Monthly Archives: July 2016

Parshat Pinhas

Parshat Pinhas is the 8th in the Book of Numbers covering most of Chapters 25-30.

It announces G-d’s promised Covenant of Peace with Pinhas following his zealotry against Zimri, prince of the Tribe of Shimon, and Kozbi, Princess of Midian.

After commanding Moshe to wage war with the Midianites, G-d called for the 3rd census of Bamidbar, a historical counting at the end of the 40-year’s wandering, in which each tribe was identified by family, and numbers per tribe were tallied, to a total of 601,730.

In addition to listing those who perished along the way (Nadab & Avihu, Korah, Datan & Aviram), this census was to be used to divide the land inheritance after the nation entered Cana’an. The Levites were counted separately but in the same way.

The five daughters of Tselofhad of the tribe of Menashe approached Moshe to ask whether they as women could inherit their father’s portion of land as he had no sons. G-d enumerated through Moshe the laws of women’s inheritance in such cases.

Then the Almighty told Moshe to ascend Mt Avarim where he could view the land that would be given to Bnei Yisrael, but where he would be gathered to his ancestors just like his brother Aharon. For failing to sanctify G-d during the rebellion that occurred at Kadesh over the Waters of Strife he was proscribed from entering Cana’an.

Moshe requested of G-d to appoint a new leader and was told to choose Joshua son of Nun, on whom he was to place his hands and transfer his aura of leadership. They were to appear before the people while Elazar the Kohen would further confirm the Divine Will behind Joshua’s appointment.

The remainder of Parshat Pinhas concerns the special seasonal sacrificial offerings including; the daily Tamid, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Pesah, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the 7 days of Sukkot plus Shemini Atseret.

For an interesting comment on the Legacy of Moshe’s Leadership, please click here.

Thoughts on the Week 28 July 2016

RECITING PSALMS According to The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, when people make the effort to do three kind acts a day, depressive symptoms drop by 94 percent.   Our beloved mother passed away last week, not unexpectedly. During her lifetime, especially the latter decades, she was an avid Psalms reader, reciting chapters on behalf of others.

While we can’t prove a direct link between her words and the healing witnessed, it was known people wanted to be on her recipients list. So this brief comment is in her memory; may the neshama of the late Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon be elevated in Heaven.

‘Happy is the man that didn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful.’   אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ– אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ, בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים; וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים, לֹא עָמָד, וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים, לֹא יָשָׁב.

This first verse which begins the book of Psalms, speaks in the past tense. It reminds us that sooner than we might wish, our days will be behind us. And, by then, the most important aspect will be whether we’ve lived a ‘good life’ or not.

Each of us over the course of our years, may they be long, experiences different beginnings and endings somewhat like chapters in a book; an example relevant to the summer might be finishing secondary school and going on to University.

Once such a chapter closes it becomes virtually impossible to go back to it. And thus, our lives become a tapestry of the vast accumulation of those personal choices we’ve made.

When they’re occurring we often find it impossible to know which choice is best, i.e. which university would be better for our educational needs and future aspirations? Though in hindsight, we can sometimes more clearly see the measure of our results.

King David, the attributed author of Psalms, who lived nearly 2,800 years ago is telling us to lead a ‘good life’ based on the Torah’s wisdom, because once our years come to fruition, their reward or punishment WILL BE our accumulated life experience. In essence, let’s try to make every decision a good one!


Just to share a much needed Facebook comment at a moment when it is too easy to find reason to hate others, this is from Herschel Gluck:

‘In my whole life I don’t recall a time when there was so much hatred. Some members of one group hate another group, thinking they’re right and you must be committing the cardinal sin if you think otherwise.

Hatred only generates and increases hatred. It is certainly not a solution .During this solemn period in the Jewish calendar we’re meant to reflect on this and realize that a better world for EVERYBODY is our goal and is achieved through increasing acts and words of kindness and goodness for ALL people.’

Parshat Balak

Parshat Balak is the 7th in the Book of Numbers covering most of Chapters 22-25. It describes the sinister strategy of Balak, King of Moab, who feared Bnei Yisrael were about to take over his kingdom on their way to the Land of Canaan, just as had been done to Sihon and Og.

Balak attempted to thwart their efforts by luring the notorious Prophet Balaam to Moab with the promise of riches; and on 3 separate occasions, called on him to curse Bnei Yisrael but frustratingly, Balaam’s words instead came out as blessings. Balak dismissed him but not before Bnei Yisrael began committing the grievous sins of harlotry with the daughters of Moab and of worshipping the god Peor.

The crisis reached its climax when a prince of the tribe of Shimon, publicly covorted with a daughter of Midian in front of Moshe & Aharon. Their act was interrupted by the zealot Pinhas whose spear caught them in the act, putting a stop to a plague that had already taken 24,000 lives.

Parshat Balak contains some of the most esoteric poetry about Bnei Yisrael and about the future of their surrounding neighbours, describing the Jewish people and their destiny through the prophetic lens of an outsider.

Included are the famous words, ‘How Good are Your Tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel’ (Numbers 24:5), a phrase Jews recite daily during our morning prayers.

For further comments on the Parasha please look here and/or here.

Thoughts on the Week 21 July 2016


It has been a particularly devastating week emotionally; on the world stage we’ve seen the heartless attack on tourists in Southern France and an axe-wielding incident on a train in Germany – both without illegal weapons, inflicted by perpetrators living ordinary lives in the towns where they committed their crimes. The question being asked: ‘Is nowhere safe any longer?’ And, our answer must defiantly be, ‘No – we won’t allow their murderous hatred or the fear they hope to create – to overcome us.’

Much harder and closer to home were the passing of several dear members within our community. No matter how much advance warning, the immediate sense of shock and recovery when losing those we love brings on a complex, delicate period of introspection.

This week saw a spike in funerals among the S&P Sephardi community of London and its affiliates. One was the death of a 58-year-old woman who lost her battle with cancer, sadly leaving behind elderly parents, a husband, 3 grown children and a brother.

No less upsetting was the sudden passing of a long-time member of the Wembley community, a quiet man dearly loved by family and friends. Some words written in his memory can be found here.

But, personally, the most overwhelming sense of loss has been the passing of my mother who lived in the USA and who suffered for the past 3 months before being released peacefully on Tuesday. We are without further words this week.

Thoughts on the Week 14 July 2016

RACISM IN AMERICA The United States late last week experienced two incidents where unarmed black men (Alton Sterling & Philando Castile) were shot to death by police in the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Protests against police brutality toward black victims were held in major cities across America threatening to take race relations back 50 years in time.

The Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter led to peaceful gatherings in dozens of cities across the USA, until a lone ex-military black sniper killed 5 police officers and wounded 7 others in Dallas Texas.

Controversy even found its way onto a televised national baseball match when a singer changed the lines of the Canadian National Anthem to include the words All Lives Matter; this was condemned as a lone wolf attempt to downplay racial bias, drawing attention away from President Obama’s 7 July remarks that blacks are 2 times more likely to be shot by police than whites.

Here in London, perhaps this event is perceived more as part of the ongoing American problem of rampant gun ownership than as racial-hatred. But curiously, in the USA, Jewish communities have been conspicuously silent. Is racism within part of the religious community more of an issue to be addressed and corrected than might be thought?

In the Jewish educational system of several decades ago, some cited Biblical sources to vindicate the slave-status of blacks. Noah’s cursing the sons of Ham, Kush and Canaan (Genesis 9:25) normalised a belief that may also have supported the West in trampling the basic human rights of Africans during the slave trade.

In a 2014 report by the Public Religion Research Institute, as many as 18% of respondents felt it was alright to refuse service to blacks if it conflicted with their religious beliefs (about the same number felt that way towards Jews, Gays and Atheists). Who doesn’t remember that years ago the Yiddish word shvartsa was in wide use as a pejorative?

No doubt there will be lots of hand-wringing in the USA this summer and more violence to fear pending the result of upcoming police hearings; there may even be some push-back against gun freedom. But no doubt, throughout America there must be new programmes to train white officers to be less lethal when stopping black suspects.

For the rest of us, it’s not enough to sit on the side-lines and watch this chaos unfold on the Tele. Racism in America is a stain on a nation that claims to be leading the Western world economically and it is a cause for great shame!

Any society that has an institutionalised under-class should beware of the potential harm it causes to all. Lack of opportunity in education and employment often leads to resentment and despair. Over a long period, the effects become entrenched and reengaging becomes a monumental challenge. Sadly, forms of racism still exists in countries other than America.

#BlackLivesMatter and as Jews, we should make sure that message is heard.

Parshat Hukat

Parshat Hukat is the 6th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 19-21. It begins with the enigmatic laws of the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah) which, after being processed into ashes and mixed with pure water, restored spiritual purity to those who had come in contact with a corpse.

The parasha then described in the 40th year of their sojourn the death of Miriam which led to a water crisis. Moshe & Aharon, commanded to speak with a rock that would provide water, struck it instead. G-d told them for their lack of Faith they wouldn’t merit bringing the people to Canaan.

Moshe sent messengers to the King of Edom seeking permission to take the shorter route to Canaan through their land but was rebuffed. Bnei Yisrael instead travelled by way of Mt Hor. A top the mountain Moshe removed Aharon’s priestly garments, Aharon died and was succeeded by his son Elazar. Bnei Yisrael mourned Aharon for 30 days.

The Canaanite King of Arad attacked Bnei Yisrael taking captives. The people pledged to G-d all of the spoils of war if only they’d be granted victory and G-d heard their prayers.

But forced to back-track to circumvent the land of Edom, the nation complained of a lack of food and water; and a plague of fiery-serpents broke out. Confessing their sin to Moshe, they asked for forgiveness and G-d instructed Moshe to cast a copper snake, suspend it on a pole so that all who were bitten who looked at the image would be healed.

They continued to travel to a series of encampments until reaching the border of Moab. There they found a well and sang a song in its praise.

Messengers were again sent, this time to King Sihon of the Emorites, asking permission to take the shorter crossing through their land. Sihon refused, instead amassing his army for war. Bnei Yisrael defeated Sihon, capturing cities he had earlier taken from Moab. Continuing on the road to Bashan, they were met by King Og and his army. G-d assured Moshe that Bnei Yisrael would defeat Og in battle and capture his cities as well. After that they reached the plains of Moab along the Jordan River.

Comment: Parshat Hukat occurring at the end of the 40 years of wandering in the desert, marks a turn-around in the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and the Almighty. Progeny of the original generation to leave Egypt who stood at Mt Sinai, their fate was different from their parents. When encountering difficulty and hardship, rather than complain frivolously about how good their lives were in a previous period, they instead recognised G-d’s aid when misfortune arose.

Ironically, the Parasha begins with Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) Laws – concerning the process to rid one’s self of spiritual contamination arising from contact with death – but continues with an abundance of death; the passing away of Miriam & Aharon, those killed by the fiery-serpent plague and the wars against Kings Sihon and Og.

One of the intrinsic lessons from the story of Miriam’s death that may still have relevance today, is that compassion for others offered selflessly has the potential to create merit for those around us.

A Midrash tells us that Bnei Yisrael enjoyed the benefit of 3 things during their wanderings in the desert due to the merit of 3 individuals. The Manna was provided in Moshe’s merit, the clouds of Glory in Aharon’s and water access in Miriam’s.

The reason water was in Miriam’s merit goes back to Egypt when Moshe’s older sister followed the basket he was placed into as a helpless infant, until it reached Pharaoh’s daughter, in a way protecting baby Moshe from Pharaoh’s decree of death to all new-born male children.

For that reason, not only did the Jewish people wait a week for Miriam to heal from her spiritual leprosy in Parshat BeHa’alotekha, but for nearly 40 years they benefited through her to have a constant source of water.

In this week’s verses, Miriam’s death was followed immediately by Hukat’s water crisis; thus the commentaries directly link the lack of water to the stopping of a well that travelled with Bnei Yisrael in Miriam’s honour.

In our days, we don’t see miracles of nature like a traveling well. But, perhaps, were we sensitive enough we might see that acts of kindness done selflessly by those who love us continue to provide blessings we hardly can begin to appreciate.

Miriam’s Hesed in looking after her brother occurred nearly 120 years earlier, yet it remained as part of her legacy to Bnei Yisrael until her last days. Only with difficulty was Moshe able to reactivate the well after Miriam was gone.

If it’s really the case, that we’re benefitted spiritually by selflessly-motivated good works, how much more should we be thinking of ways to create our own Hesed to protect and enhance the spiritual quality of those who are dear to us and to the wider community.

A More Detailed Look at the Parasha

G-d spoke to Moshe & Aharon charging them with the Laws of Parah Adumah (Red Heifer); to take an unblemished red heifer that hadn’t carried a yoke. They gave it to Elazar to slaughter outside the camp. Elazar took its blood and sprinkled 7 times in the direction of the Tent of Meeting. The entire animal was burned and with it a piece of cedar wood and some hyssop tied with red thread. The officiating Kohen washed his clothes washed himself in water and returned to the camp, remaining Tamei until evening; and similarly the one who burnt the animal.

Someone Tahor (spiritually pure) gathered the ashes and kept them outside the camp as a keepsake for Bnei Yisrael, these were the Niddah Waters. The one gathering the ashes washed his clothes, remaining Tamei until evening. A person who came in contact with the dead would be Tamei for 7 days; having the waters sprinkled on them on the 3rd and 7th days.

Anyone not sprinkled with Niddah Waters would remain Tamei. Entering the Mishkan in a state of ritual impurity was punishable by excision. When a man died in a tent, impurity affected anything in the tent for 7 days. Any open vessel was contaminated.

Similarly, anyone who came across a corpse, bones or graves in a field was Tamei for 7 days. Ashes from the burned red heifer were mixed in water in an earthen vessel. A hyssop dipped in the ash-water was used to sprinkle on the tent and on all that was inside or on those who had made contact with the dead – on the 3rd and 7th days. After washing their clothing and bathing, those Tamei would become pure after the 7th nightfall. Anyone refusing this practice remained Tamei and was cut-off from the community. The one who sprinkled the waters and anyone who touched them had to wash their clothing and remained Tamei until nightfall.

In the first month Bnei Yisrael reached Midbar Tsin and Miriam died in Kadesh. There was no water for the people to drink so they gathered and fought with Moshe & Aharon, demanding why they were brought to die in the Midbar. ‘It was a barren land lacking figs, grapes, pomegranates and water.’ Moshe and Aharon took refuge in the Tent of Meeting, prostrated on their faces until G-d’s glory appeared to them.

G-d told Moshe to take his staff, and with Aharon, gather the people and speak to the Rock which will release its waters before their eyes. Moshe & Aharon gathered the people and said ‘Listen you rebels, shall we draw water for you from this Rock?’ Then Moshe raised his staff and struck the Rock twice and much water came out.

G-d told Moshe & Aharon that ‘because you failed to believe sufficiently to sanctify My name before the people, you won’t bring this congregation into the Land’. These were the waters of Meribah at Kadesh.

Moshe sent messengers to the King of Edom explaining ‘your brother Israel experienced much turmoil in Egypt, being enslaved there for many years. Finally, G-d heard our cry and redeemed us. We’re now on your border seeking permission to cross through. We’ll not harm your fields or vineyards, nor drink your water. Let us travel the King’s road until passing beyond your borders’.

But Edom refused them at the threat of war. Bnei Yisrael asked to travel on their highway offering to pay for their food and water, but again were refused. And Edom came out against them with a large army, so they turned back.

From Kadesh they arrived at Mt Hor where G-d told Moshe & Aharon that Aharon would die for having rebelled against G-d’s word at the Waters of Meribah. Moshe ascended the mountain with Aharon & Elazar, took Aharon’s priestly garments, dressing Elazar in his stead; and there Aharon died. When Moshe & Elazar descended alone, the nation mourned Aharon for 30 days.

The Canaanite King of Arad heard them coming by way of Attarim and attacked Bnei Yisrael taking captives. The people pledged to G-d all the spoils of war if only they could be victorious in battle. G-d heard their plea and they were successful to destroy the Canaanites and their towns. The place was called Hormah.

Bnei Yisrael left Mt Hor via Yam Suf to circumvent Edom. Feeling constrained, they complained against G-d and Moshe asking why they were taken out of Egypt to die in the Wilderness. Many died from a plague of fiery serpents that G-d sent against them. The people confessed their sin to Moshe and pleaded for his intercession. G-d told Moshe to cast a copper serpent and suspend it on a pole, and all who had been bitten could look at the image and be healed.

The people travelled 5 stations arriving at Arnun, land between the borders of Moab and Emor. They reached Be’airah, singing a song in praise of its well, and continued 3 more stops until the valley by the top of Pisgah.

The people sent messengers to King Sihon the Emorite asking permission to traverse his land – but they were refused. Instead, Sihon gathered his army and warred with Israel at Yahtsah. But Israel defeated them from Arnon until Yabok up to the border of Ammon. They captured all their cities including Heshbon – land that previously had belonged to Moab but that Sihon had won from them in battle. [A parable celebrated his earlier victory.]

Moshe sent spies to Yazer – they took those towns, driving out the Emorites. Then they arrived at Bashan where King Og came-out against them. G-d reassured Moshe Bnei Yisrael would prevail, conquering Og just as they’d done to Sihon. They pitched their tents in the plains of Moab near the Jordan River.

Parshat Korah

Parshat Korah is the 5th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 16-18. It begins with Korah and 250 communal leaders rebelling against Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. In reponse, Moshe challenged them to appear before G-d with incense pans the following day, allowing the Almighty to decide the chosen leader.

In anger G-d threatened to destroy the entire nation, but Moshe intervened to channel Divine punishment only against those who sinned. Taking the Elders with him, Moshe warned Datan & Aviram the earth would open underneath them unless they turned back. When that indeed happened, the people grew frightened. Then a fire emanated from G-d and consumed the 250 rebels.

G-d told Moshe to have Elazar collect the rebels’ fire pans to make into a cover for the altar. The following day a crowd accused Moshe of wrong-doing; blaming him for the death of the nation’s leaders. Plague broke out and was stayed when Aharon with his incense pan cordoned off the area; literally separating between the living and dead.

To reinforce Aharon’s Divine authority, G-d commanded Moshe to ask each tribe to provide a staff placed overnight in the Mishkan where the staff of the chosen tribe would blossom. In the morning, Aharon’s staff flowered with almond blossoms and almonds, and was shown to Bnei Yisrael. G-d commanded that staff be kept in the Mishkan as testimony.

G-d commanded Aharon that his family, as Kohanim, would bear the sin-burden of the people, and protect the Sanctuary and Altar; and that the Levi’im would share these service duties. Outsiders weren’t permitted to enter or perform any ritual worship upon penalty of death.

As remuneration for their life of dedication, Kohanim were entitled to a host of agricultural and animal gifts – similarly, Levi’im were entitled to an annual tithe – both in lieu of a land inheritance. Leviim were obliged to take a tithe from their tithe and give it to the Kohanim.

Comment: The human mind has a remarkable ability to create the most fantastic illusions. For Bnei Yisrael while wandering in the desert, one of those fantasies was that life as they knew it in Egypt had been so much better than the experience they were living now (call it Brexodus?).

Another human delusion from the beginning of time, is inventing ways to think we’re in control of our environment and circumstances. An example is telling ourselves that harsh climate-related issues – earthquakes, draughts or epidemics are predictable and that there’s an explanation to most things. This was in part the motive of the Tower of Babel generation. But the ultimate in youthful self-deception has been the myth that we’ll all live forever.

After the decree in last week’s Parasha, Bnei Yisrael were starkly confronted by their mortality. No longer were they able to maintain the illusion of living forever with G-d. With the Canaan Mission failure of the 12 Spies, their fate was sealed; to perish in the desert rather than enter the Promised Land. To a great extent, Korah’s rebellion was a rational attempt to regain control of their surroundings, to try to subvert and re-engineer G-d’s decree. If we throw out the current leadership, perhaps an answer more to our liking will be forthcoming.

Sadly, this seems to be their last hurrah. From next week, the story of Bamidbar leaps forward to the end of the 40 years sojourn. Little is known how the generation that doubly left Egypt and witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai perished.

A Midrash tells us that each year on Tisha B’av the men were told to dig graves for themselves and lie down in them. Some would expire overnight and others would wake and continue for another year. There are no records of brilliant discoveries, technological breakthroughs, the building of great facades, composing wonderful music, creating magnificent art or holding of lavish parties during the Wilderness 40 years. Mostly, they faded into obscurity.

But, having promised the Biblical Patriarchs custody of the Land of Canaan, G-d made sure that pledge was carried out through their offspring.

Each time we stand on the edge of the unknown, we would be wise to remind ourselves that much of what happens in life is beyond our sense of control. At best, we can do our share of acting on the public stage, then stand back and guess what lies ahead. Perhaps it might be a source of comfort to remind ourselves that whatever happens and no matter how much it seems out of our control, G-d’s benevolent promise is eternal.

A More Detailed Look at the Parasha

Korah son of Kehat, Datan & Aviram and On ben Pelet rose up with 250 leaders against Moshe and Aharon asking ‘if the entire congregation is sanctified, why did you appoint yourselves as leaders over us?’ Moshe replied that on the morrow G-d would choose who would be brought close. ‘All would bring incense on fire pans and let G-d choose which offering was desirable.’

Moshe then addressed Korah asking, wasn’t it enough he was designated among the Tribe of Levi, did he have to seek out the Priesthood? ‘Why do you complain about Aharon?’

Moshe also called out Datan & Aviram who refused to meet him. They accused Moshe of promising them a land of milk and honey only to leave them to die in the desert. An angry Moshe asked G-d to show them no favour, for he never took anything from nor mistreated them. Korah and the 250 followers were to meet the following day with incense pans in front of the Mishkan.

The Almighty told Moshe & Aharon to separate themselves so that G-d could consume the entire people in an instant. But they begged G-d not to punish the innocent with the wicked.

G-d told Moshe to warn the people near Korah and Datan & Aviram to leave the area. Moshe accompanied by the Elders told the people to flee and touch nothing from the rebel’s tents. While Datan & Aviram, their wives and children stood outside their tents, Moshe prophesied that if they were to die a natural death like others, it would mean G-d hadn’t selected him. But, if the earth were to swallow them up it would be a sign Moshe was G-d’s messenger, not self-appointed.

No sooner did he finish speaking, the earth opened and Korah, Datan & Aviram and their families were swallowed alive, lost from the community. Those who watched fled in fear of meeting the same fate. A fire then broke forth from G-d and consumed the 250 men offering their incense.

G-d told Moshe to ask Elazar the Kohen to collect the burnt fire pans and dispose of the fire for they’d become sanctified. He would make them into a copper covering for the Altar fire, to remain a symbol to the nation that outsiders or strangers mustn’t bring incense in worship of G-d.

The following day people accused Moshe and Aharon of killing the nation of G-d. Just as they were gathering against Moshe & Aharon, G-d appeared in a cloud above the Mishkan. G-d again told Moshe to remove himself from the congregation before they were destroyed. A plague broke out and Moshe sent Aharon with his fire pan filled with incense to stave-off an epidemic that killed 14,700 people above those who died with Korah.

G-d commanded Moshe to collect staffs with the names of each tribe engraved upon them and to add a staff with Aharon’s name to represent the Tribe of Levi. Left overnight in the Mishkan, the staff that blossomed would be proof against further complaining.

The following day, Aharon’s staff was found to have blossomed and contained ripe almonds. The staffs were set in front of the tribes for each to take the one belonging to him. G-d asked Moshe to leave Aharon’s staff in perpetuity to prevent further murmuring. Bnei Yisrael uttered their final anguished cry, ‘behold we are undone, we all will perish.’

G-d told Aharon he and his sons would be charged with the work of the Mishkan and the Altar. The Tribe of Levi were tasked to support them in their service but not to have contact with the sacred vessels. In fulfilling their duty, the Kohanim would prevent plagues from breaking out among Bnei Yisrael. It was a privilege from G-d for the Kohanim and Leviim; the stranger who approached to serve would die.

G-d told Aharon of the gifts he would receive as remuneration for serving in the Mishkan. They included; from the Sacred of Sacred, the meal, sin and guilt offerings – to be eaten in a place of holiness; the heave and wave offering – anyone in their household in a state of cleanliness could eat them; the best of the oil, wine and corn produce, the first fruits – anyone in their household in a state of cleanliness could eat them, and anything dedicated to G-d.

The first-born of men and animals belonged to the Kohen; of men to be redeemed for 5 shekels and of animals to be sacrificed and for the Kohen to keep the breast and thigh. Heave offerings were given to the Kohen, who in return received no land, for G-d was their inheritance.

Leviim were to receive Ma’aser (tithes) from Bnei Yisrael as remuneration for their service. Other tribes could no longer serve in the Mishkan. The Leviim too would receive no land inheritance.

G-d told Moshe to tell the Leviim that from all their tithes they had to gift a tithe to the Kohanim. As the corn from the threshing floor and wine from the winepress, they needed to give their gifts; their tithes could be eaten anywhere by anyone in their household. They mustn’t profane the gifts given by Bnei Yisrael.

Thoughts on the Week 7 July 2016

FIRSTS & OTHER PRECIOUS THINGS: A number of our children have either just returned or are away on Israel Tour this week in a programme jointly provided by UK Jewish schools and an organisation called A Taste of Israel. It’s a remarkably formative experience for children in Year 9 and can be highly recommended.

There are many life; our first experience flying on an airplane or visiting a country we’ve never been to before, our first breath-taking sunrise on a mountaintop after climbing all night to reach its peak. Such firsts can cause us to experience that sense of genuine awe that lifts us up and takes us out of our sometimes small-minded selves.

As we grow in life we have many first experiences; in Jewish schools there’s the first Siddur our children receive at the end of Year 1, a Humash in Year 3, or bar & bat mitzvah celebrations – a first that enables young adults to become active participants in the community.

There are firsts in getting our exam results and going off to university, meeting someone and persuading them to marry; having a first child. Professionally, there’s our first job offer, our first salary, our first career change (voluntary or otherwise), our first assignment abroad or our first attempt at retirement.

Some of us will venture farther and wider; first times to see a Cezanne or hear an orchestra play in a European city other than our birthplace, first times to taste strawberries and cream at Ascot or Wimbeldon, and inevitably our first time to say farewell to someone we love.

Sometimes we can prepare in advance but mostly what makes these firsts so precious is coming into them in the fullness of our innocence. It’s those experiences that become best memories, and in these troubled times remind us there’s much about life worth preserving.