Nov 26

Shabbat – 20th/21st November 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week the parasha, Vayetze, opens with the travels of Jacob from his home with his parents, Isaac and Rebecca, to his new home in Haran, where his grandfather Abraham came from.  He has just fled his home due to the events of last week, where he tricked his father and cheated his brother out his blessing.  And now, understandably, Esau is angered and wishes to kill Jacob.  Rebecca, fearing for his life, sends Jacob away to her ancestral lands in Haran.  Jacob stops for the night and is completely alone, completely vulnerable.

It is in this luminal space that he has the encounter with the angles and his first with God.  He has let go of what came before and finally opens to what may come ahead.  Jacob is one of my favourite characters in the bible because of the humanity he displays and the growth he undergoes throughout his story.  I remember in many of my travels and places where I have lived, there is always a time when I have left where I was, yet have not yet arrived where I am going.  It is in those moments, when I have a deep encounter with myself.  What have I accomplished where I was?  Who was I in that place?  What do I want in my new home?  Who will I be there?  These conversations come about as I move from one destination to another, usually through a long plane ride.  Staring off into the horizon, I am alone with my thoughts and can be truly and brutally honest.

Jacob has that space on the mountain where he dreams, when he is returning to the home of grandfather.  We all have that space whether going on journey to and from our ‘ancestral lands’ or simply going to and from work or school.  Those in-between spaces, where we occasionally find ourselves, allow us to re-examine our lives without the distractions of the home, work, school, or other permanent structures.  By taking ourselves out, as Jacob did, we leave ourselves open to the possibility of greater self-discovery and to acknowledge what Jacob discovers, “God was in this place and I did not know it.”

Nov 19

Shabbat – 13th/14th November 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

It’s the time of year, when in our yearly cycle, we arrive at the story of Jacob, my favourite character. It is in this portion that Jacob, through the help of his mother Rebecca, deceives his father Isaac through an elaborate ruse and steals his brother’s, Esau, blessing. Jacob wears the clothing of Esau so that he will smell like him; he cooks a meal just like Esau; he puts a woollen cloth on his arm so that he will feel like the hairy Esau; and finally, Isaac is blind and cannot see who it is really who is serving him a meal. However, the sound of Jacob’s voice cannot be masked, and Isaac does in fact realize, or think, that the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the rest of his senses tell him otherwise. Was Isaac really being blind or simply choosing not to see?

How many times in our lives do we have the information we need, but we choose not to hear? How many of us have seen a sign that says ‘Wet Paint’ and the first thing we do is touch it – and end up with wet paint on our hands? We saw the sign, we perhaps even smelled the wet paint, yet we did not believe what we saw, or hear what we had heard. So many times the answers we seek, the information we need, is right in front of us and we only need the faith to trust what we see and hear.

The tactile physical sense is sometimes too dominant. It can lead us astray if we ignore the gifts of discernment and judgment. By taking in the big picture, incorporating the entire scene our senses are reporting, can we truly make an informed decision without jumping to conclusions?

Nov 12

Shabbat – 6th/7th November 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

It’s the time of year, when in our yearly cycle, we arrive at the story of Jacob, my favourite character. It is in this portion that Jacob, through the help of his mother Rebecca, deceives his father Isaac through an elaborate ruse and steals his brother’s, Esau, blessing. Jacob wears the clothing of Esau so that he will smell like him; he cooks a meal just like Esau; he puts a woollen cloth on his arm so that he will feel like the hairy Esau; and finally, Isaac is blind and cannot see who it is really who is serving him a meal. However, the sound of Jacob’s voice cannot be masked, and Isaac does in fact realize, or think, that the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the rest of his senses tell him otherwise. Was Isaac really being blind or simply choosing not to see?

How many times in our lives do we have the information we need, but we choose not to hear? How many of us have seen a sign that says ‘Wet Paint’ and the first thing we do is touch it – and end up with wet paint on our hands? We saw the sign, we perhaps even smelled the wet paint, yet we did not believe what we saw, or hear what we had heard. So many times the answers we seek, the information we need, is right in front of us and we only need the faith to trust what we see and hear.

The tactile physical sense is sometimes too dominant. It can lead us astray if we ignore the gifts of discernment and judgment. By taking in the big picture, incorporating the entire scene our senses are reporting, can we truly make an informed decision without jumping to conclusions?

Nov 05

Shabbat – 30th/31st October 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Of all the episodes in Abraham’s story, this week’s Parasha, Vayera, tells us perhaps of his finest hour.  God has informed him that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed because of the evil and immoral people who make up its population.  Abraham has the audacity to stand there and argue with God and, more importantly, makes his point heard and causes God to reconsider.  Because of the merit of the potential few righteous people that could still be there, the city should be spared, says Abraham.  The entire society should not be cursed and fated for destruction because of the evils of the majority; it should be saved because of the goodness of the few.  This powerful conversation firmly establishes Abraham as the forefather of our tradition, not only because he argued, but because he stood up and tried to make his voice heard for good, even though ultimately, the cities are still destroyed.

Unfortunately, sometimes, our efforts are not always enough, but that should never stop us from making the attempt, even to the highest authority.

I pray that we will always have the courage to make a stand, in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds, to make certain that our voices are always heard.

Oct 31

Shabbat – 23rd/24th October 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

This week, Jews all across the UK will be taking part in Shabbat UK. One of the ideas behind this initiative is to try and increase Shabbat Observance among the Jewish Community. I have enjoyed the benefits of Shabbat Observance throughout my life and highly recommend it.

Shabbat is that pause, the parenthesis, that we need each week to remind ourselves of our essential truth of our existence. We are, at our most basic, human beings, and once a week, we need to simply be, not do. That is Shabbat at its most fundamental. The laws of Shabbat are designed around that concept. If one then approaches Shabbat based on what you are not allowed to do, rather than what you can discover about yourself, then you are missing the point. I urge you, do not think about the things you will be missing, but focus instead on what you can add. Don’t concentrate on not being able to use your phone, drive, or check your email. Look at the beauty of being able to spend time together as a family as you walk to shul, play a board game, or do some study.

Just as we are incapable of defining ourselves by a negative, I implore you, do not characterise your Shabbat by what it is not. Shabbat is a break, a pause, an opportunity. You only need to seize it.

We encourage everyone to add something new to their Shabbat observance this week. If you usually drive to shul but live close enough to walk – then walk. If you rarely light candles – light them. If you normally spend Shabbat afternoon watching TV, try a book instead.

I look forward to seeing you this coming Shabbat.

Oct 28

Shabbat – 16th/17th October 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Too often, when calamities befall us, we look to assign blame on any number of random factors. When those reasons run out, the term “fate” is substituted. It was the will of God, or it was meant to be, or some other similar reason is given. How many of us have used just such an expression to try and explain away a difficult or tragic moment? I know I have, while searching for meaning or context in a particularly challenging situation, used this reliable verbal get-out-of-jail-free card. As the author of the book of Ecclesiastes strives to explain, why is there an imbalance in the way the world should work? The righteous should be rewarded and the evil punished, yet we all know from experience this is not always the case.

Harold Kushner devotes an entire book to this premise, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”.  We, not only as Jews but as people in general, have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to explain this illogic and the best answer seems to be that we have no control. Some throw up their hands in surrender to “fate” – whatever will be will be.

I refuse to accept such an explanation. To use such an explanation repudiates any semblance of responsibility we as human beings have for our own actions. In the bridging portion between last week’s reading of Parashat Bereishit and this week’s Parasha of Noah, the text goes to great lengths to justify God’s actions. It is not simply that God decided to destroy humanity, saving Noah and his family, but that wickedness and evil pervade society and that, not God, led to its downfall. The evils that befall a society are not caused by God, but what we inflict on one another. It may be what God promised would occur, but it is the perfect recipe for what happens when a society breaks down, when respect for one another is no longer present, when individualism and not communal responsibility is the norm. The flood is simply the means, not the cause, for what happened.

It is through our own actions, not fate, not some undefined force, that we can determine our future.

I pray that we are ever mindful of our actions, that we take full responsibility for them and diminish the impact of our activities by the consequences and impact we have on the world around us.

Oct 15

Shabbat – 9th/10th October 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Once again we have arrived at the beginning. This coming Shabbat, we begin the cycle of the Torah anew when we read Parashat Bereshit. The question has been asked, why does the Torah begin with the letter bet, the second letter of the Hebrew Alphabet? Surely, it would make much more sense for the text to have started with the letter Aleph, the first letter! There have been several reasons brought forth by the rabbinic commentators throughout the ages; for example, that aleph, which has the numerical value of one, represents God. One of the more compelling ones I’ve come across gives a fresh take on what the letter Aleph represents. In the vast majority of cases, the letter Aleph is synonymous with the number one and thus God. But, what if the letter Aleph was not representing God, but ourselves? The letter which we must master is ourselves. We are the aleph.

What does this mean? As we have just come out of the High Holyday Season, we have spent the better part of a month looking inward, reflecting and coming to terms with ourselves and all that we have done in the past year. It is a marathon session of internal struggle that, hopefully leads to a clearer picture of who you want to be in the coming year. It is precisely at that moment, when the holidays finish, that we immediately set to work. To assist us in that work, the Torah, our great instruction manual, is restarted. Because we have done the preliminary work, the aleph, then and only then, can we move on to bet. We are reminded to not let the hard work of the past month go to waste. There is a step by step progression, like the letters of the aleph bet, that will lead us on the right path. All we must do is continue putting one foot forward in front of the other and continue the work we started over a month ago.

Oct 08

Shabbat – 2nd/3rd October 2015

By SAMS IT Administrator | Weekly Words Archive

Succot is a holiday which, according to our tradition, is meant to teach about joy and celebration.  It comes at a time when we have just survived a gruelling section of the calendar when we have fasted and put our souls through an extended cleansing ritual. Finally, there is a time to step back and rejoice. It was a time when the farmers would be at their wealthiest, as they would have just concluded the harvest.

However, the tradition wants to ensure that we do not undo all the positive steps we have taken in the preceding few weeks. Succot is not about celebrating with wild abandon through excess, but rejoicing in what we have and being satisfied with that. This value is espoused in the way we celebrate. We are commanded to build a Succah, a minimalist structure that we are required to dwell in for the duration of the holiday. We are taught that while we may be awash in material blessings, the true blessings come from the way in which we live our lives, not in the way accumulate things. We can grow accustomed to enjoying the excess, but at the moment of their greatest wealth, the Israelites were commanded to remember where the material blessings had come from and how they are still required to live a life that is in keeping with their value, no matter how full or empty their wallets are.

We are living in a time when some of our material blessings are fleeting, but just as when they are plenty, let us strive to remember that our fulfilment comes not from the things we don’t have but the people we love and cherish. Succot comes to teach us that even this frail hut filled with guests and our loved ones is a greater source of happiness than our luxurious and comfortable homes.