Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dec 20

Dvar Torah: Parsha Vayishlach Drosha

By Russell Goldsmith | Dvar Torah

This Shabbat’s Dvar Torah was given by Jonny Freedman

At the start of this week’s pasha Vayishlach, we read about the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Jacob faces meeting his brother again with great trepidation. It’s not surprising, as at their last contact, just before Jacob fled, Esau had sworn to kill him for stealing his birthright. Jacob sends out servants to bribe his brother with livestock and riches. The servants return reporting that Esau has 400 men with him. Jacob determines that all is lost and goes so far as to split his camp in to two so one half will survive when Esau inevitably attacks. He then prays to God, claiming unworthiness, but reminding God of God’s promise to make Jacob’s seed immeasurable as the “sand of the sea.” It’s interesting that God doesn’t answer – perhaps he is growing fed up of our patriarch’s Chutzpah – he seems to take, take, take as Beverley so eloquently reminded us in her Drosha last week.

Jacob determines to appease Esau with a succession of extravagant gifts delivered by his servants. After a restless night wrestling with an angel (and probably his own conscience), Jacob finally gets the blessing he had earlier sought from God. Obscurely this is to change his name from Yaacov to Israel, which may have been somewhat of a let down based on what we know of Jacob, but the Torah does not tell us his response.

Adding to our concerns already voiced about Jacob’s character, he ensures the most ‘dispensable’ family members – the handmaids and their children – were in front and his favourites Joseph and Rachel were at the rear.

Astonishingly, in Chapter 33 Vs 4 we read that Esau ran to meet Jacob, embraced him, fell on his neck, kissed him and wept. So reconciliation at last between the two warring brothers….. but was it?

Judaism has quite a lot to say about reconciliation and forgiveness. What we can learn from this is that there is far more to it than kissing and making up. No apology was sought or offered by either brother. We are told that granting forgiveness is a critical part of forgiveness and reconciliation. In his book “The Power of Forgiveness,” Elie Wiesel refers to a Jewish view that in order to be forgiven, one must first admit to wrongful action and apologize. The German government, in response to his request, did indeed issue a formal apology at the Knesset in Israel for its involvement in the Holocaust. As well as the importance of allowing the wrongdoer to atone, we are also commanded to accept someone’s apology in order to facilitate his or her own spiritual development.

Although in our tradition Esau is portrayed as the villain I think that each has a responsibility to seek forgiveness for their actions and/or words.

Another interesting observation is that following this joyous meeting of the two brothers and their clans, we are told that they next meet some years later at their father’s deathbed. So no attempt is made to rebuild their fractured relationship in any ongoing manner. This should be a lesson for all of us as we reflect on the relationships in our own lives that may be in need of repair.

I’m going to leave the final words on Forgiveness and Reconciliation with Nelson Mandela. In his Inaugural speech on becoming President of South Africa in 1994, he sought to heal the wounds of his divided nation. He said – “The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come…. Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon”

Dec 15

Reflections on SAMS Mitzvah Day 2016

By Russell Goldsmith | Blogs

Here’s a post from Mr Mitzvah Day himself, Nick Grant

SAMS undertook it first Mitzvah Day event back in November 2009, and has been supporting the initiative since then.

This year, we undertook 9 events:

Some of these events were self-initiated, some assigned by St Albans Council, and the Stem-Cell Registration opportunity came from Mitzvah Day HQ.

For me, August, September and October bring on the first round of stress, looking for initiatives that might be suitable for our community, and that would coherently work together.

We try to find a bunch of activities that all age-groups and all competencies can participate in. What was difficult this year was St Albans Council agreeing their tasks that they could handover to us, and that would benefit the local area.

Come the start of November, it’s all about drawing the attention of the SAMS community to all the Mitzvah Day activities. Lots of emails, and lots of face-to face discussions, seem to be required. And then to find a team-leader for each of the activities.

Gaining involvement has got easier over the years; SAMS is learning from one year to the next on what to expect and what is expected from them!

Except for the Stem-Cell Registration, our events were very well supported, with over 25% of the synagogue membership getting involved, so no complaints about participation overall.

As for the Stem-Cell Registration initiative, this was problematic, as we only got a few 16- 30 yr. olds to turn up. The Stem-Cell Registration Desk was manned by Anthony Nolan from 09:30 – 1:30pm.

Understandably, many of the 18-22 yr. olds were away at university. I guess some 16-18yr olds didn’t want to get up or come out, and for some 22 -30 yr. olds their social life took precedence. We have many 16 -30 yr. olds, and it proved an interesting challenge to try to get their interest. Has anyone got a good idea how to spark their interest for next Mitzvah Day?

mitzvahdayjcFrom a publicity viewpoint we did well (thank you, Russell); this year we got a described photo included in both the St Albans Review and the Jewish Chronicle (left).

Nick Grant

Dec 11

Dvar Torah: Vayetze ויצא – Genesis 28:10 to 32:3

By Russell Goldsmith | Dvar Torah

This Shabbat’s Dvar Torah was given by Beverly Cohen

Here’s the Deal …

The drash in this week’s Masorti ‘Reflections’ declares that “Jacob is a symbol of trust and deep reserves of faith.” I confess find this very hard to understand.

You could argue that Jacob is a bit of a schlemiel. He was unlucky enough to be born second, and so not in line for his father’s blessing. He deceived his father and defrauded his brother – but it wasn’t really his fault: his mother made him do it!

Jacob finds himself alone in the wilderness. He didn’t choose to be there – he had to flee to this wasteland to escape the wrath of his brother. But howsoever he arrived, it was there, alone, that he has a wondrous dream – a ladder from the earth to the heavens, with Angels linking the two. And God, standing beside Jacob, makes an unconditional promise: “I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob was lucky – there were no strings attached to God’s promise. God didn’t ask Jacob for obedience, or for any demonstrations of faith – no tests, no sacrifices as he had asked of Abraham and Isaac.
And how does Jacob respond? He says “If God remains with me; If He protects me on this journey; If He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear; and If I return safe to my father’s house: [only then] the Lord shall be my God.” What Chutzpah! Who would have the temerity to lay down conditions to God? Jacob appears to be a consummate – or at the very least an audacious – deal-maker. Donald Trump eat your heart out!

However, not all Jacob’s deals are so advantageous: 7 years’ hard labour earns him not Rachel, the love of his life; but Leah with the weak eyes. For most of the 20 years he spends working for his uncle Laban, he seems to be hen-pecked and manipulated – ‘bid and bargained for like beans in a bazaar’: Leah “hires” him from Rachel for the price of a few mandrakes. Laban keeps changing the terms and conditions of Jacob’s service, apparently at whim.

Indeed, this hen-pecking starts well before he stays with Laban. It is at Rebecca’s insistence that Jacob deceives his father and swindles his brother Esau out of his birthright.

So what is Jacob? Arch manipulator or victim of other people’s machinations? Both, I guess.

In a drash on this parsha, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that when Jacob had his dream about the Stairway to Heaven, he was in the middle of a journey from one danger to another. He had left home because Esau had vowed to kill him – and his stay in Laban’s household was to be no bed of roses. According to Sacks, “Jacob is the man who has his deepest spiritual experiences alone, at night in the face of danger and far from home.” He is both the victim and the beneficiary of happenstance: “The Lord is present in this place and I did not know it!”, he says.

In Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio declares “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Admittedly, this pronouncement is laced with pomposity and irony. Nevertheless, you could argue that someone like Solomon was born great; Abraham, Moses and David certainly achieved greatness; but the hapless Jacob had greatness thrust upon him.

Jacob is not so much a hero as one able to make the best of bad situations – even if those difficult situations are of his own making: he is a Survivor.

I started out in my youth believing that the Tanach is a chronicle of heroes and saints and sages, demonstrating the ideals of virtue, faith and wisdom. I was embarrassingly naïve: it has taken me more than 60 years to come to terms with the fact that heroism is found not just in heroes, holiness not just in saints. The Torah celebrates and respects humanity, warts and all. Our patriarchs were not two-dimensional paragons of perfection. Jacob was a flawed, a cracked human being. But, in the words of Leonard Cohen’s achingly poignant song ‘Anthem’: “There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in — that’s how the light gets in.”