Tazria-Metsorah – More than Skin Deep (Apr 21)

According to NHS England, 95% of people aged 11 to 30 will experience acne caused by hormonal imbalances. Knowing the medical reason, however, doesn’t prevent the occurrence nor does it remove any feelings of self-consciousness.

By contrast, Tazria-Metsorah goes to great length to define the outbreak and purification process for those affected by Tsara’at. While these were non-contagious skin lesions on persons of any age, a Metsorah was deemed among the highest level of ritual impurity.

Treatment of a Metsorah was a spiritual matter brought to the Kohen. After a lesion was declared Tsara’at, the affected person tore their clothing (a ritual of mourning) and warned others to keep away. They left the camp to dwell alone for periods of seven-days, until the ailment was reassessed. (Interestingly, if a Kohen contracted Tsara’at, they too had to be examined by a fellow Kohen.)

After the Tsara’at cleared, the purification process involved two birds; one was slaughtered, and its blood was mixed in water. Before being set free, the second living bird, along with a piece of cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, was dipped in the crimson-coloured water and sprinkled on the Metsorah. Later, a separate blood ritual was performed on the right earlobe, thumb and big toe of the person.

The laws of Metsorah are Hukim, whose reasons we cannot fathom. But in them we see references to Parah Adumah (the red heifer burned with cedar wood, scarlet thread and hyssop, whose ashes purified corpse tumah), and the Kohens’ Inauguration (a symbolic rebirth – affected by placing blood on their right earlobe, thumb and big toe).

Metaphorically, the Metsorah birds were linked to the 10th plague, when the Egyptian first born were killed while the Israelites, who used hyssop to paint their doorposts with blood, were freed. The connection is made because both are referred to as ‘Negah’ (plague).

We learned this past year that being forced to self-isolate involves significant vulnerability. Hopefully, it has made us more sensitive and attuned to looking after our friends, family and neighbours.

As humans we try to explain things, to give ourselves an illusion of control. One lesson from Metzorah is that often, what matters most is more than skin-deep … and sometimes it is well-beyond our comprehension.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

[For Wembley Sephardi Synagogue – 16 April 2021] (Also published in ALT-C Vol 348 https://mcusercontent.com/d2e2ae78faf8444ab0251f19e/files/55958a34-788d-402f-8866-5e11c1effd19/Writers_Digest_Vol._348_16_Apr_2021_.pdf)

Ki Tisa – Intimacy with the Divine

https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/sedra-of-the-week-ki-tisa-2/

Ki Tisa is known for the disastrous incident of the Golden Calf, but less known for the second most important encounter in Jewish history. If the first was the Ten Commandments, the second was Moshe’s request to see God’s Divine Glory.

I shall make all my goodness pass in front of you and reveal the name of God before you. I shall show favour to whom I favour and mercy to whom I show mercy.’ (Ex 33:18-19) This is perhaps one of the more overlooked, perplexing sections in the Torah. Moshe already spoke with the Almighty face-to-face (33:11), what more was he asking of God?

Shemot Rabbah suggests he was seeking to understand the spiritual workings of the Heavens and the Earth. Maimonides (1138-1204) writes that he wanted to learn how the Almighty governed the Israelites. Rashbam (1085-1158) proposes that Moshe pleaded for God to continue caring for the people directly, not through an angel. Practical concerns one expects from a leader under immense pressure.

In response, Moshe who was favoured by God, was taught how to pray during times of trouble. Concealed in the cleft of a rock, he called out in God’s name and was shown the 13 Attributes of Mercy (34:6-7) which we still recite daily. And the Israelites were promised a new covenant (34:10).

While the Ten Commandments instituted Divine justice in the world, these verses promise then and future generations Divine forgiveness. Together, both are essential for us to exist in a relationship with the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe.

The Israelites, on the verge of destruction, were rescued by Moshe’s unfaltering dedication and intervention. His intimacy with the Divine averted a near irreconcilable spiritual crisis. Instead, he sought and received further assurances of God’s clemency and set into place a model for all times.

Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at rabbijefflondon@gmail.com

 

Mitzvah Day Celebrated in Borehamwood & Bushey – 15 Nov 2020

 

Mitzvah Day volunteers at a food hub created by charity Gratitude. Credit: Valeria Fazekas

Faith leaders, schoolchildren, parents, a charity, a Jewish youth group and supportive members of the public came together in a display of unity at the weekend.

Mitzvah Day, a Jewish-led day of social action, was marked differently this year because of the pandemic.

But volunteers and guests were still able to carry out charitable and community-led activities on Sunday across Borehamwood and Bushey, with the theme of ‘Food Brings us Together’ and ‘Celebrating Diversity’.

As part of the day, a video was streamed live in which messages of peace and friendship were shared by faith leaders from Hertsmere’s Christian, Jewish, Hari Krishna and Muslim communities, together with the coordinators of Gratitude – a charity which supplies food and other goods to people in need.

The video also featured drawings from schoolchildren, at Yavneh Primary School and Yavneh College in Borehamwood, as well as welcoming the Muslim community to their new mosque in Maxwell Road, Borehamwood.

Over at Hartspring Lane Community Centre in Bushey, regular volunteers were joined by those from Jewish youth group FZY and Muslim community leaders to participate in a lively food distribution session, performing Mitzvot and good deeds for the wider community.

As part of the week’s activities, Gratitude also ran a kosher food bank at Yavneh College.

Organisers had planned for volunteers to help redecorate the new mosque premises, plant flowers in its garden and conduct a litter pick at neighbouring Maxwell Park to help the environment – but the lockdown regulations meant this was no longer possible.

Mitzvah Day project coordinator, Dr Dan Ozarow, said: “I would like to thank all of the children, organisations, faith leaders and volunteers who contributed to making this truly beautiful project such a success, especially at such short notice and under difficult conditions with lockdown and the pandemic.”

Rabbi Jeff Berger said: “As interfaith advisor for Mitzvah Day, I applaud the Borehamwood & Bushey project. Though we were restricted by lockdown from doing the outdoor planting and DIY originally intended, this community-building spirit gave us all a sense of inspiration and pride.”

The Imam of the Borehamwood Islamic Society said: “We are honoured here today to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity and we are humbled at being welcomed finally as part of the Borehamwood community.

“It is only through consideration, compassion and cohesion may a community truly flourish and which makes a nation stand apart.

“To work alongside our wider community with our multi-faith and non-faith leaders to make Borehamwood a better place for people from all walks of life.”

https://www.borehamwoodtimes.co.uk/news/18879981.mitzvah-day-celebrated-borehamwood-bushey/

https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/18879981.mitzvah-day-celebrated-borehamwood-bushey/

Alliance for Full Employment – 18 October 2020

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for full cross-party support for Alliance For Full Employment as multi-faith leaders pledge their support

FORMER PM GORDON BROWN WELCOMES THEIR ENDORSEMENT OF Full EMPLOYMENT AS A “MORAL” CONCERN

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Archbishops of Edinburgh and Arundel & Brighton and the Head of the Methodist Church in Britain have joined senior Rabbis and leading Muslim scholars to pledge support for the the Alliance For Full Employment.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a special appeal for broad cross-party support for the Alliance describing it’s ambition of full employment “as a social and political virtue.”

The Alliance was formed last month by the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Metro Mayors of Newcastle Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool  and London City Regions, the Mayor of Bristol and the First Minister of Wales around a set of proposals which if adopted by the government could stop the Covid crisis from becoming a major social and economic catastrophe.

In a joint statement published today (Sunday) representatives of Britain’s many faith groups write,  ”As faith leaders we welcome the creation of the UK-wide Alliance for Full Employment to focus on alleviating the risks of unemployment, on helping young people into work and training and on the need for proper protection for families facing the loss of jobs and a cut in incomes.”

And in a public letter to Mr Brown published today on the Alliance’s website (affe.co.uk) Archbishop Welby makes a moving spiritual rallying call of support for the Alliance.

“The idea of work and employment as essential to human dignity is a deeply Christian concern and is rooted in the Bible from Genesis onwards,” writes Archbishop Welby.

“ Responding to the necessity of reflecting this scriptural and theological priority Archbishop William Temple, when Archbishop of York in the 1930s, worked tirelessly to promote full employment as a social and political virtue. It was also part of his thinking when working with Beveridge and Tawney when Temple was Archbishop of Canterbury.

“In the post war years it was never a party-political issue and should not be so now. It is a fundamental matter of respect and love for our neighbour that in our nation the economy is meant, among other things, to serve the cause of fulfilling work for all.

“I call on all those of good will across the political spectrum as well as employers and businesses and a wide range of employee groups to support and encourage what you are proposing. I hope it can rapidly gain cross-party support.

“My hope and prayer is that these different initiatives may lead to a clear policy aim for governments of any party and to a willingness across society to make creating and sustaining full employment a matter of conscience.”

Welcoming the support of faith leaders for full employment as a matter of conscience and social good, Mr Brown said,  “Many leaders, of different faiths and denominations, agree the pressures of the Covid-19 crisis now being faced by families and communities across our nations and regions is of moral as well as economic and social concern.

“We all agree about the damage done to an individual’s self-worth, to  family life and to the social fabric of communities when mass unemployment hits.

“I have looked back on the Faith in the City Initiative of the 1980s and many other faith interventions calling for action when unemployment was at its post war highest.  And we all want to come together to sound a warning that something has to be done

“I know faith groups are making representations on the damage done by high levels of  homelessness and debt and the threat of rising child poverty.  But it is important too to show how high levels of employment and decent wages  can help reduce poverty and our Alliance is seeking to do this.“

AFFE’s growing support also comes from trades unions, business leaders,  cross-party MPs, MSPs, Welsh Ams and Northern Irish MLPS, more than 70 across England Scotland and Wales, council leaders and 2,000 councillors from the isles, regions and nations of Britain.

ends –

Note to desk 

Signatories (made in personal capacity) to the inter-faith leaders statement of support for the Alliance for Full Employment are:

Reverend Sonia Barron, Diocesan Director of Ordinand & Vocations, Church of England

Rabbi Jeff Berger, Ramban Sephardi Synagogue, Hertfordshire

RC Bishop Richard Moth, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton,

Reverend David Butterworth MA Minister, Methodist Church in Britain,

Sheikh Imtiyaz Damiel, CEO Abu Hamifah Foundation

Mustafa Field, Director Faith Forum For London

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Imam Murshad Habib

Rabiha Hannan, New Horizons in British Islam

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Alia Khan, Islamic Fashion and Design Council

Shahda Khan, Community Activist

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, Finchley United Synagogue

Bhaen Pathak, Director Yog Foundation

Dr Lindsay Simmonds, London School of Jewish Studies

Reverend Dr Tom Wilson, St Phillip’s Centre, Leicester

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, New North London Synagogue

Dr Tamra Wright, Curriculum Development Advisor, Faith in Leadership

Archbishop Leo Cushly, Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews.

Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The full text of Archbishop Welby’s letter to Mr Brown can be found at affe.co.uk

https://affe.co.uk/archbishop-of-canterbury-calls-for-full-cross-party-support-for-alliance-for-full-employment-as-multi-faith-leaders-pledge-their-support/

 

Shemini Atseret – In Search of Joy & Gratitude

Sedra of the Week: Shemini Atzeret

Rabbi Jeff Berger looks ahead to this week’s portion of the Torah

Tefillat Geshem: The Prayer for Rain | My Jewish Learning

Shemini Atzeret has a dual identity. It falls on the eighth day, immediately after Succot. It is a festival in its own right, but without rituals. Yet, like Succot, our prayers refer to it as ‘the time of our happiness’ (zeman simhateinu).

One tradition identified in the Talmud is to recite the Prayer for Rain (Tefillat Geshem) in the Shemini Atzeret Musaf service. 

From ancient times, water was perceived as a precious resource for all living beings, even if in Britain we take it for granted. By contrast, from 2014 to 2019, Israel experienced a drought exceeding anything in its past 100 years. 

In a Mediterranean climate with a few months of rain at best, Tefillat HaGeshem was a way to beseech God to provide precipitation during the winter months. When rains were delayed, leaders instituted a series of public fasts.

Andalusian poet Salomon Ibn Gabirol beautifully articulated our dependence on rain in his poem Shifat Revivim with the refrain. “Open now Your treasure, give life to all into whom You’ve breathed a soul, by causing the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”

Atzeret means ‘gathering’. We also refer to Shavuot as Hag HaAtzeret. The Babylonian Talmud informs us that just as Shavuot comes 50 days after Pesach, Shemini Atzeret was intended to come 50 days after Sukkot, but God had compassion on Jewish farmers, not requiring of them another pilgrimage during the rainy season.

Shemini Atzeret thus inspires joy and gratitude. We seldom appreciate what we have until it’s absent or lost. The past months have shown how blessed we are. 

As winter approaches, practising gratitude allows us to see things as they exist, not as we might wish them to be. Rather than lamenting what we’ve lost, Shemini Atzeret dually teaches us to find joy in what we have and to be thankful.

  •  Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at rabbijefflondon
    @gmail.com

 

Wearing Masks

Torah For Today! Wearing Masks

Rabbi Jeff Berger takes a topical issue and looks at Jewish texts for a response

Mask (Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash)

Two words in Hebrew describe a mask – masveh and masakh. We find masveh in the Torah following the sin of the Golden Calf. 

Moses’s second 40-day experience atop Sinai, which effected forgiveness for the Israelites, brought the replacement set of tablets. 

To assuage their fears, he temporarily veiled his face. Thereafter, in the presence of the divine, and again when conveying God’s teaching to the nation, his face was allowed to shine. 

But in between those encounters, he masked himself. (Misinterpreting this verse, Michelangelo created the statue of Moses with horns.)

The word masakh appears in the description of the curtain that shielded the entrance to the desert Tabernacle. It served as a decorative tapestry and obstructed a direct public view of the divine service.

In each case, these coverings protected others, preventing them from being overwhelmed by God’s glory.  The Israelites were unable to withstand the unfiltered intensity of the divine presence.

In the context of Covid-19 and our government’s requirement to wear masks in public where social distancing rules can’t be maintained, mask-wearing fulfils an altruistic function. 

Dr Ellie Cannon, who attended the recent Mitzvah Day ‘Mask-making with Hugh Dennis’ online event that I helped to organise, said: ‘There is nothing greater we could do as an act of kindness, or a mitzvah, than wear a mask. My mask protects you and yours protects me.”

As we return to synagogue and Jewish ceremonial life, we will be shielded like Moses. 

Our hope is that one day soon, it will be safe to leave off our masks and again experience among ourselves and with others, without fear, the unfiltered intensity of God’s glory.

  •  Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at rabbijefflondon@gmail.com

https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/torah-for-today-wearing-masks/

 

Sedra of the week:
Naso – Nobility with Responsibility

Naso – Nobility with Responsibility

Most of the year, Jews around the world read the same parsha. But this week we read Naso, while in Israel they have moved ahead to Beha’alotekha, because the second day of Shavuot coincided with Shabbat.

Naso, meaning “to lift up” or “to appoint”, begins with the designation of the Levi tribe to their respective duties in transporting the disassembled Mishkan (Tabernacle). A variation of the word also appears toward the end of the parsha in describing the gifts brought prior to the Tabernacle dedication by the 12 princes (Nasi – “one who is elevated”, plural Nesi’im).

Rashi explains the Nesi’im had been tribal leaders in Egypt. When Pharaoh sought someone to blame, they took the beating. Through the merit of their suffering, they were privileged to bring these dedication offerings.

Nasi therefore implies “nobility combined with responsibility” in a role that gives purpose to previous suffering and connection to the wider community.

We are in the easing stage of the Covid-19 lockdown, beginning to assess the landscape of how we’ll continue as an Anglo-Jewish community. Early in the crisis, our Jewish leadership heard that noble call and created a relief fund.

Naso reminds us it’s important for all of us to come forward with gifts. Where we may wish to reduce contributions, those who are capable should do their best this year to keep or exceed the same level of giving to the charities of our choice.

The future tense variation of the Naso verb occurs in the Priestly Blessing within the parsha, which states: “(Yisa) May God lift you up and grant you peace!”

Through our re-dedication efforts, may the Almighty grant us a safe return to communal life and to peace.

Click here for link to Jewish News article

Shavuot- Counting the Days & the Weeks

As the UK ‘lockdown’ begins to ease, here is a reflection on the meaning of Shavuot as we experience it in this time of pandemic.

*****

Many of us have been counting 7 days and 7 weeks since the 2nd night of Passover – in anticipation of Shavuot, the Jewish festival that commemorates the giving of the 10 Commandments.

As Moshe, toward the end of his life, told the young generation of Israelites who had survived wandering in the desert (Deut. 4:33-34), ‘Did ever a people hear the voice of G-d speaking out of the midst of fire, as you have, and lived?’ The awesome experience of being in the Divine Presence at Sinai after escaping oppression in Egypt, catalyzed our ancestors into becoming a distinct nation, with 10 categories of responsibilities to the Almighty and to each other.

But sustainability isn’t accomplished by words alone. The Jewish people needed a place and practices to experience G-d’s presence every day and a code of behaviour to ensure we were looking after each other properly.

Following the initial shock and fear that COVID-19 induced, we realized things would get worse before they got better. With reluctant acceptance, we assessed and adapted communal life, learning that although we couldn’t practice as usual we could find new ways to connect. Communities shifted to virtual gatherings, to pray together, celebrate together, to reach out to one another, to study, sing, and mourn together.

Once we had settled into our adapted ‘temporary’ reality, we reconnected with our community partners, people of all faiths and backgrounds, and realized that even when we are isolated at home, we can come together to do small acts of kindness for others. Now, more than ever, unity, connection and caring for the vulnerable and isolated is of the utmost importance.

Earlier this month hundreds joined us to Cook-along with Maureen Lipman as part of Every Mitzvah Matters. The act of cooking a hearty, nutritious homemade meal filled with love for another person, showed how much we care. This created ripples throughout families and local neighbourhoods and taught us that we can all do something small to put a smile on someone’s face.

As I mentioned earlier, for the past 7 weeks we’ve done a lot of counting. We’ve counted days in isolation without seeing loved ones and we’ve paid close attention to the COVID-19 infection rates. As the figures have slowly started to recede, we have begun to breathe a sigh of relief, whilst acknowledging that minority communities including our own, have been deeply hit.

There is still much collective uncertainty, although we hope to slowly shift towards familiar patterns. We must acknowledge that the world we will be returning to will not look or feel the same. The accumulated sense of loss and suffering will need to be addressed. We will have to see how much of the economy can be rescued. We must be aware that those most vulnerable prior to COVID-19 will continue to be incredibly vulnerable, and very likely the numbers of vulnerable people will rise even further.

Midrash Tanhuma describes the voice of G-d at Sinai as having emerged when the world was in total silence. It further informs that this Heavenly voice continues daily to ring out those primordial words ‘I am the Lord, your G-d’, calling us to listen and to return to the Truth of all Truths.

For me, this period of counting has given the opportunity to take measure. I’ve enjoyed the birdsong, occasional walks in a nearby nature reserve, and moments of pristine silence.

This year’s Omer, counting period, helped me realize that the true meaning of Shavuot is more than commemorating receiving the 10 Commandments at the base of Mount Sinai once a year, and it’s more than bringing those spiritual duties into my home through Mitzvot. Shavuot is hearing the Almighty’s voice echoing every day in the silence of my own heart.

Each of us is made in the image of the Divine, and I believe when we listen to and find the Heavenly voice inside ourselves we can recognize it in others. It doesn’t matter what faith or background we come from, or how we practice, but simply that we are all human. Only then can healing begin and we can rebuild the world we wish to create.

Let us take this time as we celebrate the gift of the Torah, of harvests and the blossoming of new fruits, to remember what truly matters and what we wish to take with us into the uncertain future ahead.

And of course, let’s enjoy some delicious cheesecake!

Moadim LeSimcha

Rabbi Jeff and the Mitzvah Day Team

Mitzvah Day launches interfaith volunteering scheme for small acts of communal kindness

‘Every Mitzvah Matters’ begins with eight leaders from different faiths cooking together online as a way of caring for other people

Eight leaders from different religions came together to care for other people, through cooking via Zoom, and launch the new Every Mitzvah Matters interfaith volunteering scheme.

Created by the charity Mitzvah Day, the scheme will see regular online get-togethers by people from all faiths and none, where they will take part in various social action projects designed to help their neighbours and the most vulnerable in their local communities. It is intended to highlight and encourage the small every day acts of heroism that people are doing for each other during this coronavirus crisis.

The cooking event saw the faith leaders unite online from their own kitchens and chat about the dishes they were cooking, the significance of food in their religions and who the final meals would be going to. In most cases these were taken to nearby vulnerable or elderly people who would appreciate this personal touch.

The interfaith cooking was hosted by Mitzvah Day’s founder and chair Laura Marks OBE. She said: “The little of acts of kindness we are seeing every day in this crisis are bringing our local communities together in a way I’ve never witnessed before. Our aim is to encourage even more people to take part, and show just how easy it is to be part of Britain’s new army of carers as, truly, Every Mitzvah Matters.”

Laura, who made a ratatouille using anything in her fridge, was joined by:

  • Rabbi Jeff Berger, representing the Jewish faith and cooking his own hybrid British/American creation called ‘mac and cauliflower and cheese’. Rabbi Jeff is an interfaith adviser.
  • Siriol Davies, representing the Christian faith and cooking a roasted butternut squash curry. Siriol is the presence and engagement national coordinator for the Church of England.
  • Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE, representing the Muslim faith and cooking samosas for the breaking of the daily fast of Ramadan. Hifsa is chair of the Jewish Muslim women’s network Nisa-Nashim.
  • Ravinder Kaur Nijjar representing the Sikh faith and cooking a potato and pea curry. Ravinder is a prominent Scottish interfaith consultant and educationalist
  • Bhante Pannavamsa representing the Buddhist faith and cooking wild mushroom tortellini and gnocchi. Bhante is a Buddhist monk and chef.
  • Ashwin Mehta representing the Jain faith and cooking an udon noodle stir fry with sweetcorn soup. Ashwin is a trustee of the SMRD Jain spiritual centre.
  • Armin Dastoor representing the Zoroastrian faith and cooking a sweet vermicelli dish usually cooked for special occasions. Armin runs a catering business serving the Zoroastrian community and all interested in Indian food.

Further Every Mitzvah Matters events are planned and will include a range of online sessions including family friendly activities. Anyone wishing to take part should contact info@mitzvahday.org.uk.