Monthly Archives: September 2015


Sukkot is an autumnal harvest festival that also includes the final prayers of Rosh Hashana & Kippur. It is known as Zeman Simha’teinu (Time of Our Joy). For a look at last week’s mitsvot and customs (Sukkah & Arba Minim), please click here.

This week we’ll look briefly at laws and customs of Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atseret & Simhat Torah.

1. To preserve the ancient tradition when the Kohanim circled the Mizbe’akh (Altar) in the Beit HaMikdash, today we take out a Torah from the Heikhal and make a circuit around the Teibah each day of Sukkot (except for Shabbat). The circuits are made while holding the Lulab & Etrog.

2. On Hoshana Rabbah (Sunday 4 Oct), the final day for penitential prayers and for using the Lulab & Etrog, some have the custom to remain awake all night reciting a special order of readings (Tikun).

In the morning after Shaharit, seven circuits are made holding the Arba Minim,Selihot prayers are recited and the Shofar is blown. At the end of the service, the willows are beat on the ground 5 times – a custom dating back to the days of the Prophets.

3. We continue to use the Sukkah on Shemini Atseret (both at night and during the day) but without making the berakha Leisheb BaSukkah. At night women will add the blessing She’he’hiyanu when lighting candles, it is also added during eveningKiddush.

At Musaf we add the beautifully poetic Prayer for Rain. We then begin sayingMashib HaRu’ah U’Morid HaGeshem in the Amidah (until Pesah).

4. On the eve of Simhat Torah after Arbit, the Torahs are taken from the Heikhaland the congregation dances with them around the Teibah. It is the Sephardi custom not to read from the Torah on the eve of Simhat Torah. During evening Kiddush at home, once again She’he’hiyanu is added.

5. Some have custom to dance with the Torah in the morning as well. The hazanreads from VeZot HaBerakha enabling all who wish to be called-up to get an aliyah.The penultimate call-up is for the children in the community who join the Rabbi and are then blessed by the Kohanim.

6. The Hatan Torah reads his portion until the end when immediately the Hatan Bereishith reads his portion – the first 7 days of creation. Kaddish is recited after the second reading. It is a custom to give sweets to children on Simhat Torah to increase their sense of joy.

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot (Shemot 33:12-34:26)
Summary: The Torah portion on Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot is from Parshat Ki Tisa – just after the Golden Calf incident. In the first aliyah Moshe beseeches the Almighty for Bnei Yisrael to continue to find favour in G-d’s eyes. The second and third aliyot express Moshe’s request to see G-d and the compromise to allow Moshe to see ‘My glory in retrospect’.

The fourth and fifth aliyot record Moshe’s second journey up Mt Sinai with freshly carved tablets. As G-d descended again onto the mountain, Moshe read-out the 13 Attributes asking G-d to forgive the peoples’ sin. G-d responded with the offer of a new covenant. The sixth and seventh aliyot expound the terms of that new covenant, reiterating the command to observe the foot-festivals.

Maftir is from Parshat Pinhas Numbers 29. The Haftarah, from Ezekiel 38, is appropriately, the end-of-days cataclysmic War of Gog & Magog.

Comment: In the first chapter of the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 5) we are told the minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tefahim (hand-breadths) or roughly 80cms. Curiously, the Rabbis discuss whether the Divine Presence ever descended to Earth and whether Moshe ever ascended into Heaven. Quoting a verse (And G-d descended onto Mt Sinai … and Moshe ascended.’ Shemot 19:20), they assert that G-d never descended below, nor did Moshe rise above 10 tefahim – a liminal measurement for experiencing the Divine Presence (Shehinah).

The significance of this in the context of a discussion of the minimum measurement of a Sukkah may offer insight into a simple spiritual principle. The Sukkah is our effort to put into practice all the recent promises of fidelity, loyalty and allegiance made during Rosh Hashana and Kippur. Dwelling in a Sukkah represents Divine protection in the Sinai desert via the Clouds of Glory. A Sukkah exposes us to potentially harsh elements in nature, bringing us to recognise our dependence on the Almighty for shelter and protection – our vulnerability.

The Rabbinic argument that the Almighty descends not to man’s level but to a height just above 10 tefahim, informs us that if we want G-d to dwell (leShakhen) among us especially in the Sukkah – we must reach up beyond our comfort zone to initiate contact. One best way to do so is by ‘extending’ ourselves to those who are also vulnerable.

For a brilliantly stirring 6-minute animation ‘Why I Am a Jew’ from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks click here.


SummaryHa’azinu is the 10th parasha in the Book of Debarim. It occurred on Moshe’s birthday, the last day of his life. HaAzinu is 44 stanzas of allegorical prose capturing Moshe’s final words of wisdom and warning to B’nei Yisrael before they entered the land of Cana’an.

The first part of HaAzinu called Heaven & Earth to witness that G-d, Creator of the Universe, founded a nation wandering ‘in a desert land,’ and shared with them a relationship of Parent to Child.

The second section lamented the people turning away from G-d and the painful consequences of their idolatrous behaviour. The prose ends with Bnei Yisrael again being redeemed by G-d – but not before having undergone much suffering,

At the end of HaAzinu, Moshe taught this ‘Song’ to Joshua and the Jewish people, reinforcing to them how ‘the length of their days’ depended on behaving well in their new land. G-d commanded Moshe to ascend Mt Avarim where his death would be like that of Aharon‘s – for failing to sanctify G-d’s name at Mei Meribah.

Comment: Though we have a tradition that chapter numbers in Tanakh weren’t designated by Jewish sources, it would seem highly appropriate for HaAzinu to be Chapter 32 (Lamed Bet – Lev – heart).

Moshe shared a message meant to reside in the people’s hearts perpetually. Whether HaAzinu ever gained the popularity of ‘platinum sales’, nonetheless, passing-on wisdom from generation to generation is one of the small ways we attempt to extend our reach towards immortality – even before we’re gone.

Today, fortunately we can study the works of the Babylonian Talmudists and Spanish Codifiers among others. The merit of our study keeps their works alive and, at the same time, enlivens us as well. Leaving a spiritual legacy is something we should all consider.

Apropos to Sukkot, Rabbi Jonny Solomon wrote this week about the 21st century malady of ‘affluenza’ – an over-emphasis on physical pleasures and comforts that can lead to spiritual malaise. ‘The way to ensure we don’t succumb to “affluenza” is to remind ourselves we’re mere travellers in this world, which is precisely the message of Sukkot. By leaving our permanent homes and dwelling in a Sukkah, we remember this world is itself only a temporary residence, and what’s most important is what we do, not what we have.’


SummaryVaYelekh is the 9th parasha in the Book of Debarim. It (and the next twoparashot) occur on Moshe’s birthday, the last day of his life. VaYelekh contains Moshe’s final words of wisdom and warning to B’nei Yisrael preparing them to enter the land of Cana’an. It includes the transfer of leadership to Joshua, the mitsvahHakhel (Gathering the People) and the command to the Levi’im to safeguard a copy of the Torah next to the Ark.

In the first and second aliyot Moshe confirmed his inability to travel further with Bnei Yisrael. They would cross the Jordan but he wouldn’t (O’veir), Joshua would take them across and the Almighty would wage war for them just as occurred against Kings Sihon and Og. They should remain steadfast and be fearless.

In the third and fourth aliyot Moshe spoke with Joshua directly, passing him responsibility for the Jewish people and charging him to be of great courage. Moshe then wrote and gave to the Levi’im a copy of the Torah, commanding them at the end of every Shemitah year to gather those who made pilgrimage for the foot festival and to read them these words. The purpose was for Bnei Yisrael to listen, study and hold in reverence the Almighty, and to convey the mitsvot to future generations.

In the fifth aliyah G-d commanded Moshe and Joshua to appear before the Tent of Meeting. There G-d forewarned Moshe that the Jewish people would go astray after his death and worship foreign gods. In reciprocity, G-d would ‘hide his face’ from the evils that would befall them.

In the sixth aliyah G-d taught Moshe the antidote for this impending crisis – a song Moshe would share with Joshua and the people. In the seventh aliyah Moshe commanded the Levi’im to preserve a copy of the Torah next to the Ark, ‘for he knows of your rebellion and stiff-neck’ (Debarim 31: 27). They were to call together the heads of tribes, elders and law enforcement officers to hear this testimonial song.

Comment: It is hard to imagine what must have been going through Moshe’s mind when, just before his death, after 40 years of leading a difficult nation, he was told that soon after he died Bnei Yisrael would be committing idolatry. And. as a result, terrible troubles would befall them.

This reference in VaYelekh draws our attention back to the sin of the Golden Calf when Moshe, still on top of Mt. Sinai, pleaded with the Almighty for their forgiveness. There, Moshe had opportunity to step aside and let G-d’s wrath consume the people. G-d promised to start afresh with Moshe, but instead Moshe interceded.

Here too, it seems G-d enlisted Moshe’s efforts one last time to intervene on a pre-emptive basis. The song Moshe wrote will be next week’s parasha Ha’Azinu. To a degree, it became Moshes’s legacy to all future generations. After conveying it to the people, Moshe would again be on his own with G-d.

Having been denied the right to cross (LaAvor) into Cana’an, instead Moshe ascended Har HaAvarim where he would die. There’s clearly a significant repetition of the verb ‘to cross’ in these last parashot. While Bnei Yisrael prepared to cross intoCana’an, Moshe still had one important task to fulfil. Good leaders are seldom fully appreciated until they’re gone. Moshe may be one of the best examples.

Rosh Hashana

For those enjoying the night sky, you’ll recognise this week the moon is in its final descending phase. The unseasonably cold temperatures are more reminiscent of late Autumn than of Rosh Hashana but nonetheless .. this coming Sunday night will bring in the New Year 5776.

Here are some essential mitsvot and customs for the period from Rosh Hashana toYom Kippur. For those interested in a much longer anthology, please see the compilation of Daily Halakhot circulated by Rabbi Eli Mansour.

1. On the morning before Rosh Hashana (Sunday 13 Sept 7:00am) it is customary to recite Hatarat Nedarim (Annulment of Vows) after Shaharit. Men have the custom of also going to the Mikveh.

2. On the Eve of Rosh Hashana we begin the Arbit prayers with Ahot Ketana, a wish that problems of the past year will end, and the new year will begin with blessings.

3. Women lighting candles recite 2 berakhot the first night, leaving out Shehiyanu on the second night. One is encouraged to sit calmly for a few moments, to appreciate the work of all those who helped prepare, before beginning Kiddush.

4. Households have the custom of eating auspicious foods after Kiddush but before making Motsi. These include; Dates, Beans, Leeks, Spinach or Beetroot Stems, Pumpkin or Gourd, Pomegranate, Apple dipped in Honey and part of a Sheep or Fish Head. (Search Sephardi Simanim for more details.)

5. It is a Biblical command to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. Tradition going back thousands of years was to hear a minimum of 9 blasts. But as the rabbis were unsure what was the sound of Teruah, they included three variations – Teruah,Shebarim and Shebarim-Teruah – requiring us to blow 30 blasts. Over time that’s been embellished and now the daily total is 101. (There are few opportunities today to fulfil one of the 613 mitsvot. We welcome you to come hear the Shofar.)

6. Most important for fulfilling the mitzvah of Shofar is for both the blower and the listener to keep in mind the intention to perform the mitzvah. One shouldn’t speak until all the blasts are finished. The first set of 30 and the last 41 are blown while the congregation is seated, the 40 during Musaf standing.

7. During the intermediary days leading to Kippur, four additions are made to the daily Amidah, the most sensitive being to change the 3rd blessing from Ha-El HaKadosh to HaMelekh HaKadosh. One who forgot this change is obliged to repeat the Amidah.

8. The customary greeting during this period is Tizku LeShanim Rabot Ne’imot veTobot (May you be worthy of many pleasant & good years) for which the reply isTizkeh veTikhye veTa’arikh Yamim (May you merit life and long years). The shorter version in Ladino is Muchos Annyos.

For a brilliantly stirring 6-minute animation ‘Why I Am a Jew’ from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks click here.


SummaryNitsabim is the 8th parasha in the Book of Debarim. It comprises the final part of Moshe’s speech to B’nei Yisrael preparing them to enter the land of Cana’an. Nitsabim reframed the Jewish nation’s commitment to a new oath with G-d for all eternity, an oath requiring fidelity and setting out the condition for their ownership of the land.

The first and second aliyot list the participants and reason for the new covenant. The third aliyah foretells the negative consequences of abrogation and the sympathy of surrounding nations when devastation and exile would befall the Jewish people.

The fourth and fifth aliyot promise return to G-d and by so doing once again Bnei Yisrael would be worthy of G-d’s blessings while the curses would revert to their oppressors. The sixth aliyah suggests the mitsvot are not distant from the people but were close at hand, in their mouths and hearts.

Finally, the seventh aliyah reaffirmed ‘having before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse, therefore choose life for yourself and for future generations’ (Debarim 30:19).

Comment: Appropriately, Nitsabim is always read just before Rosh Hashana as it presents the history of a nation that has been invited to embrace holiness. We are as challenged today by the question to choose life over death as were our ancestors 3 millennia ago. Part of our choosing is the decision to take responsibility for those things we can control and strive to make them better.

We pray this will be an obvious and simple choice for each of us during the upcoming Days of Awe. And may we all be blessed for a year of health, prosperity, compassion for others and peace!

Ki Tabo

SummaryKi Tabo is the 7th parasha in the Book of Debarim. It is a continuation of Moshe’s speech to B’nei Yisrael preparing them to enter the land of Cana’an. Ki Tabo is about making public declarations.

The parasha begins with the farmer’s declaration upon bringing Bikurim (first fruits) to the Temple that G-d had fulfilled the promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob that their descendants would inherit Cana’an, a land flowing with milk and honey. Second is the personal declaration during the Sabbatical cycle that each individual had separated and distributed correctly their Ma’aser (tithing) to the Levi and the poor.

The third aliyah introduces a new covenant G-d made ‘on this day’ with the Jewish people, promising ‘if you keep the mitsvot I will make you a holy nation’ (Debarim 26:19). The fourth aliyah contains instructions to set up monuments of stone, engraved with words from the Torah, after crossing the Jordan River at Mt Eival.There, too, they would build a sacrificial altar.

The parasha then describes the testimony of the 12 tribes, divided into 2 groups – one atop Mt Gerizim the other atop Mt Eival – where they would pronounce 12 potential curses to which they would respond ‘Amen’. A series of counter-balancing blessings were promised to those who listened to the voice of G-d.

The sixth aliyah offers an expanded, spine-chilling description called Tokhaha(Rebuke). In escalating intensity, the rebuke begins gradually to give the Jewish people opportunity to mend their ways and correct their neglectful behaviour. If they continued to ignore G-d, the Torah foresaw even harsher treatment to follow, until they’d be returned as unwanted slaves to Egypt.

In the final aliyah Moshe’s voice returns to one of optimism, restating all the achievements of their 40 years in the Midbar and their recent conquests of the Trans-Jordan plain.

Comment: Imagining ourselves in Moshe’s presence listening to the speech of Ki Tabo, we would probably be wondering, ‘why is he telling us something that won’t be relevant for years to come?’. In order to fulfil the mitzvah of Bikurim, for example, required occupying, dividing and settling the land, and establishing a place of central worship. It took Joshua more than 2 decades to achieve this.

Upon reflection, we understand Moshe’s aim in using a visual narrative was to anticipate the people’s future in Cana’an. Through forward projection he instilled in the nation an image of achievement.

An oratory technique still used today, we do ourselves a great service by focusing our minds on the good things we want to create or have happen. This then serves as the internal support for when we find ourselves in more trying times. Perhaps this is also a technique we can use in the days leading to Rosh Hashana 5776.