Monthly Archives: May 2015

May 28

Shabbat – 22nd/23rd May 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

There are a variety of different answers given, ranging from compassion to love.  At varying times, God orders a census.  In this case, the surface reading would seem to indicate that the Israelites are about to leave Mt Sinai, so this count is purely an administrative task, to help organise the march.

However, reading a little deeper reveals a fascinatingly different interpretation. The second verse of the book reads:

“Take a census of the whole Israelite community” – שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

S’u et rosh–literally translated means, “Lift up the head”.  According to Ramban (not to be confused with Rambam), the word s’u is only used when the intention is to indicate greatness (that is, holding high one’s head).  The point here is not simply to have the number of every male of military age.  We are not interested in that number.  We are not concerned with counting everyone, but rather, in making everyone count.  The meaning is not in the numerical value, but in what those people represent.

My Rabbinate is not defined by those numbers of events that I had the privilege of participating in, but rather in the context and meaning that I was able to bring to those events, by the joy and simcha, comfort and meaning, inspiration and reflection that was created then and there in those moments.  The Israelites are not defined by the sheer number of their mass, but by the meaning each and every one of them are able to create, by being an active part of their community. By counting each individual, God is helping us to realise our own self-worth.

As we come to this weekend where we on the precipice of renewing our relationship with God and our covenant at Shavuot, let us remember the special place we each have, not just in the number of our accomplishments, but in the deeper meaning that was created by us being a part of it.

May 14

Shabbat – 15th/16th May 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

In our daily interactions with people, there are certain things we say to one another and don’t really expect a sincere answer back.  The most obvious example is a simple greeting, where we ask, how are you?  More often than not, the response is a canned insincere answer as there usually is an understanding that the asker doesn’t really care and is merely being polite and the respondent is echoing that politeness and giving an appropriate answer of fine, or ok, or something along those lines.  Something that conveys the same meaning and sincerity of the question.

Something I like to do, not to put people on the spot, but to actually illustrate my care, is to follow up with a question.  I want that person to know that I am genuinely interested in what they have to say and I am not just asking to fill space or to fulfill some social obligation of making conversation.  For example, if someone says they’re fine, I will ask why?  It is revealing about the human condition that many times the answer to that question is simply, because nothing is bad.

We are conditioned to ignore when things are not going badly and to focus when things go awry.  The order of normality is disregarded because it is normal and expected.  This pattern is seen in this week’s parasha, Behar-Behukotai.  There are a series of blessings and curses, depending on if we follow God’s laws.  The rabbis were puzzled as to why the curses far outnumber the blessings.  Is it simply because we are human beings and we focus on the negative?  We are very specific when detailing things that are not going well, if we are in pain, or suffering a loss.  Indeed, when you stub your toe, you exclaim that your toe hurts.

But, what about when things go well?  How specific are you?  How detailed are you about the joy you experienced?  If you have not stubbed your toe and are not in pain, do you detail the lack of pain in your toe?  Of course not.  That is not the way we communicate.

Indeed, the rabbi’s teach that the Torah is written in the language of the people and therefore, the blessings are written about in a general, yet all-encompassing way and the curses are written in a detailed, yet limited fashion.  So, it would be incorrect to see the curses as outnumbering the blessings, as they are extremely constrained, whereas the blessings could be without limit.  The text needs to detail the potential ill effects of disobeying God in great detail, but just like our modern communications, if things are going well, the text does not need to convey what that would look like in great detail.  In broad generalities, we are given a picture of a society living in harmony with God’s will.

I would like to also thank all our hosts for this coming Shabbat as we continue to celebrate our 25th Anniversary with our 25 Friday night Dinners and also, welcome Rabbi Jeremy Gordon and family for Shabbat. Please join us as Rabbi Jeremy will be sharing some thoughts over the course of Shabbat.

May 07

Shabbat – 1st/2nd May 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

In a week replete with tragedy, I find myself challenged to find something positive.  The world around us has reminded us in a humbling way that we, humans, are not as in control of things as we would like.  Following a massive earthquake, there was catastrophic loss of life in Nepal.  It is too easy sometimes to succumb to the horror, throw up our hands in defeat, turn our heads and walk away.  It takes a strong character to not only stay in the moment, but strive to improve it.

I was immensely proud to see, within a few hours, that Israel had dispatched hundreds of soldiers to Nepal to set up a field hospital and do search and rescue work.  This quick clip shows just a tiny fraction of the work ahead of them as they attempt to make a difference in the utter destruction around them in Nepal.  I am reminded by the words of this week’s parasha, Achrai Mot-Kedoshim: “Then the Lord spoke to Moshe immediately after the death of Aharon’s two sons.” (Leviticus 16:1) literally, after the death (of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu).  Why does the text make it the time of the conversation so specific?  What is the purpose of those seemingly superfluous words?  What does it matter when God spoke to them?

It is because it is immensely important.  Immediately following an act in which we cannot comprehend, God instantly comes to teach us that dialogue and action must continue.  The lesson: despite the suffering of sufferings, the horror of an untimely ghastly death, dialogue continues.

When confronted with such inexplicable suffering we ought to all remember the words of Esther Wachsman, mother of Nachshon (the young Israeli soldier murdered by Arab terrorists a number of years ago).  She said, “When tragedy befalls us we should not ask ‘why?’ but rather, ‘what shall we do now?’”  It is our choice whether to approach our tragedy by only crying ‘woe is me’ or whether to allow it to elevate us, giving our lives new meaning and direction and bringing us closer to God.

I pray for the lives of all those in Nepal and hope rescue and comfort find them soon.  As for the loved ones that were taken away in this tragedy, may their memories always be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

May 01

Shabbat – 24th/25th April 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Rabbi RafiMany countries around the world have some form of a national holiday that celebrates the birth of that country, in some way shape or form.  It was always something to look forward to, growing up in the United States, when July 4th approached.  Many countries also have some form of official Remembrance Day for all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country.  Very few, if any, countries have those two days so intertwined except Israel.

This week, one follows immediately, one day to the next in Israel.  On Wednesday was Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance and Thursday is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence day.  After spending several years living in Israel, I was struck with how much of a communal, national holiday it was.  On Remembrance Day, sirens blare and people literally stop what they are doing, wherever they are and pause for a minute to remember the over 23,000 soldiers and civilians who have been killed.  Lists are read of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  The day is especially poignant as practically every household in Israel has lost someone in service to the State.  In each city, town, village and kibbutz, entire communities come together to recall those who are no longer with us.  And most sobering, that list continues to be added to every year.  It therefore becomes much more than a national holiday, but a family one.  Indeed, we learn in our tradition, Kol Israel Averim ze be ze, all of is Israel is responsible for one another.  This is exemplified by both the mourning on Yom Hazikaron and then the celebrations the very next day.  Never are we to forget the sacrifices of those that made the creation of and the continuing safety of Israel possible.

May we speedily see the day when the number of those who fell no longer increases and peace reigns in the entire region.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi