Monthly Archives: July 2015

Jul 16

Shabbat – 10th/11th July 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Certainty is a powerful force.  People naturally gravitate to a clear and concise idea.  Yet in life, very few times is an idea so clear cut as to equally divide into black and white pro and con sides.  Contentious issues are divisive because they seem on the surface to be easily qualified as right or wrong, but delve a little deeper and the nuances of the topic become clear.  By seeking a quick or simple fix, it may pay dividends in the short term, but in the long term may be extremely destructive and harmful to society.

When we examine a foundational text such as the Bible, it is very easy to read it literally and not challenge ourselves to delve into the deeper meaning of the text, but rather to remain on the superficial level.

An extremist or close-minded person says, “If that is what it says, then that is what it means.”  An open and critical minded person says (or should say), “If that is what it says, then what does it mean?”

In this week’s Parasha, Pinchas, we read about Pinchas, a priest, and the ramifications of his actions from last week when he murdered two people in their tent as they were engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship in the eyes of the congregation of Israel.  He is given a Brit Shalom, a Covenant of Peace, and elevated to inherit the office of the High Priest after his father passes away.  So the question is: is Pinchas being rewarded for his actions?

On the surface it would seem that he is.  The punishment for engaging in sexual relationships with Midianites is clearly stated as death.  Pinchas simply carried out the punishment that was called for and then is given the office of the high priest and a blessing from God.  In the here and now, the extremist vigilante actions of Pinchas are rewarded.  The tradition teaches that this reward is not so clear-cut and it is very uncomfortable with this reward.  How is it that Pinchas is given this gift when the priesthood is supposed to embody closeness with God, the leadership of the people and the rule of Law?  Acting on his own accord and subverting the rule of Law is not the way to build a just and righteous community.  In the long term, this kind of behaviour is destructive to the very society it was trying to protect.

Imagine the consequences if these actions were taken as the norm.  Pinchas is technically right for acting in the way that he does, but wrong in the way he carries out his actions.  By succumbing to the immediate certainty of his actions, he neglects the longer term consequences.  By insisting on only one course of action, on the rightness of only one way, we as a community are diminished.

Jul 09

25th Anniversary Quiz update

By SAMS IT Administrator | Blogs

We are delighted to let the community and friends know that our quiz held last week was a great success. The funds raised for the community amounted to just over £1,200 which, when put together with a most enjoyable evening made the quiz the success it was.

Our thanks go to all those that made this happen, and especially to those who attended and for bringing your friends and families with you.

Lauren McQuillan and Debbie Harris

 

Jul 09

Shabbat – 3rd/4th July 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

As many of you know, my parents are here visiting me (or should I say, visiting Toby).  In what has become one of my parent’s rituals, at least once during their almost yearly visits, we meet with my dad’s “aunt” Hilda Cohen in Golders Green (she is actually my dad’s mother’s cousin).  She is an amazing woman of 86 years, originally from Germany.

The story of how she arrived in this country and thrived, is nothing short of a miracle.  Hilda and her sister Trudy barely escaped Germany in 1938, on the Kindertransport.  Their brother was to have joined them, but at the last moment, her parents took him off the train as they could not bear the thought of all their children living alone in the UK.  That sealed his fate as he, together with his parents, perished in the Holocaust.  Hilda and Trudy however made it to England.  Hilda settled in Cardiff where she practiced medicine and was also a city councillor for many years until she retired and moved to Golders Green.

What is most amazing to me, every time we go and visit Hilda, is not the incredible amount of descendants Hilda and her sister Trudy have (well over 100), but the zest for life she still has, picking up Toby, reliving events of her past, discussing details of her medical career, or on this visit, identifying an anonymous family picture from about 90 years ago (it turned out to be my great-great grandparents).

In a world seemingly overrun with hatred and vehemence, it is very easy to lose faith in humanity because of the senseless violence we inflict on one another.  But, every time I meet my “aunt” Hilda, my faith is restored.  It is restored because of men like Sir Nicholas Winton, who was one of the principle organisers of the kindertransport.  In a very real sense, I owe my family’s existence to him. To those that questioned God’s existence during that horrific period of history, I would respond with examples such as Sir Nicholas Winton, truly a Tzadik in our times.  His passing this week is another sad reminder that some of the heroes of that generation are slipping away, their memories to be confined to books and our retelling.

Let us do our part, not just in remembering those heroes, but following in their footsteps and living by their example.

May the soul of Sir Nicholas Winton be bound up in an eternal embrace with the Almighty, and may his memory always be for a blessing and inspiration to us all.

Jul 02

Shabbat – 26th/27th June 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

How important are symbols?

One of the enduring mysteries of this week’s parasha, Hukat, is the punishment Moses and Aaron receive for striking the rock.  The rabbis are puzzled as to what exactly Moses’ sin was and further, why he was punished so severely!

One of the explanations put forward is that by hitting the rock and not speaking to it as instructed, Moses made it seem that he and not God, was bringing forth the water.  The symbolism God wanted to create for the people was necessary, as this was a new generation of Israelites, who had not experienced the awesome wonders and miracles of the previous generation.  Thus, the potency of the symbol was diminished, if not completely dissipated.

We have seen a powerful modern day example of this in the past few weeks.

In Israel, nine families held a joint ceremony to celebrate the B’nei Mitzvah of their children.  Unfortunately, it was not the ceremony they had intended to hold.  There was no Torah service as it was on a Sunday.  The rabbi who they had worked with over the preceding months, Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, was not even invited.  Why?  Because he is not orthodox but Masorti and thus not recognised by the State of Israel to officiate.  Even a deal worked out with the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, was reneged upon.

What was so special about this particular B’nei Mitzvah celebration you might ask?  It is that these nine children all have Autism.  According to a strict orthodox interpretation, they do not possess the capacity to comprehend the mitzvot and thus are not able to be counted in a minyan or to be called up to the Torah.  The Masorti view differs and that is why over 4000 children in Israel to date have been afforded the opportunity to celebrate their Bnei Mitzvah in an active way by being called up to the Torah.  In the service described above, they were mere spectators.

The symbolism of a B’nei Mitzvah is that of a child taking their first steps as a Jewish adult by announcing to the community that they are choosing to take their place in the community by actively taking part in it, either by reading from the Torah, or being called up to it.  Sitting passively in the service that is celebrating their active engagement with our tradition makes a farce of that symbolism, to say nothing of the complete and total undermining of our movement by the State of Israel.

If you wish to read more about this unfortunate incident, please look here for a collection of articles.

Symbols are tremendously important.  They allow us to express our deeply held values, or to illustrate those values to others.  They can give expression to a feeling or convey the power of tradition.  They can enhance an experience or capture a story.  By altering or ignoring the power of those symbols, we risk severely undermining our identities.