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


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. 


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.




This Shabbat is called:



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. 



'' remember the Sabbath Day " 

is a cup of sweet wine. 


" 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, 



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. 




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, 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.  


EVERYONE is attracted to a community that BUILDS TOGETHER.  

That is where the sanctity lies.  

Not in the tent pegs, 


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. 


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

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



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.


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, 


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, 




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, 




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.


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, 


to defend a civilisation, 

you need education. 

Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. 


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


" 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.


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.


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, 




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.



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!


Shabbat Shalom

Best RegardsJean - Pierre FETTMANN + 65 94604420


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, 


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


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


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." 


"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



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 



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.

Kol Nidre
















              ITISNOTAPRAYER ,



































































is about



I’ve been told that I look like my father. In fact, at this very moment, I probably resemble my father more than any moment before today. 

And if we’re going to be discussing fathers and sons, what better Torah portion could we ask for? 

We just read the Akeidah

the Binding of Isaac. 

It’s an interesting thing,

 people resembling each other. 

I wonder whether Isaac looked like this father. He probably did.

I’d assume that Abraham and Isaac looked something alike. I’d also assume that when Abraham looked at Isaac, he saw himself and remembered his youth. 

Isaac resembled Abraham.

And I can only wonder what it must have felt like for Abraham to look down at Isaac, bound on the altar.

Take your son, your only son, the one you love- take Isaac.


We can only keep on imagining what it will feel like to look into the face of someone who resembles us. 

But what must it have felt like for Abraham to see Isaac’s face, resemble it, 

love it, 

look into Isaac’s eyes, 

and raise up the knife? 

What must it have felt like to harm someone who looked just like him?


Even more than that

As a human being, created, in the image of God, Abraham resembled God! What could have been going through God’s Mind when God commanded a human being, created in God’s image, 

to kill?

Think of it as a three-leveled mirror: 

God looking at Abraham 

looking at Isaac. 

Our story is about three beings that resemble each other. 

And so many questions come to mind when we read this section of the Torah.

Why does God command this?

Why does Abraham say yes?

Where is Sarah during the entire story?

What psychological ramifications does the Akeidah have on Isaac?

What must it feel like to know that you resemble someone?


And what must it have felt like to be brought to a mountain to be sacrificed to God by someone who looks just like you?


Listen to the words that God speaks to Abraham: 

Take your son, 

your only son, 

the one you love.


God refers to Isaac by four names, and only the last one is Isaac’s name. 

Every other

name is in relation to Abraham:

your son, your only son, – the one you love- And finally, Isaac.


Isaac reminds Abraham of his youth, of Abraham’s family line. 

For Abraham, who has been promised countless descendants, this command from God amounts to suicide. 

He is killing his future. 

And that is what he sees in Isaac,

his future.

Abraham simply does not see Isaac as a separate person

he sees Isaac as an extension of himself. 

Abraham does not see is Isaac as a separate individual

But, as the Other. 

Abraham is willing to commit suicide, not murder.

My rabbi, once took part in a biblio-drama where different participants took on different roles within the story of the Akeidah. 

Ironically enough, He played G-D.

An audience member posed a question to him and said, 

“G-D- how could you command such a thing?! 

You finally gave Abraham and Sarah a child, and you’re commanding its death? 

Why are you doing this?”

His response was moving, and is a strong part of my thought today. He answered, 

“Don’t you see that every person I’ve created has gone the wrong way? I just want to know that I got it right. I feel like Abraham is my chance to prove that people can love me and listen to me, even when it’s hard! Abraham is my chance!”

Even God only sees Abraham as an extension of God’s self.


Abraham is God’s chance. Just like Isaac is Abraham’s future.

This is a great message to take from the story,

We must see the people around us as separate individuals, as the Other.

I deeply believe that we will never understand the texts completely, and that is what

Emmanuel Levinas, the great French Jewish Philosopher meant when he taught that 

the Torah is holy because it has infinite meaning

We can never exhaust the meaning of the text, and so the text of Torah is holy.

And that is what it means to be the Other.

To be the Other is to have unlimited potential. 

We will never realize the entire potential of the Torah. 

So when we can view the Torah as the Other, and not as an extension of ourselves, and therefore not completely knowable

that’s when we are really learning Torah. That is when we sense the holiness of learning.

And I believe that the same is true for G-d

we can never exhaust the meaning of G-d, and so God is also the Other. 

When we can view G-d as the Other, not as an extension of ourselves, and therefore not completely knowable  

that’s when we are really in a relationship with G-d.

The same is true for people. 

To look at someone in the eyes and recognize infinite potential is to see that person as an independent Other,

that’s when we are really in a relationship with another person.

Even at the end of the Akeidah, Abraham hasn’t recognized Isaac as the Other. 

When G-d reveals that this whole mission has been a test, what does Abraham do? 

He sees a ram and rushes to sacrifice that. But what doesn’t he do?

 He never unties Isaac. Isaac must have untied himself! Isaac was aware of his own needs, but Abraham saw only his own.

My father and I do resemble each other! But our close relationship is based on recognizing that we are different people.

In other words, I will never completely know you. Only you can do that. And since every one of you here is the Other to me, every one of you here is also holy.

And so,

If the student is the Other to the Teacher, then I will always be the Other to Torah.

If children are the Other to their Parents, then I will always be the Other to my child.

If the Other contains infinite possibilities, then God will always be the Other.

And if those are true, then Teachers, Children, Parents, and God are all Holy.

So I want to bless us all that we should find deep faith in our lives, remembering once in a while that each one of us, each Other one of us, contains infinite meaning within us.

I also want to bless us all that we should begin to realize that infinite meaning is within the person next you, the person you pass on the street, and the people we have yet to meet.

May we never, ever, slow down in our journeys to see the Other.


Shabbat Shalom.


The Neilah Prayer on Yom Kippur

Neilah is the fifth and final prayer of Yom Kippur. On an ordinary day we pray three times – evening, morning and afternoon. 

On Shabbat, holidays, and Rosh Chodesh we have an additional fourth prayer, musaf. 

Only on Yom Kippur is there a fifth prayer.

Neilah means “locking” 

and therefore indicates the close of the ten days of judgement. 

Having the gate locked in front of us is a jarring image, 

one that is meant to motivate us to intensify our petitions before it is too late. 

One of the Chassidic Rebbes taught a gentler image of the closing of the gates. 

It is as if God says to each individual: 

During these awesome ten days we became so close, therefore I want to grant you a private audience. So please come in and close the gate behind you. In other words we are inside the gate, not outside! There is a subtle, paradoxical allusion to this due to the fact that the ark is actually kept open the entire prayer, another unique aspect of Neilah.

The image of being on the “inside” actually symbolizes the very nature of Neilah. 

We are taught that there are five levels of soul:

Nefesh, the “animal” soul, 

Ruach, the emotional aspect of man, 

neshamah, the intellectual component, 

chaya, the bridge between the conscious and superconscious soul and 

yechidah, the place where the human soul unites with its Divine origin.

The yechidah, the fifth and highest level of soul, 

is manifest through pure faith, sincere and complete devotion 


the will to sacrifice all for God.

Neilah activates this most elevated aspect of man. 

It is the culminating and defining moment when we gather all our inner forces one last time to express the deepest longings of our being before our Creator.

Yom Kippur, which literally means the Day of Atonement, is mentioned explicitly for the first time in Leviticus. Throughout its description in the Torah the idea of atonement is repeated continually, ending with the words: “And it shall be an everlasting statute to you, to make atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year.”

Along with a detailed description of the service of the High Priest in the Temple on this holy day, the Torah commands us to “afflict” our souls. The oral tradition explains that to “afflict” the soul means not eating or drinking, not anointing the skin with oil, not wearing leather shoes and not engaging in marital relations. Abstaining from these five physical actions separates us from the needs of the body and instead we concentrate solely on the soul and spiritual matters.

Though the actual day is not mentioned in the written Torah, it is explained in the oral tradition that Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the second tablets containing the ten commandments on Yom Kippur. This symbolized God forgiving the Jewish people after the terrible sin of the golden calf, which caused Moses to break the first tablets. Therefore, the first Yom Kippur in the desert, which preceded the laws given in Leviticus, was a day of great joy, forgiveness and atonement. This energy is impressed upon all subsequent Yom Kippurs.

Worshipping the golden calf represents the ultimate perversion of physicality while “afflicting” the soul rectifies this misuse of the material world. Although today we “afflict” our souls, it is ultimately a day of great joy for what feels better than to receive forgiveness, atonement and the chance to begin anew.


Parashat Haazinu

With  HA AZINU we climb to one of the peaks of Jewish spirituality. 

For a month Moses had taught the people. 

He had told them 

their history,

Their destiny, 

and the laws that would make theirs a unique society of people bound in covenant with one another and with God. 

He renewed the covenant and then handed the leadership on to his successor and disciple Joshua. 

His final act would be blessing the people, tribe by tribe. 

But before that, there was one more thing he had to do. 

He had to sum up his prophetic message in a way the people would always remember and be inspired by. 

He knew that the best way of doing so is by music. So the last thing Moses did before giving the people his deathbed blessing was to teach them a song.

As we already mentioned in our last week's dvar Torah, 

There is something profoundly spiritual about music.  

Many biblical texts speak of the power of music to restore the soul. 




When Saul was depressed, David would play for him and his spirit would be restored (1 Sam. 16). David himself was known as the “sweet singer of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1). Elisha called for a harpist to play so that the prophetic spirit could rest upon him (2 Kings 3:15). The Levites sang in the Temple. Every day, in Judaism, we preface our morning prayers with Pesukei de-Zimra, the 'Verses of Song' with their magnificent crescendo, Psalm 150, in which instruments and the human voice combine to sing God's praises.

Mystics go further and speak of the song of the universe, what Pythagoras called “the music of the spheres”. This is what Psalm 19 means when it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands . . . There is no speech, there are no words, where their voice is not heard. Their music 3 carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world.” Beneath the silence, audible only to the inner ear, creation sings to its Creator.

So, when we pray, we do not read: we sing. When we engage with sacred texts, we do not recite: we chant. Every text and every time has, in Judaism, its own specific melody. There are different tunes for shacharitmincha and maariv, the morning, afternoon and evening prayers. There are different melodies and moods for the prayers for a weekday, Shabbat, the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (which have much musically in common but also tunes distinctive to each), and for the Yamim Noraim, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are different tunes for different texts. There is one kind of cantillation for Torah, another for the haftorah from the prophetic books, and yet another for Ketuvim, the Writings, especially the five Megillot. There is a particular chant for studying the texts of the written Torah: Mishnah and Gemarah. So by music alone we can tell what kind of day it is and what kind of text is being used. Jewish texts and times are not colour-coded but music-coded. The map of holy words is written in melodies and songs.

Music has extraordinary power to evoke emotion. The Kol Nidrei prayer with which Yom Kippur begins is not really a prayer at all. It is a dry legal formula for the annulment of vows. There can be little doubt that it is its ancient, haunting melody that has given it its hold over the Jewish imagination. It is hard to hear those notes and not feel that you are in the presence of God on the Day of Judgment, standing in the company of Jews of all places and times as they plead with heaven for forgiveness. It is the holy of holies of the Jewish soul.4

Nor can you sit on Tisha B’av reading Eichah, the book of Lamentations, with its own unique cantillation, and not feel the tears of Jews through the ages as they suffered for their faith and wept as they remembered what they had lost, the pain as fresh as it was the day the Temple was destroyed. Words without music are like a body without a soul.

Beethoven wrote over the manuscript of the third movement of his A Minor Quartet the words Neue Kraft fühlend, “Feeling new strength.” That is what music expresses and evokes. It is the language of emotion unsicklied by the pale cast of thought. That is what King David meant when he sang to God the words: “You turned my grief into dance; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent.” You feel the strength of the human spirit no terror can destroy.

In his book, Musicophilia, the late Oliver Sacks (no relative, alas) told the poignant story of Clive Wearing, an eminent musicologist who was struck by a devastating brain infection. The result was acute amnesia. He was unable to remember anything for more than a few seconds. As his wife Deborah put it, “It was as if every waking moment was the first waking moment.”

Unable to thread experiences together, he was caught in an endless present that had no connection with anything that had gone before. One day his wife found him holding a chocolate in one hand and repeatedly covering and uncovering it with the other hand, saying each time, “Look, it's new.” “It's the same chocolate,” she said. “No,” he replied, “Look. It's changed.” He had no past at all.

Two things broke through his isolation. One was his love for his wife. The other was music. He could still sing, play the organ and conduct a choir with all his old skill and verve. What was it about music, Sacks asked, that enabled him, while playing or conducting, to overcome his amnesia? He suggests that when we “remember” a melody, we recall one note at a time, yet each note relates to the whole. He quotes the philosopher of music, Victor Zuckerkandl, who wrote, “Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once. Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.” Music is a form of sensed continuity that can sometimes break through the most overpowering disconnections in our experience of time.

Faith is more like music than science.5 Science analyses, music integrates. And as music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age in a timeless melody that breaks into time. God is the composer and librettist. We are each called on to be voices in the choir, singers of God's song. Faith is the ability to hear the music beneath the noise.

So music is a signal of transcendence. The philosopher and musician Roger Scruton writes that it is “an encounter with the pure subject, released from the world of objects, and moving in obedience to the laws of freedom alone.”6 He quotes Rilke: “Words still go softly out towards the unsayable / And music, always new, from palpitating stones / builds in useless space its godly home.”7 The history of the Jewish spirit is written in its songs.

I once watched a teacher explaining to young children the difference between a physical possession and a spiritual one. He had them build a paper model of Jerusalem. Then (this was in the days of tape-recorders) he put on a tape with a song about Jerusalem that he taught to the class. At the end of the session he did something very dramatic. He tore up the model and shredded the tape. He asked the children, “Do we still have the model?” They replied, No. “Do we still have the song?” They replied, Yes.

We lose physical possessions, but not spiritual ones. We lost the physical Moses. But we still have the song.


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 glory.  


- You don't need to be rich to buy yourself the same leaves and fruit that a billionaire uses in worshipping God."


Of all the festivals, SUKKOT is surely the one that speaks most powerfully to our time.



known in Hebrew as Kohelet, 

is in the Writings (Ketuvim)

and is read during the week of Sukkot.

KOHELET could almost have been written in the twenty first century. 


Here is the ultimate success, 

the man who has it all, 

the houses, 

the cars, 

the clothes, 

the envy of all men,


who has pursued everything this world can offer,

from pleasure to possessions 

to power to wisdom 


and yet who, 


surveying the totality of his life, can only say, in effect, 


“Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”


Kohelet’s failure to find meaning is directly related to his obsession with:


the “I” and the “Me”: 

“I built for myself.  

I gathered for myself. 

I acquired for myself.” 


The more he pursues his desires, 

the emptier his life becomes. 


KOHELET was also, of course, a cosmopolitan: 

a man at home everywhere and therefore nowhere. 


In the end KOHELET finds meaning in simple things. 


- Sweet is the sleep of a labouring man. 


- Enjoy life with the woman you love. 


- Eat, drink and enjoy the sun. 


That ultimately is the meaning of Sukkot as a whole.


It is a festival of simple things. 

It is, Jewishly, the time we come closer to nature than any other, 


sitting in a hut with only leaves for a roof, 


And taking in our hands 


A palm branch, the LULAV,

2 willows, ARAVOT,

A minimum of three myrtles, HADASSIM

And one lemon , ETROG 


The power of Sukkot is that it takes us back to the most elemental roots of our being. 


Living in the sukkah and inviting guests to your meal, you discover 


– such is the premise of Ushpizin,         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 between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. 


We are all strangers on earth, temporary residents in God’s almost eternal universe. 



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.


What matters is not 

how long we live, 




how intensely we feel that life is a gift we repay by giving to others. 


Joy, is the overwhelming theme of the festival, 


Most majestically of all,

Sukkot is the festival of insecurity. 


It is the acknowledgment that there is no life without risk,




we can face the future without fear when we know we are not alone. 


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, 


Sukkot reminds us that G-D's glory was present in the small, portable Tabernacle Moses and the Israelites built in the desert!


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 


mentally, psychologically, spiritually. 


All it needs is the courage and willingness to sit under the shadow of God’s sheltering wings.


The moment had come. Moses was about to die.

With words of blessing and encouragement he hands on the mantle of leadership to his successor Joshua.

The time had come for another age, a new generation, and a different kind of leader.

But before he takes his leave of life God has one last command for him, and through him, for the future:

“And now write for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel,

put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me among the children of Israel”

understood by rabbinic tradition to be the command to write, or at least take part in writing, a Sefer Torah.

Why this command? Why then, at the end of Moses’ life? Why make it the last of all the commands?

And if the reference is to the Torah as a whole, why call it a “song”?

The oral tradition is here hinting at a set of very deep ideas.

First, it is telling the Israelites, and us in every generation, that it is not enough to say,

“We received the Torah from Moses,” or “from our parents.”

We have to take the Torah and make it new in every generation. We have to write our own scroll.

The point about the Torah is not that it is old but that it is new;

it is not just about the past but about the future.

It is not simply some ancient document that comes from an earlier era in the evolution of society.

It speaks to us, here, now – but not without our making the effort to write it again.

And why call the Torah a song?

Because if we are to hand on our faith and way of life to the next generation, it must sing.

Torah must be affective, not just cognitive.

It must speak to our emotions.

If our Torah lacks passion, we will not succeed in passing it on to the future.

Music is the affective dimension of communication, the medium through which we express, evoke and share emotion. Precisely because we are creatures of emotion, music is an essential part of the vocabulary of mankind.

Music has a close association with spirituality.

Song is central to the Judaic experience.

We do not pray; we daven,meaning we sing the words we direct toward heaven. Nor do we read the Torah.

Instead we chant it, each word with its own cantillation.

Music is the map of the Jewish spirit, and each spiritual experience has its own distinctive melodic landscape.

Judaism is a religion of words,

If we are to make Torah new in every generation we have to find ways of singing its song a new way.

The words never change, but the music does.

It is the songs we teach our children that convey our love of God.

So it is with a poetic sense of closure that Moses’ life ends with the command to begin again in every generation,

writing our own scroll, adding our own commentaries,

the people of the book endlessly reinterpreting the book of the people, and singing its song.

The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are His choir. Collectively we have sung God’s song.

We are the performers of His choral symphony. And though, when Jews speak they often argue, when they sing, they sing in harmony, because words are the language of the mind but music is the language of the soul.









































Rabbi Jean Pierre Fettmann