Monthly Archives: January 2016

Jan 28

Shabbat – 29th/30th January 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Conflict is a natural part of human interaction.  When ideology or religion gets involved, discussions have a tendency to get passionate and heated.  We as Jews have a reputation for engaging in these types of discussions which frequently boil over to debates, arguments, or full- fledged fights with unfortunate consequences.  So, are there any instructions on how we are to moderate these disagreements?  How can we possibly engage with someone who has a fundamentally different understanding of our tradition?

In this week’s Parsha, Yitro, we have a possible solution.  Chapter 20, which contains the Ten Commandments, opens with “And God spoke all these words…”

Why was it necessary to include the word “all” in this case?  Would it not have been sufficient to have simply said “And God spoke these words?”

When the text makes use of the word כל, all, frequently it is expanding the context to make it as inclusive as possible, to perhaps include things that would normally be expected.  The Talmud comments (in Tractate Hagigah 3b):  The word “all” in this case comes to teach us that the words which God spoke include the explanations which were offered by the later rabbis – some who argued one way and other who argued the opposite way; some who said something was kosher and other who said it was non-kosher; some who permitted a certain deed and others who forbade it.  All these words – even though some of the words directly contradict the others – they were all given by God at Mount Sinai, as it says in Torah:  “And God spoke all these words…”

By explaining it in this manner, the rabbis are not only giving themselves the legitimacy to interpret and carry on the tradition, but giving later generations that authenticity as well.  By directly linking themselves and us, to the momentous, foundational moment at Mount Sinai, they grant us permission as well as bestow the obligation to continue to renew the revelation in each and every subsequent generation.  No one person or party has the monopoly on the interpretation, as all of us draw from the same divine source.  In recognition of our divine spark, we are required to maintain the respect for the tradition and to engage in these discussions לשם שמים, for the sake, or glory, of Heaven [God].

This week, I pray that we always remember to listen to and engage with others who we may disagree with, always with respect and to hopefully build not only the relationship with them, but with God as well.

I want to also wish Jonathan Davies a Mazal Tov on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. Join me as we come together on Shabbat to celebrate with Jonathan and his family.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

Jan 27

Shabbat – 22nd/23rd January 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week we read one of the more famous parts of the Torah, the Song of the Sea, or Shirat Ha-Yam. There are quite a few elements that make this section of Parashat Beshalach unique. Visually, the text in the Torah Scroll itself is arranged in a very different way. It is written at about double the usual column width, with lines alternating between three sections of text and two, resembling a brick wall.

Thematically, it is not like any other celebratory poem from that time period. The text is not extolling the heroics of any one man, such as poems in Egypt which sang praises to Pharaoh. The entire poem in our case is singing a song of praise to God, not Moses or Aaron. The effect is to make God the center of the story of what occurred in Egypt and in our lives.

The text of the poem also gives a curious element in that it is not clear if it is written in the past or the future tense. Indeed, Biblical grammar does not have tenses as we understand them. Words only take on a particular tense based on context. Therefore, because we know the preceding events of the Exodus, we assume that the poem is speaking in the past tense. In a famous commentary, the rabbis examine the opening line of the poem (אז ישיר, Az Yashir) and look at the different ways it could be read. In the commonly accepted version, it is translated as “Then he sang.” However, it could be read as, “Then he will sing.” It does get confusing because, at the end of the poem, the text again moves to the future, speaking of the sanctuary that God will establish. So, it would make sense, based on a balanced structure, that the beginning and end would be in the future tense and the middle the past. But, why would it be written that way?

The text of this famous poem is here not simply to remind us of that incredible moment of redemption thousands of years ago and God’s action in our lives then, but also the possibilities of that redemption today and the closeness of God in our lives today. The rabbis felt so strongly about this poem and its message that they included it in the daily prayers. Every day, including holidays, we sing the song of the sea.

I pray this week that we recall not only things that have happened, but we keep hope for things that will happen and remember the relationship with God that has been ever present in our lives and will continue to be.

I would also like to wish Xander Arron a Mazal Tov on his Bar Mitzvah. Please join me in celebrating with Xander and his family this coming Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rafi

Jan 21

Shabbat – 15th/16th January 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week’s Parasha, Bo, is the third of the Book of Exodus, bringing us to the climactic encounter between God and Pharaoh. There is a pause in the narrative of the plagues for the first Passover Celebration to take place. In this short diversion, we learn a few things about Passover.

First, the name, as God passes over the houses of the Israelites and only kills the first born of the Egyptians.

Second, these sequences of stories, beginning two weeks ago and continuing on for another two weeks, form the basis of the story of Passover which we recite at the Seder. One question could be, why doesn’t this narrative fall during the celebration of Passover? The rabbis were usually very careful about which readings fall when, making sure that certain passages reflect the time of year. It would seem not to be the case here. Also, why not simply include a short recitation of the story at the Seder? We’ve read it now and gone into a lot of detail of the signs and wonders that God brings; staffs turning into snakes, ten plagues, splitting of the Red Sea and the revelation at Mount Sinai. To quote the song, dayanu!, wouldn’t it have been enough?

As the rabbis are fond of teaching about the Torah, no word is superfluous – each has a meaning. So, what is the meaning here? I believe it goes beyond the simple surface reading (p’shat) of God convincing the Israelites and Egyptians of God’s awesome power. By infusing this story with multiple miracles, they become ingrained in the narrative. The story simply does not flow or even exist without the miracles. As they become a part of the story, it could be easy to either downgrade their importance or worse, become numb to them. By reciting the story every year, we are reminded of the power and astounding awe of God, and the miracles God brought.

In our lives, we are surrounded by miracles each and every day. Passover reminds us that they exist, but we need something a little closer to home so we can live them. Shabbat is just such an opportunity. By forcing ourselves to take a pause out of our days, we live the experience of the miracle of creation each and every week. By pausing and simply being on Shabbat, we see the world for what it really is, not what we are trying to make it. We cannot become numb to the miracle when we have no choice but to appreciate it. Shabbat then becomes so much more than a reminder (as Passover is), but a living testament to the marvel of the world around us.

I pray this Shabbat that we all take the time to simply be and appreciate the miracle of life all around us.

Jan 14

Shabbat – 8th/9th January 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

In about a week in the United States, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. will be commemorated. He is remembered for his heroic stand against injustice and demand for civil rights for all. His courage to take on the establishment and change it irrevocably altered the fabric of not just the United States, but perhaps the world. While the States still reverberates with the echoes of his powerful and eloquent words, there remains much work still to be done. He was driven by a need to correct wrongs he perceived in the world around him, to challenge things that were accepted and force people to take a long hard look at the order of things.

In this week’s Parsha, Va-era, we read about the next chapter in our Exodus story. The first of the seven plagues are introduced. What is the purpose of the plagues? With all of God’s power, could not God have simply taken the Israelites out of Egypt without all the suffering and destruction of the ten plagues?

If they are simply seen as a punishment, why ten times? If the purpose of punishment is to point out and correct bad behaviour (such as punishing a student for not doing their work or misbehaving in class) why does the text point out that God’s purpose was more than simply correcting Pharaoh’s bad behaviour? Several times, in fact, God says something to the effect of, I am doing what I’m doing “in order that you should know that there is none like the Lord, our God” (Exodus 8:6).

Perhaps this could help shed light on why all of Egypt is made to suffer through the plagues and not just Pharaoh. The objective was not simply to punish, or simply to have God’s name made known, but both. They are not mutually exclusive. There are certain standards of behaviour that we as a society demand. There could not be a functioning community if we did not all adhere to those norms. Yet simply adhering to those standards is not enough. From time to time, it is incumbent on us to point out people or events that do not live up to those norms. The people of Egypt did not stand up and demand better treatment of the Israelites and thus, to a level, they are just as culpable as Pharaoh. Our standards and humanity dictate that we must not rejoice in their suffering, but we must also understand why they are being punished.

These plagues then serve as a reminder that when we observe immoral behaviour, it is our duty as Jews and more importantly people in a society to speak out. The plagues are a warning of what might happen if we lose our moral compass. Everybody, from the leaders down to the lowest member of our society, has an obligation to stand up for what is right and just. Failure to do so will lead to the downfall of our society.

Martin Luther King, Jr, saw this and could not simply stand by and do nothing. He stood up, lent his voice and openly and willingly paid the price, including prison and ultimately his life. He inspired and continues to inspire many through his example.

I pray that this week we find the courage to stand up when we see injustice, for all of us to lend our voice and to constantly maintain our vigilance in order that we may continue to improve our society and never become complacent in our pursuit of justice.

Jan 07

Shabbat – 25th/26th December 2015 and 1st/2nd January 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

There is a relatively common phrase in our tradition that we repeat quite often. Kol Israel Averim Zeh b’Zeh – all of Israel is responsible one for the other. This message, an axiom of our faith, our peoplehood, our consciousness, perhaps has even greater meaning now, in these trying times. We are reading this week in the Parsha Vayechi, about the death of Jacob and how the brothers then worry about the retribution that Joseph might exact on them now that their father is no longer living. Joseph’s response to his brothers is one of comfort. Paraphrasing a bit, “Our lives have become intertwined. Even though we didn’t always get along and you sent me down to Egypt, it was for the best. I was able to sustain you all, and the entire family and will continue to do so. Have no fear, we stand together.”

Our community has taken the approach to not read this line minimally. We have enmeshed ourselves into the community at large, and read this now that we ALL are responsible for one another. By taking part in each other’s lives, sharing experiences and learning from one another, we are trying to live this axiom, expanding it from the minimal, to all humans are responsible to one another. We live this by engaging in Mitzvah Day, my taking part in the Remembrance Day Ceremony, and most recently, with a very special invitation I received to observe the Carol service at the Abbey.

Many would, and in fact, have asked, why would a rabbi go to a church and be present during a service that celebrates Christmas? My answer is simply, is twofold. One, it is a beautiful service with incredible voices taking part with theatre (all the lights are dimmed and the service is held by candlelight). Furthermore, I want to experience the service that my good friend Richard Watson, describes at Majestic. I learned a great deal about their worship service (as he has of ours by visiting several times), and I can say with even greater confidence than before, “Our lives have become intertwined. Even though we didn’t always get along, and we’ve had some challenges in the past, it was for the best. Have no fear, we stand together. We are responsible for one another.”

I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Gregorian New Year.