Monthly Archives: October 2016

Thoughts on the Week 27 October

RECITING PSALMS Introduction: This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 14:

Authorship of the 14th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David. Nearly identical to Psalm 53, it laments fools who deny G-d and who caused David’s personal troubles.

Such people persuade themselves none will hold them to account for their deeds; thus they go about satisfying every evil intent. Psalm 14 decries the ‘disease of sinfulness’ infecting all of mankind.

ה– מִשָּׁמַיִם, הִשְׁקִיף עַל-בְּנֵי-אָדָם: לִרְאוֹת, הֲיֵשׁ מַשְׂכִּיל– דֹּרֵשׁ, אֶת-אֱלֹהִים.

The LORD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any of understanding who sought after God. (Psalms 14:2)

Later commentators like the Malbim (1809-79 Ukraine) suggest this Psalm foretold the period of the destruction of the 1st Temple and the redemptive hope for its rebuilding. Accordingly, enemies like Nebuchadnezzar denying Divine Providence used his energies to attack Israel. Ultimately, only G-d could bring about Salvation.

מִי יִתֵּן מִצִּיּוֹן, יְשׁוּעַת יִשְׂרָאֵל: בְּשׁוּב ה, שְׁבוּת עַמּוֹ; יָגֵל יַעֲקֹב, יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Would that the salvation of Israel come out of Zion! When the LORD returns the people from captivity; let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad. (Psalms 14:7)

A timely message as we begin the Book of Bereishith and read of the Almighty’s disappointment with the 1st 10-generations of humanity.

Parshat Bereishith 5777

This Shabbat we begin again the 54-parasha cycle of Torah reading. Bereishith is the first parasha in the book with the same name.

Summary: Parashat Bereishith (Genesis 1:1-6:8) contains probably the most well-known stories in the world; the 7-days of Creation, Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, the Snake’s deceit, punishment and exile after the first couple disobeyed G-d’s command, Cain killing his brother Abel and the list of 10 generations from Adam to Noah.

Comment: The 5 Books of Moshe aren’t evenly divided in time. For example, Genesis covers the 2200-year period from Creation until Jacob’s descent to Egypt. Whereas, the Book of Exodus accounts for the roughly 210-years of Jewish bondage before G-d’s redeeming Bnei Yisrael from under Pharaoh’s rule.

The Book of Leviticus concerns the Mishkan and its ritual service – effectively a dedication period lasting 8-days. The Book of Numbers spans the people’s 40-years wandering in the Midbar. The Book of Deuteronomy presents the last month of Moshe’s life.

But, even within the Book of Genesis the 2200-years aren’t evenly spread. Bereishith and Noah cover almost 1800 years. Necessarily, the stories chosen for these early chapters selectively point to what must be told while we’re left to wonder what was withheld. In that sense the Torah, which we believe was given by G-d, is a ‘Guide to Understanding Life’ more so than a historical chronicle.

Two observations that may resonate with us in a modern world, are 1) the need for fidelity to the original text and 2) the role of humanity in a post-Tree of Knowledge state.

The first is exampled by the seemingly innocent approach of the Snake where in Chapter 3 it asserted to Eve they mustn’t eat from any of the trees. Naively, Eve revised G-d’s original command ‘not to eat,’ imposing onto it ‘not to touch’ as well, ‘lest you die’. The Rabbinic commentaries point out that adding this extra restriction led to confusion when the Snake made her touch the fruit and she saw it didn’t cause death. It was then a much easier next step to eat from the tree as well.

While perhaps intending good by adding extra stringencies, one must wonder whether today we aren’t falling into the same pattern of over-exaggerating Divine commands making our communities more prone to similar failure. Each new stringency seems to drive some faith communities more inward and simultaneously more separate from others. It’s a short slippery slope to some of the abuses we’ve witnessed recently.

Second, finding ourselves in a post-Tree of Knowledge world, we may ask what are our responsibilities to G-d and mankind? Has all of history been tainted by an ‘Original Sin’ as some religions suggest and little can be done to change it?

Rambam and other Medieval commentators who faced harsh relations with the leading faith’s of their time, adopted a different approach. They believed Adam & Eve must already have had a sense of what is morally right. Otherwise, how would they have been able to choose to obey G-d’s command to refrain from the Tree of Knowledge?

Rather, the difference is they understood right and wrong intrinsically – seeing the world from G-d’s viewpoint. Whereas, in a post-Tree world, their intuitive sense was obscured by heavily-weighted self-interest. Accordingly, to get back to a state of innocence, our choice must be to counter-balance selfish interests from our decisions.

A contemporary example would be the use of natural resources. While all understand there’s a finite amount of oil under the earth’s surface, willingness to conserve usage is affected by complexity. Today the conflicting needs of different producing countries has prevented a unanimous agreement to curtail output. And where output continues, so will consumption.

The same argument applies to clean water. Do we carelessly leave the tap running in the sink or the shower knowing well that in some places people still transport water from wells to villages? How careful would we be if the same applied to us?

The taint of a post-Tree world isn’t indelible, it’s just much harder to address; when we’re able to balance the excesses of some with the shortfall of others, we’ll have made progress in getting back to that state of primordial and pristine Divine innocence.

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot

The Torah reading for Shabbat Hol HaMoed is from Exodus 33:12-34:26 describing how Moshe beseeched the Almighty to forgive Bnei Yisrael after the Golden Calf debacle.

Summary: The reading for Shabbat Hol HaMoed is one of the most esoteric parts of the Torah, a discussion between Moshe & G-d eventually revealing, for perpetuity, the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy – the formula used most recently on Yom Kippur.

It begins with Moshe’s request to G-d to ‘show me Your ways’ and G-d’s response that ‘My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.’ Moshe pushed further, ‘If Your presence doesn’t go with me, don’t take us up from here.’

After G-d’s acquiescence, and relying on the favour he had found with the Almighty, Moshe asked ‘Show me Your glory’ and was told ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you and call out in the name of the Lord, I will find favour with whom I find favour and forgive whom I forgive.’

Told ‘man can’t see the face of G-d and live’, Moshe was then placed in the cleft of a rock while G-d passed before him, enabling Moshe to see the back of G-d.’

Moshe was then commanded to carve out 2 more tablets for G-d to again write what was on the first set which Moshe broke. Again Moshe ascended the mountain alone where G-d passed before him in a cloud calling out the 13 Attributes.

Hurriedly, Moshe, bowed down calling to G-d to forgive Bnei Yisrael their trespasses. In response the Almighty promised a new covenant of wonders unlike anything seen since Creation.

Bnei Yisrael were charged to observe the command G-d set that day. The 6 nations occupying Cana’an would be displaced; Bnei Yisrael mustn’t establish treaties with them, for it would lead to stumbling from within. All pre-existing deities were to be destroyed and intermarriage avoided.

They were also expected to observe the festivals of Pesah, to dedicate their first born to G-d, to rest on the 7th day, to observe Shavuoth and the new wheat harvest along with the autumnal gathering at the end of the season.

Thrice per year they were to make pilgrimage to be in G-d’s Presence. Blood of the pascal lamb shouldn’t be slaughtered on hamets, nor should its meat be leftover to the morning. They were to bring their first fruits to the House of G-d; they shouldn’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Comment: Could the mysterious ‘cleft of the rock’ which G-d provided for Moshe have any connection with the second set of stone tablets Moshe himself carved out?

It’s well-known that to acquire Torah requires great effort. Rabbi Akiva Tatz posits that much in life follows a pattern of being gifted something first and then working to acquire its real benefits and essence.

An example he gives is of an infant being cared for before reaching maturity then as an adult taking on the challenge of our own responsibilities. Another example is the case of the second set of tablets Moshe himself had to carve out and carry up the mountain.

But is it possible these were somehow cut from the same ‘rock’ G-d used to shield Moshe from over-exposure? If so, we learn from this allegory that the work of our hands enables us to merit the presence of G-d. And, that a longer-term goal in life is to carve for ourselves the kind of lasting testament worth passing-on to future generations.

In fact, isn’t this a description of the kind of character development the Torah encourages us to embody – living in a moral and righteous way that testifies to the purity & sanctity of our being hewn in the Image of G-d?

Thoughts on the Week 20 October (Sukkot)

Three USA presidential debates over, many viewers are left with a distinctly insecure feeling that if these are the best candidates the United States, arguably the most powerful nation in the world, can put forward, much uncomfortable uncertainty lies ahead. To the outsider, this presidential race appears more openly hostile & vicious than anything in the last half-century if not longer. It also highlights inherent problems within an electoral system that’s grown brittle and almost anachronistic.

Intended to be a political experiment that replaced the tyranny of kings, the USA founding fathers set in place a set of ‘checks & balances’ to prevent corruption of the ruling class. Over the past 240 years the USA has become a beacon and example to democracies around the free world; how sad to watch this raw, knock-down struggle of self-interests.

As in the message of Psalm 13 below, may the Almighty indeed bring salvation to our world at a time when it is most desperately needed!

RECITING PSALMS Introduction: This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 13:

Authorship of the 13th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David. In discouraging times, it pleads that gloom and hardship will be vanquished by our faith in G-d.

Only 6 verses, it uses a double-verse pattern; lamenting abandonment by G-d, petitioning a return to Divine favour, and ending with praise for the Almighty’s salvation.

עַד-אָנָה ה, תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי נֶצַח; עַד-אָנָה, תַּסְתִּיר אֶת-פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי.

How long, O LORD, will You forget me for ever? How long will You hide Your face from me? (Psalms 13:2)

Whether individual struggles or the travails of our long, dark national exile, this Psalm tells Jews to maintain Faith & Trust in the Almighty – an appropriate message during Sukkot, the Festival of Our Faithfulness.

וַאֲנִי, בְּחַסְדְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי– יָגֵל לִבִּי, בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ:אָשִׁירָה לָ-ה, כִּי גָמַל עָלָי.

But as for me, in Your mercy I do trust; my heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because You have dealt bountifully with me. (Psalms 13:6)

The last verse of Psalm 13 appears in the early part of the daily Shaharit Zemirot section.

For some wonderful essays on Sukkot, please consider this brief article and this longer video lecture from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Parshat Ha’azinu

Summary: Parshat Ha’azinu is the 10th in the Book of Deuteronomy made up of the 52 verses of Chapter 32. It’s usually read after Rosh Hashanah but before Sukkot.

Ha’azinu contains the Song of Moshe (referenced these past weeks) calling Heaven & Earth as witnesses. It’s a strikingly poetic chapter warning Bnei Yisrael of the punishment for sinning, while promising they’ll never be entirely abandoned by G-d.

The first 44 verses are written in a special two-column format. In the final verses G-d commands Moshe to ascend Mt Nabo where he will be able to view the land promised to Bnei Yisrael, before experiencing the same death as his brother Aharon.

Interpretive comments on the parasha can be found by clicking here.

Thoughts on the Week 13 October


It’s a long-standing tradition in our family for each of us to mark down after Yom Kippur one resolution for the coming year, and like a time-capsule, to keep a copy in our mahzor. Thankfully, we haven’t been overly ambitious in past years, and so there’s great usefulness and mild satisfaction in being able to trace back a decade of pledges, remembering both where we stood spiritually in previous years and following the arc of change that’s resulted.


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website at]

 Chapter 12:

Authorship of the 12th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David. It is a Psalm of lament whose message is about treachery and deceit.

People professing friendship and loyalty to one another are often insincere and traitorous.

שָׁוְא, יְדַבְּרוּ–אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ: שְׂפַת חֲלָקוֹת–בְּלֵב וָלֵב יְדַבֵּרוּ.

They speak falsehood every one with his neighbour; with flattering lips, and with a double heart, do they speak. (Psalms 12:3)

 In a generation that is morally corrupted, only Divine promises can be trusted.

 אַתָּה-ה תִּשְׁמְרֵם; תִּצְּרֶנּוּ, מִן-הַדּוֹר זוּ לְעוֹלָם.

Keep them, O LORD; Preserve us from this generation for ever. (Psalms 12:8)

Coincidentally, this Psalm is read on Shemini Atseret.


Parshat VaYelekh – Kippur

A reminder that Rambam Sephardi selihot are at 5:45am at the Elstree Shteible; 7:00am on Sunday. Tuesday Erev Kippur will also be at 5:45am followed by Hatarat Nedarim. For our full list of Kippur 5777 service times, please click here.

Parshat VaYelekh is the 9th in the Book of Deuteronomy spanning chapter 31:1-30. It is the shortest parasha in verses in the entire Torah.

Summary: Moshe told the Jewish people that at age 120 he wouldn’t be able to join them in the Land of Canaan. Instead, the Almighty would defeat the occupying nations. The time had come for him to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.

G-d would do what was done against the Emorite Kings Sihon & Og. They should pull themselves together and be strong, the Almighty would walk with them and they would inherit the Land. Moshe called Joshua, and before the congregation, charged him to be confident in victory and not to fear, promising G-d would accompany him.

Moshe then wrote a Torah and gave it to the Kohanim to guard. He instructed that at the end of the 7th year on Sukkot, Bnei Yisrael would gather to read the words of this Torah, to listen and fulfil G-d’s commands. In order for their children to learn to fear G-d all the days they would live in the Land.

G-d commanded Moshe to appear at the Tent of Meeting with Joshua; there Moshe was told that in future Bnei Yisrael would sin by following other gods, flaunting the covenant they’d made with the Almighty. Then G-d’s anger would flare and Bnei Yisrael would be abandoned; terrible things would occur to them until they cried out that G-d had left them.

Moshe was to write a Song of Testimony against a time when G-d would bring them into the land of milk and honey and they ate and were sated, and then they would go after other gods and harm would befall them. This Song would serve as a witness that they were forewarned while still in the desert.

So Moshe wrote the Song and taught it to Bnei Yisrael, directing Joshua to be firm while leading the people into the Land. Moshe then charged the Leviim to guard the copy of his Sefer Torah and keep it next to the Ark of the Covenant.

For Moshe knew that the people acted rebelliously while he was alive, expecting them to do the same after his death. Finally, he told the Leviim to gather the elders, the heads of tribes and officers to hear the content of his Song. And then he spoke the words of Ha’Azinu to the entire congregation.

Comment: For an insight-filled interpretation from Rabbi David Forhman on Moshe’s experiences at the end of his life, reflected through Psalm 90, please click here.

Separately, as Yom Kippur will occur this coming week before our next entry, here are a few thoughts to hopefully enhance your experience. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement – a time according to the Rambam when many of our sins can be forgiven.

It is a remarkable chance to renew and begin afresh, to shake off bad habits and see the world in its splendor and magnificence. It requires a minimal amount of effort on the day. The first step is to show up to synagogue, and the second is to read or recite the prayers to your best ability.

The formula we repeat 26 times during Kippur is from Leviticus 16:30 ‘For on this day, you will be cleansed, purifying you of all your sins, before the Almighty you shall be purified!’ All else occurs almost on its own.

What many people forget is that Yom Kippur in the Torah was the one day in the year when Aharon the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to create an incense cloud that would merge together with the cloud of G-d’s Glory that was ever-present in the Mishkan.

It is a day to reconnect directly with the Almighty, a day resembling the experience of our ancestors who received the 10 Commandments and were subsumed by their love and awe of the Divine.

May your prayers be heard and may we all merit in the New Year 5777 to be blessed with good health, happiness, prosperity and much spiritual growth.

Thoughts on the Week 6 October


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 11:

Authorship of the 11th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David. Appropriate for the week in which Yom Kippur occurs, the message in Psalm 11 is of a Just G-d who hasn’t abandoned the world to chaos and chance but metes out judgment in careful measure.

 ה, בְּהֵיכַל קָדְשׁוֹ– ה, בַּשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאוֹ:עֵינָיו יֶחֱזוּ– עַפְעַפָּיו יִבְחֲנוּ, בְּנֵי אָדָם.

The LORD is in the holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven; Eyes beholding, Eyelids trying, the children of men. (Psalms 11:4)

The Almighty allows the righteous to suffer atoning for their sins now, while granting them endless reward for their good deeds in the Hereafter.

ה, צַדִּיק יִבְחָן: וְרָשָׁע, וְאֹהֵב חָמָס–שָׂנְאָה נַפְשׁוֹ.

The LORD tries the righteous; but the wicked and those that love violence are hated. (Psalms 11:5)

In contrast, the good fortune of the wicked is in order to reward them in this world for any good they may have done, excluding them from having a share in the World to Come.

כִּי-צַדִּיק ה, צְדָקוֹת אָהֵב; יָשָׁר, יֶחֱזוּ פָנֵימוֹ.

The LORD is righteous and loves righteousness; the upright, shall behold G-d’s face. (Psalms 11:7)

Time – Someone is Looking after that for Me

As a child growing up in the United States, at the end of summer the same series of discomforting dreams always reoccurred, year-in and year-out. Even as an adult living in the UK, especially since becoming a rabbi, a similar set of recurrent dreams seems to replay on certain occasions.

The childhood dream usually began pleasantly, in a school somewhere, playing with friends on the sports field. Then gradually, when the bell rang and it was time to return to class, a growing sense of anxiety spread throughout. Entering the classroom, it gripped me fully – we were being seated for an exam I hadn’t studied for.

The dream pattern since becoming a rabbi involved rushing to the airport arriving late; realising somehow that there were way too many suitcases to check-in. The attendant insisted there wouldn’t be room for that much luggage, something had to be discarded – and while calculating what to jettison, they informed the flight would leave imminently.

Both dreams created anxiety and both contained a subtle message of not enough preparation or foresight – eventually their meaning became obvious – summers spent playing as a child instead of studying AND as an adult, not accomplishing enough in the short amount of time available.

The best-selling travel writer Bill Bryson has an anecdote about a Jewish fellow whose watch was stolen by a Nigerian during their travels together. Later when asked if he knew the time, the defrauded owner replied caustically; ‘Ahh, I’ve got someone in Africa looking after that for me.’

The New Year 5777 has already begun and Kippur is only a few days from now! May our lack of preparation, and penchant for outsourcing, not prevent us from achieving a day of solemnity and renewal.