Bamidbar Sermon

The greatest king of Israel was David, yet he sinned a number of times. 

Interestingly one of his sins was exactly what Moses does in this week’s Torah portion. 

According to the Bible David was punished for ordering a census.  The Book of Samuel reports:

“David reproached himself for having numbered the people.  And David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned grievously in what I have done.  Please, O Lord, remit the guilt of Your servant, for I have acted foolishly.’” (2 Samuel 24)
Apparently the counting of the tribes, the numbering of the people, reported in Parashat Bamidbar, was an exception, not the norm. 
Moses takes a census of the people in order to muster the troops and determine how many battalions he has before his successor, Joshua, makes war on the inhabitants of the Promised Land. 
This contrast between Moses and David brings to light Judaism’s discomfort with counting.  Throughout our history the numbering of people was greeted with great hesitation.
We do not live in such times.  - We count how many friends we have on Facebook.  - We list how many followers we have on Twitter.  - We have the Forbes 500.  - We make endless lists of people.  - We count our possessions.  - We count other people’s money, as well as our own. 
We count how many members belong to our clubs, and our synagogues.  Jews appears to be obsessed with counting. 
- How many Jews are there?  Is it only 12 million, or perhaps 14 million?  This is of course understandable.  It was not so long ago that we lost six million.  - How many more would we be if not for the Holocaust?  - How different the Jewish landscape might be if not for our calamitous loss 65 years ago. 
But in the near obsession with tallying our numbers we may lose our essence. 
This is why the tradition does not allow us to actually count towards a minyan.  Instead we use a biblical verse with ten words.  Psalm 28 is among the favorite choices:
“Save Your people and bless Your treasured; care for them and sustain them forever.”
If we cannot complete the verse then we do not have the required number and the community is not “sustained”. 
This is preferred over counting one, two, three…
By contrast today every birthday is considered momentous occasions.
My Parents however were never 100% sure of their birthdays. 
For their generation counting was seen as bad luck.  But we live in an age when we are over confident with our blessings.  Counting everything suggests such unwarranted confidence. 
Perhaps it would be wise to take the tradition’s caution to heart.  We might be better served not to count so much. 
In fact counting does not add meaning to our lives.
- It is not the number of friends one is surrounded with, but the depth of friendships.  - It is not the size of the congregation, but the spirit of the community.  - It is not the number of awards, or grades, or wealth, but whether or not we succeed in bringing blessings to the world around us. 
These are my beliefs.
This week we also find ourselves nearing the ending of the counting of the Omer. 
We count from Passover to Shavuot.
The tradition is that we count the days, as we would count towards a birthday, until we receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. 
- Shavuot of course celebrates the giving of the Torah.  - Passover celebrates our freedom from Egypt. 
The two must be married to each other.  And therefore we count from freedom to its meaning.
Our freedom from Egypt finds meaning in the Torah.  We only count to the gift of Torah.  Only the meaning and depth of Torah is worthy of our counting. 
Everything else we would do well to observe the superstitions of old. 
Count far less.  Focus instead on the people standing before us.
All we should count toward is meaning and depth.  And all that can be found in Torah.


I love Shabbat. I really do.

Most weeks, I find myself

• counting the days,

• anticipating Shabbat,

•making plans, and

• eagerly awaiting the impending rest, relaxation, prayer, and communal connections.

But, this week as Shabbat approaches, I find I am thinking less of Shabbat and a whole lot more about Pesach which will begin on next Friday night.

After all, this is but one of 52 Shabbatot during the year, so there will be many others.

Pesach, on the other hand, comes but once a year.

And, trying to figure out

• how and when to clean the house,

• clear out the hametz,

• kasher the kitchen,

• shop for the groceries, and

• plan for the seder that will be here and usually occupies more than the available space in mind and in our schedule.

So, is it any wonder that my mind is jumping ahead of the calendar and is more centered on Pesach than on Shabbat?

On the other hand, our tradition tells us this is an important Shabbat - this Shabbat, the last one before Pesach, is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Big Shabbat, the great Shabbat. So, it must be important, right? As I began thinking about writing this message, I could not help but wonder if perhaps the special significance of this Shabbat is specifically because of the danger of it being diminished (as unintended as that diminishing might be) in the wake of the coming holiday and all of its necessary preparation. After all, references to Shabbat Hagadol cannot be found in Torah or even the Talmud, and it is a bit unknown how this Shabbat came to be known as such. In fact, in his opening to Sefer Hapardes, Rashi explains that people are accustomed to calling the shabbat before Pesach "Shabbat Hagadol", but they do not know what makes this shabbat greater than any other.  So, like Rashi, different commentators speak of it and try to explain its origins.

In many commentaries, Shabbat HaGadol finds her origins as does any other special Shabbat (Shabbat Nachamu, Shabbat Hazon), namely through word association based on the Haftarah. In this case, the last verse of the special Haftarah refers to a day in the future which will be gadol (great): "Hinei Anochi Sholei-ach lahem... Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (gadol) and awesome day of the Lord. (Malachi 3:23). Speaking of a day of redemption in the future, the prophet looks to Passover as an archetype of redemption, recalling the Talmudic teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua: "In Nissan the world was created ... the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nissan they will be redeemed in time to come." (Talmud Rosh HaShana 11a)

In another explanation, The Tur (Jacob ben Asher, 13th century) writes that the Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol because a great miracle was performed for Israel. At God's command, each family took a lamb (a symbol that also was associated with the god of Egypt), and tied it to their doorposts and kept it there for four days. They told the Egyptians they would slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, thus assuring that Israelites would be saved from the destruction of the final plague. That year the 10th of Nisan (the day corresponding to the fourth day before the slaughter) was a Shabbat. As a commemoration of the start of the miracle, that Shabbat became Shabbat Hagadol, and even though the last Shabbat before Pesach is not always on the 10th of the Hebrew month, it retained the label of Shabbat Hagadol so that we would pause to consider the great wonder that resulted from the sign on the doorposts.

Some understand the great significance of this explanation of the Tur in an even more extended way, explaining that when the Egyptian firstborn heard of what was to happen, they pleaded with their fathers and Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Their cries were ignored and a civil war broke out in Egypt in which many Egyptians were killed, thus weakening their power to oppress. (I have to admit a personal difficulty with this explanation. Out of a tradition that has us dip our fingers in our wine to diminish our joy that resulted from another people's suffering, it is hard to imagine that we would increase the importance of a Shabbat celebration knowing that so many were killed for it to happen.)

Somewhere along the way, Shabbat Hagadol became known as one of two Shabbatot on which the rabbi would deliver more extensive sermons, keeping people involved in learning into the late afternoon. The Sefer Shibolei Haleket (R. Zedekiah b. Abraham Harof Anav, Italy, 1210 - 1275) explains: 'on the Sabbath before Passover the people stay late into the order to hear the sermon expounding upon the laws of removing leaven...and it goes on, and the people do not return home until it is over, for if they do not hear it now, when will they hear it, for Passover arrives this week...and due to this length, the day seems greater and longer to the people than other days, and therefore they refer to this Sabbath as the Great Sabbath. (I suspect for some readers of this message, the idea of a rabbi - any rabbi - giving a longer sermon would not be reason for celebration or for calling special attention to the day).

As I thought about these explanations, there was another element that came to mind that actually helped me re-focus on this Shabbat and begin to anticipate it as any other Shabbat. Shabbat, as we know, is connected to creation. As the Torah explains, after the six days of creation, God rested and withdrew. So says the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day" (Exodus 20:11) In other words, we have Shabbat because of its link to creation. As a result, the seven day cycle of work and rest has become part of the inner Jewish clock. It is the time when we attune our lives to God, alternating between our own abilities to help create and withdraw as well.

But, there is a second telling of the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy. There, the reason for Shabbat is explained differently: "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath Day" (Deuteronomy 5:15). Here, Shabbat is linked to the Exodus and freedom, the very theme that Passover invites us to experience and be a part of in a deep and personal way. As Jews, we know that freedom bears responsibility - to ourselves, to our world, to God. And, freedom is best expressed when used to break down the barriers that prevent us, as individuals and as a collective whole, from reaching our potential.

What better Shabbat than this one prior to Passover to be reminded that God wants us to live in harmony with creation and to take moments to withdraw so we can see the beauty of the world around us. And God also wants us to use our freedom to become miracle workers, to reinvent and recreate ourselves and our world, to challenge the status quo, to fight against bondage, and to transcend the barriers of oppression. This is the Shabbat Hagadol I pray that each of us will experience this week!

Shabbat Hagadol Shalom.


The Power of Silence

One of the most meaningful moments in my life occurred during my year in Israel, during Yom HaZikaron, the Israeli Soldier Remembrance Day. 

I watched the busy streets of Jerusalem come to a sudden halt.

            • Drivers would slow down,

            • pull over to the side of the road,

            • park their cars,

            • get out of their cars and stand on the sidewalk. 

Then there was the loud blast of a horn and a minute would go by without anyone moving.

Finally, the horn would blast again, and people would get back into their cars and go on their ways.

What was meaningful to me about this event was that it demonstrated to me the power of silence.

- We live active lives,

- moving from one activity to the next - without a second thought. 

At times in life, however, something so tragic or so memorable occurs that it calls us to silence,

to empathy and to reflection.

An example of such an event is in this week's Torah portion,

Parshat Shemini.

In the Second Aliyah, the Israelites are gathered to see Aaron the High Priest's sacrifices at the altar. 

At that moment, Aaron's two oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, offered

esh zarah, a form of strange fire that

G-d did not command. 

As a result, G-d brought forth fire which killed Nadav and Avihu. 

This is an extremely tragic moment, as Aaron has just lost his two sons in one shot. 

Aaron's response in this moment fascinates me:

• it is not a yell or a cry of outrage as we might imagine. 

• Rather the Torah says

vayidom Aharon,

“and Aaron was silent.”

Why would Aaron be silent at a moment of tragedy? 

Abravanel, a late 15th century commentator, said that Aaron was silent because

“his heart turned to lifeless stone.”

Abravanel is connecting the word yidom, or silent, to the word domem, or mineral.  According to him, God did not allow Aaron to feel emotion during this tragic time by hardening his heart.  Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein, a 19th century Polish commentator, has a different interpretation.  He asks why the Torah chose to use the word vayidom rather than its synonym vayishtok.  He says that vayishtok would have meant that Aaron restrained himself from speaking or weeping but that vayidom, on the other hand, indicates that Aaron’s heart was calm and at peace.

I respect both Abravanel and Rabbi Eliezer’s interpretations, yet I disagree with them.  I do not see God as changing our heart during moments of tragedy, nor do I think a father would be at peace after losing his two eldest sons.  My interpretation is that this sudden loss was so tragic and the emotion associated with it was so great that Aaron was unable to speak.  As a student chaplain at Bellevue, I saw people go through experiences that were so difficult and painful that they could not speak about them.  It was traumatic to be in the room with people who lost an eye because of cancer or who knew that they would never be able to walk again.  At these moments of need, what they could give was their presence but there were no words that could be summoned to match what they were experiencing.

I encourage each of us to find ways to utilize moments of silence in our lives, especially in relation to events through which there are no words.  Aaron’s period of silence was needed in order to collect his emotions and thoughts.  Through silence, Aaron gave meaning and reverence to the loss of his sons before he returned to work.  Similarly, through a minute of silence every year on Yom HaZikaron, Israelis remember and reflect on their family members who gave their lives for their country and for hope of future peace.  Both uses of silence call us to be mindful of the moment and to do what we can to unite as a community and to comfort those in need.  May we work on utilizing moments of silence as call to attention for key moments both in our lives and in those of others.


The first words we are taught to say each morning, immediately on waking, are

Modeh/modah ani , “I give thanks.” We thank before we think .

Note that the normal word order is inverted:

Modeh ani , not ani modeh , so that in Hebrew the “thanks” comes before the “I.” Judaism is “gratitude with attitude.”
The source of the command to give thanks is to be found in this week’s parsha. Among the sacrifices it itemises is the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering:

It is written:
“If he offers it ( the sacrifice) as a thanksgiving offering, then along with this thanksgiving offering he is to offer unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and loaves of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil” (Lev. 7:12 ).

Though we have been without sacrifices for almost two thousand years, a trace of the thanksgiving offering survives to this day, in the form of the blessing

Hagomel : “Who bestows good things on the unworthy”, said in the Synagogue, at the time of reading of the Torah, by one who has survived a hazardous situation.
This is defined by the sages (on the basis of Psalm 107 ), as one who has survived a sea-crossing, or travelled across a desert, or recovered from serious illness, or been released from captivity.

For me, the almost universal instinct to give thanks is one of the signals of transcendence in the human condition.
It is

  • -  not just the pilot we want to thank when we land safely after a hazardous flight,

  • -  not just the surgeon when we survive an operation,

  • -  not just the judge or politician when we are released from prison or captivity.

    It is as if some larger force was operative, as if the hand that moves the pieces on the human chessboard were thinking of us; as if Heaven itself had reached down and come to our aid.

    Insurance companies sometimes describe natural catastrophes as “acts of G-d”. Human emotion tends to do the opposite.

  • -  G-d is in the good news,

  • -  the miraculous deliverance,

  • -  the escape from catastrophe.

That instinct, to offer thanks to a force, a presence, over and above natural circumstances and human intervention, is itself a signal of transcendence.

Our bodies may be products of nature (“dust you are, and to dust you will return”) , but there is something within us that reaches out to Someone beyond us:

- the soul of the universe, the Divine “You” to whom we offer our thanks.
That is what was once expressed in the thanksgiving offering, and still is, in the Hagomel prayer.

- An attitude of gratitude improves physical health and is an immunity against disease.

Grateful people are more likely to take regular exercise and go for regular medical check-ups.

- Thankfulness reduces toxic emotions such as resentment, frustration and regret and makes depression less likely.

  • -  It helps people avoid over-reacting to negative experiences by seeking revenge.

  • -  It even tends to make people sleep better.

  • -  It enhances self-respect, making it less likely that you will envy others for their

    achievements or success.

    Grateful people tend to have better relationships. Saying “thank you” enhances friendships and elicits better performance from employees.
    It is also a major factor in strengthening resilience.

    Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar in gratitude.

    Birkot ha-Shachar , ‘the Dawn Blessings’ said at the start of morning prayers each day, are a litany of thanksgiving for life itself:

  • -  the human body,

  • -  the physical world,

  • -  land to stand on and

  • -  eyes to see with.

    Gratitude also lies behind a fascinating feature of the Amidah.
    When the leader of prayer repeats the Amidah aloud, we are silent other than for the responses of Kedushah , and saying Amen after each blessing, with one exception.

    When the leader says the words:
    Modim anachnu lakh , “We give thanks to You,”

    the congregation says the a parallel passage known as Modim de-Rabbanan .

    For every other blessing of the Amidah, it is sufficient to assent to the words of the leader by saying Amen. The one exception is Modim , “We give thanks.”

When it comes to saying thank you ,
we cannot delegate this away to someone else to do it on our behalf. Thanks has to come directly from us .

Giving thanks is beneficial to the body and the soul.
It contributes to both happiness and health.
It is also a self-fulfilling attitude:
the more we celebrate the good, the more good we discover that is worthy of celebration.

This is neither easy nor natural. We are genetically predisposed to pay more attention to the bad than the good.
For sound biological reasons, we are hyper-alert to potential threats and dangers.
It takes focussed attention to become aware of how much we have to be grateful for.

That, in different ways, is

  • -  the logic of prayer,

  • -  of making blessings,

  • -  of Shabbat, and many other elements of Jewish life.

    It is also embedded in our collective name.
    The word Modeh , “I give thanks,” comes from the same root as Yehudi , meaning “Jew.”

    We acquired this name from Jacob’s fourth son, named by his mother Leah who, at his birth said, “This time I will thank G-d” (Gen. 29:35).

    Jewishness is thankfulness

    Shabbat Shalom,


This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim. 


Parshat Mishpatim contains many laws and statutes including the famous statement about damages,


“An eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth,” 


which the rabbis come to understand to mean 


“the value of an eye for an eye and the value of a tooth for a tooth.” 


This Torah portion also contains laws about how to treat those in our communities who are less fortunate than we are 


and particularly, 


how to deal with those in our midst who are challenged to live normal lives.


Mishpatim reminds us (Ex. 22:20-24):


You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 


You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me and my anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your spouses shall become widows or widowers, your children orphans. 


If you lend money to My people, to the poor who is in your power, do not act toward him as a creditor: exact no interest from him.


" Remember that “you were a stranger.”  


The line is oft repeated in our tradition. Yet it means more than that. 


It isn’t that each of us was a stranger. 


The real force of the statement is that we were, are, and always will be strangers. 


We are forever strangers in a wilderness. For some of us, the challenge is greater than for others, but we all need help to get through the challenges in our lives and as we get older, those challenges that all of us will face will include disabilities.



Proverbs 31:8 tells us:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak…speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.”


And in Leviticus 19:14, we find:

“You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” 


It seems easy enough to do. We tend to look at this verse, particularly the second part as if all we have to do is not go out of our way to make things difficult. 


Yet what is the verse really telling us? 


What happens if we see that there is or will be a stumbling block in their path? Is not our obligation to help them to avoid it?


This verse from Leviticus is a directive that is literally applicable on a playground. Children often treat those who are different in not-so-nice ways. 


They may well tease someone who is deaf 

                                 - by talking behind their back, 

                                 - by ridiculing and then acting as if nothing happened. 


They could well find it amusing when someone blind would be made to trip. 


One can envision these things. We may even remember seeing similar behavior on the playgrounds of our youth. 


Some of us may have acted to prevent these actions. 


Others in shame may recall participating in them or doing nothing to stop them.



Our Tradition speaks of the deaf, the blind, those with speech impediments and those with learning disabilities and in every instance we are encouraged to help the person with the disability to overcome it.



We read in Deuteronomy 15:11, 

“If there be among you a needy person, you shall not harden thy heart, but shall surely open your hand.” 


It is a statement about giving to the poor, but just as certainly it is a statement about reaching out to lend a hand

It is a statement about our need not just to avoid placing stumbling blocks, but to look ahead and make sure that stumbling blocks are not already there


We need to actively help, not merely to avoid causing problems.


I came across this in an article about disabilities in the Orthodox community:


About 10 years ago, Jason Lieberman stopped wearing tefillin. This was not an act of rebellion, 

Lieberman’s cerebral palsy simply made it too difficult for him to put them on. 


Seven years later, Lieberman, 34, who serves as treasurer, which provides Jewish education programs to special needs children, sought help from his extensive network in the Jewish community:


Where could he find an occupational therapist who had experience in training disabled Jews to put on their own tefillin? 


The answers disappointed him. 


Two rabbis offered to give him a heter, a dispensation, so that he wouldn’t have to wear tefillin at all. 


Another suggested that he get someone else to put them on for him. 


That was exactly what he was trying to avoid. 

“I know I have the skills to do it,” Lieberman told an audience of rabbinical students in New York. 

“I just need someone who understands how my body works, to teach me how to do it.


Or how about these questions found in the same article:


What do you tell a disabled Jew who is concerned that the cane she needs in order to walk to synagogue during the Sabbath violates the prohibition on carrying items? 

What about a wheelchair? 

And can her husband push it without violating the proscription against work? 

If that’s a problem, what if the wheelchair is motorized with a pre-charged battery? 

Will she be violating the Sabbath ban on electricity?


We cannot simply ignore Halakhah.


Yet, too often we do place stumbling blocks and put forth insults because we are not conscious of the needs of those around us. We simply are unaware that -- we offend, 

- cause discomfort, or 

- even harm. 


- Our access doors and aisles are not wide enough. 

- Our ramps too steep or too narrow. 

- Our texts too small. 

- Our amplification too low. 

- Our patience too short.



Our Tradition teaches us that people who are disabled can do wonderful things, not only for themselves, but for our people. 

Someone who is impaired of speech can even speak as G-d’s own mouthpiece.


And Moses said unto Hashem: 

“ Hashem, I am not a man of words, either in the past, nor now, since you have spoken unto Your servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)


After Moses questioned G-d about his difficulties with speech, G-d responded.


“And G-d said to Moses: Who gives man speech? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind?” (Exodus 4:11)


The answer in the Book of Exodus is G-d. 


Yet my friends, we are G-d’s instruments. 


Kein yehi ratson! May it be God’s will!

Beshalach 2

I red once a poem called:

" Autobiography in Five Short Chapters " :

Chapter 1: 

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.


Chapter 2: 

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.


Chapter 3: 

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in… It’s a habit… But, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.


Chapter 4: 

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.


Chapter 5: 

I walk down another street.

That is probably how life is like for many of us. It certainly was for me. 

We set off, confident that we know where we are going, only to find that it is rarely that simple. 


We fall into holes. We make mistakes. Then we make them again. 

Eventually we avoid them, but by then we may have the growing suspicion that we took the wrong turning to begin with. 

If we are lucky, we find another road.

Let us look at the opening of this week’s parsha:

When Pharaoh let the people leave, G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearby, for G-d said, 

“Lest the people change their minds when they encounter war and return to Egypt.”  

So G-d brought the people by a roundabout route by way of the desert to the Red Sea … (Ex. 13:17-18).

This is actually quite a difficult text to understand. In and of itself it makes eminent sense. 

G-d did not want the people immediately to face battle with the seven nations in the land of Canaan since, as newly liberated slaves, 

they were psychologically unprepared for war.

Three facts, though, still need to be reckoned with. 

First, the Torah itself says that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex. 14:4), leading him to pursue the Israelites with a force of six hundred chariots. 

This was demoralizing the Israelites that they cried,

“Were there not there are enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? …

 It would have been better to be slaves in Egypt than to die in the desert” (Ex. 14:11-12).

                                              - Why did G-d cause Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites if He did not want them to think of going back? 

He should surely have made the first stage of their journey as undemanding as possible.

Second, the people did face war long before they came anywhere near the land of Canaan. 

They did so almost immediately after crossing the Red Sea, when they were attacked by the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8). 

The strange fact is that when they had to fight a battle on their own, without any miraculous intervention from G-d, 

they expressed no fear. Inspired by Moses’ upraised arms, they fought and won (Ex. 17:10-13).

Third, the roundabout route failed to prevent the people’s response to the report of the spies. 

Terrified by their account of the strength of the native population and the well-fortified nature of their cities, they said,

“Let us appoint a (new) leader and return to Egypt” (Num. 14:4).

It seems, therefore, that the circuitous route by which G-d led the Israelites was 

not to prevent their wanting to return, but rather, 

to prevent their being able to return. 

Leading them miraculously through the Red Sea, It made retreat impossible. 

Whatever their doubts and fears, the Israelites had no real choice. 

They had to continue onward, even if in the end it took forty years and a new generation to reach their destination.

What this meant was that almost from the dawn of their history as a nation, Jews were forced to learn that lasting achievement takes time

You can never get there by the shortest road. 

When you try to take a shortcut, you find yourself, like the poet, falling into a hole

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania who asked a young man sitting at a crossroad, 

“Which is the way to the town?” 

The young man pointed to one of the paths and said,

“This way is short but long. The other way is long but short.” 

Yehoshua ben Hanania set out on the first path, quickly arrived at the town, but found his way blocked by gardens and orchards. 

He then returned to the young man and said, “Didn’t you tell me that this path was short?” “I did,” said the young man, “but I also warned you that it was long.”

Better to take the long road that eventually gets you to your destination than the short one that doesn’t even though it looks as if it does.

Today’s world is full of books, videos and programmes promising a fast-track to almost anything.

The life-changing idea symbolized by the route G-d led the Israelites on when they left Egypt is that there are no fast tracks. 

The long way is short; the short way is long. 

The harder it gets, the stronger you become.

Shabbat Shalom,


What is the connection between Tu B’Shevat and the Exodus from Egypt?

Each year parashat Beshalach, which recounts the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds, coincides with Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees and produce.  

While on the surface there are no obvious associations between the holiday and the parashah

various Jewish commentaries help us reveal the true essence of what this week in the Jewish calendar is really about.

The Exodus from Egypt, 

• the Song of the Sea, 

• manna from heaven, as well as 

• the victorious battle over Amalek 

are all retold in Beshalach.  

On this Shabbat, Shabbat Shirah (Shabbat of Song), 

we experience new sights and sounds just as our ancestors did upon the shores of the sea as they opened their eyes and ears to freedom.

Exodus 14, verse 22, states: 

“And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry land.”  

How can it be possible that the Israelites went into the 

“midst of the sea,” 

yet at the same time, 

walked on dry land?  

According to the Book of Legends, “the sea was not split for them until they stepped into it, indeed until the waters reached up to their very noses.  

Only then did the passage become dry land.”  

In other words, G-d did not allow for the great miracle to occur until the Children of Israel first took the initiative to actively participate in their own redemption to work in partnership with G-d, rather than to passively wait in fear.

The Book of Legends relates another story, this one from Midrash Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael.  

In it, Moses is standing and uttering lengthy prayers to G-d.  

In response, G-d exclaims, 

“My beloved are on the verge of drowning in the sea, and you spin out lengthy prayers before Me?!”  

In other words, G-d says, 

“Moses!  What’s wrong with you?  You and the rest of the Israelites are in danger and you actually think that standing there praying is really going to solve your problem?”  

Moses then asks G-d what else there is to do and G-d replies, 

“Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.”  

We learn from the midrash that there are times when human action is more necessary than mere praise or petition.

By juxtaposing the Israelite’s courageous action preceding the crossing of the sea with the high-spirited praise given at the opposite shore, the biblical narrative reminds us of the balance necessary for our partnership with G-d.  The Israelites take time to pray and rejoice in song only after they collaborate with God by taking the first step in their redemption from slavery, thereby securing a more promising future for them and for the generations to come.

Tu Bishvat falling during the week of Shabbat Shirah only strengthens the concept of our partnership with God.  According to the book Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu Bishvat Anthology, the great agricultural revolution empowered human society to grow and produce, therefore making one of G-d’s powers more manifest in human hands–that is, we are given the power and responsibility to continue life on earth and secure our environment for the future.

Reminding us that the great responsibility of action is a necessary element in reinforcing our covenantal partnership with G-d, a midrash of Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai comes to mind:

“ If you had a tree in your hand and were told that the Messiah had come, first plant the tree, then go out to greet the Messiah. ”  (Midrash Avot Derabbi Natan 8,31)


Moses is addressing the Israelites just days before their release. 

They have been exiles for 210 years. 

After an initial period of affluence and ease, they have been 

• oppressed, 

• enslaved, and 

• their male children killed in an act of slow genocide. 

Now, after signs and wonders and a series of plagues that have brought the greatest empire of the ancient world to its knees, 

they are about to go free.

Yet Moses does not talk about 

• freedom, or 

• the land flowing with milk 

and honey, or 

• the journey they will have to undertake through the desert. 

Instead, three times, he turns to the distant future, when the journey is complete and the people, free at last,  

are in their own land. 

And what he talks about is not 

• the land itself, or 

• the society they will have to build or 

• even the demands and responsibilities of freedom.

( That, of course, is a primary theme of the book of Deuteronomy. )

Instead, he talks about 


specifically about 

the duty of parents to their children. 

He speaks about the questions children may ask,

He tells the Israelites to do what Jews 

have done from then to now. 

• Tell your children the story. 

Do it in the maximally effective way. 

• Re-enact the drama of exile and exodus, slavery and freedom. 

• Get your children to ask questions. 

• Make sure that you tell the story as your own, not as some dry account of history. ( not His Story, but My Story, Our Story )

• Say that the way you live and the ceremonies you observe are 

“because of what G-d did for me” 

not my ancestors but me

• Make it personal, and make it live.


He says this not once but 3 times:

 “It shall be that when you come to the land which G-d will give you as He said, and you observe this ceremony, and your children say to you, 

‘What does this service mean to you?’ 

you shall say, 

‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and spared our homes.’” ( Ex. 12:25-27 ).


“On that day you shall tell your child, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8).


“In the future, when your child asks you, ‘What is this?’ you shall tell him, ‘With a mighty hand, the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery.’” (Ex. 13:14).


Why was this the most important thing he could do in this intense moment of redemption? 


• Freedom is the work of a nation, 

• Nations need identity, 

• Identity needs memory, and 

• memory is encoded in the stories we tell. 


- Without Story , 

there is no memory, and 


- Without memory, 

we have no identity. 


The most powerful link between the generations is 

• the record of those who came before us

• a story that becomes ours, and 

• that we hand on as an heritage to those who will come after us. 

We are the story 

• we tell ourselves 

• about ourselves, and 

identity begins in the story parents tell their children.

That Story provides us the answer to the three fundamental questions every individual must ask at some stage in their lives: 

• Who am I? 

• Why am I here? 

• How then shall I live? T


There are many answers to these questions, but the Jewish ones are: 

I am a member of the people whom G-d rescued from slavery to freedom. 

I am here to build a society that honours the freedom of others, not just my own. And,

I must live in conscious knowledge that freedom is the gift of G-d, honoured by keeping His covenant of law and love.

What the secular West now worships is not the universal but the individual: the self, the “Me,” the “I.”

Today’s hyper-individualism will not last. 

We cannot live without 

• identities, 

• families, 

• communities and 

• collective responsibility. 


Which means we cannot live without the stories that connect us to

a past, a future and a larger group whose history and destiny we share. 

The biblical insight still stands.

The greatest gift we can give our children is a story – a real story, not a fantasy, one that connects them to us and to a rich heritage of high ideals. 

With the hindsight of thirty-three centuries we can see how right Moses was. 

A story told across the generations is the gift of an identity, and when you know who you are and why

you can navigate the wilderness of time with courage and confidence. 

Shabbat Shalom,


As we enter the new year of 2018, it is natural to look back and review what happened in 2017.

In fact, to a large extent, this has become bread and butter for the media. 

On any news outlet you can find 

- a 2017-year in review article or a top ten list, or 

- multiple top ten lists. 

And indeed

-  it is incredible to think about how our world has changed over the past year,

- Its incredible to think about the all the tensions that have boiled this year,

- Its incredible to think of the increased danger we face from terrorism as 

- Isis has continued to wage war against the West. 

- The Syrian refugees. 

- The US Israel relationship.

To look back over the year is truly difficult to deal with. 

- To think about how the society has changed. 

- To think about the gains and the threats.. 

While its true the course of the world is changing, and that as a nation we are in a very different place then we were

to a large extent the story isn’t more about 

- the individuals than the collective. 

- The people and personalities more than the nations and societies. 

For example, 

- we can think about Syria as a country or we can think about Bashar al Assad. 

- We can think about the Presidential race or 

- we can think about Trump, Hillary and Bush. We can think about the US Israel relationship or we can think about Trump and Netanyahu.

The name of this weeks parsha is Shemos. Which means names. 

And as a means of introducing the parsha and the book, the Torah riterates the names of the family of Yaakov. 

Rueven Shimon, Levi etc. 

The difference between the book of Bereishit and the Book of Shemot is

a transition from the Avot, the patriarchs to the Am, the nation

In other words, the book of Berieshit, which deals primarily with Avrham Yitzchak and Yaakov is the story of the founding fathers of Judaism.

Its who they are what they believed what they stood for and how they made it their duty to form a nation. 

The Book of Shmeos is very different.

 This book is about the Nation of Israel. Its about the People who entered into a covenant with G-d through Torah as a People. It is about the nation, not the founding fathers.

This transition, which occurs in the opening moments of this weeks parsha, is made by recalling and numerating the Shemot, the names of the individuals who helped fashion this great nation. 

And that out of these men with their diverse characteristic, varied strengths and qualities the Jewish people is born. And therefore the torah reminds us that while we are now about to learn about the nation of Israel, it is really at its heart about the people of Israel. That ultimately the story of the Jews is the sum total of the contributions of individual people. 

There was a very prominent Rav by the name of RavNosson Tzvi Finkel, the great Builder of Torah in 20th century, a man who suffered with Parkinson’s disease, 

and nevertheless ran the largest Yeshiva in the world. 

- He has almost 10,000 students, 

- delivered weekly high-level Talmud lectures and 

- traveled the world raising tens of millions of dollars to maintain and grow the institution. 

But it was well known that this person, who carried this incredible burden on his shaky shoulders, would always make time for any person that wanted to spend time with him and learn with him. 

And he not only took time of his busy schedule to learn with a student but even asked the student what time was good for him.

Hearing this, R’Yosef’s 7 yr old son Eliyahu looked up to his father and announced that he wanted to learn with the Rosh Yeshiva too. Eliyahu had seen Rabbi Finkel in person once before and now wanted to learn with him. 

R'Yosef felt that it wasn’t proper to ask the Rosh Yeshiva to learn with a 7 year old but the little boy was insistent.

Finally R'Yosef told his son that if he would write a letter he would deliver it to Rav Nosson Tzvi. 

The next morning ELiyahu, the 7 years old boy awoke early and scrawled a letter to Rav Nosson TZvi before going to school. 

" Lichvod HaRosh Yeshuva, 

Ani Rotzeh Lilmod Chumash Vayeira im HaRish Yeshuva Todah ELiyahu, ben Kimat 7

Talmud Torah Torat Chayim Yerushalyimm. "

R Yosef brought the letter to the Rosh Yeshiva who write back on the letter and a  few weeks later they learned chumash together.

Litte LEiyahu came with his father to the Rosh Yeshiva with his papers form school and the Rosh Yeshiva sat next to him and listened to him review the pesukim and translation that he has leaned. 

The following sukkos, Eliyahu once again had the chance to learn with Rab Nosson TZv.

On his way out the Rosh Yeshiva waived goodbye to ELiyahu. 

Little ELiyahuu will always remember his special, even short lived relationship with Rabbi Finkel the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in the world who made time to learn with anyone and everyone together with all his kollel students.

What Rabbi Finkel realized was that the Jewish people is made up of individuals

- That the next link in the chain starts right here and right now. 

- That one day G-d willing little Eliyahu can also grow up t be a great person in the Jewish people, and that each person as an individual must be invested in.

The foundation of the Jewish people is the names of the individuals with different strengths. They are what forms the nation of Israel. This is a very empowering concept. 

So many of us, when we look around at the State of the Jewish world, the national community. The local community, see things that can be improved or we would want different. 

The lesson of our parsha is 

- that we are only as strong as the indivduals who are striving to make those differences.

Because remember, 

at the end of the day, 

at the end of the year, when we llook back upon all what was done, where we have been and where we are going, and when we review the articles, 

we must realize that as much as we are talking about society or a country or a nation we are talking about people,

people who are setting the trajectory of the year, individuals who are making history.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Miketz 2

I spoke last Shabbat about 

the world to come 

and Jacob would certainly have His place...


It is written in the parades of this week:


" At the end of 2 full years, Pharaoh dreamed " ( Genesis 41:1 ).


The Gemara speaks of Choni HaMa'agel, a Jewish scholar of the 1st century BC, prior to the age of the Tannaim, who for a long time was troubled over a verse, 


" A song of ascents. When the L-RD will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers " ( psalms 126:1 ).


How could a person sleep and dream for so many years?


At the same time, however, the Gemara states that Choni HaMa'agel slept for 70 years, and when he arose, he recognized nothing from the past.


He then completely understood the expression:


" We will be like dreamers ". ( Taanith 23a ).


We see all kinds of people in our tiny world, for as the Sages have said:


"The mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other" ( Berachot 58a ).


Which is the plain truth.


Everyone has a different opinion about each subject,

( especially we Jews )


And reality shows that when Reuben says one thing, Shimon absolutely 

has to say something else.


Everyone has a different way of expressing his views on the World and everything it contains.


Yet, we as Jews, believers, and Children of believers, must see the World with an open mind and thereby realize how to conduct ourselves materially, and above all, spiritually!


If we observe everything that surrounds us, be it even for a moment, we will notice something odd:


• People have no spare time!

• They are always in a rush and constantly running in different directions, 

• With little time on their hands 


• Fearful that they will lack something.


What’s the reason behind all this?


In general it has to do with earning a living, with people on the run to feed their families.

They hurry to arrive at work, and all their thoughts are geared with money,

how to earn more of it!


A Torah Giant from a previous generation was once walking on the street when he saw a Jew running somewhere.


The Tzaddik asked him:

" My Dear Jew, where are you running so quickly ? "


The man replied :

" I am going to the next town because I need some money ! "


The Tzaddik then smiled and said to  him:

" How to you know that you are running to a place where you will find money?

Maybe it will be found in the opposite direction, and you are running your back on it? "


My Dear Friends,

We find ourselves in a time that corresponds exactly to this story.

Everyone is running around without stop, and without satisfaction either!


" I have no time, I have no money! "

At least, that is what people tell themselves. However, if we were to stop someone and ask for a small favour, he would immediately respond:

" what will I get out of it? Will I be able to make some money from it? 

• Why such a reaction ?

• Why is it so difficult to help others without being financially compensated?

Pharaoh’s dream, shows us just how true it is .Pharaoh had 2 dreams, which were really one and the same.

In the first, he saw 7 lean cows swallowing up 7 fat cows.

In the second, he saw 7 faded and dried up eats of grain swallowing up 7 healthy and lush ears of grain, yet no one could tell what had happened.

This is the situation today:

•People swallow each other up alive,

• they are not inclined to help others when it comes to money.

However, if we were to think about it, we would understand that the world as a Director and that material things are ephemeral.

After he arose, Pharaoh called Joseph  and asked him to interpret his dreams.

What did Joseph tell him?

" the dream of Pharaoh is one. What G-d is about to do, He has told Pharaoh " ( Genesis 41:25 ).

Joseph continued his explanation by saying:

" 7 years are coming of great plenty...and 7 years of famine will arise after them, and                                 all the years of plenty in the Land of Egypt will be forgotten " ( vv. 29-30 ).

The essential thing Joseph told Pharaoh, was to name leaders throughout the land of Egypt. They would be responsible to prepare, during the 7 years of abundance, for the 7 years of famine.


In other words, if preparation are not made for the years of famine, all the good years will be forgotten!


This is a lesson for each of us in our daily lives. People spend all their time trying to save their silver and gold, keeping their wealth close to their heart, but not helping others in need.


They must realise that they will not be protected indefinitely.

A coin is round, it rolls, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow!

Today it may be with Reuben, but tomorrow it maybe with Shimon.


Money has been entrusted to us by the Master of the world, but only on condition that we do something useful with it, namely to perform mitzvot and good deeds. 

If we act otherwise, the trustee will come and reclaim his goods, giving it to someone who may act in a better way.

We see this in Pharaoh’s dream. People may swallow each other up, yet we will not be able to tell that they consumed anything. 

Furthermore, they claim that they had only the best intentions in doing so. 

However Hashem knows and understand what is hidden in the heart, as well as what resides in the minds of each person. 

This is why everyone must prepare himself during the good years, in anticipation of the years that may not be so good.                                       People must use their money to practice mitzvot, in order that they may have some left in more difficult times.

This is what the verse is saying:        “At the end of two full years, Pharaoh dreamed.” 

When a person comes to the end of his days in this world, he is liable to see that everything was but a dream and that he really did nothing in life, nothing good with his money. 

We must therefore be very careful in this world in order to arrive intact and meritorious for 

the day of judgment in the World to Come.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


know that Jews have won a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes.


But the mostWe  striking disproportion is in the field of economics. 


The first Nobel Prize in economics was awarded in 1969.  


The most recent winner, in 2017, was Richard Thaler. 


In total there have been 79 laureates, of whom 29 were Jews; 


that is, over 36 per cent.



After reading the parasha of this week, parashat MIKETZ


I believe that a reasonable case could be made that, 


Joseph was the first economist.


It began with Joseph who, in this week’s parsha, became the world’s first economist. 


Interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, 


he develops a theory of trade cycles, 


seven fat years followed by seven 


lean years,


a cycle that still seems approximately to hold. 


Joseph also intuited that when a head 


of state dreams about cows and ears 


of corn, he is probably unconsciously 


thinking about macro-economics. 


The disturbing nature of the dreams 


suggested that G-d was sending an 


advance warning of a “black swan,” a 


rare phenomenon for which 


conventional economics is 




So, having diagnosed the problem, 


he immediately proceeds to a solution: 


use the good years to build up 


resources for the lean times, 


a sound instance of long-term 


economic planning.


To my mind, 


the most decisive single factor, 


the great break of Judaism from the 


ancient world of 


magic, mystery and myth,  


was the de-consecration of nature 


that followed from the fact that 


G-d created nature by an act of will, 


and by making us in His image, 


gave us too 


the creative power of will. 


That meant that for Jews, 


holiness lies not in the way the world is but in the way it ought to be. 


Poverty, disease, famine, injustice, 


and the exploitation of the powerless 


by the powerful,


are not the will of G-d.



They may be part of human nature, 


but we have the power to rise above 




G-d wants us not to accept but to 


heal, to cure, to prevent. 


So Jews have tended to become, out 


of all proportion to their numbers, 


• Lawyers fighting injustice, 


• doctors fighting disease, 


• teachers fighting ignorance, 


• economists fighting poverty and 


• agricultural technologists finding

new ways to grow food in environments where it has never grown before.

(especially in modern Israel) 



All of this is brilliantly portrayed in this week’s parsha. 


First Joseph diagnoses the problem. 


There will be a famine lasting seven years. 


It is what he does next that is world



He sees this not as a fate to be endured but as a problem to be solved. 


Then, without fuss, he solves it, saving a whole region from death by starvation.


What can be changed need not be endured. 


Human suffering is not a fate to be borne, but a challenge to be overcome. 


This is Joseph’s life-changing idea. 


What can be healed is not holy. G-d does not want us to accept poverty and pain but to cure them.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Shabbat Channukah

I was once asked, why is it that religious Jewish Families, the divorce fate is less than 10%.


What is the secret of the Jewish marriage?


So I told them, that the secret of a Jewish marriage can be found in the mitzwah of the commandment of Chanukah.


What has Chanukah to do with a Jewish marriage?


Chanukah is unique in that the mitzwah of lighting the candles of Chanukah, is not a mitzwah on individuals, but it is a mitzwah at the House!


The Guemara says NER ISH OUBEITO.


That the mitzwah is to light a candle in your house for the Family


While most mitzwot are individuals, 


- Men put Tefilin, it is an individual mitzwah

- a woman prays, it is an individual mitzwah


Why is it that Chanukkah is a mitzwah at the House?


To understand this, we have to understand what is the concept of NER, lthe concept of lighting a candle!


So we have a NER for Shabbat, and the lighting of la candle on Shabbat is suppose to be on the occasion of 


SHALOM BAYIT, to having tranquility and happiness in the House.


Also, the lighting of the candles on Chanukah teaches us to have tranquility and to have happiness in the House.


What is special about lighting a candle?


A candle has 

the wick which is physical

and a flame which is spiritual.


The combination of spiritual and physical together


that is a way of creating TRUE happiness.


When you have balance the husband and the Wife,

balance each other with their own characteristics,

How many do they work together 

and tranquillity, 

That’s gives the special atmosphere which creates a feeling of unity and gives everybody in the house a great happiness!


We have a custom in our Family:

We call it SHEMESH


What is SHEMESH, 

the sun, light!


It is also stands for:

SICHA means a discussion 

MISCHPACHTI means Family 

SHAVOUA means week


Every Saturday night after Shabbat, we meet all the Family together and we would discuss different things we all are interested in, 

This Shemesh, this light, which is over the Family gives the members of the Family that unity.


The person that represents this idea, is Aaron Hakohen who is the Priest in the Beith Hamikdash, He was the one who run after Happiness, making feel people united, feel together.


And he is the one who lit the candle








Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


When I was younger, 

I was struggling with Faith,

How to be in Faith,

Find a blind Faith!


I loved music and I Looked at 2 great musicians Mozart and Beethoven. 


Which one was I????

Which one are You???


The impression one gets about 


Mozart is that, from him, music 




There is something effortless and 


effervescent about his compositions. 


He wrote at speed. 


He carried the worries of the world 





Beethoven, for whom it sometimes 


took years for an idea to crystallise 


into its final form, 


with countless drafts and revisions,


This was a man who could be angry 


with himself and with the world, 


for whom creativity was a struggle 


And full of conflict until its final 


majestic resolution. 


And jus latest compositions were the 


creation of one who has finally found 


peace after a life of wrestling with his 


own angels and demons.



I am not trying to give music lesson, 


but all of this is, for me, a way of 


coming to understand Jacob, 


the man who became Israel, 


our father in faith.


Jacob is not the most obvious choice 


of religious hero. 


He does not appear, 


at least on the surface of the biblical 


text , 


as a man with Abraham’s courage or kindness, 


Isaac’s faithfulness and self-restraint, 


Moses’ vigour and passion, 


David’s politics and poetry, 


or Isaiah’s lyricism and hope.



He was a man surrounded by conflict: 


• with his brother Esau, 


• his father-in-law Laban, 


• his wives, Leah and Rachel, 


and his children, 


whose sibling rivalry eventually 


brought the whole family into exile in 




His life seems to have been a field of tensions.



Then there were his transactions: 


• the way he purchased Esau’s birthright, 


• took his blessing, 


and eventually 


• got the best out of his father-in-law 



In each case he seems to have won, 


but then his situation deteriorates. 


• He deceived his blind Father and this forced him to leave home and this left him traumatised with fear at the 

prospect of meeting Esau again. 


• He suffered at the hand of Laban. 


• His life as portrayed in the Torah 


seems to be a constant series of 


escapes from one trouble to the next.


So who and what was Jacob?


To this there are two radically 


different answers. 


- There is the Jacob of midrash 


• who spent his years as a young man 


studying in the bet midrash , 


• who looked like Abraham




• whose arms were like pillars of 




• His motives were always pure. 



Jacob is called an


                     ish tam


which conveys the sense of 


• simplicity, 

• integrity and 

• single-mindedness. 


The plain sense of the oracle 


Rebekah received before the twins 


were born was that 


“the elder will serve the younger.” 


She knew Jacob was 


the son destined to prevail. 



The other Jacob, though, is the 


one we read in the plain sense of the text. 


The obvious question is: 


why did the Torah choose to portray

the third of the patriarchs in this way? 


The Torah is highly selective in the details it chooses to relate.


Why not paint Jacob in more attractive colours?


It seems to me that the Torah is 




here as elsewhere


an extraordinary message: 


that if we can truly relate to 


G-d as G-d, 


in His full superiority ,


then we can relate to humans as 


humans in all our ability in doing errors.


The man who, more than any other, 


has the tendency to make mistakes or 


be wrong,  is Jacob.


And perhaps that is the point. 


Jacob was a Beethoven, not a Mozart. 


His life was a series of struggles. 


Nothing came easily to him. 


He is the patriarchs, and was a man 


who chose to be chosen. 


• Abraham was called by G- d. 


• Isaac was chosen before his birth. 


• Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, 


Isaiah, Jeremiah: 


these were all singled out by G- d for 


their mission. 


Not so Jacob. 


• It was he who bought the birthright 


and took the blessing, 


• he who chose to carry Abraham’s 


destiny into the future.


• Not until he was running away from 


home did G-d  appear to him. 


• Not until years later, alone, at


night, terrified at the prospect of 


meeting Esau, did G- d or an angel 


wrestle with him. 


• He alone was given, by G-d or the 


angel, a completely new name,


a completely new identity: “Israel.” 


And, despite the fact that he was told 


“Your name shall no more be called 




the Torah continues to call him Jacob, 


suggesting that his struggle was 


lifelong as, often, is ours.


If I would have to choose a 


soundtrack for the Jacob I have come 


to know, it would be Beethoven’s


Hammerklavier Sonata 


or his Grosse Fugue, music of such 


big tension.


This is how  Beethoven went through 


his struggles and  eventually reached 




and it was through Jacob’s extended 


wrestling-match with destiny that he 


eventually achieved what neither 


Abraham nor Isaac accomplished: 


all his children stayed within the faith. 


According to the pain is the reward,”


said the sages . 


That is Jacob.


G-d does not reach out only to saints. 


He reaches out to all of us. 


That is why He gave us 


Abraham for those who love, 


Isaac for those who fear, 


and Jacob/Israel for those who struggle.


if you find yourself struggling with faith, you are in the company of Jacob-who-became-Israel, the father-in-faith of us all.


Shabbat shalom,


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420



There are a whole host of events which take place in this week’s parsha. 

• Jacob runs away to his uncle in Haran, 

• encounters angels and G-d in a dream, 

• falls in love with Rachel, 

• works for 20 years for his uncle, 

• marries Rachel and Leah, 

• has 9 children, 

• and grows his sheep flocks by the hundreds before returning to the land of Canaan. 

All in one week’s parsha!

The parsha begins with the famous story of Jacob’s dream. 

The Torah describes the sequence of events as follows:

Jacob leaves his hometown of Beersheba and journeys to Charan. 

On the way, he encounters “the place” and sleeps there, 

dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, 

with angels climbing and descending on it.

G‑d appears and promises that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. 

In the morning, 

Jacob raises the stone on which he laid his head as an altar and monument, 

pledging that it will be made the house of G‑d. 

The Hebrew word for angel is “Mal-ach”, 

which means messenger

When we picture angels in our minds, we usually have in mind an image of all white flying beings with lovely wings. 

• Some of us associate angels with “heaven”, 

• Some of us are reminded of the idea of a guardian angel.

In the Jewish tradition, angels appear as bearers of good and bad news, 

and are at times are disguised as humans. 

At the beginning of the parsha, Jacob is headed toward Charan. 

He is at the lowest point in his life, when he is penniless, running away from his brother, and homeless. 

And then he has an encounter with G-d. 

In Jacob’s dream, 

angels are going both up and down a ladder, 

whose top reaches to the heavens. 

Jacob is relieved when he sees that G-d is there for him, and he will be protected by guardian angels.

But why must the angels go both up and down? 

Wouldn’t a set of angels rising up be a more powerful symbol of G-d’s protection?  

One answer given is that the movement of the angels both up and down the ladder is meant to be a lesson about life

Even as he receives the blessing of a lifetime,

(that G-d will bless Jacob with many descendants and inherit a great land,) 

Jacob still needs to recognize that there will both 

“ups and downs” 

along the way. 

He had already experienced the bitter disappointments in his relationships with his parents and his brother,

and he was about to face further disappointment along the way. 

But the angels are teaching Jacob that on his path to becoming a leader, 

there are always hardships and challenges.  

Having G-d’s divine blessing doesn’t insulate you from challenges, 

and being a leader means,

you must be able to cope with challenges.

In the end, the ups and downs of the angels accurately predict Jacob’s future. 

But it is after all of these challenges, which include marrying 2 wives, 

12 children, 

as well as the predictable jealousies and unexpected battles along the way, 

that Jacob is ready to become a leader and return to Canaan. 

And when he does return from his trip to Charan at the end of the parsha, 

Jacob meets the same angels once again. 

20 years have passed, 

and Jacob has grown up. 

The verse pointedly says that on his return, 

Jacob is going “ledarko”,

on his way. 

This implies that he is taking more than a geographical trip, he is now a man on a mission. 

• With all of the ups and downs, 

• with all of the challenges he has faced, 

Jacob now understands that he must remain resolute, 

both in success and in failure. 

Jacob is now able to find his own way, 

equipped with a greater knowledge of his mission from G-d, 

a greater belief in G-d, 

and with knowing that there will always be angels accompanying him along the way.

Shabbat Shalom


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420



Today I would like to talk about a 

topic I’m knowledgeable about.  

“ Brothers “

TOLDOT,  is the story of Jacob 

and Esau, 

two twin brothers who didn’t act 

very brotherly.  

When I was reading the portion, 

one overall question came to mind.  

It seems the Torah was asking this 

question, as well.  

Why do brothers fight?

The Torah tells us why Jacob and 

Esau were fighting.  

One reason is that the parents had 

a favorite.  

Rebecca favored Jacob

the pale, 

skinny, wise child who preferred 

the company of his books.   

Isaac favored Esau, 

the eldest, hairy, strong, impulsive


The parents showed their 

favoritism openly which fueled the 

jealousy between the boys.  

Jacob was jealous of Esau getting 

the birthright.  

So Jacob took advantage of Esau 

when Esau was hungry and traded 

a bowl of stew for Esau’s 


It wasn’t a fair trade and Jacob 

knew it.

Sibling jealousy can start at a very 

young age.   

Jacob was born holding the heel

of his brother, almost as if he were 


“oh, no, you don’t, the birthright is 


Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and 

his father’s blessing by 

impersonating Esau.  

In a fit of rage, Esau swore to kill 


To save himself , Jacob ran away. 

The brothers were separated for 21 years.

twenty-one Yom Kippurs to reflect 

on what they did.  

Eventually, Esau, the hunter, and 

Jacob, the shepherd, made peace.


The Rabbis thought that the 

favoritism shown by Jacob’s and 

Esau’s parents was one of the 

main causes of the jealousy and 

hatred between the brothers.  

The Midrash tells us that


favoured Jacob because G-D had 

told her that the younger son was

to be the leader. 

So, why did Isaac favor Esau?  

Genesis Rabbah suggests that 

Isaac never recovered from when 

his father, Abraham, tried 

unsuccessfully to offer him as a 

sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.  

He became fearful for all his life 

and leaned on people who 

displayed strength, such as Esau.

I agree that parental favouritism 

causes jealously.  

Esau perceives that Jacob stole 

the blessing with his mother’s 


The strength of his anger leads 

him to want to kill Jacob.

It’s natural to want to hurt your 

brother when he makes you angry, 

especially someone like Esau with

 his quick temper and physical 


It’s in the nature of brothers to 


whether physically or 

by insulting, attacking with words

 each other.  

Why do we fight?  

We fight to get what we want.  

To be better than our sibling.  

But, as we grow, 

we come together more.  

We start to actually like each other.

So how did these warring brothers 

come together?  

They had 21 years of separation to 

consider over their offenses and 


That’s a long time.  

Esau had time to realize that it 

wasn’t entirely Jacob’s fault. 

Jacob, Esau and their parents all 

had a role in creating the discord.  

Esau realized that he should not 

have traded his birthright for food 

as he wasn’t going to die of 


When he was a child, 

he let his stomach do the thinking 

for him.  

During this period of separation, 

Esau matured.  

He became a true adult by being 

less impulsive and more reflective. 

As an adult, 

• He had an army to command.  

• He had to be responsible for 

rations, water supply and military 


• He couldn’t afford to think only of himself.  

Jacob also had regrets.  

He knew that he had taken 

advantage of Esau by trading food 

for a birthright and then tricking 

his father.  

• He wished he had resisted his 

mother who had insisted that he 

steal the blessing.  

• He had not stood up for himself.  

• Instead, he had let someone 

else, namely his mother, make 

decisions for him.  

21 years later, 

Jacob realised that he had been 

very selfish.  

As an adult, 

• he too had responsibilities 

• a family to look after and 

livestock to tend.  

Once he had become the parent,  

he could reflect on what he liked 

and didn’t like about his parents 

actions and his own. 

These realizations would help in 

our own lives.  

If we thought about how our

actions affect others every time 

we took advantage of someone or 

pressured someone into doing 


or acted out of duress, 

then we wouldn’t fight as much.   


Eventually, Jacob and Esau made 

peace just like most brothers.  


I want to hurt my brother, too, 

but it takes me less than 21 years 

to get over my anger.   

My 21 years is more like 21 

minutes or 21 seconds.  

That’s the time it takes me and my 

brother to make peace

• to think about what we did, 

• could have done, 

• should have done, 

and then to come back together.  

Then the whole process of 



repent repeats itself.  

As we get older, the process 

repeats less and less. 

Our parents have encouraged us 

to think about our actions 

and to use words not fists. 

We learn to put up with each other 

and to forgive, 

even when it’s not Yom Kippur.  

Brothers are family.  

The closest family you can be.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Chayey Sarah

A while back, a newspaper, 

 interviewed a prominent member 

of a Jewish community on his 

92nd birthday. 

The interviewer said:

 “Most people, when they reach

their 92nd birthday, 

start thinking about slowing down.

 You seem to be speeding up. 

Why is that?”

The Birthday “ Boy “ answered:

 “When you get to 92, 

you start seeing the door begin to close,

and I have so much to do before 

the door closes that the older I get, 

the harder I have to work.”


Something like that is the 

impression we get of Abraham in 

this week’s parsha. 


his constant companion 

throughout their journeys, 

has died. 

He is 137 years old. 

We see him mourn Sarah’s death, 

and then he moves into action.


He engages in an elaborate 

negotiation to buy a plot of land in 

which to bury her. 

And it is not a simple task. 

Abraham makes it clear that he is 

determined to buy land. 

In the event, 

he pays a highly inflated price 

(400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the cave of 

Machpelah is a highly significant 


because it is recorded in great 

detail and highly legal terminology, 

not just here, 

but three times subsequently in 


Something significant is being 

hinted at here, 

otherwise why mention, 

each time, 

exactly where the field is 

and who Abraham bought it from?


Immediately after the story of land 

purchase, we read:

“Abraham was old, well advanced

in years, and God had blessed

Abraham with everything.” 

Again this sounds like the end of a 


However, here it continues.

Abraham launches into a new 


this time to find a suitable wife for 

his son Isaac, 

who by now is at least 37 years 


Abraham leaves nothing to 


He wants Isaac to have a wife who 

will share his faith and way of life. 


As with the purchase of the field, 

here too, 

the course of events is described 

in more detail than almost 

anywhere else in the Torah. 

Every exchange is recorded. 

The contrast with the story of

the binding of Isaac could not be




almost everything 

-       Abraham’s thoughts, 

-       Isaac’s feelings  

is left unsaid

Here, everything is said. 

-       What are we learning out of this?

-       What is so significant in the way 

all is recalled?

The explanation is simple and 


Throughout the story of Abraham 

and Sarah, 

G-d had promised them two 


children and a land. 

• The promise of the Land is 

repeated no less than 7 times. 

• The promise of children occurs 

4 times. 

Abraham’s descendants will be 

“a great nation,” 

as many as 

“the dust of the earth,” 


“the stars in the sky”; 

he will be the father not of one 

nation but of many.


Despite this, 

when Sarah dies, 

Abraham has not a single inch of 

the land that he can call his own, 

and has only one child who will 

continue the covenant, Isaac, 

currently unmarried. 

Neither promise has been



The extraordinary detail of the two 

main stories in Chayei Sarah

- the purchase of land 


- the finding of a wife for Isaac. 

What did the Torah us to learn of this extraordinary passage?

G-d promises, but we have to act. 

• G-d promised Abraham the land, 

-       but he had to buy the first field. 

• G-d promised Abraham many 


-       but Abraham had to ensure that 

his son was married, 

and to a woman who would share 

the life of the covenant, so that 

Abraham would have, as we say today, 

“Jewish grandchildren.”

Despite all the promises, G-d

does not and will not do it alone. 

-       G-d creates the space for human freedom, 

-       G-d He gives us responsibility, 

-       G-d saved Noah from the flood, 

but Noah had to make the ark. 

-       G-d gave the land of Israel to the people of Israel , 

but they had to fight the battles. 

-       G-d gives us the strength to act, 

but we have to do the deed. 

What changes the world, 

What fulfils our destiny, 

is not what G-d does for us but

what we do for G-d.  


Our Torah portion concludes with the story of the Binding of Isaac, the `Aqedah

It is the story we read on Rosh Ha-Shanah and is a foundational story of our tradition. 

It abounds in difficulties and challenges. 

We have examined various aspects of this story many times,

A repeatedly question posed by readers of this story is: 

Why didn’t Abraham argue with G-d about G-d’s demand that he sacrifice his son? 

This question is reinforced by an earlier story in our Torah portion, 

Abraham’s argument with G-d on behalf of the evil inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrhe. 

* If Abraham was not afraid to argue with G-d in that case, why didn’t he do so here? 

* If he was willing to argue to save the evil people of Sodom, why wasn’t he willing to argue to save his own innocent son?

These are powerful questions that have generated many responses over time. 

I wish to suggest just one possible approach. 

The approach is based on the following premise: 

I believe we must strive to remember that, even if we may not find G-d’s Presence palpable or even believable, 

the Torah’s story is about a person, 


who is totally immersed in a real relationship with a real G-d. 

Abraham has had multiple encounters with G-d, including his audacious argument about Sodom.

Consequently the experience of the Aqedah does not only exist in tension with the earlier encounter between Abraham and G-d, 

it also follows and is based on that encounter. 

Because Abraham is in a real relationship with G-d he can learn more about G-d as the relationship continues. 

Their argument about Sodom was initiated by G-d, in a moment of great and intimate trust. 

Abraham stood up to G-d in that discussion. 

But Abraham also learned something about G-d in doing so. 

He learned that G-d was willing to listen 


that G-d was not some kind of divine automaton, 

issuing commands without any concern for the complexities of human tendency of doing mistakes and shortcomings. 

After engaging in such a deep exchange with G-d, 

Abraham was able to gain a deeper sense of trust and faith in his Divine Partner.

It is in the context of that faith remaining in Abraham's mind, 

that he was willing to accept that G-d’s command to offer Isaac on the mountaintop could not have been an arbitrary decision on God’s part. 

Abraham could allow himself to believe that this decision must have been painful for G-d as well as for himself, 

and that if G-d called for it, 


then G-d could be trusted to have sufficient reason for it.

I am aware that this approach raises eyebrows among many of us. 

This is no accident. 

This troubling story is meant to put the question of faith front and center before us

Modernity has put G-d in the interrogation seat

If, in the Torah, G-d is pictured as putting Abraham to the test, 

in modern times,

it is G-d Who is constantly being put to the test. 

We demand that G-d explain every action or lack of action that we would expect of Him.

But we might ask ourselves whether we would do the same with any other partner with whom we have a relationship. 

Would we expect the relationship to continue to be sustained were we to constantly demand that our partner’s every wish or act be defended and justified?

There are two contexts in which such a tense situation of constant challenging and questioning might exist. 

One is in the relationship between parents and their children during the children’s years of adolescence. 

Every parent knows how exhausting and trying that period can be. 

Parents hope that the phase will be outgrown. 

Then the relationship can move on to another, more mature stage. 

The other context is when a relationship is disintegrating, as during a divorce. 

Then everything, including simple acts that were part of a shared life for years, can become contentious and subject to recriminations.

Where are we in our relationship with G-d? 

Is our relationship growing and deepening, 

is it at the adolescent phase, or are we estranged? 

That, will condition how we read this story.


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


The context is one of the best 


known stories of the bible. 


Together in the Garden of Eden, 


surrounded by the rich panoply of 




the first human couple have 


everything they could possibly 




except one thing, 


a tree from which they are 


forbidden to eat. 


Needless to say, 


that is the one thing they want. 


“Stolen waters taste sweet,” 


says the Book of Proverbs. 


They eat,


Their eyes are opened,


They lose their innocence,


For the first time they feel shame. 


When they hear 


“the voice of G-d” they try to hide, 


but they discover that G-d is 


someone from whom we cannot 




G-d asks them what they 


have done. 


Adam blames his wife. 


She blames the serpent. 


The result is: paradise lost.



The episode is rich in its 


but I want us to study one of its 

strangest features. 


The woman has been told that:

“with pain she will give birth to


Next, Adam is informed that he will 

face a life of painful labor. 


then follows a sequence of 

three verses which seem to have 

no connection with one another. 

Indeed, statements that does not 

correctly follow from the meaning 

of the previous statements.


“By the sweat of your brow,” 

G-d says to Adam, 

“you will eat your food until you

return to the ground, 

since from it you were taken; 

for dust you are and to dust you

will return.” 

Adam named his wife Eve, 

because she would become the 

mother of all life. 

The Lord G-d made garments of 

skin for Adam and his wife and 

clothed them.


The problems are obvious. 

• Adam has just blamed his wife 

for leading him into sin. 

• He has also been condemned to 


• Why, 

at just this point, 

does he turn to her and give her a 

new name? 


• Why, 

immediately afterward, 

as they are about to be exiled from 


does G-d perform an act of 

kindness to the couple,

giving dignity to the very symbol 

of their sin, the clothes with which 

they hide their shame? 

The mood seems to have changed 

for no reason. 

The bitter resentment of the 

previous verses suddenly 


and instead, 

between Adam and his wife, 

and between G-d and the couple 

there is a new tenderness. 

Rashi is so perplexed that he 

suggests that the middle verse is 

out of chronological sequence. 

It is the end, 

not of the story of the sin of eating

the forbidden fruit, 

but of the earlier scene in which

Adam gave names to the animals 

and while doing so found 

“no suitable companion.” 

As we will see, 

that is not the only way of 

interpreting it.

Stranger still is the interpretation

given by the first century sage 

Rabbi Meir to the phrase 

“garments of skin,” 

" bigdei ‘or "

Rabbi Meir reads the ayin of the 

second word as an aleph, 

" bigdei or "

and this interprets the phrase as 

“garments of light.” 

This is an almost mystical 

suggestion and a deeply intriguing 


Why not, 

when they were in paradise, 

but as they were leaving it

were the couple bathed with 

divine radiance, clothed in 

“garments of light”?


Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, 

“It is impossible for there to be a

session in the house of study

without some new


In that spirit let us see whether we 

can find new meaning in this 


When he heard the words, 

“dust you are and to dust you

will return,” 

for the first time Adam became 

conscious of his mortality. 

The Torah is silent on what Adam’s 

thoughts were in the wake of this

discovery, but we can reconstruct 


Until then, death had not entered 

his consciousness, 

but now it did. 

What, if we are mortal, will live on? 

It was then that Adam 

remembered G-d’s words to the 


She would give birth to children 

in pain, to be sure, but she would 

bring new life into the world.

Suddenly Adam knew that even 

though we die, 

if we are privileged to have 


something of us will live on: 

• our genes, 

• our influence, 

• our example, 

• our ideals. 

That is our immortality

This was an idea that eventually 

shaped the character of the whole 

of Judaism in contradistinction to 

most other cultures in ancient and 

modern times. Judaism defeats 

mortality by engraving our ideals 

on the hearts of our children, 

and they on theirs, 

and so on to the end of time. 


Once Adam became aware of his 

mortality, he understood that 

without Eve, he could not have 


and children were his share in 


and their physical being, 

their “nakedness,” 

was not simply a source of shame. 

There is a spiritual dimension to 

the physical relationship 


husband and wife. 

The principle of divine creativity 

itself, namely that 

love creates life. 


That is when he turned to her and 

for the first time saw her as a 

person and gave her a personal 




meaning, “she who gives life.” 


Previously Adam had not given her

a name at all. 

He called her ishah, “woman,” 

he himself had not had a proper 

name until now either. 

He is simply called ha-adam, 

“the man” 

a word that appears 21 times 


Not until he gives on the woman a 

proper name does he acquire one

 himself, Adam.

With the appearance of proper 

names, the concept of person is 


The concepts of “name”

and “person” are intimately linked. 

G-d makes every human being in 

the same image, his image, and 

they are all different.”


The moment when Adam turned to 

his wife and gave her a proper 



was a turning point in the history 

of civilization. 

It was then that G-d robed the 

couple in garments of light.


Now we understand that 

extraordinary sequence of three 


Discovering his mortality, 

Adam knew that he could only live 

on through his children, 

born through an act of love. 

That was when he realised that 

immortality cannot be achieved by 

one alone, 

but only by the union of two. 

That is the profound message of 

the first three chapters of 


a story about 



and what it is to be a person. 

Judaism is the story of how the 

love we feel for another person 

leads to the love of G-d, and robes

 us in garments of light.



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


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