future. 

We gain immensely from studying the wisdom of earlier generations. 

That's why the rabbis taught that one of the most important commandments given was

 "Honor your father and mother." 

The study of Torah gives us sensitive, Jewish eyes with which to view the world. 

It teaches us to look out for the "orphan, the widow and stranger," that is, the most vulnerable members of society. That is a lesson to apply today—that no society can be just unless it cares for all of its members. The Torah teaches us that each person was created "B'tzelem Elohim," in the image of God, and therefore we ought to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Ancient Jewish practice, going all the way back to Abraham says that 

our homes should be open to guests, 

that hospitality is one of the greatest blessings. 

And yet they don't fully satisfy us, nor should they. 

The rabbis taught, "Who is rich? 

The one who is content with what one already has." 

After fulfilling our needs, it is good to be content and not always want more things, more fame, more power, or whatever it is. 

But a measure of discontent can be a good thing too. 

It propels us to make changes for the better. 

We can strive for better

 to make ourselves better and make our communities better. 

 

This Passover season, may we learn from the past to create a better future, that together we can all progress towards the Promised Land.

Shabat Hagadol

Shabbat HaGadol, 

loosely translated in English as the “Great Sabbath,” 

falls on the Shabbat preceding Passover, 

which is where we find ourselves this evening. 

According to Jewish law, it is on Shabbat HaGadol that we observe the beginning of the process of the Israelites redemption from Egypt. 

We are instructed to study the laws of Passover and there is even a tradition of reading portions of the haggadah as a rehearsal for the upcoming seder. 

The reasoning for this, is to familiarize ourselves with the content of the haggadah, 

so that we show up to the seder prepared with our questions and our answers. 

Like most ritual and religious experience, the more preparation we do the more meaning we may find. 

It is with this in mind that I want to share with you this evening some thoughts on the content in our haggadah that we will read at our Passover seder next Monday evening.

I began thinking about the story we encounter in the haggadah after I met with a man who told me he was an atheist. 

“Even though I don’t believe in G-D, I care about Jewish tradition,” 

he told me.

And then he shared that Passover is his Favourite holiday. 

In fact, it seemed to me his passion for the Passover seder was almost equal to his passion for atheism. 

So I asked him, 

" How do you relate to all the talk of G-D in the Passover Haggadah? "

" And he said to me, 

“Oh we just don’t make a big deal about those parts.”

Themes of slavery and freedom are more tangible and more easily applied to all the social injustices we face today. 

Yet, if we skip over the G-D parts we risk not fulfilling our main obligation of the Passover seder, which is to tell the story of the Exodus. 

A story, where it is hard to ignore G-D! 

A story, where it is impossible to ignore G-D!

The biblical commandment of how to observe Passover calls on us to,

" tell your child on that day, saying, ‘Because of that which G-d did for me when I went out from Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8) 

According to this text G-D is the main protagonist,

G-D is the mover,

G-D is the shaker, 

If we were to look through our haggadah we may find that their is actually too much G-D to ignore.

The text says, 

“ Hashem Brought Us Out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with great awe and with signs and wonders.” 

G-D is behind the 10 plagues according to the haggadah, 

“These are the 10 plagues that the holy one of blessing brought upon the Egyptians of Egypt.” 

G-D is the star of one of the famous Passover songs, Dayeinu

• " If he had brought us out of Egypt and not brought judgment upon them…Dayeinu (it would have been enough…” 

• If G-D had given us Shabbat (dayeinu). It would have been enough

 • if G-D had given us the Torah…dayeinu.

It is up to us to bring about redemption to those who are not yet free. 

 

Our Rabbinic ancestors suggested

 that G-D is only as powerful as our willingness to acknowledge G-D.

In a commentary on this topic they wrote,

“ G-D saves us, 

but acknowledgment of G-D provides redemption.” 

The Kotzker Rebbe teaches, 

“Where is G-D?

 Wherever we let G-D in.” 

May we enter Pessah this year with our hearts and minds open to the retelling of our people’s journey from a narrow place to an expanded place filled with possibility.

Pesach

Let me share with you a story that I hope will throw a little light on the extraordinary story of Pessah as a festival,

 

And,

 

What it teaches us about,

 

Jewish identity and Jewish history.

 

Some years ago, I was watching a documentary on Discovery Channel.

 

It was about the great Temples built by Ramses the 2nd,

 

The Pharaoh of Egypt,

 

That many people think that he was the Pharaoh of 

 

YETZIAT MITZRAYIM,

 

of the Pessah story,

 

And it showed the extraordinary Temples he built, 

 

And they are still there today!

 

For a while, I was carried along by the enthusiasm of the document!

 

All of a sudden, I stopped and said to myself:

 

Hang on! 

 

Who built those Temples?

 

Your ancestors,

My ancestors,

Our ancestors!

 

These were the slaves who built those Temples for Ramses the 2nd!

 

And I suddenly wondered:

 

What would it be like if we could get back in time,

 

And actually meet Ramses the 2nd and I imagined myself saying:

 

" Oh Almighty Ramses, I am a visitor from 3.300 years in the future

and I have for you some good news and I have for you some bad news! "

 

 

And curious he might say:

 

" OK, what is the good news? "

 

" Oh Almighty Ramses, there is a Civilisation living now, that will be still alive and strong 330 centuries from now! "

 

" and what is the bad news? "

 

" it is not going to be You ! "

 

Then my answer:

 

" Ramses, you see those slaves in the distance, building your Temples,

 

Those people you call Hebrews,

 

They are going to be alive and everything they believe is still going to be strong 330 centuries from now! "

 

It would sound like a big drama!!!

 

Ramses the 2nd was 

The greatest leader of the longest lived Empire of the ancient world!

 

And the Jews, the minority's,

Who lost their dignity !!!

 

So, how was it that this tiny people were able to survive,

 

And such an Empire disappeared from the pages of history?

 

Well of course there is an answer!

 

Ancient Egypt and Ancient Israel were 2 Civilizations that asked the deepest questions that any of us could ask:

 

" How in this short spine of years that we call a life, can we achieve immortality? "

 

The Egyptians gave an answer:

 

To achieve immortality by building monuments of stones that outlive time,

 

And in a sense they were right,

 

The buildings are still there!

 

But,

 

The Civilisation and the values for what they lived disappeared Long ago!

 

 

Ancient Israel said NO!

 

To become immortel, you do not need to built monument of stones,

 

The only thing to do is to engrave the values on your heart of your children and they on their's

 

and so on across the centuries of time.

 

Jews built living minds!

 

How did they do it?

 

In the process handing their story on to the next generation.

 

That is what we do on Pessah,

 

 

We give the next generation the gift of the Jewish story

 

and that turned to be longer lasting than the biggest Empire,

The greatest monuments!

 

Suppose this seder night we too are a part from this miracle,

 

The endless story of the Jewish people seeking freedom in the promise land,

 

CHAG KOSHER LESAMEAH

 

HAVE A WONDERFUL PESSAH,

 

THERE WILL BE A TIME OF SHALOM AL YISRAEL,

 

AMEN

Vayikrah

This week we begin the third book of our Torah,

the book of Vayikra, 

the book of Leviticus.  

And unfortunately, many people consider this the boring book of the Torah.  

Or one of the boring books of the Torah,

But, surprisingly

or maybe not surprisingly, 

I don’t agree with that assessment.  

And I think that if you look at the first two chapters of this week’s Torah portion, we can actually get something quite important.  

In fact, traditionally, many years ago, I still remember, when I was a young child, 

and we were taught Torah for the very first time, 

Vayikra was the very first book that we started with. 

We did not start with Bereshit, , Genesis, 

We started with Vayikra, 

Then Bamidbar, Numbers, and Devarim, Deuteronomy, 

and only then, went back and did BereshitGenesis and Shemot, Exodus.

So I just want everyone to just, for one second, put yourself in a mindset of having not really learned much about Judaism yet, 

and you open your Torah commentaries 

or you open the Torah to this week’s parashah and

the first two chapters of Vayikra are the first things that you ever learn.  

What are you going to take away from those two chapters?  

What are you going to think are the most important lessons that you could know about Judaism?

So the first two chapters of Vayikra, and actually the first chapters of our entire parashah, 

really, 

deal all with sacrifices.  

It is a list, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, of the different sacrifices that the ancient Israelites brought to the temple to atone for different things, just as offerings for thanks to God throughout the year, 

So what do we learn from that? 

If it’s a list of sacrifices for the first two chapters, what do we take away from it?  

I think there are two important lessons that we learn from this.

 

The first important lesson is that ritual services connect us to the divine.  

Ritual is our entry point to a relationship with God. 

Sacrifices in this week’s parashah are expressed all, every single one of them, as some type of call to G-D. 

A thank you, 

a request, 

every single one represents 

“now we are having a conversation with the Divine.”  

And in fact, the word for sacrifice in Hebrew, korban

actually comes from the Hebrew root, karov, which means “to come close to.”  

And so we are using these sacrifices as a method of bringing us closer establishing a connection with G-D.

Now we today do not practice sacrifices, as modern Jews.  But we instead substitute the ritual of prayer. 

And so if we think about 

sacrifice as a metaphor and prayer as our ritual, 

we learn that

organized prayer brings us closer to G-D.  

The 2nd Lesson we learn: 

if we look a little bit further into the second chapter of Vayikra, 

we read a verse that says:

when you bring a grain offering to G-D, you should not include any leaven or any honey (Lev. 2:11).  

No leaven and no honey.  

Why do we think that those are the two things that are restricted?  

What could leaven and honey represent? 

Honey is sweetness, 

and Leaven means bread the stuff you use to make bread rise, 

a kind of filler.

 

When I think about those two, sweetness and filler, 

I think of something to make it more attractive!

When we bring a sacrifice, 

it should not be embellished.  When we come close to G-D we should not come with our embellishments, our decorations!

We should come only as our pure selves.  

And I mean that not in a clean or unclean kind of way, 

but I mean as our true selves.

And especially as we think about the holiday of Pesach, 

when we know that during the holiday of Passover we clean our homes of leaven, 

we get rid of all the extra , 

all of the stuff that seems heavy and puffy 

and we try to return to a sense of who are we, 

what is our most important value, 

and on Passover 

we remind ourselves that our most important value is freedom 

and we thank G-D for that gift of freedom.

two lessons.  

On the one hand, 

organised prayer brings us closer to G-D, 

and on the other hand, 

when we do come close to G-D, 

we should come as our true selves.  

So what do these mean to us today?  

Every week we experience the tragedy of a senseless killing of children, adults anywhere ,any places in the world!

And we think about hearing those  news, how do we react to that?  

There are some of us who have the great gift of being able to react to that tragedy with spontaneous prayer and spontaneous connection to G-D, 

to give us the comfort the strength 

or 

to give us the opportunity to try and make sense of this awful, awful event.

But then are some of us who may not be able to connect immediately, 

And for us, we need the organised ritual.  

We need to be here tonight and sing prayers with each other 

to be with each other,

to experience the connection that is going to help us get through those tragedies.

 

And so I would like to end with the lessons of Vayikra.  

May we all be together experience  G-D together, 

and find

our true selves.

Vayakel

An Easier Way to Achieve Redemption

This week a friend gave me a beautiful present:  

a children’s book by Mordecai Gerstein called, 

“The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.”

This book tells the story of Philippe Petit and his daring, death defying walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974.

Many of you are probably familiar with this story. 

• Some of you might have read about it afterwards.

• Others may have seen the Oscar winning film based upon this walk.

Here is a brief recap of the story. 

Philippe Petit was a street performer in Paris and an expert tightrope walker. 

Soon after the Twin Towers were built he snuck into the towers as a construction worker and in the middle of the night carried up a 500 pound cable. 

He shot an arrow between the towers with a rope attached to it. 

Using that rope he strung the cable which was only 5/8 of an inch thick in between the two buildings.

He walked onto the cable just as New Yorkers were coming to work that morning and spent nearly an hour on the cable where he walked, jumped, and danced before he walked off the cable and was arrested by police officers.

After reading this book, I became fascinated by the story. 

I wanted to understand how Philippe Petit felt to be alone up on the wire?

I wanted to understand how Philippe Petit felt up there spiritually?

I believe that after reading such a story, most of us would wonder why one would do this?????

Philippe Petit has said that when he was on the wire, 

as the helicopters buzzed above him, 

and the police shouted at him on their bullhorns, and the crowds gathered below him, 

he simply lay down on the wire. And when he did so he said, 

“I felt totally free. No one could touch me. I was with the birds.”

 

That moment of freedom is what we search for our entire lives. 

We live our lives seeking a sensation that we can call freedom or redemption.

Philippe Petit found his freedom up on a wire in the middle of the sky. 

But that is an approach to achieving redemption that is definitely not recommended for most people.

 

Our Torah portion of this week is about REDEMPTION

However, it shows us an easier way to achieve redemption.

At its core Sefer Shemot, which we will finish this Shabbat is about how to achieve redemption. 

In English we call this book,Exodus, 

but the great Ramban calls this book, Sefer Geula, or the Book of Redemption.

This book from beginning to end is the blueprint for how to achieve redemption. 

The book starts with the children of Israel being enslaved in Egypt and ends with the following scene, which is a scene of total redemption (Exodus 40:34, 38): 

Vayechas he-anan et ohel moed uchevod Hashem maleh et hamishkan, 

and the Cloud covered the tent of the meeting and the Glory of G-D filled the Tabernacle….

ki anan Hashem al hamishkan yomam ve esh tehiyeh lailah bo le-ene chol beit yisrael bechol maase hem, 

for the Cloud of Hashem was above the Tabernacle by day, and fire on it at night, in front of the eyes of all of Israel in all their journeys.” 

Just like Sinai, this moment was redemption for all of Israel; they all witnessed the Cloud and the Glory of G-D

 

So how did the benei yisrael achieve this redemption?

In answer to this question there are two points that I want to emphasize as keys to the redemption of the benei yisrael and which are also keys to our own redemption.

Point number one:

At the end of our portion we are told that Hashem told Moshe to erect the Mishkan on the first day of the month of Nissan,

beyom hachodesh harishon, be-echad lachodesh takim et mishkan ohel moed.

There is a dispute amongst the rabbis as to how exactly to interpret this command. 

But the common interpretation is as follows (see Ramban 40:2):

The first day of Nissan, the day Moshe was told to put up the Mishkan, is also known as 

the 8th day of the miluim, the inauguration of the Temple. 

This means that when Moshe built the Mishkan on the 8th day of the inauguration or the first day of Nissan, he was basically putting up a grand opening sign saying, “The Mishkan is now open for business.”

Prior to this, for one week, beginning on the 23rd of Adar, Moshe was inaugurating the Mishkan. 

For that entire seven day period Moshe was building the Mishkan and taking it down by himself every single day. 

According to one opinion in the Midrash he built it and took it down twice a day. But according to Rabbi Chaninah Hagadol who is also quoted in the Midrash, Moshe built it and took it down three times a day, meaning Moshe built and took down the Mishkan 21 times during the week of miluim

Just think about building your sukkah and how hard that is, and imagine something much, much more difficult to build, and now imagine doing that 3x a time a day for seven days straight. 

This is what Moshe had to do before the Mishkan could be open for business.

What was the purpose of this? Why the need for him to do this over and over again?

The goal of Moshe was not just to build the Mishkan; it was to build the mishkan in such a way that the Glory of G-D would dwell within it. Moshe wanted to achieve a great spiritual connection with Hashem.

By building the Mishkan three times a day, Moshe was teaching us a spiritual lesson which is axiomatic to Judaism; 

the path to great moments of redemption can only come through

repetitive efforts

and

consistent hard work. 

Spiritual success requires an enormous commitment and effort.

 

Think about our high wire act person, Philippe Petit. 

He didn’t show up and walk across the Towers and feel free. 

- He meticulously planned his daring deed for six years.-

- He studied every aspect of the Towers.

- He built a model of the Towers.

- He rented helicopters to observe the space.

- He spoke with physicists.

- He planned and rehearsed 

for the moment with the recognition that his life depended on success.

This is the same approach we should take to spirituality. 

What is required for spiritual success is constant, 

daily commitment and preparation, 

just like the commitment that Moshe had in building the Mishkan.

This is what Moshe required from himself and this is what he was trying to teach benei yisrael. 

And this is what we should require of ourselves. 

That is the first path to redemption that I wanted to speak about today.

 

But there is a second path to redemption that is also seen from Parshat Pekudei. 

Lets go back to the story of Philippe Petit. 

Although Philippe Petit achieved his moment of freedom and although his story seems harmless and fun, there is still one strange element,

There are no videos of his walk between the towers.

Just still pictures.

What happened was a person carried the video cameras onto the roof of the building but then he was too tired to video the walk.

Can you imagine if this had been done today? His walk would have easily been videoed and it would have been on youtube instantly. And then it would have gone viral in minutes.

Now on the one hand there is nothing wrong with that. But on the other hand, there is something immodest and anti-spiritual about our entire youtube society today. 

It has become a youtube culture with individuals constantly promoting themselves by performing weird acts and posting it to youtube.

The youtube culture is a culture that promotes the individual. 

And while it is possible for an individual to achieve redemption, 

this week’s parshah tells us that there is a better path to redemption. 

Parshat pekudei teaches us that the path to redemption of the individual comes not through a glorification of the individual but through the individual’s communal participation.

The word pekudei can mean to count. 

   as in,

eleh pekudei hamishkan, 

these are the countings of the mishkan. 

The Torah ends the Book of Redemption with a meticulous counting of all the gold, silver, and materials used in the mishkan.

This is a seemingly tedious way to end a book of redemption. Wouldn’t we expect a more exciting, Hollywood-like ending? 

But instead we are seeing a counting of all the silver and gold that was spent. 

So the answer is that is what the word pekudei can also mean to redeem.

At the beginning of Exodus, Hashem tells Moshe go tell the Jewish people (3:16), “pakod pakadati etchem, I will redeem you.” Here the word pekod means to redeem.

And Moshe understood the meaning of these words. He understood that pakod means a redemption that comes through 

a communal counting of the people.

This is the message of Parshat Shekalim. It states in Parshat Shekalim that everyone must give a half shekel coin in order to be counted, “bifkod otam.” But we can also read it as saying that everyone must give a half shekel in order to be redeemed.

In other words the redemption of the individual comes not through the glorification of the individual 

but through the participation in the communal building of a meaningful entity.

So when G-D told Moshe say to the children of Israel, “pakod pakadati etchem— I will redeem you.” 

He is saying tell them that I will redeem you when you commit to something much larger than each of you.

That is a fundamental message of redemption—the path to 

an individual’s redemption is through a community.

Right after he was arrested for performing his high-wire act, Petit was asked: 

“Why did you do it?” And he answered, “There is no why.”

He is right. 

We should not ask why the soul seeks redemption. 

Instead, 

we should ask how we can achieve it.

And we can achieve it. 

All it takes is a constant commitment to the hard work of spirituality and a dedication to the recognition that our individual redemption will come through a communal redemption. 

And if we understand those two ideas then the path to redemption is very much achievable.

 

 

Zachor

This Shabbat is called:

 

SHABBAT ZACHOR!

Meaning to remember!

 

In the Maftir for this special Shabbat Zachor we read,

 

"Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt." (Deut. 25:17)

 

There is a danger in not remembering Amalek, 

In not confronting the reality of anti-Semitism, 

 

But, there is a danger, in being too sensitive to the presence of antiSemitism, 

 

this too poses danger to the very health of the Jewish people and to its future.

 

Professor Alfred Sabin, the inventor of the live polio vaccine, 

 

who later became the president of the Weitzman Institute in Israel, 

 

in an interview, provided us with a dramatic metaphor for this danger. 

 

He said:

 

"Judaism came to me through my left eye. When I was a child in Poland, nonJewish children threw stones at me and I became blind in my right eye."

 

Well, too many Jews are conditioned to look at the world only 

through one eye, 

the eye of anti-Semitism.

 

They see Jewish history as one long account of suffering and persecution. 

 

They are constantly on the lookout for every manifestation of Jewish hatred, 

 

As a consequence, 

 

such Jews have lost their perspective on Jewish life, 

 

and no longer see the totality of the Jewish experience.

 

They have no idea of the richnessand fulfillment that Judaism has to offer, 

 

for they are blind to the positive aspects of the Jewish experience.

 

There is an interesting MIDRASH which speaks to this issue.

 

It points out that there is another commandment which also begins with the word ZAKHOR,

 

"ZAKHOR ET YOM HASHABBAT L'KADSHO - "remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."

 

The MIDRASH makes the following observation:

 

"One cannot compare the two commandments. 

 

For, 

'' remember the Sabbath Day " 

is a cup of sweet wine. 

For, 

" Remember what Amalek did to you" is a cup of vinegar.

 

This MIDRASH indicates the twofold nature of Jewish life. 

 

Jews have a bitter responsibility to remain sensitive to the forces of evil, to remember the Holocausts of history. 

 

However, this is the vinegar of our lives.

 

But for a Jew to maintain that the totality of being a Jew is to be found in how we react to anti-Semitism!

 

We must never forget that Jews find it worthwhile to survive in hostile world 

 

because Jews retain the memory of the Sabbath.

 

Through observing the Sabbath the Jew is reminded of the commandments, and of the ideals of the Torah.

 

By observing the Sabbath he is reminded of 

 

the creation and the Creator, 

 

of the holiness of life, 

and

 

of the richness of Jewish family living.

 

On the Sabbath, 

attendance at the synagogue brought the Jew into meaningful contact with fellow Jews, enabling him or her to feel a part of the Jewish community, past, present and future.

 

And the study of Torah, 

 

both on the Sabbath and in the course of the week, 

 

enable the Jew to better understand the role of the Jew, in God's world. 

 

The Jew not only tasted the vinegar of Jewish history, 

he drank the sweet wine of Judaism.

 

As Jews, as parents, and grandparents, we have the difficult task of presenting a balanced view of Judaism to our children,

 

enabling them to look at Judaism through both eyes. 

 

We must teach them 

 

ZAKHOR - "remember the AMALEKS of history. 

 

ZAKHOR, remember that it can happen here. 

 

And that it is their responsibility, not only to remember, but to do all in their power to prevent it from ever happening again to any people.

 

But at the same time we must teach them, 

 

by example, 

 

that to be a Jew is a real privilege. 

 

To be a Jew is to be a member of an eternal people that is vital and creative. 

 

That 

 

to be a Jew is to have an heritage that is ancient and meaningful. 

 

 

Tomorrow night is Purim,

 

We will read of the anti-Semite Haman and his attempt to destroy all the Jews of Persia, 

 

but we also celebrate the victory we had and Haman's death.

 

Would like to inform you that on Sunday morning we will proceed with Shacharith at 8:00 am and reading of the meguila of Esther,

 

At 11:00 am at our school in Sembawang the Candy world party, all the kids will be in costumes, and Hamentashen is in the menu

 

Please come and bring your children, grandchildren, the all Family!

 

Let us see the fun in Judaism,

 It is our requirement to do so!

 

 

SHABBAT ZAKHOR has an important message for us. 

 

As Jews we must never forget the AMALEK of anti-Semitism which threatens to destroy us. 

 

We must fight against evil. But we must also remember 

the Sabbath of Jewish experience, the holiness of Jewish life, 

its fulfillment and inspiration, 

 

so that we will be nourished by the sweet wine of our heritage, which will refresh us and sustain us on the road of life.

Terumah

TERUMAH, this week's parasha explains in the deepest details how to build the sanctuary.

 

“The House We Build Together”.

It’s not so much WHAT we build, 

but HOW we build which tells of our character.  

“V’asu Li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham.”  

“Make for me a sanctuary,” 

God says, 

“so that I may dwell among them.”  How do we build?

WHAT we build will be beautiful and environmentally-responsible.  

But HOW we build will be transformative.  

This is the wisdom of our parashah.  

God instructs us:  “Make for me a sanctuary,

” God says,

" so that I may dwell among you.”  

The emphasis is not on the noun, 

but on the verb.  

Not on the thing, 

but the action.  

You see, 

SOME people WILL be attracted to a beautiful building.  

But 

EVERYONE is attracted to a community that BUILDS TOGETHER.  

That is where the sanctity lies.  

Not in the tent pegs, 

but

in the COMING TOGETHER over the tent pegs:  

Not what we build, but how we build.

 

" Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofesh kol chadrei baten "

the lamp of the Eternal is the soul of man, searching all its inner chambers’ (Proverbs 20:27).

 

To be clear, Judaism has always been and must always be a religion of DEEDS, 

A sacred collection of actions intended to draw us closer to one another and to our G-D. 

Let, 

 HOW WE build THIS SACRED SPACE together be in the spirit of our parasha, 

so that God’s Presence will indeed be among us.  

Amen.

Mishpatim

Following the revelation at Mount Sinai we move to a detailed listing of laws.  

 

Here are a few of the many laws and mitzvot listed in this week’s parsha.  

 

Some make sense and others appear outdated.  

 

There are the logical and the mysterious.  

 

Most of the laws fall into the category of mishpatim

laws whose reasons are obvious

 

as opposed to hukkim, 

laws whose reasons are mysterious.

 

• The portion begins with laws concerning the treatment of slaves.  

 

It begins with the outdated.  

 

• Then there are laws about manslaughter and murder.  

 

The Torah establishes asylum for a person who accidentally kills another so as to prevent the seeking of vengeance.  

 

• The death penalty is prescribed if you hit or insult your parents.  

Perhaps the parent of a teenager wrote this one.  

 

• You shall notdo wrong to the stranger, orphan or widow.  

• You must not take bribes.  

 

Many of these laws were constructed to help build a just society.  

 

The Torah is not just worried about how we approach G-d but also about building a community that cares for one another.

 

• There are laws regarding the lending of money and charging interest.  

 

• Observe Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.  

 

And finally, 

 

• you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.  

 

This is one of the classic examples of those laws called hukkim, laws whose reasons are mysterious.  

There are many attempts to explain this law.  

 

This verse is obviously the basis for the prohibition regarding the mixing of milk and meat.  

 

The most common explanation for this observance is that 

we must not mix what gives life with the life that was taken.  

 

Not mixing milk and meat is a discipline that brings Jewish consciousness to the everyday.  

 

It makes you think about your Jewishness even when you are preparing food.

 

 

So it can’t all be about what our minds are capable of. 

It can’t all be what our heads can explain or reason can understand .  

 

 

And so we have come to think that we must recover mystery.  

 

That is what not mixing milk and meat is about.  

 

It is a daily affirmation of the fact that sometimes we must do things that cannot be adequately explained. 

 

Mystery must be a part of our lives

 

just as much as reason.  

 

Wondering why must always be a part of our Jewish lives.

 

I do believe that we must recover mystery.  

 

Not every Jewish thing that we do can be explained by reason.

 

 

All plans come to a crashing halt.  

 

You can plan and schedule all you want.  

 

We don’t control everything.  

 

We don’t understand everything.  

Some things are just beyond our control.

 

Jewish tradition suggests that the highest reason for doing a mitzvah is not for a promise of reward or even because you find its reasons compelling,

 

but instead because it is G-D given.  Because the reason is beyond our understanding 

we do the mitzvah for its own sake.

 

We do things for the sake of mystery.   

 

On this Shabbat I would like us to work to restore mystery to our lives. 

 

The search for answers and reasons must always continue.  

 

But unresolved questions do not mean giving up the quest.   

 

It means instead affirming the mystery of our lives.  

 

It means praising the mystery in our lives.

 

Among all of these laws in this week’s portion we find of course the quest for a just society,

 

but also this affirmation of mystery.  

 

And with such mystery comes peace and contentment.

Yitro

Our main subject in parasha Yitro, is of course the account of the greatest Divine revelation in history, at Mount Sinai, the 10 commandments.

 

Nonetheless, it begins on a note where,

 

Yitro, priest of Midian, has come to see how his son-in-law Moses and the people he leads are fearing.

 

Before we talk about this episode and what we can learn from it, let us go briefly through the 10 commandments from my point of view:

 

In fact parasha Yitro is the parasha of my Bar Mitzwa and I am very proud that the 10 commandments were on that day!

It was already telling me, 

in straightest way possible, 

that I have to keep these commandments. 

Actually that WE should keep these commandments!

No messing around. 

Lets start at the very beginning a very good place to start. Right?!

• Number one:

“I am the L-rd your G-d” 

is very interesting because the word “your” is singular. 

G!d says: 

I am your  G-D ( in singular)

who took you from the land of mitzrayim! 

There is a difference than there just being a G-D and that G-D being the G-D of your life. 

It might be difficult to understand but not difficult to accept the fact that there is a G-D, 1 G-D, the G-D above us, around us who plays a very important role in all of our lives. 

• The second commandment

is to have no other G-ds. 

Well what does that mean? 

What would another G-D be? 

As mentioned before, there is only 1 and He is guiding us to chose what we are going to do. 

Actually, there is no other G-D!

So what pushes us to make a bad decision. 

Some of our everyday false own decisions , NOT G-D's decisions, those may be financial problems, popularity, fame, facebook, computer. 

• The third commandment:

is not to say Hashem’s name without meaning it. 

On a different level, this teaches us to be more careful with our words.

• The 4th commandment is Shabbat. 

Shabbat has always been an amazing thing for me. Shabbat is a time to wear nice clothes, eat good food, and relax with my friends, now my Family, study more,....

That brings us to commandment 

Fifth commandment 5:

• honoring your parents. 

Some of you (mostly kids) probably think that honoring your father and your mother is the hardest commandment to keep. I don’t agree, I think that no matter what our parents did and do, its probably for the good, believe it or not. 

• #6 is 

You shall not murder. 

Seams pretty straightforward, right? Well what qualifies as murder? 

In a metaphorical way, embarrassing someone is like killing them. You can also kill someone’s livelihood or someone’s self esteem. 

So how would I bring someone back to life? Well We could make people feel good about themselves and their accomplishments and not compare their accomplishment to ours which will heighten their self esteem. 

Here we are at #7 

one of the most obvious commandments. 

Thou shalt not have an affair with a married woman who isn’t your wife. Enough said.

What about #8, 

stealing?

The literal meaning of stealing is taking something without permission. I’m sure every one of you has done it. Like using something not belonging to us without permission. 

Another way to steal is to steal from G-D.

The Talmud says that when you don’t say a bracha (blessing of thanks) you’re stealing from G-D. He created that thing you’re going to eat and saying a bracha is like paying him, in a way. 

• Next, 9, 

don’t testify falsely in court. This could also mean not to say false things about people. 

Commandment number 10

is don’t be jealous. One might think, wait, don’t be jealous?? 

Isn’t that a human instinct? 

Jealousy has been going on since cain and abel. How could We not be jealous? 

So one might ask, how would I stop jealousy? Well, gratitude is a really good way to counter jealousy. If you ever feel yourself being jealous you can look at your good points and what you’ve got without comparing to other people. 

 

Now, coming back to Yitro visiting Moses 

 

The Torah is telling us:

It begins by telling us what Yitro heard.

It goes on to describe what Yitro saw, 

and this gave him cause for concern.

 

He saw Moses leading the people alone. The result was bad for Moses and bad for the people. This is what Yitro said:

 

“ What you are doing is not good.

 

The work is too heavy for you; 

 

you cannot handle it alone.

 

Then he continues in giving him all kind of advices , such as :

 

Select capable men who fear G-D

 

trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain,

and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 

 

Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, and so on and so forth....

 

In other words,

 

Moses must learn to delegate and share the burden of leadership.

 

Interestingly, the sentence

 

“What you are doing is not good (lo tov)” 

 

Only in two places in the Torah the phrase “not good” is used. 

 

Here and in Genesis 2:18 where we can read  

 

“It is not good for man to be alone.” 

 

We cannot lead alone,

we cannot live alone. 

 

That is one of the principal of biblical customs and beliefs.

 

The Hebrew word for life, 

 

chayyim

 

is in the plural as if to signify that life is essentially shared. 

 

the deep significance of the idea that we can neither live nor lead alone. 

 

Judaism is not so much a faith transacted in the privacy of the believer’s soul. 

 

It is a social faith. 

 

It is about networks of relationship. It is about families, 

 

communities, 

 

and ultimately a nation, 

 

in which each of us, great or small, has a role to play. 

 

That is why a nation is greater than any individual, and why each of us has something to give.

Bo

The Necessity of Asking Questions

Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

 

It is no accident that parshat Bo, 

the section that deals with the culminating plagues and the exodus, 

should turn three times to the subject of 

children and the duty of parents to educate them. 

As Jews we believe that 

to defend a country you need an army, 

but 

to defend a civilisation, 

you need education. 

Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. 

Unless,

parents hand on their memories and ideals to the next generation the story of 

how they won their freedom and the battles they had to fight along the way 

What is fascinating, is the way the Torah emphasizes the fact that: children must ask questions. 

Two of the three passages in our parsha speak of this:

And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' 

then tell them, 

" It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" (Ex. 12:26-27)

In days to come, 

when your son asks you, 

" What does this mean? "

say to him, 

" With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Ex. 13:14) "

There is another passage later in the Torah that also speaks of question asked by a child:

In the future, 

when your son asks you,

" What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?"

 tell him: 

"We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deut. 6:20-21)

The other passage in today's parsha, the only one that does not mention a question, is:

On that day tell your Son, 

" I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." (Ex. 13:8)

These four passages have become famous in the Haggadah on Pesach.

They are the four children: 

one wise, 

one wicked or rebellious, 

one simple

and

" one who does not know how to ask." 

Reading them together the sages came to the conclusion that children should ask questions,  

the Pesach narrative must be constructed in response to, 

and begin with, questions asked by a child, 

It is the duty of a parent to encourage his or her children to ask questions, and the child who does not yet know how to ask should be taught to ask.

There is nothing natural about this at all. 

Most traditional cultures see it as the task of a parent or teacher to instruct, guide or command. 

It is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions. 

That is how they grow.

Judaism is the rarest of phenomena: a faith based on asking questions, 

In the yeshiva, I remember we were already asking a lot's of questions and I remember my teacher would say,

" You right! You 100 prozent right! Now I show you where you wrong."

Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Indeed, astonishingly in a religion of 613 commandments, 

there is no Hebrew word that means: "to obey."

When Hebrew was revived as a living language in the nineteenth century, and there was need for a verb meaning "to obey," it had to be borrowed from the Aramaic: le-tsayet. Instead of a word meaning "to obey," the Torah uses the verb shema, untranslatable into English because it means:

to listen, 

to hear, 

to understand, 

to internalise, 

and to respond. 

our highest duty is to seek to understand the will of God, not just to obey blindly. 

The one essential, though, is to know and to teach this to our children, that not every question has an answer we can immediately understand. There are ideas we will only fully comprehend through age and experience, others that take great intellectual preparation, yet others that may be beyond our collective comprehension at this stage of the human quest. 

In teaching its children to ask and keep asking, Judaism honoured what Maimonides called the 

" active intellect "

and saw it as the gift of God. 

No faith has honoured human intelligence more.

Vaera

At first, Moses’ mission seemed to be successful. 

He had feared that the people would not believe in him, but G-D had given him signs to perform, 

But then things start to go wrong, and continue going wrong. 

Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh is disastrous. Pharaoh refuses to recognise G-D. 

He rejects Moses’ request to let the people travel into the wilderness. He makes life worse for the Israelites. 

The people turn against Moses and Aaron: 

Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh to renew their request. 

They perform a sign – they turn a staff into a snake 

but Pharaoh is unimpressed. 

His own magicians can do likewise. 

Next they bring the first of the plagues, 

but again Pharaoh is unmoved. 

He will not let the Israelites go. 

And so it goes, nine times. 

Moses does everything in his power and finds that nothing makes a difference. 

The Israelites are still slaves.

We sense the pressure Moses is under. 

In this week’s parsha, even though G-D has reassured Moses that he will eventually succeed, Moses replies:

" If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Ex. 6: 12).

There is an enduring message here. 

Leadership, even of the very highest order, is often marked by failure. 

So it is with leaders.  

Only in retrospect do heroes seem heroic and the many setbacks they faced reveal themselves as stepping stones on the road to victory.

In every field, high, low, sacred or secular, leaders are tested not by their successes but by their failures. 

It can sometimes be easy to succeed. The conditions may be favourable. The economic, political or personal climate is good. 

When there is an economic boom, most businesses flourish. 

In the first months after a general election, the successful leader carries with him or her the charisma of victory. 

It takes no special skill to succeed in good times.

But then the climate changes. 

Eventually it always does. That is when many businesses, and Politicians fail. 

There are times when even the greatest people stumble. 

At such moments, character is tested. 

The great human beings are not those who never fail. 

They are those who survive failure, who keep on going, 

who refuse to be defeated, 

who never give up or give in. 

They keep trying. 

They learn from every mistake. 

They treat failure as a learning experience. 

And from every refusal to be defeated, they become stronger, wiser and more determined. 

That is the story of Moses’ life in last week’s parsha and in this.

 

The English expression,

" Lose a battle and win the war,” applies.  

Certainly we have stumbled and will stumble again,      

The wisest of men said,

In the book of proverbs (24:16) it is written 

" A righteous man falls seven times, but rises again” 

Fools believe the intent of the verse is to teach us that the righteous man falls seven times and, 

despite this, 

he rises.  

But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of the righteous man’s rising again is because of his seven falls.

 

Greatness cannot be achieved without failure. 

There are heights you cannot climb without first having fallen.

I would only add, 

" And seyata diShmaya, the help of Heaven.” 

G-D never loses faith in us even if we sometimes lose faith in ourselves.

The supreme role model is Moses who, despite all the setbacks chronicled in last week’s parsha and this, eventually became the man of whom it was said that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his energy unabated” (Deut. 34: 7).

Defeats, delays and disappointments hurt. 

They hurt even for Moses. 

So if there are times when we too feel discouraged and demoralised, it is important to remember that even the greatest people failed. 

What made them great is that they kept going. 

The road to success passes through many valleys of failure.  There is no other way.

Shemot

Jewish tradition has some very strong opinions about naming. 

 

In Ashkenazi circles it is a strongly ingrained custom to name a child for a family member who died, 

 

in particular someone whorecently died. 

 

In Sephardi homes naming follows a more prescribed order,

typically first child for father’s father whether living or not, 

second for mother’s father and so on. 

Parents spend considerable hours, days, weeks and even months discussing and debating their future child’s name. 

 

There is also a custom, of renaming a sick child so as to trick the angel of death. 

 

Many of those of older generations named Hayim or Haya are often called these names for this reason.

 

All of this is by way of introducing this week’s Torah portion, 

 

Shemot—Names. 

 

First we read the names of Jacob’s sons who find their way into Egypt and of course settle there, 

ultimately leading to our slavery and eventual freedom. 

 

In chapter two we first meet Moses. 

 

Curiously no one in this story is named until Moses is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and finally named by her. 

 

It is a fascinating story and begs the question:

 

Why would the Torah not name its greatest hero immediately? 

 

Why do we hear so little of his lineage?

 

It is as if the Torah says:

 

" Somebody married somebody else and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.”

 

In Pirke Avot we read: 

 

"Rabbi Shimon said, 

 

there are three crowns: 

 

the crown of Torah, 

the crown of priesthood, 

and the crown of kingship. 

 

But the crown of a good name is superior to them all." 

 

The most important name is that name we earn. 

 

It is not what we are given by our parents. 

 

As much as these names may symbolize our connection to the past, what others call us because of the good we do are our most important names.

 

 

That is the lesson of Moses’ name. 

Here was a man who changed history. 

He was not born into a famous family. 

In fact his birth was not the most significant event of his life. 

His parents did not even name him. 

His story instead began when he was pulled from the water by a complete stranger. 

 

He earns his name! It is what others call him. 

 

He began from the humblest of beginnings.

He was born to an ordinary family. 

 

And then changed history and rescued his people. 

 

And that of course is our task

 

to earn a good name. 

No matter our beginnings,

it never beyond any of us to save others. 

 

A good name is within our own hands.

 

Mikeitz

At the beginning of our week's parsha, the pasuk says:

“Miketz shnatayim yamim…”

" At the end of two years "

The Medrash Rabbah relates these words to a pasuk in Iyov ( Job )

“Ketz sam l’choshech…”

" He put an end to the darkness "

G-D decided that after the two year period in which Yosef was to sit in prison, the time had come for his release.

Since the time for Yosef’s release had now arrived, Pharaoh had his dream.

The Beis HaLevi makes a very important point.

We often get confused between cause and effect.

A simple reading of the narrative at the beginning of Parshas Miketz gives us the impression that

the “cause” was

Pharaoh’s dreams and the fact that his advisors could not interpret them to his satisfaction.

The effect was

that Yosef was brought out of jail to interpret the dreams and thereby rose to a position of authority in Egypt.

The Beis HaLevi points out that the Medrash is teaching us that just the reverse is true.

The CAUSE was that it was time for Yosef to be released from prison and take up a leadership position in Egypt.

The EFFECT was that G-d made Pharaoh dream troubling dreams, which his advisors could not interpret.

The world has a Grand Plan. G-d makes things happen in the world so that the plan will be carried out.

G-D calls the shots, not man.

That is the paradox of the human condition as understood by Judaism.

On the one hand we are free.

No religion has so strongly insisted on human freedom and responsibility.

Adam and Eve were free not to sin.

Cain was free not to kill Abel.

We make excuses for our failures – it wasn’t me; it was someone else’s fault.

But these are just that: excuses.

It isn’t so.

We are free and we do bear responsibility.

This is the paradoxical interplay of fate and freewill.

As Rabbi Akiva said in Avot: “All is foreseen yet freedom of choice is given”.

Isaac Bashevis Singer put it cleverly:

“We have to believe in free will:

we have no choice.”

We and God are co-authors of the human story. Without our efforts we can achieve


It is interesting that Shabbat Hanukkah nearly always coincides with Parshat Miketz,


this week’s Torah portion about Joseph and his brothers.  Here is why I find this coincidence so intriguing.


The very first Hanukkah was quite different than our own.


The first Hanukkah was about fighting not to be like others. 

But in our Torah portion Joseph is the first Jew to live in a foreign land. 


He lives among the Egyptians, making a home for himself there and becomes the second in command of all of Egypt. 


It is therefore more than a bit ironic that on the Shabbat when we celebrate Hanukkah and its message of being different than others and more importantly our right to be different,

we read of Joseph taking on an Egyptian name and acting so much like an Egyptian that his brothers don’t even recognize him when they come begging for food. 

Throughout the generations Judaism has gone back and forth between these poles. 

We want to be different. 

We want to be the same. 

Look at the next generation! 


Back and forth with the names we travel, always struggling to live as a Jew while being a part of the world at large. 


We want to be different. 

We want to be the same. 


That is the eternal story of Hanukkah.

Parashat Vayeshev

When I was a young student at After Shabbat dinner I walked 2 of my hosts back to their hotel.

On the way, One of the guest naively observed and asked the other host:

" Since you go to shul every Shabbat, you must have a strong faith in G-d."

His response surprised me:

"Truthfully, I have little faith. I don't go to temple to be with G-D! I go to be with other Jews."

The difference has to do, in part, with Jews being a minority. Especially in small communities, we feel a strong need to be with other Jews.

What is being Jewish?

Being Jewish often is frequently about Israel, values, social justice, ethnic bonds, customs, rituals, and preserving those traditions from generation to generation.

Some can wonder why we don't have more G-D-talk.

They wish they could feel the Presence of G-D more intensely in their lives.

They long for just a fraction of the faith that some of their neighbors have.

In Parashat Vayeishev, we read that when Joseph was in Egypt, the following :

" the Eternal was with Joseph."

Moreover, it is written, his master, Potiphar, the Captain of Pharaoh's Guard,

"saw that the Eternal was with him" (Genesis 39:2-3).

What does it mean:

" to be with G-d"?

How did Joseph get to be with G-d?

What would it take for you and me to "be with G-d"?

Let's consider how our tradition might respond to these questions.

In Midrash Rabbah, the Rabbis teach that Joseph whispered G-D's name all the time, when he came in and when he went out

(B'reishit Rabbah on Genesis 39:3).

Rashi agreed that Joseph uttered the name of G-d frequently.

Faith has something to do with being aware of G-d and of G-d's Creation on a regular basis.

Faith is enhanced by our regular recitation of blessings of appreciation, such as:

HaMotzi, Birkat HaMazon, or the Shema at bedtime.

It also does Our awareness of blessing intensifies increases our sense of God's nearness!

Another midrash on this verse teaches that G-D was with Joseph because he was young and, unlike his brothers, he wason his own.

As such, his ideas were still in the process of formation and therefore he needed G-d's Presence and guidance more than his older siblings

From this midrash we might learn that the time to foster religious faith is when we are young and most impressionable.

Nachmanides, in his commentary, offers another perspective.

" the Eternal was with him [Joseph]"

means that Joseph was successful and knew that his success came from G-D.

This parallels the Torah text itself where Potiphar attributes Joseph's success to the fact that the Eternal was with him.

All of these interpretations are instructive and lead to the same conclusion. Nachmanides explains it best:

G-D was with Joseph because Joseph realized that whatever he accomplished came from G-d.

He understood that his achievements were not solely the result of his talents.

He was God's instrument.

This explanation anticipates Joseph's own words to his brothers in Genesis 45:1-9,

where he relieves them of guilt for having exiled him from the family.

He insists that this was all part of God's plan for him.

We find ourselves in the midst of the amazing journey of Joseph who started out as a spoiled brat and who is maturing before our eyes each week.

"Joseph's growth began when he left his father's protective presence and set out on his own. Away from the oppressive attitude of his brothers and their jealousy, he could begin to look at himself in realistic terms. It often takes leaving their parents' house for children to begin to develop a stronger sense of themselves and take responsibility for their lives. How many of us have been utterly amazed at the transformation of our kids when they go off to college?

Perhaps faith in God is the answer to the growing narcissism and egocentrism of our contemporary society.

Can humility born of such faith help us achieve a better balance in life?

Can it help us, as it did the young Joseph, to mature?

Can it help us understand that we are not radically independent creatures,

but, rather children of the living God endowed with blessings and responsibilities!

YES IT CAN AND DOES!

Shabbat Shalom

Best RegardsJean - Pierre FETTMANN + 65 94604420

VAYISCHLACH

This world is like a wedding hall!

A man is staying in a guesthouse for a few nights.

The first night he heard music and dancing from next house,

 

They must celebrate a wedding!

 

The next evening he heard the same sounds and again the evenings after that!!!

 

The man went to the house keeper and asked:

" how can it be so many weddings in 1 family " ?

 

The guesthouse keeper answered:

 

" that house is a wedding hall " !

 

Today 1 family holds a wedding, and tomorrow another.

It is the same in the world, people are always enjoying themselves, but someday is one person, and other days is another!

 

No single person is happy all of the time! 

 

The world may indeed be like a wedding hall,

Every day is a day if someone 's celebration!

 

But, how sad it can be,

 

It can also be like a cemetery, 

Every day, someone buries a person dear to him! 

 

We might even think the world as an Hospital,

Some visit the terminal ill, others rejoiced healers , and there are some who celebrates new life's!

 

There is a reason that no single metaphor is sufficient to picture the world!

 

In our life's , we experience the world is wedding hall, cemetery, Hospital and many other places.

 

The very nature of life is we must shift from experience to experience !

 

Change is the basic element of our being. However, change is not always easy!

 

Forever Changed , 

yes, in our weeks parashah, this is what happened with Jacob.

Truly life-changing moments are few and far between.  

A specific encounter can touch your heart, 

or,

a story on the news can make you think, 

but very few of these moments reach us so deeply that our lives are never the same again.  

However, occasionally an event which seems superficially insignificant can lead to an unexpected transformation.

This is the case in

Parashat VAYISCHLACH

which we read this week. 

The portion is filled with what should have been huge,  life-changing moments for Jacob. 

Jacob and his twin Esau reunite and make up after a 20-year estrangement.  

Following this, Jacob’s daughter Dinah is involved in a violent incident in Shechem that prompts her brothers to take revenge on her behalf, 

Rachel dies in childbirth, 

and Jacob’s father, Isaac dies.  

All of these significant events likely impact Jacob in one way or another, 

but it’s before all those events, 

at the beginning of the parashah 

when his life is changed completely.

Jacob is preparing to meet his brother after decades apart, and he struggles with an angel in his sleep.  

This unique encounter changes him in an instant, 

both physically and emotionally.

The wrestling knocks his hip out of its socket, and Jacob’s name becomes Yisrael, literally

" one who struggles with G-D.”

When Jacob and Esau reunite, 

Jacob is overcome with emotion.  

And we read: 

Jacob proclaims, 

“Seeing your face is like seeing the face of G-D ”  

The text in Genesis Rabbah, 

a 5th century commentary on the Torah, 

suggests that Jacob is talking about his own transformation, 

and Not,

about his brother’s appearance. 

Jacob is sharing with Esau that he has seen the face of G-D and is a changed man, not the deceitful brother who tricked his twin. 

He no longer sees Esau as a rival, but as an equal, deserving of honor and dignity.  

Clearly Jacob is a new person.

It’s a cliché to simply say 

" people can change.” 

Our parashah reminds us that change is really about 

having our perspective shifted so that we may see the world differently.  

The hope is,

that we recognize in ourselves,

not only these significant moments when they happen, but the potential for them to occur at all.

Parashat Vayetse

Vayetzei 

Before anything,

Judaism is a religion of love: 

three loves. 

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." 

" You shall love your neighbour as yourself." 

And

"You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in a strange land." 

Not only is Judaism a religion of love. 

It was the first civilisation to place love at the centre of the moral life. 

or in Hillel's negative formulation:

Don't do to others what you would hate them to do to you. 

 

Judaism is also about justice

The only place in the Torah to explain why Abraham was chosen to be the founder of a new faith states, 

It is written:

" For I have chosen him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just". 

So why the combination of 

justice and love? 

Why is love alone not enough?

Our Parasha contains an interesting and exciting passage of only a few words that gives us the answer. 

Let us recall the story:

Jacob, fleeing home, 

taking refuge with his uncle Laban. He falls in love with Rachel, Laban's younger daughter. 

He works for seven years so that he can marry her. 

The wedding night comes, a big deception is on him. 

When he wakes up the next morning he discovers that he has married Rachel's elder sister Leah. 

Angry, he confronts Laban. 

Laban replies that 

" It is not done in our place to marry the younger before the elder." 

He tells Jacob he can marry Rachel as well, in return for another seven year's work.

We also need to know that Leah was not hated. She was just less loved. But someone in that situation can only feel rejected. 

What has happened. 

It began with love. 

It has been about love throughout. Jacob loved Rachel. 

He loved her at first sight. 

There is no other love story quite like it in the Torah. 

Abraham and Sarah are already married by the time we first meet them. 

Isaac had his wife chosen for him by his father's servant. 

But Jacob loves. He is more emotional than the other patriarchs. 

That is the problem. Love unites but it also divides. 

It leaves the unloved, even the less-loved, feeling rejected, abandoned, forsaken, alone. 

That is why you cannot build a society, a community or even a family on love alone. 

There must be justice-as-fairness also.

If we look at the eleven times the word "love," ahavah, is mentioned in the book of Bereshit 

we make an extraordinary discovery. 

Every time love is mentioned, it generates conflict. 

Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. 

Jacob loved Joseph, Rachel's firstborn, more than his other sons. 

From this came two of the most fateful sibling rivalries in Jewish history.

The first time the word love appears in the Torah, in the opening words of the trial of the binding of Isaac:

"Take now your son, your only one, the one you love ..." 

Judaism is a religion of love. 

We are here because G-D created us in love and forgiveness asking us to love and forgive others. 

Love, G-D's love, is implicit in our very being.

So many of our texts express that love: 

 

The Shema itself with its command of love. 

The Song of Songs, the great poem of love. 

Lecha Dodi, "Come, my Beloved,"  Yedid Nefesh, "Beloved of the soul." 

If you want to live well, love. 

If you seek to be close to G-D, love. 

If you want your home to be filled with the light of the Divine presence, love. 

Love is where God lives.

But love is not enough. You cannot build a family, let alone a society, on love alone. For that you need justice also. 

Love is partial, justice is impartial. Love is particular, justice is universal. 

Love is for this person not that person, but justice is for all. 

Much of the moral life is generated by this tension between love and justice. 

It is no accident that this is the theme of many of the narratives of Bereshit. 

Bereshit is about people and their relationships while the rest of the Torah is predominantly about society.

Justice without love is harsh. 

Love without justice is unfair, 

Let us love, but let us never forget those who feel unloved. 

They too are people. 

They too have feelings. 

They too are in the image of G-D.

 

Best Regards

Jean - Pierre FETTMANN 

Parashat Toledot

This week's parasha is TOLEDOT, generations , our generation

 

We read:

 

“The boys grew up. Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed at home among the tents.  Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen. 25:27-28).

 

We have no difficulty understanding why Rebekah loved Jacob. 

G-D told Rebecca :

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23).

Jacob was the younger. Rebekah seems to have inferred, correctly as it turned out, that it would be 

he who would continue the covenant, who would stay true to Abraham’s heritage, 

and who would teach it to his children, carrying the story forward into the future.

The real question is why did Isaac love Esau? 

Could he not see that he was a man of the outdoors, a hunter, not a man of God? 

Is it conceivable that he loved Esau merely because he had a taste for wild game? 

Did his appetite rule his mind and heart? 

Did Isaac not know how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup?

Was this someone with whom to entrust the spiritual patrimony of Abraham?

Isaac surely knew that his elder son was a man who lived in the emotions of the moment. 

Even if this did not trouble him, 

the next episode involving Esau clearly did: 

It is written:

“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34-35). 

Esau had made himself at home among the Hittites. 

This was not a man to carry forward the Abrahamic covenant which involved a measure of distance from the Hittites and Canaanites 

and all they represented in terms of

religion, 

culture

and morality.

Yet Isaac clearly did love Esau. 

We sense this at the beginning when Isaac asks Esau: 

" Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” 

This is not Isaac’s physical appetite speaking. 

It is his wish to be filled with the smell and taste he associates with his elder son, so that he can bless him in a mood of focused love.

It is the end of the story that really expresses the deep feelings between them. 

Esau enters with the food he has prepared. 

Slowly Isaac, and then Esau, realise the nature of the deception that has been practiced against them. 

Isaac “trembled violently.” 

Esau “burst out with a loud and bitter cry.” 

The Torah generally says little about people’s emotions. 

During the whole of the trial of the binding of Isaac we are given not the slightest indication of what Abraham or Isaac felt in one of the most fraught episodes in Bereshit. 

The depth of feeling the Torah describes in speaking of Isaac and Esau at that moment is such rare and almost overwhelming. 

Father and son share their sense of betrayal.

The bond of love between them is intense. 

So the question returns: 

why did Isaac love Esau, despite everything, his wildness, his out marriages?

The sages gave some explanation, I will retain one of them, closer to the plain sense of the text, and very moving. 

Isaac loved Esau because Esau was his son, and that is what fathers do

They love their children unconditionally. 

That does not mean that Isaac could not see the faults in Esau’s character. 

It does not imply that he thought Esau was the right person to continue the covenant. 

Nor does it mean he was not pained when Esau married Hittite women. The text explicitly says he was. 

But it does mean that Isaac knew that:

A father must love his son because he is his son. 

That is not incompatible with being critical of what he does

But a father does not disown his child, even when he disappoints his expectations. 

Isaac was teaching us a fundamental lesson in parenthood.

Why Isaac? 

Because he knew that Abraham had sent his son Ishmael away. 

He may have known how much that pained Abraham and injured Ishmael. 

There is a remarkable series of midrashim that suggest that Abraham visited Ishmael even after he sent him away, and others that say it was Isaac who effected the reconciliation. 

Isaac was determined not to inflict the same fate on Esau.

There is a fascinating argument between two mishnaic sages that has a bearing on this. 

There is a verse in Devarim (14:1) that says, about the Jewish people, 

" You are children of the Lord your G-D ” 

Rabbi Meir said that it was unconditional

Whether Jews behave like G-D’s children or they do not, 

they are still called the children of G-D.

The Central idea to Judaism of 

Avinu Malkeinu, 

Prayer we prayed not Long ago, 

Our Father, Our King,

G-D is first our Father, then our King,

This is to say that we have to invest our relationship with G-D with the most profound emotions. 

G-D struggles with us, as does a parent with a child. 

We struggle with him as a child does with his or her parents. 

The relationship is sometimes 

tense, 

conflictual, 

even painful, 

And what gives it its depth, is the knowledge that it is unbreakable. 

Whatever happens, a parent is still a parent, 

and a child is still a child. 

The bond may be deeply damaged but it is never broken beyond repair.

Perhaps that is what Isaac was signalling to all generations by his continuing love for Esau, 

so unlike him, 

so different in character and destiny, yet never rejected by him 

just as the midrash says that Abraham never rejected Ishmael and found ways of communicating his love.

Unconditional love is not uncritical but it is unbreakable. 

That is how we should love our children  

for it is how G-d loves us.