Monthly Archives: May 2016

May 26

Shabbat – 27th/28th May 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Dvar Torah

In our daily interactions with people, there are certain things we say to one another and don’t really expect a sincere answer back. The most obvious example is a simple greeting, where we ask, how are you? More often than not, the response is a canned insincere answer as there usually is an understanding that the asker doesn’t really care and is merely being polite and the respondent is echoing that politeness and giving an appropriate answer of fine, or ok, or something along those lines. Something that conveys the same meaning and sincerity of the question.

Something I like to do, not to put people on the spot, but to actually illustrate my care, is to follow up with a question. I want that person to know that I am genuinely interested in what they have to say and I am not just asking to fill space or to fulfill some social obligation of making conversation. For example, if someone says they’re fine, I will ask why? It is revealing about the human condition that many times the answer to that question is simply, because nothing is bad.

We are conditioned to ignore when things are not going badly and to focus when things go awry. The order of normality is disregarded because it is normal and expected. This pattern is seen in this week’s parsha, Behar. There are a series of blessings and curses, depending on if we follow God’s laws. The rabbis were puzzled as to why the curses far outnumber the blessings. Is it simply because we are human beings and we focus on the negative? We are very specific when detailing things that are not going well, if we are in pain, or suffering a loss. Indeed, when you stub your toe, you exclaim that your toe hurts.

But, what about when things go well? How specific are you? How detailed are you about the joy you experienced? If you have not stubbed your toe and are not in pain, do you detail the lack of pain in your toe? Of course not. That is not the way we communicate.

Indeed, the rabbi’s teach that the Torah is written in the language of the people and therefore, the blessings are written about in a general, yet all-encompassing way and the curses are written in a detailed, yet limited fashion. So, it would be incorrect to see the curses as outnumbering the blessings, as they are extremely constrained, whereas the blessings could be without limit. The text needs to detail the potential ill effects of disobeying God in great detail, but just like our modern communications, if things are going well, the text does not need to convey what that would look like in great detail. In broad generalities, we are given a picture of a society living in harmony with God’s will.

I would also like to wish Alfie Keene a Mazal Tov on his Bar Mitzvah. Join me as we come together celebrate with Alfie and his family this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rafi

May 20

Shabbat – 20th/21st May 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Dvar Torah

In Parahsat Emor, we are introduced to a very interesting concept; that of our responsibility of keeping God’s name holy. To illustrate the point, the Torah relates the following story:

“There came out from among the Israelites the son of an Israelite woman and he was the son of an Egyptian man. And the son of the Israelite woman fought in the camp against an Israelite man. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name [of God] in blasphemy and they brought him to Moshe; the name of his mother was Shelomit bat Divri from the tribe of Dan…

“And God spoke to Moshe saying, Take the blasphemer out of the camp, and all those who heard shall place their hands on his head and then the whole congregation shall stone him.

“And say to the Israelites, Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; and one who pronounces the [four-letter] Name of God shall be put to death. The whole congregation shall stone him, both stranger and citizen; for pronouncing the Name, he shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:10-16).

On the surface, this concept could be troubling. We are the protectors of the Name? Us, humans, imperfect? Why would God cede some of that divine responsibility to us? Does this not make God vulnerable? I think yes, it does and I further think, yes, that is absolutely the point. We are told to be a positive influence wherever we go, “A Light unto the Nations.” By our mere presence, we can instill others to holiness. There have been multiple occasions when strangers see me walking on the street and acknowledge me with some comment along the lines of, “Oh, you’re Jewish” or “You’re part of the God’s Chosen People.” The mere sight of my kippah and my Jewishness can inspire others. In the same vein, if I were seen participating or acting in a way that inappropriate, I could run the risk of desecrating the Name of God as well. As we read also in the week’s parsha, ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני יהוה מקדשכם, “You must not desecrate My holy name; I shall be sanctified amidst the Israelites; I, the Lord, sanctify you.”

Week after week we read in the media about clergy or other public figures who have desecrated the Name through immoral conduct. Sometimes the desecration is a matter of attacking other people, including teachers of Torah in public. Our portion is a reminder that humans have the capacity to destroy not only their own reputation or that of others but even God’s reputation as our source of holiness. As we prepare for Shabbat, let us remember that the capacity to sanctify this day and to make God’s name holy in the world, is entrusted to us. May we each accept this responsibility with awe, with wisdom, with devotion and with love.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rafi

May 12

Shabbat – 13th/14th May 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | This Weeks Words

We as humans strive to categorise everything around us, to bring order to chaos.  Whether that be in our studies of language, nature, history or even religion. Sometimes those classifications are based on obvious patterns and sometimes they are based on permanent status.

In this week’s Parsha, Kedoshim, we are introduced to the holiness code, a set of rules and principles that we are to follow, because “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” We seek to imitate the divine to become holy. In doing so, we seek to recreate the first moments of creation, where God began creation by separating; light from dark, heavens from earth, water from sky and dry land from the sea.

It might seem then that in dividing and classifying things, we are creating a hierarchy of importance, or holiness. This is holy and that is not, therefore the holy object is better than the profane. If we are to be a holy people seeking to imitate God, it would follow then that anyone who does not do this or believe this is somehow less holy than us. This is a dangerous path to walk down, for by devaluing something, or even worse, someone, we take the first steps toward allowing horrible things to happen, whether that be destruction of a thing, or a person. We can rationalise it for they are less than we are, and therefore not worthy of the care and respect something of higher value would receive.

Most often, the opposite of holy is said to be profane. The dichotomy established is a black and white scale: Holy or unholy, sacred or profane and better or worse. Something holy could be made profane through an act of desecration, but something profane could never be made holy. The object will never attain a higher spiritual level than where it is. The body will always be profane as will the conduct of business. However, what if there is another way to see the world? What if it is not so clear cut?

Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook teaches an astounding different take on this categorisation: “There is nothing unholy; there is only the holy and the not yet holy.” An object or activity is not limited to its present status. Thus, it is not holy is good and profane is bad and not even holy and profane are just different, it is holy is good and not yet holy is working on or potential for good. We as a people are commanded to increase the level of holiness in the world, not to categorise and minimise it, but raise it up and expand it. Through study of our heritage and living by its morals and ethics and laws, there is no reason why the profane or mundane activities of food, business and love could not be made holy, just as praying, Shabbat and fasting are. We seek to be holy and make those around us holy, because we seek to be like God. We seek to imitate God not by separating things to make them holy, but instilling in everyone and everything around us a sense of holiness. We seek to understand that there is potential in all whom we meet and all that we do, for we can be holy people.

I pray that we see the inherent potential of all around us and to not allow us or our peers to become trapped in their current states, but to always seek to achieve, grow and attain new heights of holiness.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rafi

May 05

Shabbat – 6th/7th May 2016

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, we read the highly appropriate portion of Aharai Mot, literally meaning ‘after the death’. Highly appropriate in some ways as this week we commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day according to the Jewish Calendar. I sit here thinking, attempting to put into words or context, the enormity of this horrific event, and I find myself without the capacity to do adequate justice to the assault on my senses. Like Aaron in the portion, I am stunned into silence. A few weeks ago, we read that two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, perished. Aaron’s only reaction that is related in the text is one of silence. This week the narrative picks up from that moment and Aaron is again silent, while being given the intricate details of the Yom Kippur rituals.

Sometimes the only appropriate or possible reaction is silence. The world does not stop and the work must continue. We each find ways to mourn and grieve, cope and process. Sometimes we need a little push, as Moses gives to Aaron. If any of us need a push, look no further than the events in the world around us. Hatred is not banished. Bigotry, intolerance, and inequality are rife throughout our world. To truly honour the memory of those whose lives were cut short in an explosion of anger and hatred 70 years ago, let us rally to the promise we made to the world, Never Again! Let us dedicate ourselves to fulfilling the solemn pledge by bringing light, compassion and understanding into our world.

I pray for the souls of those were taken from us, and for the strength to immerse ourselves in the work of building a world where this type memorial will never again be necessary.

I would also like to wish a Mazal Tov to Daniel Levitan. Join me on Shabbat as we come together to celebrate on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah.

Shabbat Sholom
Rabbi Rafi