Humanity – that’s us,


We have done some terrible things in the past year.  


• There has been war in many places in the world. 


• There have been violent attacks on individuals at home and abroad.  


• Big lies have broken trust in business.   


Its true,


We confessed it all together 


when we said many times today 


“al chet shechetanu l’fanecha” 


the sin we committed against You.  

• We confessed on behalf of all of us that we hurt others, 

• We hate without cause, 

• We defraud and lie.

What must G-d think of us at the end of this day of horror 

surely very great anger, 


But then humanity, 

has done some wonderful things 

over this past year.  


Take medicine as an example, 

just since this time last year we 

have become better at healing 

our bodies.  


We may pray to G-d for healing 

with all of our doubt and concern 

as to what that prayer may mean 

but we are surely very effective 

partners in the effort.


But there is an aspect of healing that has made no advances this year.   


It is a kind of healing that starts 

afresh from a clean sheet every 



That is:


refuat hanefesh

healing for the soul.


Healing for the soul makes no advances because it cannot be done by others for us.  


In healing for the soul G-d and the religious life is a help for certain.  


Healing for the soul is work that we each have to do for ourselves.


Why is this?  

It’s because the hurts and blockages which make us feel that our soul is broken are very ‘sticky.’  


They are ways of behaving that we do over and over again even if we know that they get us nowhere.  


A few pages into our Neilah service tonight 

we will speak about sins, 

meaning bad behaviours, 

which are 


“our familiar and unwelcome companions, fastened, fixed to our souls.”     


We can’t seem to stop doing them even if we use this day well 


if Yom Kippur does make us take the time to question our soul damaging behaviours.


Towards the very end of the volume of the Talmud (Yoma 86b) 

on Yom Kippur the Rabbis ask the question 

should you keep confessing the same thing Yom Kippur after Yom Kippur?  


Doesn’t it just become insincere?  


Rav Huna answers the question yes – you must – because 

“Once a person has committed a sin once and twice, 

it is permitted to him.” 


How could you say that?, 

asked the Rabbis and students around him.


“It’s not really permitted. 

Rather, it appears to him as if it were permitted.”  

So you have to return each Yom Kippur to consider even the same behaviours as you considered last year.


In this closing hour,


• as the Gates of Mercy close 


• as the opportunity to take the peace and undisturbed spiritual space of Yom Kippur to change ourselves continues for just one more hour- take control.  


• Let us earn a place in the world to come, 


• Let us go in our mind to those ways of behaving which hurt our soul to do.  


• Those ways of interacting with others which we fall into and say, it’s just our nature.  


• Those for which we put the responsibility on others, who irritate us, 

who ‘ought to’ put up with how we are.  


• Take responsibility for them ourselves.  


• Pray that we will have the strength to change these behaviours 


• Let us ask G-d’s help to heal our soul.


Rabbi Akivah ends the section of 

Yom Kippur saying 

at the end of this day 

“feel happy all of Israel.  

Feel happy.   

Today cleans you.”


Done right it is a healing for the soul.


Rabbi Akivah says 

“feel clean after today”.  

G-d has today washed us,

so to speak

in the Mikveh of Israel

put pure water on us!


Let us use that cleanness as we leave today to cleanse that of us which we confess year after year, to address our repeated bad behaviours, 

to fix those part of you which we must take responsibility 

for if we are this year to heal our soul.  

What does G-d think of us at the end of this day?  

Not that we are mired in horror rather that we have boundless potential if we will only take responsibility to grab it.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Sukkot 3


Sukkot is really 

a very strange 

and wonderful holiday

all at the same time. 

In contrast to the solemnity and 

spirituality of Yom Kippur, 

Sukkot is joyful, 

a very different spiritual pursuit. 

Sukkot is very physical

with shaking the etrog and lulav


In fact, the mitzvah of the 

Sukkah itself is one of the only 

mitzvot that you can do with 

your whole body,

just placing your body in a 

Sukkah is a mitzvah.  

But why do we have the mitzvah 

of the Sukkah? 

The simple meaning is that it 

commemorates the dwelling of 

our ancestors in Sukkot when 

they left Egypt. 

But what is so significant about 

commemorating camping?


After all, 

it seems from the Torah that the 

Jews lived mostly in tents in 

their journey from Egypt to the 

Promised Land. 

Bilam the heathen prophet  

blessed the Jews: 

Ma tovu oholecha Yaakov, 

“How goodly are your tents O

Jacob” (Num. 24:5); 

tents—not huts. 

The deeper meaning, is that 

Sukkot are more than huts. 

It’s a state of being. 

Sukkot are about stopping dead 

in our tracks

i.e. build and sit in a Sukkah and 

take time out to appreciate what 

just happened to you. 

To emphasize this point with a 

passage from the Torah that 

most people do not pay 

attention to. 

It tell us that Sukkot happens to 

be the name of the 1st place 

where our ancestors camped out 

following their exodus from 

Egypt (Ex. 13:20). 

Perhaps there they built Sukkot 

so that they could absorb what 

just happened to them in their 

miraculous escape from the

tyranny of Egypt. 


And so we move into Sukkot 

after Yom Kippur to take time out 

to absorb the changes and 

promises we made on the High 

Holy Days.


What’s the message here?


• How much time do we take to sit back and appreciate what we have received, compared to how much time we invest in pushing onward? 


• How much more do we expect of our partners, compared to how much we consciously appreciate what they have done for us already? 


• Or how much they mean to us, as it is? 


The moment our ancestors were 

liberated from Ramses, 

• They no doubt became entirely 

focused on the journey ahead. 

• They no doubt asked, “ what’s 

nexton the agenda?” 

rather than 

stay a few moments with the 

enormous gift of having been 

liberated from slavery. 

• They were therefore instructed 

to construct Sukkot and to 

camp-out in these flimsy, 

temporary huts, and take 

in what they had just received. 

Judaism refers to this as 

hakaret  hatov, “

recognition of the good.” 

This is what Sukkot is really 


taking time to recognise

the gifts in our lives, 

whether it be

our health, 

our wealth, 

our partners, 

our children and so on. 


It’s the time to be grateful for 

being given another year and to 

then stop and take stock and 

appreciate life’s gifts. 

Can we not acknowledge our life 

gifts in a house or a tent ?

Why a sukkah? 

Because it’s temporary, 

built anew every time

just as our gratitude 


appreciation should be fresh 

every time 

and not just the same-old, 

same-old refrains.

There is a  beautiful story called, 

“The Curse of Blessings,” 

It’s a story that can be life-changing if you can absorb its message:


There is an Officer of the Law, 

recent graduate,

proud as you can imagine, 

in his beautiful uniform.

He wore a sword with a gold and 

ivory handle. 

He was as pompous as arrogant as could be 

One day he was walking in an 


He ventured into the darkness, 

and there,  in the distance, saw a man in rags. 

“Come forward,” 

he commanded. 

“Come forward now!” 

But the man in rags did not come forward. “

I am an Officer of the Law, and I command you, come forward!”


The man in rags did not move and spoke, 

“I don’t know what I’m going to 

do with you.”

“Do with me?” 

the Officer of the Law mocked. 

“Do with me? 

You don’t do with me! 

I do with you! 

I am an Officer of the Law, 

and I command you to come 



“Now I know what to do with 


the man in rags said, 


as he spoke, 

he drew his sword. 

“Now I know what to do.” 

Without further word he moved 

to attack.

The Officer of the Law drew his 

own sword in defense. 

“Stop that!” 

he ordered. 

“Put your sword down right 


But the man in rags did not stop. 

The Officer of the Law had to fight back.


he said again.

The Officer of the Law was forced to retreat.

When it seemed the man in rags would win, the Officer of the Law just intended  to protect himself, however killed the man in rags. 

“I didn’t mean that,” 

the Officer of the Law said. “

I didn’t mean to hurt you. 

Why didn’t you stop when I 

ordered you to? 

Why did you attack me?”


The man in rags waved the 

words away. 

“I am leaving you,” he said, “

and as I do, I put upon you the 

Curse of Blessings.”

“What do you mean?” 

asked the Officer of the Law, 

now quite confused.


“The Curse of Blessings.


Every day you must say a new 


one you have never said before. 

On the day you do not say a new blessing, 

on that day you will die.”


The man in rags closed his eyes.

 The Officer of the Law looked

 about for help. 

There was none to be found. 

When he turned back, 

the man in rags had 


He was gone.


” It was a dream,” 

the Officer of the Law thought. 

“Only a dream. I imagined it.”


The time was late in the 


The sun was setting. 

As much as the Officer of the 

Law tried to ignore his 

experience, he could not. 

The Jewish day ends with the 


The Officer of the Law felt his 

body growing cold and knew 

from the chill that his life was 

leaving him. 

In a panic, 

he uttered these words of 


“You are blessed, Lrd our Gd, 

ruler of the universe, 

who has created such a 

beautiful sunset.” 

At once warmth and life flowed 

back into him. 

He realised, with both shock 

and relief, 

the curse had been for real.


The next morning, 

He woke with words of blessing. 

“You are blessed that You 

allowed me to wake up this 


His life felt secure the entire 


The next morning he blessed his 

ability to rise from his bed

the following day that he could 

tie his shoes.


Day after day he found abilities he 

could bless. 

• That he could go to the bathroom, 

• that he had teeth to brush, 

• that each finger of his hands still 


• that he had toes on his feet and hair on his head. 

• He blessed his clothes, every 


• He blessed his house, 

the roof 

the floor, 

his furniture, 

every table and chair.

At last he ran out of things to 


so he began to bless relationships. 

• He blessed his family and 


fellow workers, 

and those who worked for him. 

• He blessed the mailman and the 


He was surprised to find they 

appreciated the blessings. 

His words had power. 

They drew family and friends 

closer to him. 

Word went out that the Officer of 

the Law 

was a source of blessing. 


Years passed, decades passed!

The Officer of the Law found new 

sources of blessing. 

• He blessed 

city councils and 

university buildings, 

scientistes and their discoveries. 


He passed the age of 100. 

Most of his friends were long 


As he approached the age of 120,

he considered that his life was 

long enough. 

Even Moses had not lived longer. 

On his birthday he made a 

conscious decision not to say any 

new Blessing and allow his life to 

come to an end. 


As the sun was setting, 

a chill progressed inward from his 


He did not resist it. 

In the twilight a figure appeared,

the man in rags. 

“You!” the Officer of the Law 


“I have thought about you every 

day for a hundred years! 

I never meant to harm you. 

Please, forgive me.”


“You don’t understand,” 

said the man in rags. 

“You don’t know who I am, do 


I am the angel who was sent 100 

years ago to harvest your soul, but 

when I looked at you, so pompous 

and proud, 

there was nothing there to harvest. 

An empty uniform was all I saw. 

So I put upon you 

the Curse of Blessings, 

and now look wat you’ve 




the Officer of the Law said, 

“You are blessed, my Gd, ruler of 

the universe, that You have kept 

me alive and sustained me so I 

could attain this moment.”


 “Now look what you've done!” 

the man in rags said in frustration. 

“A new blessing!”


Life flowed back into the Officer of the Law, 

and he and the man in rags 

looked to each other, 

neither of them knowing quite 

what to do.

My friends, 

like the Officer of the Law 

was forced to recite blessing after 


A lifetime of blessings

Sukkot commands us to recite 

blessing after blessing

over the Sukkah, 

the etrog, 

the lulav, 

the myrtle 

and the willow. 

Just like the Officer of the Law 

could not stop saying blessings

even when his life was ending

So too may we absorb the gift of 

another year and the message of 


which is, 

to not stop saying blessings when 

Sukkot is over. 



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Sukot 2

Why is it so hard to teach our people that 

this holiday, 


is called 

zman simchatenu, 

the season of our rejoicing? 

Why except for the party after a bar or bat 

mitzvah, do so many Jews see so little in 

being Jewish?

One Sunday morning, many years ago, as 

parents came to pick up their kids from 

the Hebrew school the following 

conversation was overheard.

"How was class?" 

A father asked his son. 

The child began to cry ,

"I hate Hebrew school. 

It's boring and stupid, the teachers are 

mean and the kids aren't nice. 

I don't want to go anymore."

The father stopped, turned to the kid and 


"Listen, when I was your age I went to 

Hebrew school and I hated it. 

It was boring, the teachers were mean,  

the kids weren’t nice, but they made me

go, and now, you're going to go to!"  


What a tragedy. 

What a catastrophe. 

To have raised a generation of children 

who associate Judaism with coercion, 

boredom, and emptiness.

When my parents’ generation 

described the painful condition of the 

Jewish people, they would shake their 

heads and say:

"Shver tsu zein a yid” 

 it's hard to be a Jew.

For anything to be authentically Jewish,

so many seem to feel it must be hard, 

painful, difficult!

There was this Jewish person who was 

invited to address a community 

commission researching outreach to 


After her statement, a prominent 

community leader questioned her,

"You say that you keep a kosher home. 

Don't you find that very difficult these 


No," she replied, 

"with new labeling of packages, it’s 

actually getting 


Well certainly, you find it very expensive."

"No, not really, you just shop wisely."

"Well, doesn't it severely restrict what you 

can eat?"

Catching his direction, she explained pointedly,

"Kashrut brings to my kitchen and to my

home a level of sanctity and godliness

that is precious to me and to my family."

"Well, obviously," the chairman said to the

 questioner, "you don't keep kosher!"

Shver tsu Zein a Yid! 

It's hard to be a Jew!

If it doesn't hurt, it's not really Jewish.

Someone came to a Rabbi and said about 

the sermon he had given in synagogue 

that Shabbat morning,

" Rabbi, I enjoyed your talk so much, 

I had such a good time, 

I forgot I was in Shul ."

"Once Jews accepted Judaism as a

privilege, now they regard it as a


This is a twisted, tortured, form of 


After all, if Judaism is only a painful 

burden who needs it? 

Some kids can tell you everything about 

the holocaust, but can’t name all the 

Jewish festivals.

You know the line, 

“Jewish history is they tried to kill us, they 

failed, let’s eat!” 

It is truly time that we recover Jewish joy. 

This holiday of Sukkot, 

which as I said before, 

the tradition calls 

zman simchatenu, our season of joy,

is really a good place to begin.

It is a mitzvah, 

a divine imperative to know Jewish joy.

It is a sin to have twisted Judaism into a 

dry joyless, 

morbid, burden.

We must learn to say to children and grandchildren in the most unequivocal of terms,

"I do Judaism because it brings my life 

purpose, direction and depth. I do 

Judaism because it makes me happy".

As the Torah reading for Shmini Atzeret 

says, (Deuteronomy 16:14),

"You shall rejoice in your festival, with 

your son and daughter.....You shall have 

nothing but joy.

Don’t worry, be happy!”

One day, still being a kid, I saw the biggest smile on my father's face when a little kid came up to him and whispered in his ear 

Rabbi, I feel very sorry for my 


"You feel sorry for your neighbors? Why?"

 he asked him. 

"Look what we get to do today, Rabbi," 

he declared.

"We get to eat in the Sukkah , sing the 

prayers and march with the Lulav and 


We're together as a family and with all our 


Rabbi for us today is Yontif, but for them 

it's just Thursday!"

If we could just get a lot more Jewish 

children to feel that joy, we’d be in really 

good shape. 


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Sukkot 1

The power of Sukkot is that it 

takes us back to the most 

elemental roots of our being.


• You don’t need to live in a palace 

to be surrounded by clouds of 


• You don’t need to be rich to buy 

yourself the same leaves and fruit 

that a billionaire uses in 

worshipping G-d. 


Living in the sukkah and inviting 

guests to your meal, 

you discover 

such is the premise of 


the mystical guests

that the people who have come to 

visit you are none other than 

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and 

their wives. 


What makes a hut more beautiful 

than a home is that when it comes 

to Sukkot there is no difference 


• the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. 

• We are all strangers on earth, 

temporary residents in G-d’s 

almost eternal universe. 




• whether or not we are capable of pleasure, 

• whether or not we have found 

happiness, nonetheless we can all 

feel joy.


Sukkot is the time we ask the most 

profound question of what makes 

a life worth living. 


Having prayed on Rosh Hashanah 

and Yom Kippur to be written in 

the Book of Life, 

Kohelet forces us to remember 

how brief life actually is, 

and how vulnerable. 


“Teach us to number our days that

we may get a heart of wisdom.” 

What matters is not 

how long we live, 


how intensely we feel that life is a 

gift we repay by giving to others. 


Joy, the overwhelming theme of 

the festival, 

is what we feel when we know that 

it is a privilege simply to be alive,


Most majestically of all, Sukkot is 

the festival of insecurity

such as is it going to rain 



while in the Sukkah,....

It is the candid acknowledgment 

that there is no life without risk, 

yet we can face the future without 

fear when we know we are not 



G-d is with us, 

• in the rain that brings blessings 

to the earth, 

• in the love that brought the universe and us into being, 


• in the resilience of spirit that 

allowed a small and vulnerable 

people to outlive the greatest 

empires the world has ever known.


Sukkot reminds us that 

G- d’s glory was present in the 

small, portable Tabernacle Moses 

and the Israelites built in the 

desert even more emphatically 

than in Solomon’s Temple with all 

its grandeur. 

A Temple can be destroyed. 

But a sukkah, broken, 

can be rebuilt tomorrow.


Security is not something we can 

achieve physically 

but it is something we can acquire 




All it needs is the courage and 

willingness to sit under the 

shadow of G-d’s sheltering wings.

I wish you all a Chag Sameach and 


continued blessings for the year 


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


Parashat Ha’azinu is a beautiful poem, 

a final effort, by a soon-to-die 

Moshe, to stir the Jewish people

to a commitment to their

covenant with G-d. 

The parsha, which speaks of 


• the Jewish past and future,


• our relationship with G-d and his mitzvot (commandments), 

begins like this: 

“Listen, oh heavens and I will speak, and hear, oh earth, what I say”.

The obvious question is why does Moshe seem to address the heaven and earth !?

We thought he was meant to be talking to the Jewish people?

Rashi, in his commentary, referencing the Midrash, explains:  

heaven and earth are eternal. 

Unlike Moshe, 

who is about to die, 

they will be here forever. 


if the Jewish people ultimately, 

In the future, 


and break the covenant, 

and then try to somehow argue 

out of being punished, 

the heaven and earth will be there to testify against them

and to affirm that they did, 

in fact, 

accept the Torah, 

agree to enter into a covenant with God, 

and have failed to live according to its laws and ethics. 

In addition, Rashi explains, 

if and when the Jewish people do the right thing, 

and keep the laws, 

then the heaven and earth will 

not only stand in witness for their


but they will reward them as well,

 with rain, 

good weather, 

and bountiful crops. 

If, on the other hand, 

they break the covenant, 

the same heaven and earth will first testify against them, 

and then punish them, with drought and famine.

One is tempted, of course, to understand this imagery as being metaphorical. 

After all, the heaven and earth have 

no free will

no cognition

Nor the capacity of making a choice,

and they will not really testify 

for or against 

the Jewish people, 

or decide to reward or punish them.

If we think about it for a moment, 


we soon realize that Moshe’s 

addressing the heaven and earth, 

and making them the guardians, as it were, 

of the fate of the Jewish people,

is no metaphor.

We now stand at the precipice, 

the very edge, of doing irreversible damage 

to our climate, 

our ecosystem, 

our heavens and earth. 

This past year saw remarkable excesses of heat, drought, wildfires, storms and flooding, all over the globe. 

Severe and dangerous climate change is already a reality. 

The seas, which are rising, 

are being reduced of the life of many species 

which once in large number, 

grouped together,

were in motion  in their depths, and played such a large role in feeding us. 

The heavens and earth are doing their job

testifying to our 

• greed, 

• selfishness, 


• stupidity.  

The heavens and earth are, 

in their rapidly increasing dysfunction, 

reminding us 

eloquently and forcefully 

• what is right and what is wrong, 

• what is good and what is evil, 

and quite naturally, showing us 

how we have chosen 

• evil over good, 

• death over life; 

and they are punishing us for it. 

In just a few weeks we will be finishing the yearly cycle of the Torah portions and   begin again at Bereshit / Genesis. 

There we will read that G-d commanded Adam and Eve to “conquer”, 

to take charge of the world He had just created, and the deeper meaning was :

we are the earth’s guardians: 


taking charge


taking care. 

That is our role here on earth.

Taking charge means taking care. That is our role here on earth.


As we begin a new year, 

and approach the end of the Torah cycle and the start of a new one, 

we must understand and come to terms with the role 

of the heavens and earth

in rewarding and punishing our actions. 

• This is not a metaphor, 

• and not metaphysics. 

• This is real, this is literal. 

Our selfish, thoughtless greed,

 expressed in dozens of ways daily, 

is destroying the world. 

This is the most basic, 

ultimate message for us here,

as the Torah comes to a close 

and Moshe reaches the end of his life. 

Shabbat Shalom,


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: The Power to Choose

As we are at the eve of Rosh

Hashana, I was thinking that I

will be speaking a lot during the

holidays, I would keep it short



Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: The Power to Choose


We all have the freedom to choose how to act. 


• We can choose to do good 

things or not good things. 


• We can say things to make 

others smile or to make them cry. 


• We can use our hands to hit or to hug. The choice is up to us.


This is why G-d doesn’t punish 

and reward us straightaway for 

the things we do. 


If He did, we would in effect have 

no choice. 


Imagine, if you were immediately struck down with lightening for breaking Shabbat, would you break it? 


Of course not! 


G-d wants us to choose to do 

the things He asks.


But isn’t He asking a bit much of us? 


After all, 613 commandments 

sure sounds like a lot.


And some of them, 

like keeping Shabbat, are pretty 



But remember,


nobody has to keep all of them

because not all of them apply to 



• Some mitzvot apply only to kings 

or priests. 


• Some apply only to women and 

some only to men. 


There is no person on the planet 

to whom all of them apply. 


So perhaps keeping the Torah is 

not as hard as it seems.


The fact is that G-d created us. 


• He knows what we are capable of. 


• He knows our limitations. 


On the other hand, 

there is a mitzvah not to speak 

gossip because we have mouths 

and we can choose what to use 

them for, 

even if it is hard!


In this week’s parsha, 

Moses reminds us that the Torah 

“is not beyond you nor is it

remote from you.

It is not in heaven… 

It is not across the sea…. 

Rather, it is very close to you, in

your mouth, 

in your heart, 

that you may do it.”

This coming week, as we sit in 

the synagogue on Rosh 

Hashanah this is something we 

must keep in mind. 


We can keep the mitzvot, 

if only we try. 


We have to stop thinking that 

things are too big or too much. 


We are part of a story that began 

long before we were born and will 

continue long after we are no 

longer here, 

and the question for all of us is: 

will we continue the story? 

The hopes of a hundred 

generations of our ancestors rest 

on our willingness to do so. 

Deep in our collective memory 

the words of Moses continue to 


“It is not with you alone that I 

am making this sworn covenant, but with … 

whoever is not here with us today.” 


We are part of that story. 


• We can live it. 

• We can abandon it. 


But it is a choice we cannot avoid 

and it has immense 


The future of the covenant rests 

with us.


Shabbat Shalom!



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Ki Tavo



said Aristotle, 


is the ultimate goal at which all humans aim.




in Judaism it is not necessarily so. 


Happiness is a high value. 



the closest Hebrew word to happiness is,




And it is the first word of the book of Psalms. 


We say the prayer known as Ashrei 3 times each day. 


But Ashrei,


is not the central value of the Torah. 


We need to serve G-d with joy!



the Torah uses the words:


happy and happiness about 30 times, 


while joy and rejoice appear over 300 times.


• Happiness is a feeling, 

but joy is not. 


• Happiness is fleeting, 

but joy is everlasting.  


• Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, 

but joy is a gift from God. 


• Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine.



Joy plays a key role in two contexts in this week’s parasha. 


One has to do with the bringing of first-fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. 


“Then you will rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your G-d has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst” (26:11)."


The other context is quite different and astonishing. 


It occurs in the context of the curses. 


The curses in Deuteronomy end in loss of hope.


The curses in Deuteronomy are stimulated simply:


“because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with joy and gladness of heart out of the abundance of all things” (28:47).


Within the Torah portion of 

Ki Tavo 

there is a list of blessings and then curses that may fall upon one depending on her or his actions. 

According to the Torah these are given out by G-d. 

When you look at them more closely,

you will notice that the curses are given by our actions toward others, 

while the blessings are given by the things we create.

We typically think of curses as things that happen to us by an outside force, 

but the Torah suggests that curses are things we bring upon ourselves as a result of the harmful things we do to others. 

"Cursed be the one 

• who insults his father or mother . . . 

• who removes his neighbors' landmark . . . 

• who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow . . ." 

(Deuteronomy 27:17-19). 

Being cursed is what happens 

• to our place in the family, 

• to our standing in the community, 

• to our reputation.

On the other hand, 

we often think of blessings as things that are given to us. 

But in fact, 

blessings are based upon that which we produce ourselves. 

• "Blessed shall you be in the city and . . . in the country. . . . 

• Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil . . . your basket and your kneading bowl" 

(Deuteronomy 28:3-5). 

The things we ourselves create in this world 

produce the blessings we receive in life. 

And when we are no longer here, the blessings are those things we leave as a legacy. 

"May her memory be a blessing," 

is what we say at a funeral or when we recite the Mourner's Kaddish.

Life can be filled with blessings and curses that come to us in many ways. 

The Torah portion is simply reminding us 

• that the ways we act, 

• the choices we make, 

• and the ways we treat others 

do matter a lot in determining which we will experience.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Ki Teitzei


Parashat Ki Teitzei



• Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 

only light can do. 

• Hate cannot drive out hate: 

only love can do. 

• Hate multiplies hate, 

• violence multiplies violence, 


• toughness multiplies toughness ... 

(Martin Luther King)

I imagine one of the reasons people  hold on, tightly to their hates so stubbornly, is because they sense, 

once hate is gone, 

they will be forced to deal with pain. 


There is a verse in Ki Tetsei, 

easy to miss, 

appearing in the midst of a series of laws about 


rebellious sons, 

marriage violations 

and escaping slaves. 

Without any special emphasis or preamble, 

Moses delivers a command so counterintuitive,

that I had to read it twice to make sure I heard it correctly:

“Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother."

" Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8) "

What does this mean in its biblical context? 

The Egyptians of Moses' day had 

• enslaved the Israelites, 

 embittered their lives, 

• subjected them to a ruthless regime of hard labour 


• forced them to eat the bread of affliction. 


Now, 40 years later, 

Moses speaks as if none of this had happened, 

as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality. 

Yet, he and the people were where they were, 

only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution. 

Nor did he want the people to forget it. 

To the contrary, 

he told them to recite the story of the exodus every year, as we still do on Pessah,

so that the memory would be passed on to all future generations. 

If you want to preserve freedom, 

he implies, 

never forget what it feels like to lose it.


Our religion is not a religion of stories,

but a religion of memory !

Zachor!  Remember !



on the banks of the Jordan, addressing the next generation, he tells the people, 

"Do not hate an Egyptian". 

What is going on in this verse?


To be free, 

you have to let go of hate. 

That is what Moses is saying. 

If they continued to hate their first enemies, 

Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, 

but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. 


They would still be there, slaves to the past. 

They would still be in chains, 

not of metal,

but of the mind,

and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.

You cannot create a free society on the basis of hate or fear. 




a sense of injustice, 

the desire to restore honour by inflicting injury on your former persecutors 

These are conditions of a profound lack of freedom. 

You must live with the past, 

implies Moses, 

but not in the past. 

Those who are held captive by anger against their former persecutors are captive still. 

Those who let their enemies define who they are, have not yet achieved true liberty.

We are continually urged to 




The implicit message is: 

• Limit slavery, at least as far as your own people is concerned. 

• Don't subject them to hard labour. 

• Give them rest and freedom every seventh day. 

• Release them every seventh year. 

• Recognise them as like you,

No one is born to be a slave.

• Give generously to the poor. 

• Let them eat from the leftovers of the harvest. 

• Leave them a corner of the field. 

• Share your blessings with others. 

• Don't deprive people of their livelihood. 


The entire structure of biblical law is rooted in the experience of slavery in Egypt, 

as if to say: 

You know in your heart what it feels like to be the victim of persecution, 


do not persecute others.


not to live in the past but to prevent a repetition of the past.


This raises an interesting point. 

From Genesis (14:23) 

to the book of Esther (9:10, 15, 16) 

taking valuable stolen goods, 


plunder from enemies,

is unacceptable.

Why then was Israel commanded to ask for gifts from the Egyptians?

The Torah itself provides the answer in a later law of Deuteronomy about the release of slaves: 

If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, 

sells himself to you and serves you six years, 

in the seventh year you must let him go free. 

When you release him, 

do not send him away empty-handed. 

Give to him 

as the Lord your G-d has blessed you.


Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your G-d redeemed you. 

That is why, I give you this command today. 

(Deut. 15:12-15)

a freed slave must not depart laden with a sense of 





or slight. 

Would this be the case,

he would have been 

released but not liberated. 

Physically free, mentally he would still be a slave. 

When G-d told Moses to tell the Israelites to take parting gifts from the Egyptians, 

it is as if He were saying: 

Yes, the Egyptians enslaved you, 

but that is about to become the past. 

Precisely because I want you to 

remember the past, 

it is essential that you do so without hate or desire for revenge. 

There must be an act of symbolic closure. 


Hatred and liberty cannot coexist. 

A free people does not hate its former enemies; 

if it does, 

it is not yet ready for freedom. 

To create a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, 

you have to break the chains of the past,

Redirect pain into constructive energy


Have the determination to build a different future.


That was Moses' message to those who were about to enter the promised land: 

that a free society can be built only by people who accept the responsibility of freedom, 

"Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were strangers in his land," said Moses, meaning: 

To be free, you have to let go of hate.



Our parashah of this week discusses many topics


Of justice, 


Of jurisprudence,


and of social ethics. 


Today I would like to expand upon a topic that is only mentioned briefly, 


but which holds considerable weight.  


In our parashah it says:


“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, 


fighting against it to capture it, 


do not destroy its trees 


by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit.  


Do not cut them down.  


Are the trees people that you should besiege them?  


However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.” (Deu 20:19-20)


This whole section of the parashah deals with rules for warfare, 


setting limits on what the Israelites could do and not do in battle.  


The Israelite army may not destroy the source of sustenance of the enemy city, 




if they are seeking to conquer it.  


That is the “Pshat”.


the straight forward interpretation of the verses.  


However, our sages took the principle of 


“bal tashchit” … 


“do not destroy,”  


They treat it as a general prohibition against the destruction or wasting of anything potentially useful 


or necessary to sustain life… 


like the fruit trees.


Maimonides stated it this way, 


This law exemplifies a basic principle of Torah and so it is understood broadly. 



In a 13th century explanation and discussion of each of the 613 commandments, an even deeper teaching is provided for the principle of bal tashchit:


“The purpose of this mitzvah is to teach us to love that which is good and worthwhile 


and to hold on tightly to it, 


so that good becomes a part of us and those 


who improve society, 


who love peace and rejoice in the good in people will bring them close to Torah


According to this interpretation, 


acting to safeguard the beauty and abundance of the world is a measure of our appreciation of it. 


We talk about praying with 


• Kavanah (intention) 


and we talk about 


• Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) 


and we talk about 


• loving our neighbor as ourselves.  


Well, bal tashchit asks us to apply 


that same intention, 


that same spirit, 


and that same love to the ecological consequences of our everyday actions.



Have you ever seen how trees are planted? 


Young trees are planted in a designated spot, with supporting straight bars of wood and / or metals connected on both sides of the tree. 

You know what those metal bars  are for? 

They are braces to ensure that the tree will grow straight up. 

When a tree is young, 

its trunk is soft, 

and if it starts swaying and growing just a small extend curved, it will ultimately become a very crooked tree.

In Parshat Shoftim, 

the Torah tells us, 

“For is a man a tree of the field.”

What is the connection between trees and human beings?

One similarity is the gentle nature of the tree in its youth. 

Just as the tree needs all the support it can get, so too a young person is very soft and easily influenced. 

Every tiny defect can have a long-lasting effect as he or she grows older. As the verse tells us,

 “Educate the young according to his way; even when he gets old, he will not swing .”

Another similarity is the structure of the tree. 

The tree is made up of roots, branches and fruits. 

The roots are the foundation of the tree,

Strong roots will make a strong tree. 

The branches form the shape and structure of the tree, 

and the fruits are the benefit we get from the tree. 

Not only do we enjoy the fruit, 

but we can take the seeds and plant another tree.

• Our roots are our emunah

our faith in G‑d. 

• Our branches are the mitzvahs that we do, 

what make us into a good person. 

• Our fruits are the people we influence through our actions. Hopefully they too will become strong, blossoming trees.

Let me end with this.  


As we walk through the month of Elul and our preparation for the High Holy Days, 


remember that Rosh Hashanah is not just the Jewish New Year and not just a time for Teshuvah, 


but it is also considered the birthday of the world.  


Let us prepare for that birthday by reexamining 


our environmental kavanah.  


Let us prepare for that birthday by remembering that 


Tikkun Olam can go beyond repair of things of this world to repair of the world itself.  


And let us prepare for the birthday of creation by loving our neighbors, in tending their gardens and working together,


This is our heritage.  


This is our charge.  


May we prove worthy.



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Farewell sermon

It is certainly not by coincidence 

that our Torah portion this week 

marks the beginning of Moses’ 

rather lengthy farewell sermon 

to people Israel and begins with 

the words:

“Re’eh Anochi notan lifnaychem hayom bracha uklalah”!

“Behold, I have set before all of you [the community of Israel] blessing and the opposite of blessings.”

From far, 

and I should say,

From very far,

I am not comparing myself with Moshe Rabeinu,

Furthermore, you should not worry, I will not hold my lengthiest sermon,

However it is indeed a farewell sermon dedicated to our 2 Junior Rabbi's Yehouda and Manou!

In the name of the Trustees,

In the name of our community 

And in my personal name leading this Synagogue, 

I would like to start and say:

I have set before you only blessings!

Prayer is one thing that makes a difference in everything,

Prayer is changing our lives for the better,

Prayers creates opportunity where doors used to be closed

If you only pray when you are in trouble,                                         You are already in trouble!

We were blessed with 

Yehouda during 3 years joining the services, the prayers,


Manou during the past year,

Helping us, helping me leading our prayers, 

Responding present and giving hands to help the growth of our community, the community of Chesed El!


Four weeks from now, Moshe Rabeinu's sermon will conclude in Parshat Nitzavim with the words 

“Re’eh natati lifanecha hayom et hachayim v’et hatov v’et hamavet v’et hara”, 

“Behold, I have set before each of you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”

The Torah challenges each of us 

and all of us to choose life by 

choosing obedience to G-d in 

every aspect of our lives. 

The Torah reminds us here that 

as Jews, 

despite the fact that we 

acknowledge the existence of 

holy time and holy space, we do 

not see the service of G-d as 

limited to any one time or one 



Dear Yehouda, Dear Manou, 

Wherever you will go next,

Wherever you will be in future,

Space and time are not relevant,

Continue in the same path,         With the same motivation,          With the same enthusiasm,

We wish you success in all your undertakings 

And you will be always welcome to pay us a visit with your future wife's and children

Amen vechen Yehi Ratzon 

Shabbat Shalom


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


Parashat REEH:

See, REEH, 

" this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d which I enjoin upon you this day,

and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other G-d's, whom you have not experienced."

That’s how it has been translated.  

I like to read it slightly differently:


this day I set before you

blessing and curse.

The blessing is when you listen to My mitzvot

and the curse is

when you don’t connect with My mitzvot

but turn away

and follow other G-ds

with whom you don’t have a personal connection.

In my reading, 

Torah is not telling us that:

if we follow the mitzvot we will receive blessing 


if we fail to follow the mitzvot we will be cursed. 

As in, do the right thing and you will be rewarded, 

do the wrong thing and you will be punished. 

Torah is telling us that:

following the mitzvot is, 


the blessing. 

And that being detached from our Source is, 


the experience of being cursed.


The word mitzvah you All know  

means commandment

You may or may not know that it’s related to the Arameic word 


which means 

to attach or join. 

Mitzvah can be understood to mean not only commandment, but also connection.

I love the idea of the mitzvot as connections. 

- They connect us with G-d. 

- They connect us with our tradition. 

- They connect us with other human beings and with the earth.

- They connect us with ourselves.


613 may be a difficult number to approach. 

Some of the mitzvot outlined in Torah were only possible when the Temple was standing. 

So let's try to set aside our perfectionism. 

Even if we can’t necessarily do all 613 mitzvot, we can still aim to live in a way which connects us.

- The mitzvah of daily prayer is connective, 

- Say thank you to G-d for the food which sustains us,

- Say thank you to G-d for waking up alive in the morning,

- On weekdays, ask G-d for what we need, because asking for our needs to G-d can be transformative even if a literal response is going to come our way. 

- Say the bedtime shema and reconcile ourselves with each day’s actions before we sleep. 

- The mitzvah of making blessings is connective. 

Bless bread, bless wine, bless the rainbow, bless our children, bless a stranger you meet on the street.

The mitzvah of sanctifying time is connective:

- When Shabbat arrives, let go of our workday consciousness. 

- Gather the light of the candles into our heart. 

- Stop rushing and planning and doing, 

and take one day of the week to imitate G-d and to rest, to just be. 

- Celebrate the holidays and festivals: 

- eat apples and honey 

and hear the shofar at Rosh Hashanah just a month away from now. 

- Fast and connect with G-d on Yom Kippur. 

- Rejoice in a sukkah during Sukkot. 


Each of these mitzvot connects us with thousand's year of history, 

with Jews around the world today, 

with G-d, 

and with a deep part of ourself.

We can’t do mitzvot without knowing what they are. 

So in order to gain the benefit of living the mitzvot, 

you need to experience the mitzvah of Torah study. 

• And the more you learn, 

   the more you’re able to do,

   and the more you do, 

   the more connected you are.


• and, the more connected you are, 

• the more blessing you receive.

The curse comes when we turn away from G-d’s path and follow other G-d's whom we have not personally experienced. 

Some of us may not feel that we’ve ever experienced our own G-d, 

We may not feel that we know how to have a direct experience of G-d.

But I invite you to consider that you can experience G-d 

You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

Whenever you do a mitzvah, whether an ethical one 

(such as cooking for Take and Eat) 

or a ritual one 

(such as lighting Shabbat candles.) 

• You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

- when you feel love for your parent, 

your child, 

your spouse, 

your friend. 

• You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

- when you walk in the woods, 

- or step outside our sanctuary, and become aware of the birdsong and the glory of the mountains.

When we do these mitzvot, we feel connected to G-d, and that’s our blessing.

When we turn away from this path, and become distracted by the constant chatter of email and twitter and Facebook and obligations; 

When we imagine that our to do list at work is more important than really connecting with our family on Shabbat,

When we value money and privilege more than we value kindness and caring,

Then we are disconnected from G-d.

There’s an old joke which says that heaven and hell are both dinner parties, both featuring people sitting around a table with incredibly long forks. In hell, each person spears their own food with their own fork, and then can’t reach their mouth, and goes hungry. 

And in heaven, each person spears some food and feeds it to someone across the table, and in this way everyone is fed, and there is joy. 

It’s look like in a  cartoon!?! Right???

True, and it doesn’t match our Jewish conception of heaven or hell, but I think it speaks to this week’s Torah portion.

When we ignore the mitzvot, when we think only of ourselves, we go hungry.

When we follow the mitzvot, when we feed one another, we receive the sustenance we need.

Shabbat shalom!



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


Shabbat Shalom!


Dear Friends!


Before starting to talk about this week’s parasha, I would like to say that:


I am thrilled to see so many people at our Shabbat table.


This Shul has been completely renovated and Be Ezrat Hashem, we will accomplish the final touches before R"Ha-Shana with regard to the building itself.


Some other big projects regarding the site are on course which will be disclosed very soon.


We hope to see you more often in our Shul!


Would also like to thank our Dear Friend Daniel for sponsoring this dinner in honour of his birthday!


We wish you long life, 

good health, 

and all the best in all you are undertaking


Many thanks for my Dear Wife and the help she received to prepare this nice menu,


Now about the parashat of this week:




Very very rarely, there is a portion in which rabbis have a sense that they really don’t need to say anything.  

Not that I won’t

but this is one of those portions that is so clearly defined, 

and really preaches its own sermon 

and teaches its own lesson!

“Eikev” as you know is in the name “Yaakov,” 

it means “heel,” 

and the portion starts by saying

on the heel of,

whatever you do, 

such and such will happen.

Moses tells the Jewish people that after they enter the Land of Israel they must:

"Take care lest your forget the Lord, your G-d ... and you build good houses and ... you increase silver and gold ... and everything you have will increase ... and you will forget the Lord, your G-d, who took you out of ... Egypt from a house of slavery..." (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)



Moses made a firm plea to all of the Jewish people never to forget that G-d is the true and only source of everything 

including all of the monetary success they ever have. 

Why was it necessary for Moses to drive this point with such intensity?

The reason is that human beings habitually feel that 

• when things go well, 

it was our doing and not G-d's. 


• if things go poorly, 

then it's G-d's fault and not ours. 

We tend to take personal credit for things that go well in our lives and blame others if they go poorly. 

Think about it.

When something isn't going right in our lives, we usually ask G-d to make things better. 

Whether it's through a prayer 

or a heartfelt request, 

we really do instinctively recognize the true and only source of everything and will ask the One who can instantly make something change. 

And although it might not be exactly what that you asked for or in your time table (because only G-d knows what's truly best for you), G-d usually answers our prayers. 

The fact is, G-d delivers time and time again.

Moses knew this all too well. 

But he also knew human nature just as well

So, he pleaded with the Jewish people that when 

"everything you have will increase," 

don't forget for one second who gave it to you.

Sadly, we forget this over and over again and 

somehow, take personal credit for what we now have. 

If you're going to "blame" G-d when things don't go your way 

and ask Him to make things much better for you, simply saying 

"Thank God"  " B"H "

when things get better,

isn't enough. 

Because unless you live with the reality that it was G-d Who made things better, 

then you will have missed an enormous opportunity to get closer to 

the One who controls all.

It's amazing just how often we quickly forget that it was G-d who we had just been praying to. 

Yes, He wants us to put in 

the effort to show to Him, ourselves, and those around us that we really do want something. 

And we have a Torah obligation to put forth this effort. 

But in the end, it is G-d who delivers and not us 

and He wants us to fight our natural desire to take credit for something that we were actually given.

Don't forget Who the only source of your blessings is. 

Know that the same source of "nature" that surrounds you is the same source of everything else you have. 

Only faith can save a society from decline and fall. 

That was one of Moses’ greatest insights, and it has never ceased to be true.

If you can live with this reality, know that you'll literally be walking with G-d.


Shabbat Shalom


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


It was quite difficult to prepare my speech about the parasha of this week!


In fact, there are so many interesting topics to speak about, that I had a hard time to find which one to choose!






Moses plea to G- D, begging to be allowed to the promised Land. 


There are only in 2 incidents in which this word appears in the Torah:


When Joseph's Brother are accused of spying in Egypt, they recall with shame and guilt that Joseph implored them and they would not listen ( Gen 42:21 ),




Now when Moses implores G-D, and G-D would not listen!


To cement the connection:


Moses says that G-D told him not  to add anything more about this matter, which in Hebrew:


don't is Tosef


The root of the name ofJoseph!


What is the point of the parallel?


When Joseph's brothers do not listen to his plea, he is the innocent one, and they are guilty,


But when Moses pleads, he is the innocent.


And Hashem said to Moses:


Rav lach,


You have much!


This are the same words that Korach says to Moses and Aaron!


There is a great difference when the same words are spoken by different persons,


and different motives!


Korach uses them

perhaps out of envy, 

Perhaps as a device to make his claim on priesthood sound more 



When G-D now uses them, it is more a reminder that Moses has lived 120 years and has done great things, 


He has much,


Perhaps more than any other human who has ever lived!





Digging out all the different commentators and as already mentioned in one of my dvar Torah just 2 weeks ago, I am today convinced that Moshe Rabenu was, since born, not designated to end up in Israel!


Moses life ends, 

as it began, 

at a river.


On the continuing role that water plays in his life, from the Nile to the Jordan,


Let's recall that creation begins with water,


Moses is therefore a reflection in an individual human if the nature of the world.



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


After the joy of 

Singing last week “Chazak, Chazak,  V’nitchazek,” 


we have now entered the Book of Devarim.

It is immediately distinct from the other books of the Torah. 


Though it is repeating many of the same incidents, 


and laws of previous books, 


the tone and presentation are clearly different.


The name, Deuteronomy, comes from the Greek, 

and is a translation of the phrase, Mishneh Torah

which can mean 

“A copy of this Teaching,” 


a “second Torah.” 


The book contains a series of farewell speeches by Moses. 


He knows that he will die before reaching the Land of Israel, 

and still he seems to feel a sense of urgency in ensuring that the people of Israel understand all of G-d’s commands.


The most common way of dividing the book 

distinguishes five parts: 


1. prologue which reviews the past and a first sermon which stresses Israel’s relationship to G-d (verses 1:1-4:33)


A second, long discourse which presents laws of ritual and civil character and a long catalogue of consequences (4:44-11:25)


A third discourse (11:26-28:69)


A final appeal and farewell by Moses (chapters 29-33)


A brief epilogue describing the leader’s death (chapter 34).


At the end of Deuteronomy in parashat Nitzavim, 

Moses tells us that,


The Torah will serve as our guide throughout the ages,


and in one of the most beautiful passages in the Torah, 


"ki karov elecha adavar meod beficha oulvivavecha laasoto"


the text reminds us that:


Torah is accessible and understandable to all (see 30:14 )


• The commandments are not enigmatic,

• They do not reside in a distant realm,

• They do not require any intermediary,

• They are already made known




• They are within a human's ability to do it!



Moses is also at the forefront of the text throughout this book. 


As the primary speaker, 

we are finally hearing from Moses himself, 

rather than hearing G-d’s words. 



this presents its own set of issues, 

as a number of incidents are told differently from their first mention earlier in the Torah. 


Even the Ten Commandments are different in Deuteronomy than they are in the first iteration in Exodus.

• Why these inconsistencies? 

• A different author? 

• An unreliable narrator? 

• The speaker’s specific agenda? 

• What might the goal of the text be?


The text feels even more personal than other books. 


“We” feel included more than before.


In all 4 precedent books The Torah speaks through the voice of Moses!


Devarim is our book, our own book, why ?


• We already learned that the people who stood at mount Sinai perished in the desert. 

• Those who escaped from Egypt, who stood at Mt. Sinai, who traveled to Kadesh-barnea, 

who complained day and night, and 

who finally decided to go back to Egypt,

that generation died out in the desert (1:34-36). 


To whom is Moses speaking?


 Presumably, he is speaking to the next generation:

• This generation did not stand at Sinai,

• they were not at Kadesh-barnea. 


And indeed,

• We did stand at Horeb. Yes! 

• We were at Kadesh-barnea! 

• Yes, yes, yes! 

• This story is absolutely ours.


I look forward to search more into the world of Deuteronomy with you all this Shabbat. 


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Mattos/ Massei

I feel the parasha of this week is somehow designed and dedicated to Sir Menasseh Meyer, 

the founder of our Synagogue and more important 

the founder of our school!


Let me elaborate in recalling what we are reading this week!


The Israelites are almost within sight of the promised land. 

They came out victorious against the Midianites. 

No longer are the Israelites in the desert. 

We cannot stop them,

They are moving toward the Jordan, 

to the west of which lies their destination: 

the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’.

The members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad begin to have different thoughts. 

Seeing that the land through which they are travelling is ideal for raising cattle, they decide that they would like to stay there, to the east of the Jordan. 

Moses is angry at the suggestion:

Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, 

“Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the Lord has given them?

The tribes accept his objection however,

with a compromise, 

Came back to Moses and said:

“We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we are ready to arm ourselves and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.”

They are telling to Moses that they are willing to join the rest of the Israelites in the battles that lie ahead. 

They are not afraid of battle. 

They are not trying to evade their responsibilities toward their people as a whole. 

They just wish to raise cattle, 

and this land to the east of the Jordan is ideal. 

Moses agrees. If they keep their word, they may settle east of the Jordan.


That is the story on the surface. But as so often in the Torah, there are subtexts as well as texts. 

One in particular was noticed by the sages, 

with their sensitivity to 

nuance and detail. 

Listen carefully to what the Reubenites and Gadites said:

Then they came up to him and said, 

“We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children.”


Moses replies:

“Build cities for your children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”

The ordering of the words is crucial. 

The men of Reuben and Gad put property before people: 

they speak of 

• their flocks first, 

• their women and children second. 

Moses reverses the order, putting special emphasis 

on the children

As Rashi notes:

They paid more regard to their property than to their sons and daughters, because they mentioned 

their cattle before the children. 

Moses said to them: 

" Not so. 

First build cities for your children, and only then, folds for your flocks." 

The midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah (22: 9) 

makes an interpretation of the line in Ecclesiastes:

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,


but the heart of the fool to the left. (Ecclesiastes 10:2)

The midrash identifies:

 " right " with Torah and life: 

“He brought the fire of a religion to them from his right hand (Deut. 33:2). 


" Left " refers to worldly goods:


In the books of Proverbs ( 3: 16 )  it is written:

• Long life is in her right hand,
• Wealth and honour are in her left hand.

The men of Reuben and Gad put ‘wealth and honour’ 


faith and posterity. 


Moses hints to them that their priorities are wrong. 


The midrash continues:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: 

" Seeing that you have shown greater love for your cattle than for human souls, by your life, there will be no blessing in it.”

One of the most consistent patterns of Jewish history is the way communities, through the ages,  put 

children and their education first. 


What is a typical Jewish family?

The most important item in the family budget is the tuition fee that must be paid each term to the teacher of the younger boys’ school. 

The mother, who has charge of household accounts, 

will cut the family food costs to the limit if necessary, in order to pay for her sons schooling. 

Worst comes to the worst, she will pawn her cherished jewels in order to pay for the school term. 

The boy must study, 

the boy must become a good Jew 

For her, the two are synonymous.

In 1849, when Samson Raphael Hirsch became rabbi in Frankfurt, he insisted that the community create a school before building a synagogue. 

It is hard to think of any other religion or civilization that is as child-centred as Judaism, 

on putting their education first. 


When Moses’ scolded the tribes of Reuben and Gad,

This is not a minor detail but a fundamental statement about Jewish priorities. 

Property is secondary, children primary.

This is the will of Sir Menasseh Meyer, 

This is why today we have a beautiful school for our kids,

This was the spirit of the a great person who already understood that:

It is not what we own that gives us a share in eternity, 

but those to whom we give birth and the effort we make to ensure that they carry our belief and way of life into the next generation.


In this week’s parsha we learn of the fervent deeds of one of the members of the tribe of Levy by the name of Pinchas


a grandson of Aaron the Kohen.


How was it that Pinchas merited to have this week’s Torah portion named for him,




to be elevated to the priesthood, 

he and his generations forever? 


The nation of Israel, 


after forty years of wandering and wondering 


were finally allowed to begin conquering the land they had so looked forward to inheriting. 


Pinchas saw the men of his nation being tempted by the women of Midian to sin by serving the idolcalled Baal Peor. 


In one turn he put an end to the whole affair in the name of Heaven. 


The collective sinning ceased. 


The Torah tells us that the anger of G-d was turned away. 


Pinchas needed to be strong!


As we know, 


when a large group of people have fun in destructive behaviour 


and invests their time, 


and money 


towards making it acceptable, 

being the voice of reason 


can literally and figuratively get you thoroughly defeated either physically, verbally, emotionally or economically.


Pinchas acted when it was most needed that he do so. 


The chance to bring everyone back to their senses was in his hands. 


He was keenly aware that if another moment would have transpired with nothing done about the horrible situation at hand, 


all would have been lost. 


Either they would triumph or they would fall into condition of not remembering!


After all the Divine guidance 


and all the years of waiting, 


to see his nation disappear through assimilation into the Midianite culture,


was too much for Pinchas. 


Continuity as a holy nation remained intact all because of the action of one person at the right time. 


" One who acts with eagerness, willingness, readiness, merits to perform (many) mitzvot ”. 


It is not the ideal to wake up at the last second and rush like a fool to grab the only moment left to do a mitzvah,


but rather to take the necessary amount of time, 


proceed carefully, 


and then see it through to fulfilment!


Pinchas was no hothead, who was rewarded for acting in a rash manner without stopping to think. 


His was the kind of passionate honored by the Torah. 


He came, 


he saw, 


he acted but not over a split second of anger,


but with a heart and mind set to achieve the honor of Heaven. 


Only a well sharpened heart and mind worked on with much prior thought and effort can achieve split second results accurately and effectively. 


There is no better tool with which we can sharpen our hearts and minds to be best prepared for the moments in which we need to act with eargerness, willingness and readiness, than 


Torah study. 

Let' s Just do it!


In this week’s parashah, Parashat Balak, the Moabite King Balak, 

afraid of the power of the people of Israel

as we are wandering through the desert passing by his kingdom, thinks of this great scheme.  


He is going to call upon Balaam 

who has this power 

to bless and the power to curse.  

He sends his dignitaries to Balaam saying,  

“Please go and curse this people.  I’m afraid of them, I’m scared of them: they’re too numerous.”  

Sort of like Pharaoh said. 


And Balaam wisely says,  

" Hmmm, no, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”  

Mostly because God told him,  

“Balaam, that’s not a very good idea.”  

But eventually he’s persuaded after a number of visits from Balak’s dignitaries. 


Balaam gets up in the morning, 

he saddles up his donkey, 

and they set out with his servants. 


At a certain point in the journey, the donkey simply refuses to go any further!

Balaam doesn’t understand why the donkey is misbehaving in this way and starts beating the donkey.  

He doesn’t know the donkey actually sees in front of him,

actually I should say her, 

it’s a female donkey

in front of her, 

The donkey sees the angel of death coming to stop Balaam from his appointed task. 


The donkey sits down on the road and refuses to move.  

After Balaam beats her the third time, she starts to talk.  

What does she says:

" Balaam, I have been your trusty donkey all these years.  Have I ever led you astray?  Have I ever misbehaved?”  

And he has to concede, no, she’s been a good donkey.  She says, 

" So why would I lead you astray this time?  Don’t you think there’s something larger going on here?” 


And of course the donkey has saved Balaam’s life and also alerted him to the danger in his appointed task, 

and as we know he eventually does continue on the path.  

He reaches the point where he can overlook the entire encampment of Israel.  

Instead of cursing us, what comes out of his mouth are words of blessing:  

" How wonderful and how lovely are your tents.” 


I want to focus on this episode that happens to Balaam between when he is called and when he acts.  

That’s the donkey, and especially the fact that the donkey speaks.  

This is not the first time in the Torah that an animal speaks.  

What’s the other time? 

The snake in the first chapters of Genesis in the Garden of Eden. 


What’s interesting is that there are some similarities and there are some differences here between the donkey and the snake.  

Both of them tell a human being what the human being should do.  

In both situations it’s a cross-gender relationship: 

female donkey telling a male, Balaam, what he should do, 


the snake, which is male in the Torah, telling a woman, Eve, what she should do. 


Except the advice that the two animals give is completely different.  Because the donkey is telling Balaam to do the right thing:

“Balaam, this isn’t a good idea, you know it’s not a good idea, so why don’t you, instead of cursing Israel, maybe you should bless them, that’s what G-D wants you to do.” 


The snake gives terrible advice.  He says,  

“Ehhh, Eve, I know you’ve been told not to eat the fruit, but it’s not gonna to hurt you.  It’s delicious!  Don’t you wanna eat it?”  

And she says,  

“Oh yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. Okay, I’ll eat it.” 


Two animals both giving advice, one good advice, one bad advice.  

So what’s the Torah trying to tell us if we compare these two animals speaking to human beings?  

Well, it’s not just “don’t always listen to animals when they speak to you.”

But the Torah recognizes that there are many different voices of advice that we might listen to, 

many different opinions that we might listen to.  

And perhaps this is a warning that no one is a hundred percent right or a hundred percent wrong all of the time. 


Who are the voices of advice that we listen to?  

For some of us it’s our spouses, 

family members, 

could be our therapists, 

could be our parents even, 

could be our favorite columnist or commentator commenting on events of the day.  

And even though we have our favorite source of advice, nobody is a hundred percent right all the time. 


But it’s therefore also nobody is a hundred percent wrong all the time, 

and that goes for one’s enemy 


for one’s political opponent. 

Even one’s political opponent has some good ideas. 


So my hope on this Shabbat is that we’re able to discern.  

We’re able to discern the difference between good advice and bad advice, 

between voices that we should listen to and voices that perhaps are guiding us on the wrong path.  

And that on this Shabbat and on other days to follow, we learn to follow the right advice, 


that we’re able to listen when it’s given. 


It took me 2 years to recover from the death of my father, of blessed memory. 


To this day, almost over 30 years later, I am not sure why. 


He did not die suddenly,


In his last years he had to undergo many operations, 


each of which took his strength a little more.


The rabbis were critical of one who mourns too much too long.


They said that G-D  himself says of such a person, 


“Are you more compassionate than I am?”  


Maimonides rules, 


“A person should not become excessively broken-hearted because of a person’s death, 

as it says,

" Do not weep for the dead nor bemoan him" 

(Jer. 22:10). 

This means, 

" Do not weep excessively."


For death is the way of the world, and one who grieves excessively at the way of the world is a fool.” 


With rare exceptions, the outer limit of grief in Jewish law is a year, not more.


Yet, knowing these things, did not help. 


We are not always masters of our emotions. 

Nor does comforting others prepare you for your own experience of loss. 


Jewish law regulates outward conduct not inward feeling, 


and when it speaks of feelings, like the commands to love and not to hate, 


halakhah generally translates this into behavioural terms, assuming, in the language of the Sefer ha-Hinnukh, that 


" the heart follows the deed."


I felt an existential black hole, an emptiness at the core of being. 


The mood eventually passed but while it lasted I made some of the worst mistakes of my life.


I mention these things because they are the connecting thread of parshat Chukat. 


The most striking episode is the moment when the people complain about the lack of water. 


Moses does something wrong, and though G-D sends water from a rock, 


he also sentences Moses to an almost unbearable punishment: 


“Because you did not have sufficient faith in Me to sanctify Me before the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land I have given you.”


The commentators debate exactly what he did wrong. 


• Was it that he lost his temper with the people?


• That he hit the rock instead of speaking to it? 


• That he made it seem as if it was not G-D but he and Aaron who were responsible for the water 


(“Shall we bring water out of this rock for you?”)?


What is more puzzling still is why he lost control at that moment. He had faced the same problem before, but he had never lost his temper before. 


G-D  then told Moses to take his staff and hit the rock, and water flowed from it. 


So when in our parsha G-D tells Moses, 


" Take the staff … and speak to the rock,” 


it was surely a forgivable mistake to assume that G-d meant him also to hit it. 


That is what he had said last time. 


Moses was following precedent. 


And if G-D did not mean him to hit the rock, why did he command him to take his staff?


What is even harder to understand is the order of events. 


G-D had already told Moses exactly what to do


• Gather the people. 

• Speak to the rock, 

• and water will flow. 


This was before Moses made his ill-tempered speech, beginning,


" Listen, now you rebels."


It is understandable if you lose your patience when you are faced with a problem that seems insoluble. This had happened to Moses earlier when the people complained about the lack of meat. 


But it makes no sense at all to do so when G-d has already told you, 


“Speak to the rock … 

• It will pour forth its water, 

• and you will bring water out of the rock for them, 

• and so you will give the community and their livestock water to drink.” Moses had received the solution. 


Why then was he so agitated about the problem?


Only after I lost my father did I understand the passage. 


What had happened immediately before? 


The first verse of the chapter states: 


“The people stopped at Kadesh. There, Miriam died and was buried.” 


Only then does it state that the people had no water. 


An old tradition explains that the people had previously been blessed by a miraculous source of water in the merit of Miriam. 


When she died, the water ceased.


However it seems to me that the deeper connection lies not between the death of Miriam and the lack of water but between her death and Moses’ loss of emotional balance.


Miriam was his elder sister. She had watched over his fate when, as a baby, he had been placed in a basket and floated down the Nile. 


He owed his sense of identity to her. 


Without Miriam, he could never have become the human face of G-d to the Israelites, 


• law-giver, 

• liberator 

• and prophet. 


Losing her, 


he not only lost his sister. 


He lost the human foundation of his life.


Bereaved, you lose control of your emotions. You find yourself angry when the situation calls for calm. 


You hit when you should speak, 


and you speak when you should be silent. 


Even when G-D has told you what to do, you are only half-listening. You hear the words but they do not fully enter your mind. 


Maimonides asks the question, how was it that Jacob, a prophet, did not know that his son Joseph was still alive. 


He answers, because he was in a state of grief, and the Shekhinah does not enter us when we are in a state of grief.


Moses at the rock was not so much a prophet as a man who had just lost his sister. 


He was inconsolable and not in control. He was the greatest of the prophets. But he was also human, rarely more so than here.


Our parsha is about mortality


That is the point. 


G-d is eternal, 


we are ephemeral. 


We are dust and to dust we return, but G-d is life forever.


Chukat is about death, 

loss and bereavement. 


Miriam dies. 


Aaron and Moses are told they will not live to enter the Promised Land. 


Aaron dies, and the people mourn for him for thirty days. 


What the parsha is telling us is that for each of us there is a Jordan we will not cross, a promised land we will not enter. “


Even the greatest are mortal.

Life after death and the resurrection of the dead are fundamental, 

non-negotiable principles of Jewish faith, 

We must be focused on finding G-D in this life, 

on this planet, notwithstanding our mortality. 

“The dead do not praise G-D” says the Psalm. 

G-d is to be found in life itself with all its hazards and dangers, and grief. 

G-d provides the cure before the disease. 

Miriam dies. 

Moses and Aaron are overwhelmed with grief.

 Moses, for a moment, loses control, and he and Aaron are reminded that they too are mortal and will die before entering the land. 

Yet this is, as Maimonides said, “the way of the world”. 

We are flesh and blood. 

We grow old. 

We lose those we love. 

Yet life goes on, and what we began, others will continue.

For love is as strong as death,

and the good we do never dies.


“Y’varekh’kha  Hashem v’yishmerekha

(May Hashem bless you and keep you)

Ya’er Hashem panav eleikha vichunekka

(May Hashem make His face shine on you and show you his favour)

Yissa Hashem panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha shalom

(May Hashem lift up his face toward you and give you peace)”

( Numbers 6: 24-26 )

May God bless you and keep you

May God deal kindly and graciously with you

May G-d bestow favour upon you, and grant you peace.

Those three verses are known as the "priestly blessing."

We are actually blessed as,

during the past 2 years we have a Cohen with us and we can enjoy his blessing!!!


After this blessing, in this week's Torah portion, we read, 

" This shall they link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them." 

When we recite this blessing,

We link G-d's name with our community,

We create and strengthen the bonds between ourselves 

and the part of G- d's essence 

which is described by each of our many different names for G-d. 

"And I will bless them," 

Torah says:

the "I," of course, 

being G- d. 

Actually, the culminating point of the 


Yissa Hashem panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha SHALOM!

(May Hashem lift up his face toward you and give you PEACE)”

“PEACE is the thread of grace issuing from Him,"

IIsaac ABRABANEL writes, 

“That is why G-d is called PEACE, because it is He who binds the world together 


orders all things according to their particular character and posture. 

For when things are in their proper order, peace will reign” 

( This we can fin in Abrabanel, Commentary to Avot 2:12. )

When we put our whole selves, in all four worlds,

body, heart, mind, and spirit

into service of the One, that's when we can bless others. 

That's when we can link G-d's own Name with our names. 

That's how we open that connection for extraterrestrial abundance: 

not merely through saying the words of the priestly blessing, 

but through committing our whole selves to serving others, 

and in so doing, 

serving G-d.

Shavuot II

What the Israelites heard at Sinai has become known as 

the “Ten Commandments.”  

But this description raises obvious problems. 

• First, 

neither the Torah nor Jewish tradition calls them 

the Ten Commandments. 

The Torah calls them:

Aseret hadevarim (Ex. 34:28), 

and we traditionally say:

Aseret hadibrot, 


" the ten utterances.” 

Like a statement! A declaration!


• Second, 

there was much debate, especially between 

Maimonides and Halakkhot Gedolot as understood by Nahmanides, 

as to whether the first verse, 

“I am the Lord your G-d …,” 

is a command or a preface to the commands. 


• Third, 

there are not ten commandments in Judaism but 613. 

Why, then, these but not those?


It begins with a preamble stating who is initiating the covenant. 

That is why the revelation opened with the words, 

“I am the Lord your G-D.” 

Then comes an historical review stating the background and context of the covenant, in this case, 

“who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the slave-house.”


come the stipulations, 

first in general outline, 

then in specific detail. 

That is precisely the relationship between the “ten utterances” 

and the detailed commands set out in later chapters and books of the Torah. 

The former are the general outline, the final are the details. 


So the “ten utterances” are not commandments as such 

but an articulation of basic principles. 

What makes them special is,

that they are simple and easy to memorise. 

That is because in Judaism, 

law is not intended for judges alone. 

The covenant at Sinai was made by G-D with an entire people


the need for a brief statement of basic principles that everyone could remember and recite.

Usually they are pictured as 

two sets of five, 

the first dealing with relationships between us and G-d (including honouring our parents since they, like G-D, brought us into being), 

the second with the relations between us and our fellow humans. However, 

it also makes sense to see them as three groups of three.

1. The first three:

• No other G-ds besides Me, 

• No graven images, 


• No talking of G-d’s name in vain, 

are about G-d, 

the author and authority of the laws. 

* The first states that: 

Divine sovereignty  

( No other G-ds besides Me). 

* The second tells us: 

that G-d is a living force, 

not an abstract power 

(No graven images). 

* The third states:

that sovereignty means respect, reverence 

( Do not take My name in vain).


2. The second three: 

the Sabbath, 

honouring parents, 

and the prohibition of murder 

are all about the principle of 

the createdness of life. 

• Shabbat is the day dedicated to seeing G-d as creator, and the universe as His creation. 

• Honouring parents acknowledges our human createdness. 

• “ You shall not murder” 

murder is not just a crime against man but a sin against G-d in whose image we are created. 

So the fourth, fifth and sixth

tell us to remember where we came from if we seek to know how to live.


3. The third three 

against adultery, 


and bearing false witness 

establish the basic institutions on which society depends. 

Marriage is sacred because it is the human bond closest in estimation to the covenant between us and G-d. 

The prohibition against theft establishes the integrity of property, 

The prohibition of false testimony is the precondition of justice. 


Finally comes the stand-alone prohibition against 

envying your neighbour’s house, wife, slave, maid, ox, donkey, or anything else belonging to him or her. 


The greatest challenge of any society is how to contain the universal  phenomenon of envy: 

the desire to have what belongs to someone else. 

Envy can lead to breaking many of the other commands: 

it can move people to:



false testimony,

and even murder. 

- It led Cain to murder Abel, 

- made Abraham and Isaac fear for their life because they were married to beautiful women, 


- led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery. 

It was envy of their neighbours that led the Israelites often to imitate their religious practices and worship their G-ds.


We are here because G-d wanted us to be. 

We have what G-d wanted us to have. 

Why then should we seek what others have? 

If what matters most in our lives is how we appear in the eyes of G-d, 

why should we seek anything else just because someone else has it? 

It is when we stop defining ourselves in relation to G-d,

and start defining ourselves in relation to other people,

that competition and envy enter our minds, and they lead only to unhappiness.


Thirty-three centuries after they were first given, the Ten Commandments remain the simplest, shortest guide to the creation of a good society.