Monthly Archives: February 2016

Feb 15

Shabbat – 12th/13th February 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

There is a new concept introduced into this week’s parasha, Terumah. It is not the idea to build a place of worship. That is not unique or radical. Many faiths and religions make it a point to construct a centralised place of worship or gathering where the rituals are to take place. What makes the construction of the Mishkan (centralised worship area) special is the process. The project is not entrusted to just a few people or an outside group of artisans or specialists. The materials and skills are to be sourced from within the community. All are to be responsible for the building.

This is the central message of not just the construction of the Mishkan but of Judaism itself. For generations, the Israelites as slaves in Egypt had all their needs provided for. They became dependent on others to the point that their will for autonomous action was broken. Now they are being told to take their lives and destiny in their own hands.

We are a faith that forces us to make things happen for ourselves, whether that be ritual observance or simple everyday actions. We are not a religion where others will act on our behalf. No one will light candles for us, keep kosher for us, pray for us, learn for us or repair the world for us. No one will build our community for us. We must do those things on our own. We as individuals must take the responsibility seriously. Each and every Israelite took it upon themselves to make a donation according to the generosity of their hearts. No one was expected to do it all, yet all were expected to do something.

As we have grown and evolved as a community, we depend on each and everyone of us to do what they can. We are not unique by virtue of being a community. What sets us apart is a drive to give something to the community: to not have it done by Someone Else. It is easy to rely on our ubiquitous friend Someone Else. We all know that person. The person who is always present, always volunteers, always completes the minyan, always arrives to set up, is always there to learn. This parasha is coming to teach us that we must not allow Someone Else to do that for us. We must step up and not depend on the rabbi, the community or the synagogue to do the things that we can, and must, do for ourselves. Our tradition, our synagogue and our heritage demands nothing less. Each of us has a role to play. Each of us must give of our talents and our resources to the best of our ability. Each of us must take personal responsibility and realize that Someone Else isn’t available to do the work that needs to be done. By doing that, we have a personal vested interest and ownership of our Mishkan.

Ever since our fledgling days as a community, we have opened our homes for prayer and learning. We have taught each other’s children. We have driven them to camps. We have laughed and cried together, sung and danced and debated and argued with one another. We have literally built this community from scratch and we will continue to do so. But it must be through the continued involvement of all. Where you have a suggestion, offer it and help implement it. Where you can give of your time, don’t just offer it, make it happen. Don’t offer empty words or vague promises. Contribute, as the Israelites did, with a generous heart and concrete actions.

I pray this week that we learn to become Someone Else; that we, just as the Israelites, contribute, to the best of our ability, to the construction and maintenance of our holy endeavour; that we are not satisfied by sitting on the sidelines offering advice or opinions without any intention of getting involved; that w e take our tradition and our community in our hands.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

Feb 06

Shabbat – 5th/6th February 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

What does it mean to be a stranger?  Is it someone who does not belong?  Or is it someone who is not familiar?  Is it someone who believes differently?  Who looks differently?  Does the definition matter?

In this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, twice we are admonished on how a stranger should be treated:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 22:20).”

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt(23:9).”

The rabbis are fascinated by the repetition of what seems like the exact same commandment.  There is a dictum in rabbinic exegesis that there are no superfluous words in the Torah, therefore, any words or phrases that are repeated must have a meaning aside from simply a repetition of an idea.

Some agree that the repetition of the phrase is referring to two different kinds of strangers, a physical stranger and a spiritual stranger.

There is another thread that some follow which states that the repetition is referring to different behaviours that we should refrain from, taunting with words and with actions.

What both these verses have in common however, is the reason for the commandment.  At that time, we knew what it was to be strangers and for the first time, we were moving to a position of being in the majority.  Yet we were comma nded not to simply accept the morals of the time, but to strive to be better, to learn from our experiences so that no one else would be subjected to what we had gone through.  We were not to model ourselves on the societies that existed, but to create a new moral compact with a higher standard.

Today, as we have existed for most of the past two thousand years, we are in the minority and we have a collective memory of how we have been treated as a minority.  We know how those just like us in the greater society should be treated, whether they be immigrants, refugees, or even converts into our own community.  We are charged not only to welcome them, but to fight for them, in whatever way they might be oppressed, verbal, physical, or otherwise.

From our experience comes a wisdom that we hope to not only impart, but make a part of the collective consciousness of all the world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi