Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dec 24

Shabbat – 18th/19th December 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, we come to the climax of the final story arc of the Book of Bereshit, Genesis. The characters are the sons of Jacob, the Children of Israel. While they have been mentioned and played small roles earlier, this is now their moment to take the spotlight. Joseph in particular is given the starring role as we read Parsha Vayigash.

The record of Joseph is a bit mixed. All the midrashim associated with Joseph depict him as a famous, well-known, well-loved superstar. Angels tremble when his name is simply spoken. It was because of him that the miracle at the Red Sea would occur. At the same time, our tradition tells us all the sufferings that would befall the people Israel are the result of Joseph’s conflict with his brothers. Interestingly, Joseph, of all people, is called Tzaddik, a righteous man. When we are first introduced to him, he is depicted as an arrogant brat, egotistical, naïve and immature, words that do not conjure up the image of righteousness.

So, how is it possible that Joseph is called a righteous man? He is arrogant, haughty and deceives his brothers. He dreams of ruling over his brothers (twice!) and then tells not only them, but his parents! He puts his brothers through a prolonged episode of deception and never thinks of contacting his father during his absence. Are these the actions of a righteous person?

So, why is Joseph a Tzaddik? Righteousness, nor any other character trait, is not something we are born with. It’s something we can develop as a result of our life experiences. And it is not something we simply attain once. Joseph becomes a Tzaddik because he knows what it is like to not be righteous. He has been through many trials in his life and building on those experiences, both what happened to him and what he did to others, gives him the context to see life from a different perspective. But, the most important part, is his choice on how he behaves.

Joseph’s life and story are so compelling because he literally rises from the depths of the life to the highest pinnacle, both in a physical and moral sense. He was in a pit and ends up as Pharaoh’s right hand man. He was an arrogant little brother, yet rises above that and forgives his brothers and makes peace with them.

In this way, he is truly a Tzaddik, one whom we should emulate in his growth as a person.

Dec 17

Shabbat – 11th/12th December 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, we are celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of lights. One of the ways we celebrate is by lighting the menorah, one candle added for each night. There is a discussion in the Talmud on what the proper order for lighting is. Hillel posits that we should add one candle for each night, while Shamai, his foil, opines that we should start with eight and decrease one candle each night to commemorate the decreasing amount of oil in the original miracle of Chanukah. In the end, the law sides with Hillel, as it usually does, based on the concept of מעלין בקדושה ואין מורדין, we add to holiness and not decrease. Therefore, as is the tradition today, we light one candle the first night, and add one for each night subsequently.

What is interesting to note is, in spite of the fact that the
Academies of Hillel and Shamai were constantly at odds with one another, never agreeing, there was a tremendous respect accorded the other. The Talmud even goes so far as to say that the sons of one would marry the daughters of the other. The reason given is that even though they continuously disagreed, their arguments were אל קידוש השם, for the sanctification of God’s Name. They debated in a holy manner, with respect and integrity.

This Chanukah, and always, may we, even though we might disagree, always remember to treat the other with respect and honour, and may all our disagreements be for the sanctification of God’s Name.

Dec 10

Shabbat – 4th/5th December 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

By guest writer, Beverly Cohen.

Reading this week’s parsha prompted me to think about my bond with my sister.  It took quite a long time for our relationship to mature.  I am the elder by 2 years and 8 months, and was deeply disappointed that she did not come out of my mother’s womb walking, talking and ready to play with me on equal terms (whilst of course complying with all my instructions). I was a shy and self-conscious child, whereas she was relatively uninhibited and spontaneous.  As such, she was a frequent source of embarrassment during my early years.

Our parents operated a ‘we-love-you-equally-but-not-the-same’ policy.  This left my sister and me each firmly believing that we were the favourite one.  OK, not ‘firmly’.  They seemed to me to take more pleasure in my sister, who was, and is, very funny, and who loves to make others laugh.  And every year my sister consulted my school reports to see who did better – whose achievements would better impress our parents.

Once we reached adulthood, my sister became, and remains, my best friend.  I tell her (almost) everything.  Many years ago, I told her about a particularly bizarre dream that had disturbed my sleep: too bizarre to reveal here – if you’re dying to know, ask my sister, who is not so good at keeping secrets.  She said she thought it meant that there would be seven fat years, followed by seven lean years.

If we were boys, perhaps my sister and I should have been named Joseph and Reuben respectively.  Joseph was, like my younger sister, certainly annoying in his youth – he ‘grassed up’ his brothers to his father.  And it was undiplomatic, to say the least, for him to tell his brothers that they would/should bow down to him.  Like Reuben, I certainly would not have wanted to kill my sibling – although if she spent a little time in solitary confinement, perhaps I would not have minded.

This week’s parsha is action-packed.  It tells of Jacob’s blatant and unrestrained favouritism; of Joseph’s naivety and arrogance; and of his brothers’ jealousy, exasperation, insecurity and vengefulness.  In other words, it tells of people who were human, with human feelings and failings.  It foretells the story of Cordelia vs Regan and Goneril; of David vs Kenton Archer (whoever they are!); of my family; and perhaps of yours.

The events described in Vayeshev took place 3,500 years ago, give or take.  And they are still happening.  You could despair that we still suffer the same human frailties that afflicted people so long ago.  But, on the other hand, it makes me feel secure that we have survived for so long, and still possess the humanity, with its weaknesses and strengths, that is at the core of Creation.

Dec 03

Shabbat – 27th/28th November 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

By guest writer, Debbie Hougie

When I Googled Parshat Vayishlach the strangest thing revealed itself on a website. I had been thinking that it would be rather nice to tie in the Tree Council’s 40th Anniversary National Tree Week which starts on 28th November. When I reread the parsha I didn’t spot any way of making the link (apparitions, reconciliation and rape don’t really go with trees). But there was a link with trees and, even better, a link with a namesake – Deborah!

You need to look carefully otherwise you’ll miss it (like I did). Chapter 35 Verse 8 “Deborah, Rebekah’s wet nurse, died, and was buried under the oak tree below Bethal; so it was named Allon-bacuth.”

The demise of a woman is reported in the Torah only in exceptional cases. Indeed Rebekah’s own passing is not mentioned at all. Rashi says that mentioning Deborah is a veiled announcement of Rebekah’s death. Some commentaries add that perhaps the stories about Deborah were well known but weren’t included in the Torah. Perhaps what we can glean is that those who help great people (like our patriarchs and matriarchs) are, by extension, great people themselves, although they usually live in their shadow.

The tree that Deborah was buried beneath was named the ‘oak of weeping’. The Torah names many varieties of trees. How appropriate that this week it is one that we can relate to (allon meaning oak). And there is my link to National Tree Week! The campaign has its roots in the national response to the Dutch Elm Disease crisis of the 1960s, which destroyed millions of trees. Communities across the UK answered the call to help replenish their depleted treescapes by taking part in the ground breaking “Plant a Tree in ‘73” initiative. Following the campaign’s success, the Tree Council was founded and the first ever National Tree Week took place in 1975. Forty years on, and once again we are facing a major threat to our trees in the form of ash dieback. To stem the damage to our landscapes and neighbourhoods, it is more essential than ever that we grow more trees in our parks, streets, woods and green spaces. It was therefore great to see SAMS members planting trees at Heartwood Forest as part of Mitzvah Day last Sunday.

The Tree Council has a fitting quote worthy of SAMS on its website:

“Strong healthy trees are a mark of a strong healthy community, and to continue to grow strong together, it’s essential for communities to keep on planting trees”.

Happy National Tree Week, everyone, and Shabbat Shalom.