Monthly Archives: June 2015

Jun 25

Shabbat – 19th/20th June 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned in the Navy is the idea of not complaining about something unless you are prepared to offer a tangible solution. Complaining for the sake of complaining is detrimental to morale and counterproductive. It may make you feel better in the short term, but in the long run will only ruin any positive feelings or incentive to improve.

Much ink has been spilt trying to figure out where Korach went wrong. Many agree that he had good people skills and great charisma, but he was a horrible leader.

How can this be? He instilled the loyalty of 250 people to go against perhaps the greatest leader, Moses. Could he really be so terrible?

Leadership is not simply about having followers. That perhaps is the easiest part of being a leader.

The harder part is developing a vision, a reason for people to follow you. Korach’s vision is simply to not be Moses, or more accurately, to call out Moses for consolidating power, while offering no tangible solution. One cannot articulate a vision by defining what you are not. Looking at the text, Korach’s main complaint is: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves over Adonai’s congregation?” (Num. 16:3). There is no plan, there is no alternative, simply that Moses shouldn’t have all the power. What kind of vision is that?

The failure in his leadership was that he was completely unprepared or unwilling to offer any alternative. His leadership was totally devoid of any vision or inspiration. One wonders then how he was able to inspire 250 people to follow him.

I pray that we find the strength to put forth our thoughts and complaints in a positive light and at the same time be able to offer a possible solution to any problems we perceive. Anyone can offer an objection. A true leader with vision offers a way forward.

Jun 18

Shabbat – 12th/13th June 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

The Shema is one of the most important, if not the most important, prayers we have in our tradition. Yet, so much of our time that we spend reading or studying it focuses mostly on the first paragraph. In this week’s parasha, Shlach, we find the source for the 3rd paragraph that introduces us to the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, the fringes on the corners of the Talit.

In this paragraph all the way at the end of the Parasha, there is a curious line that always draws my attention.

“That shall be your fringe (Tzitzit), look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. (Numbers 15:39)”

Why do we need to specifically be commanded to look at them? Surely wearing them would be enough?

When we say the blessing upon putting on the Talit, we would expect the words of the blessing to be “to wear the Talit.” However, the words are actually, to wrap yourself in the Talit. A very unexpected formulation. Yet, if we look at the words from that verse, it begins to make sense.

In and of themselves, the Tzitzit are simply some strings. Yet what they represent is so much more. We can easily be led astray by the superficial things picked up by our eyes, or carried away by the emotions of the moment in our hearts. These pieces of string are there to remind us of a greater responsibility we have, that our thoughts and emotions translate into action, and we must be extremely careful how we act, or interact in the world. If we are simply guided by our hearts or eyes, we will easily be led astray. If we pause to reflect on the larger picture, our actions will be more considered.

The next time you put on a Talit, or see a tzitzit, remind yourself to take that extra moment, to pause and reflect on your proposed course of action, and really think if it is following something of substance, or something superficial.

I would like to wish Arthur Freedman-Bowden a mazal tov on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. Please join me as we come together this Shabbat to celebrate with him and his family.

Jun 11

Shabbat – 5th/6th June 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Light is frequently the metaphor given to knowledge. Just as light can brighten a dark room, knowledge can help to illuminate the darkness of ignorance, chasing away the shadows and influence of the uninformed. Light or fire can be used to create other sources of fire, kindling other lights, as can knowledge go and inspire other minds and for them in turn to continue that process. Light is a powerful, primal source of wonder and amazement, as is knowledge and the pursuit of it.

In this week’s portion, Behalotekha, the priests are instructed when setting up the Menorah in the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle, that the wicks must point their light forward, even if the menorah itself is placed in the rear of the room. The menorah is grounded firmly in the rear of the structure, yet, how does one incline a wick in any particular direction?

The text here is coming to teach us about the balance we must have in our lives. Our tradition, which is seated in our history, in precedent and in our cumulative memories, is our anchor which secures us to our past, just as the menorah is anchored firmly to the ground and the rear of the structure, the back, that which came before.

However, the knowledge and experiences are not simply an anchor but the light. We must use it to illuminate our future, to see what lies ahead, always shining the light forwards, but using the past as a guide. Our success as a people has been because we were able to stay grounded in who are, but always look to the future, always able to kindle the lights of the next generation. Only because of the continual pursuit of knowledge have we been able to evolve and grow as a people, as a community and as families. This common desire is one element of the glue which holds us together, the anchor at the back of the room that shines the way forward.

I pray that we continue to have the strength to stay grounded, but also the courage to look ahead and to give those two qualities to those who come after us; roots and wings! I challenge you to learn something new this and every weekend.

I also want to wish Lewis Herlitz and Anne Barber a mazel tov on their upcoming marriage as well as Lauren McQuillan on her wedding anniversary. Join us as we celebrate together as a community.


Jun 04

Shabbat – 29th/30th May 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week’s Parasha, Naso, deals with a difficult concept, that of someone with a physical deformity through no fault of their own being exiled from the camp so as not to defile it where God dwells.  God instructs Moses to “send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp in which I dwell among you” (Num. 5:3).  The midrash (an early Biblical commentary) expands on this verse:

“At the time that Israel left Egypt, many of them were maimed.  Why?  Because they were handling clay and bricks and carrying them up to the top of the building and one who builds by carrying up to the top layer will have a stone fall on him or sever a hand or a beam or clay will get into his eye and he will be blinded.  And when these maimed people came into the wilderness of Sinai, God said, ‘what kind of honour would it be for the Torah if I were to give it to such a maimed generation?  And if I wait until others arise, I will delay the giving of the Torah!’  So what did God do?  God told the ministering angels to go down to Israel and heal them. . . . God said to Moshe, ‘before you built the Mishkan I put up with these matters and there were people with abnormal discharges and tza’arat [the skin disease erroneously translated as leprosy] mixed among you; now that you have made the Mishkan and I will be dwelling among you, separate them out from among yourselves and send them from the camp, all the afflicted in the skin and all those with abnormal discharges and all who are defiled by corpses.’  For what purpose?  ‘So that they shall not defile their camp in which I dwell among you’ (Num. 5:3).”

At some point before the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, all these deformities were healed.  Yet if that is so, why then do we have this command to exile those that exhibit these symptoms?  According to the midrash, “but at the time of the Golden Calf, their maimed states returned and they began to have abnormal discharges and skin diseases….”  The midrash is teaching then that those who are suffering from any of these maladies are doing so because they have sinned.  I find this reading to be very problematic.  Are we not all the creation of God, created in God’s image with the divine spark and thus, no matter what physical form we take, all holy and blessed by our creator?

I think the main thrust to learn from this passage is not the physical deformity or exile from the camp, but the temporary nature of the exile.  At some point, they should all be welcomed back into the camp.  Today, in our communities, there are those who suffer from any number of physical or other abnormalities (blindness, deafness, learning difficulties, poor nutrition, poverty, etc…).  Just as God has made it a priority to heal them to be able to dwell in the camp, we too must strive to make sure they are welcomed and embraced in our midst.  We must strive to maximise the potential of each and every one of the members of our community.  Each one of us, regardless of what abilities we have, is a sacred vessel for God’s presence in this world, refined through our long relationship with God as God’s people.  Standing before God in a wheelchair, or with the help of a sign language interpreter, or with an assistance animal, is still exactly that – standing before God.  It is our presence that matters, not our posture.  As I said last week, we should not simply be counting everyone, but making sure everyone counts.

I would also like to take this opportunity to invite you to share in two special occasions at shul this coming Shabbat.  The first, is we are officially welcoming in our two new Trustees, Niki Freedman and Susan Hamilton as well as our new Treasurer Nick Flitterman and our new Co-Chair Moira Hart.  At the same time we give thanks for the years of service to Simone Freedman, Alan Green and Paul Hoffbrand, as they stand down from their positions of Treasurer, Co-Chair, and Immediate Past-Co-Chair respectively.

Additionally, there will be a delegation from the St Albans Abbey accompanied by my good friend, The Reverend Canon Richard Watson, Sub-Dean of Abbey as they come to experience a Shabbat Service.  Please join me as we give thanks to those who have served our community, those who have stepped forward to serve, all our volunteers, and our good friends from our community of St Albans.

Jun 02

25 Friday Nights for 25 years

By SAMS IT Administrator | Blogs

Over 200 members of St Albans Masorti Synagogue (SAMS) participated in a special this week to celebrate the synagogue’s 25th anniversary.

25 member families each hosted a Friday night meal where chicken soup and chicken (traditional Friday night food) as well as vegetarian and fish meals were the order of the day.

25 Friday Nights CollageFriday night is the eve of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. This is traditionally the time when families and friends gather together to eat, pray and reflect on their week.

“This weekend was the ultimate example of community.” said Simon Samuels, Co-Chair of SAMS. “Across South Hertfordshire, every single member of SAMS either hosted or was invited to dinner in a member’s home. It demonstrated above all the vibrancy of our community spirit and was such a success that I am sure we won’t wait another 25 years to do it again!” he said.

The event is one of a number of events taking place this year to celebrate SAMS’ 25th Anniversary. These have included a Question Time with all five Hertfordshire political candidates which was organised prior to the General Election and a Jazz brunch.  Other events over the year will also include a quiz and a garden party.