Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mar 31

Shabbat – 1st/2nd April 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

In this week’s parasha, Shimini, we read about the lists of the animals we are permitted to eat and those animals which are prohibited. We might expect the pig, the animal that probably most exemplifies trief, to be at the front of the list. Actually, it is near the end.

Even more surprisingly, the pig does not violate the standards of kashrut as flagrantly as other animals do. The Torah teaches that in order to be kosher, animals must chew their cud and have cloven hoofs. The pig does not chew its cud, but it does have cloven hoofs-so we might expect that it would be less offensive than animals that meet neither criterion.

Knowing this, how might we understand how aversion to pork has come to be suc h an important and sometimes significant part of our Jewish identity? Biblical scholars have suggested an array of historical possibilities, but there is a beautiful midrash that could shed some light.

As we learned, Kashrut for mammals depends on two main characteristics; one external (the cloven hoof) and one internal (chewing the cud). It is very easy to determine the first category. A cursory inspection of an animal will easily determine if it satisfies the hoof criteria. But the second category requires a bit more understanding of physiology and might not be enough simply observing the animal.

The same could be said about our relations with people. We can be relatively sure about the initial first impressions we have of people we meet. However, a profound and lasting relationship is dependent on knowing someone on the inside as well. Someone who acts in a certain way externally, or in public, but on the inside is very different lacks integrity and authenticity. In fact, one might say that person is deliberately trying to deceive you.

Our rabbis teach us that is exactly what the pig is trying to do. On the outside, it is one thing, but on the inside, it is something else entirely. That kind of behaviour is something we should avoid at all costs and root out from among us and that is why it is unfit, not kosher, for use.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

Mar 24

Shabbat – 25th/26th March 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

We go through our daily routines very often not thinking about the implications or greater meaning of those particular actions or moments, more than likely because those moments are simply mundane repetitions of actions we have done countless times before. Rituals are put in place to make sure that a particular meaningful or transformative moment does not pass without being marked in some way. Whether they are lighting candles on Shabbat or a birthday, apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah or champagne on New Year’s, there are certain things that we do that transform a normal moment into a momentous one.

This week, in Parsha Tzav, we read about the inauguration of the Cohanim, the priests who will officiate at the Mishkan, the tabernacle which will become the place of centralised worship for the Israelites. The Bible goes to great detail about the service, what oils to use, what garments, how many times to wash and so on.  The question then is what is so significant that requires this level of detail and pageantry? We already knew that Aaron and his sons were going to be invested as officiates at the Mishkan. What then is the symbolism of this event? Surely it must be more than to confirm something we already knew?

Perhaps, it was to confirm something a bit more subtle, yet exceedingly more complex.  The nature of our relationship with God up to that point had been a one sided. God performed miracles and we benefited.  Now, the nature of that relationship is fundamentally changing. The covenant is being fully im plemented and a two way relationship is being established. Now, we are offering to God sacrifices and in turn we are expecting God’s presence and protection. This fundamental change is what is being marked by the elaborate inauguration rituals, not simply a new job for Aaron and his sons.

I pray that we take the time to mark those moments in our lives that are meaningful and not simply let them pass by. Whether they be joyous or mourning, take the time to contemplate each moment as important.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

Mar 17

Shabbat – 18th/19th March 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, I had the privilege once again of being asked to be a part of a Beit Din. The difference this time was that it was not here in London, nor Spain (where I went last year), but Stockholm, Sweden. My good friend, and classmate from seminary, Rabbi Ute Steyer, had a few candidates for conversion but required a third rabbi.

For those who are not aware, Stockholm has approximately 10,000 Jews. They are organised in a very different way from what we might be used to here in the UK. The central unit is the community. Rabbi Steyer is technically not the rabbi of a synagogue, but of the community, holding the same status as the Archbishop of the Swedish Church.

I never cease to be amazed at how each of the communities I have been privileged to be in over the years are so similar. Yes, they are in different countries, with different languages, traditions, histories, and customs. Yet, there are certain commonalties that mark them as uniquely and definitively Jewish. Those commonalities have their root in this week’s parsha, as we begin the book of Vayikra, or Leviticus. The main focus on this book is not simply the sacrifices, but establishing a common practice for the people to unite with.

Beliefs are not necessarily the central tenant of our religion. The practices are what unite us. Those rituals allow me to travel from the US, to the UK, to Australia, to Sweden, to Spain, to South America, secure in the knowledge that we are bound together as a people by what we do, and the way those actions inform our beliefs. That system has its origin thousands of years ago, as we read this week from the parsha.

Mar 11

Shabbat – 11th/12th March 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, we come to the end of the building of the first worship space that the Israelites are commanded to build: the mishkan or Tabernacle.

Some of the elements we are commanded to build should seem familiar.  Those same elements continue to exist today in our sanctuary.  We learn in the Talmud, in Tractate Megillah 29a, that we should construct a mikdash me’at, a small or miniature Temple.  Taken literally, the places where we worship are to resemble the original Tabernacle.

In place of the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, we have the Aaron ha’Kodesh, the Holy Ark.

In place of the fire on the Alter that never went out, we have the eternal light in the Ark Wall.

In place of the Alter, we have the Bimah, where instead of animals, we offer our prayers.

In place of the Ten Commandments carried in the Ark, we have the Torah Scrolls.

The purpose of the physical structure still has not changed.  As we learn from the text, we are to create Holy Spaces, such as synagogues and places of study, where the presence of God may dwell among us, not in those structures.  The purpose is not to build a home for God, but a place that raises our level of holiness so that God may dwell with us.  Just as it was for our ancestors, wandering in the desert, we too are commanded to not simply create a building where God will dwell, but a place that is holy and causes us to continue living a holy life.  Only in that way can we access the Divine and make it a part of our lives.  Not through a building, but what the building allows us to do!

I pray this week that we do not focus on the physical symbols around us, but we are reminded of the holiness that we can achieve and the holiness that may fill us by welcoming in the Divine into our lives.

I would like to wish Louis Flitterman a Mazal Tov on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. Join me as we celebrate together on Shabbat, together with the Flitterman family.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi

Mar 03

Shabbat – 4th/5th March 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

‘If I enjoy doing it, or if it is relaxing, am I allowed to do it on Shabbat? It is not work to me, it’s fun. It does not bother me to have to work on Shabbat.’

These are a few of the many responses I receive when discussing the Laws of Shabbat. There is a misconception when the Torah tells us that work is not allowed on Shabbat. The text is not referring to our jobs, but to something else entirely.

In this week’s parsha, Vayakhel, the text interrupts the flow of the narrative (once again) of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) to remind of us the importance of Shabbat. We have a repetition of the detailed instructions that have been given over the past few weeks, with one notable difference. Why would the text do this?

We know that the purpose of the Mishkan is to raise the holiness of the Israelites to a level where God will be able to dwell in their midst. The Tabernacle is a symbol and encouragement of the potential holiness of the people. The structure itself is not holy in and of itself, but in what it represents. With this knowledge, it follows naturally the mention of Shabbat at this point. Shabbat is meant to be a permanent Mishkan in our lives. How is this accomplished?

Rashi (one of the most famous Biblical commentators, who came from France in the Middle Ages), asserts that because the text places the mention of Shabbat right in the middle of the construction narrative, we are to learn something very important. The types of work being done to build the are precisely the types of work that are not to be done on Shabbat. Rashi finds 39 categories of work that were involved, such as burning, painting and cooking. This is the type of work being discussed, and in that context has nothing to do with what we enjoy or if it relaxes us. It is meant to show that work should have a higher purpose than simply construction or accumulation of things. If that were the case, there would be no such thing as a weekend or holiday. Six days a week we are supposed to labour in an attempt to control our world, alter creation and perfect our lives. The seventh day we have to rest and cease work because we have already completed the tabernacle of our lives, Shabbat. That is to say, we do not need to perfect the world any further, because on the seventh day God is already in our midst.

Taking a step back, relishing in the holiness we have tried to create during the week, is the goal. I pray that this week we feel that holiness in our midst, as we pull back and concentrate on what really matters in our lives. Not the blind obsession with work, but work for a higher purpose. A holy purpose.

Shabbat Shalom.