Monthly Archives: December 2016

Parshat Mikets-Hanukah

Summary: Mikets is the 10th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 41:1-44:17. It opens with Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph being released from prison to act as interpreter; he foretold that 7 years of plenty would be followed by 7 years of hardship.

Appointed Viceory of Egypt, Joseph formed an austerity plan to save the nation from starvation. In Cana’an, when the famine took hold, Jacob sent his sons to buy food; the brothers descend to Egypt and are caught up in a drama that tested their loyalties.

Comment: For a profound insight into human destiny and Joseph’s meteoric rise to power, please read the essay by former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Thoughts for the Week 29 December


Those who attended Limmud Conference this year will have been treated to a wonderful range of speakers and events. A copy of the Rabbi’s presentation on the Remarkable Life of Menasseh Ben Israel can be found here. Michie’s talks on the Moroccan Suleika and on Chiune Sugihara will soon be posted on the Rambam Sephardi website.

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 23: The 23rd chapter of Psalms needs no introduction. A Song to David, the Lord is My Shepherd is well-known throughout religious and secular circles.

In religious liturgy, it is recited on Friday night and Shabbat afternoon. Secularly, it was made popular in film, being intoned in English during graveside funeral services, and was also set to music on numerous occasions. 

This Psalm uses the imagery of G-d as a Shepherd, guiding and leading humankind.

מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד: ה רֹעִי, לֹא אֶחְסָר. A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalms 23:1) 

David presumes sheep-like passiveness and submission, for the sake of G-d’s Glory.

בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא, יַרְבִּיצֵנִי; עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. (Psalms 23:2)

נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב; יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק, לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ. He restores my soul; He guides me in straight paths for His name’s sake. (Psalms 23:3) 

And in return, he expects from G-d, safety & well-being, for a Shepherd knows and provides the needs of each individual sheep.

גַּם כִּי-אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת, לֹא-אִירָא רָע– כִּי-אַתָּה עִמָּדִי; שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ, הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)

Not just in the present but for eternity.

 אַךְ, טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי– כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּי; וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה, לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים.Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (Psalms 23:6)

Parshat VaYesheb

Summary: VaYesheb is the 9th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 37:1-40:23. It recounts the traumatic journey of Joseph’s life; how his father’s favouritism led to his brothers’ intense jealousy.

Nearly murdered, he was instead sold to a caravan on its way to Egypt, becoming a slave in the house of government minister Potiphar. In an unusual digression, the Torah then records the story of Judah & Tamar and the twins born through their union.

Meanwhile, rising to a position of household import, Joseph was daily troubled by the advances of Potiphar’s wife, who thwarted, had him imprisoned on the false accusation of sexual assault.

In the royal prison, Joseph was appointed head of the prisoner’s ward, correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker.

Comment: The story of Joseph and his brothers continues the challenges and the tikkun process (restoration) of ‘making straight the deceptions’ which occurred during Jacob’s life. We hear in the words of the Torah echoes from previous chapters in Bereishith.

There are references to the 2 goats used by Rebecca (Gen. 27:9) to prepare delicacies for her near-blind husband Isaac, in the blood that was used to stain the multi-coloured tunic of Joseph before it was returned to Jacob (Gen. 37:31).

There were also echoes of Isaac when he first met Rebecca and she asked ‘who is that man in the fields?’ (Gen. 24:65) The brothers used the same word halazeh upon seeing Joseph in the distance ‘behold that dreamer has come.’ (Gen. 37:19)

All of this gives reason to believe that something cosmic was happening and Joseph was merely the conduit. That he managed to keep himself morally upright and spiritually whole during this extended period explains why rabbinic literature refers to Joseph as the Tsadik (righteous).

In responding to the wine steward and the baker, Joseph offered the same words that he would later say to Pharaoh – behold, the explanation of dreams is in the hands of G-d (Gen. 40:8)

There are times in our lives when we can’t understand a sequence of events that may involve us. Whether it be an unexpected accident or something completely beyond our expectations and out of our comfort zone, it’s usually these times that offer us the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth.

Like Joseph being exiled from his father’s house, sometimes, we too are tested in our own lives, in order to open up entire new vistas of opportunity. When this occurs, it requires both the awareness that we’re being put through unusual circumstances and the presence of mind to rise to the challenge – searching for G-d in the possibilities that lie ahead.

Thoughts for the Week 22 December


Hardly could we hope the year to end differently than it began. How sad for those innocently killed while holiday shopping in Berlin! Though it may be hard to believe, the times in which we live are safer today than at any other point in history (TED Talk). But for those who lose loved ones in ideological battles of another place and era, our hearts break for the decades of sorrow they will have to endure.

This coming week is Limmud Conference 2016. Once again, the Rabbi and his wife will be presenting talks. Please consult the Limmud schedule if you’re planning to be in Birmingham and drop in to say hello. The Rabbi will speak about the Life & Labours of Menasseh Ben Israel. Michie will be giving 2 well-researched talks on the Moroccan Suleika and on Chiune Sugihara.


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 22: Authorship of the 22nd chapter of Psalm is credited as a Song to David. The opening words Ayelet HaShahar (Fawn of the Morning) connect this Psalm to Purim. The speaker is a royal figure of the calibre of King David – or in this case Queen Esther.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ, עַל-אַיֶּלֶת הַשַּׁחַר; מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד. For the Leader; upon Ayelet ha-Shahar. A Psalm of David. (Psalms 22:1)

This Psalm is 32 verses long and follows previous patterns of 1) crying out to G-d for salvation and 2) thanking G-d for being rescued.

אֵ-לִי אֵ-לִי, לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי; רָחוֹק מִישׁוּעָתִי, דִּבְרֵי שַׁאֲגָתִי. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me, You are far from my help, the words of my cry? (Psalms 22:2)

Verse 4 and verse 29 appear in our daily liturgy.

וְאַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ– יוֹשֵׁב, תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל. Yet You are holy, O You that are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. (Psalms 22:4)

כִּי לַ-ה, הַמְּלוּכָה; וּמֹשֵׁל, בַּגּוֹיִם. For the kingdom is the LORD’S; who is Ruler over the nations. (Psalms 22:29)

Some commentaries further suggest this Psalm prophetically is relevant to, and resonates with, the long experience of Jewish exile and eventual redemption. The beginning reference to dawn implies optimism – the outbreak of a new day.

יָבֹאוּ, וְיַגִּידוּ צִדְקָתוֹ: לְעַם נוֹלָד, כִּי עָשָׂה. They shall come and declare G-d’s righteousness to a people who shall be born, that it is done. (Psalms 22:32)

Written mostly in the 1st person, this Psalm can be read by anyone in personal distress. It recalls our agony of being distant from G-d, and reminds us of G-d’s ‘pain’ in being separated from us.

We pray for a speedy end to our long exile.

Parshat VaYishlah

Summary: VaYishlah is the 8th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 32:4-36:43. It describes how Jacob prepared to meet his brother Esav after 20 years separation, the night-struggle he had wrestling with a mysterious figure and finally their tearful reconciliation as brothers.

After Jacob & Esav went their separate ways, the parasha reports the rape of Dinah and the subsequent sacking of Shekhem by Shimon, Levi and the other brothers. Jacob chastised his sons for their revenge killings and commanded his entire household to dispose of any idolatrous spoils taken from the town.

The family travelled to Beit El where among their entourage, his mother Rebecca’s nursemaid, Deborah, died. G-d again appeared to Jacob telling him he would be blessed with abundant offspring and in return, Jacob built an altar and a monument there to G-d.

Rachel died in childbirth bearing Binyamin. Not long after, Reuben defiled his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Jacob finally returned to Hebron to be with Isaac. And at age 180, Isaac died and was buried by his 2 sons.

The remainder of the parasha describes the lineage of Esav who had 3 wives and 5 children and who settled near Mt Seir. The heads of the Hori clan were listed. VaYishlah ends with the names of 8 kings who descended from Esav.

Comment: The story of VaYishlah shows the transformation of the third of our patriarchs from Jacob to Israel. Yaacob was his birth name which meant ‘heel’ or ‘crooked’. Yisrael became the name that meant ‘straight’ with G-d and man.

Despite beginning as someone who deceived others, after 20 years of deception under his father-in-law, Jacob had matured and was empathetic with Esav. Sincere tears of joy and relief were shed at their reunion. The Torah suggests the brothers somehow became resolved with each other – something that time & distance often allows.

But before the children of Jacob could become the nation Bnei Yisrael, they had to overcome the inherent challenges of being straight with each other. Children unconsciously absorb the behavioural traits and patterns of their parents.

Jacob’s challenge was in dealing honestly with his brother Esav. Not the favoured child in Isaac’s eyes, Jacob’s adaptive psychological approach was to manipulate by deceit. That his children chose the same method in dealing with Shekhem should be no surprise.

Jacob was incensed when Shimon & Levi avenged the honour of their sister Dinah. But, as children of Leah, the wife less favoured in Jacob’s eyes, they too were following a pattern set for them by their father.

As parents we have such a huge responsibility to be capable role models to our children. It often isn’t easy or convenient but we need to remember our actions will reverberate in their lives for decades if not generations to come.

Thoughts for the Week 15 December

In a week when news reports describe the unimaginable trauma suffered by those living in Aleppo, Syria, under the hands of brutal military forces, it’s hard not to feel despondent.

Rabbi Joel Finkelstein of Memphis Tennessee wrote insightfully. “We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust; and then came Sarajevo and then came Rwanda, then came Somalia, then came Allepo. Now we realize that ‘never again’ is a prayer, not a statement of fact. Let’s pray harder.”

As Hanukah approaches we can remind ourselves that the miraculous victory of the Maccabees was more than a one-day flask of oil lasting for 8 days. It was the victory of a small nation who believed in G-d and who believed that man has a responsibility with G-d’s assistance to build a world of light, goodness and spirituality.

History will call out and judge those who commit atrocities against humanity. Genesis 9:6 states  ‘Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for you are created in the image of G-d.’ (Gen. 9:6).

Especially in an age where news is transmitted instantaneously, we must remind ourselves that our role is to be co-creators with the Almighty in a celebration of life and community and not of death and destruction.

It isn’t often that one can praise the work of the United Nations General Assembly, but recently through the efforts of R Yaacov D Cohen, it was declared that going forward every 28 November will be recognised as the Universal Noahide Ethics Day.The 7 Noahide Laws are believed to be the ancient framework upon which contemporary civil law is based.

Those of us who struggle to find meaning in our day-to-day routines, especially during these dark winter months, a daily Mishna, Talmud page (subscribe to: or other Torah study plus a small act of Hesed each day can be a remarkable inspiration – especially when seeing them add up over time.


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 21: The 21st chapter of Psalms is credited to King David. Surprisingly, it is a wholly unfamiliar chapter – the verses do not appear elsewhere in our liturgy.

This Psalm is about the privilege and protection G-d bestows upon kings and the Holy wrath shown to their enemies. It expects a reciprocity of devotion from the king; trusting that only through G-d’s assistance can victory be achieved.

כִּי-תְשִׁיתֵהוּ בְרָכוֹת לָעַד; תְּחַדֵּהוּ בְשִׂמְחָה, אֶת-פָּנֶיךָ. For You make him most blessed for ever; You make him glad with joy in Your presence. (Psalms 21:7)

כִּי-הַמֶּלֶךְ, בֹּטֵחַ בַּ-ה; וּבְחֶסֶד עֶלְיוֹן, בַּל-יִמּוֹט. For the king trusts in the LORD, yea, in the mercy of the Most High; he shall not be moved. (Psalms 21:8)

Some suggest this poetic imagery goes beyond David’s kingship to include a lineage extending until the Messiah. And while referring to the days of the Messiah, Psalm 21 metaphorically highlights not only mortal strife between King and Enemy but the larger existential struggle between Good and Evil – and how it will be resolved at the End of Days.

תִּמְצָא יָדְךָ, לְכָל-אֹיְבֶיךָ; יְמִינְךָ, תִּמְצָא שֹׂנְאֶיךָ. Your hand shall be equal to all your enemies; thy right hand shall overtake those that hate thee. (Psalms 21:9)

תְּשִׁיתֵמוֹ, כְּתַנּוּר אֵשׁ– לְעֵת פָּנֶיךָ: ה, בְּאַפּוֹ יְבַלְּעֵם; וְתֹאכְלֵם אֵשׁ. You make them as a fiery furnace in the time of Your anger; the LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them. (Psalms 21:10)

A variant interpretation of Verse 10 suggests G-d has made our enemies an instrument for the punishment we incur but, eventually, our persecutors will be consumed by their own contempt.

רוּמָה ה בְּעֻזֶּךָ; נָשִׁירָה וּנְזַמְּרָה, גְּבוּרָתֶךָ. Be exalted, O LORD, in Your strength; so will we sing and praise Your power. (Psalms 21:14)

Parshat VaYetse

Summary: VaYetse is the 7th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 28:10-32:3. It describes the life of Jacob after being sent from Canaan to find a wife in his ancestral home. VaYetse follows Jacob from his father’s house to the home of his Uncle Laban.

During that period he experienced many wonders & challenges including; dreaming of a ladder reaching from Earth to Heaven, meeting and falling in love with Rachel at the well, working for Laban for 7 years, being tricked into marrying Leah then after a week marrying Rachel and working another 7 years, the subsequent birth of children (from 2 wives and 2 handmaidens), his last 6 years working for Laban to accumulate flocks and finally, his departure from Haran back to Canaan.

Comment: VaYetse is a chiastic-structured parasha that begins and ends with Jacobs travels, and much of what happens in between appears in parallels. Rabbi David Fohrman observes that Jacob alights on a place where he sees Angels as he’s about to leave Canaan and he arrives at a place where he sees Angels on his return (‘and he called the place Mahanayim‘ Gen. 32:2).

He takes 12 stones from under his head and consecrates them (‘and this stone which is placed as a memorial will become the house of G-d’ Gen. 28:22) and he takes stones for a monument to make a covenant between himself and Laban at the end.

The centre of this chiastic structure is the story of Rachel. Despite the embarrassment her father caused by switching Leah for Rachel on the day of her marriage,  eventually she was given a son who removed her shame (‘G-d has gathered in my shame’ Gen. 30:23).

We are exhorted in the Mussar books and elsewhere that shaming another person is like causing them death by fire – anyone who has experienced that burning sensation on the face or cheeks when embarrassed will understand. Equally, we’re charged to go through fire rather than cause shame to another.

What we learn from the story of Rachel is that by enduring her humiliation she earned G-d’s favour and, through her children, was able to establish seeds for their redemption. Rachel’s life was by no means easy; it was intensely complicated and not for reasons of her own doing.

But, the Midrash tells us, that Rachel is the matriarch who looks after the Jewish people during our exile. She is the one who, from her resting place in Bet Lehem, offered comfort and consolation during the Babylonian deportations.

Where the tendency today is to lash out at others who offend us, we might benefit from the example of Rachel in learning to be long-suffering. In the end, our efforts will kindle G-d’s mercy.

Thoughts for the Week 8 December

December is the month for year-end celebrations and office parties. It signals the winding down of business activities and summing up of another year past.

Facebook has a very clever App showing all the posts one has submitted throughout the year and, in attractive graphics, the total of one’s annual activity. The posh credit card companies will soon be circulating a full summary of one’s spending.  There are many ways to monitor our productivity for the year 2016.

Interestingly, it’s hardly more than 2 months since Rosh Hashanah. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could also set-in place some form of monitoring system for our spiritual achievements!

Those of us who struggle to find meaning in our day-to-day routines, especially during these dark winter months, a daily Mishna, Talmud page (subscribe to: or other Torah study plus a small act of Hesed each day can be a remarkable inspiration – especially when seeing them add up over time.

What will you do to measure your spiritual progress?


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 20: Authorship of the 20th chapter of Psalms is credited to King David. There is much written about it because it appears prominently in our Tefillah. The entirety of Psalm 20 is recited most days between Ashrei& Uva LeTsion toward the end of the Morning Shaharit service.

The Babylonian Talmud advises that one should pray for redemption after acknowledging salvation comes from G-d. Chapter 19 concluded with the words, ‘The Lord is my Rock & Redeemer,’ and appropriately, Chapter 20 begins with a plea to G-d to ‘answer us in the day of our troubles’.

יַעַנְךָ ה, בְּיוֹם צָרָה; יְשַׂגֶּבְךָ, שֵׁם אֱ-לֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב. May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble; the name of the G-d of Jacob set you on high. (Psalm 20:2)

Further, we find the famous quotation which has kept Jewish morale high over the millennia. While others rely on physical numbers and weaponry, we survive through G-d remembering us.

אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב, וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים; וַאֲנַחְנוּ, בְּשֵׁם-ה אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we mention the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:8)

The last verse appears ubiquitously; in the Penitential Tahanun prayer, the beginning of the Evening Arbit Service and in Havdalah – to name just a few locations.

ה הוֹשִׁיעָה: הַמֶּלֶךְ, יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם-קָרְאֵנוּ. LORD, save; let the King answer us in the day we call. (Psalm 20:10) 

Uniquely, Psalm 20 has 70 words; some say this is associated with the 70 years of exile between the 1st and 2nd Jewish Temples, while others say with the 70 cries of child birth. There are few Psalms recommended specifically for times of distress; Psalm 20 can be recited during personal, communal or national calamities.

Parshat Toldot

Summary: Toldot is the 6th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 25:19-28:9. The parsha begins with Isaac & Rebekah after their marriage, their barrenness and the birth of twins Esau & Jacob. It describes the children’s characters – Esau a hunter and Jacob a scholar – and sheds light on their contentious relationship with each other. The Torah states outright ‘Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob’.

When they were still young, Esau, who’d returned from the fields famished, found Jacob cooking a lentil stew. When he asked for some, Jacob insisted Esau first sell his birth-right – leading to increased resentment.

During a famine in the land, Isaac prepared to move his family south. The Almighty appeared in a vision promising Isaac the blessings of Abraham – many children and a land to inherit.

Isaac settled in Gerar, the land of the Philistines. There, asked about his wife, he referred to her as his sister. Avimelekh discovering the truth, confronted Isaac’s deception. While continuing to reside in the area, Isaac farmed the land with great success. But as his wealth multiplied, the local people became jealous and he moved away to a place where his father had once dug wells.

After the death of Abraham, the local people had stopped-up the wells, so Isaac re-dug them. But the Philistines complained the wells belonged to them. Isaac called the first one Esek (strife) and when the same occurred a second time, he named it Sitna (hatred). Only after moving away again was he able to dig a third well that went uncontested. So he called it Rehovot (expansion).

Leaving the Philistine area, Isaac journeyed to Be’er Sheva where again he had a vision that his children would be blessed. There he built an altar and cried out in the name of G-d. Regretting their decision to have chased Isaac away, Avimelekh and his officers seek him out. Isaac rebukes them but acquiesces to their request for a treaty. On the day his Philistine visitors left, Isaac was informed his servants found water in Be’er Sheva.

Esau at age-40 took 2 Hittite wives for marriage – Yehudit and Basmat; this became a sore point for his parents.

When Isaac reached old age and his sight had failed him, he summoned Esau, tasking him to hunt some delicacies, in order to merit Isaac’s blessing. Overhearing, Rebekah quickly intervened telling Jacob to impersonate his brother and surreptitiously receive the blessing instead. Rebekah prepared a plate of delicacies from 2 local goats, dressing Jacob with their hairy skins.

Though Isaac cautiously tried to verify the true identity of the person in front of him, he eventually blessed Jacob. No sooner had Jacob left then Esau appeared. Horrified his brother had again taken what was his, Esau cried out in anguish until Isaac found a blessing for Esau as well. The incident hardened Esau’s resolve to kill his brother.

When Rebekah heard Esau’s intentions, she complained to Isaac that Jacob mustn’t marry any of the local women. So, Isaac summoned Jacob, sending him away to the home of his uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother. When Esau saw that Jacob had been sent away, he added a third wife – Mahalat, from the B’nei Ishmael.

Comment: Just as there were uncomfortable silences during the story of the banishment of Hagar & Ishmael, there are enormous difficulties in teaching the stories of Toldot. Two examples would be ‘why did Rebekah resort to deception to get the blessings for Jacob when she might have just explained her convictions to Isaac?’ And, ‘how does the desired outcome of having Jacob receive the blessings justify the deception of Esau and the anguish it caused?’

Some Torah commentaries assert that the story of Genesis is about finding a way back to the Garden of Eden through reconciliation or tikkun. This was the aim of the Noah story which ended unsuccessfully. It continued with Abraham in the hope that one righteous individual would restore our broken link to the Divine.

Seen in this light, the family of Abraham was meant to carry on his legacy and eventually become a nation, and in that capacity serve as a guiding light unto all other nations. To the uninformed outsider, then, the challenge for both Abraham and Isaac was to have an heir worthy of carrying on this mission. And so, if the prerequisite for choosing the next generation who receives the mantle of leadership is righteousness – it defies rationality when the key figures act in ways that seem less than honourable.

There is no quick or easy answer to resolving this dilemma. Those willing to look at the scriptural texts for what they contain, will no doubt find them difficult to explain away. One approach that can be applied is to recognise that all of these acts had significant consequences.

Just as the banishing of Hagar was a precursor for the years of servitude Bnei Yisrael would experience in Egypt, so too, did Jacob’s deceiving Esau lead to years of strife between the twin brothers and their descendants. Except for the last 17 years of his life when he was reunited with Joseph, Jacob suffered continuously from deceptions brought against him.

By contemporary standards, we’d find it hard to respect the deceiver over the deceived. Let the stories of Toldot teach us that the end doesn’t justify the means.

Thoughts for the Week 1 December

The rabbi returned from Vienna inspired by the completion of the KAICIID programme on Conflict Resolution & Peace Building. In total, 43 delegates from 20 countries participated in the closing training which emphasised the importance of Dialogue. Photo highlights can be found here, here & here.

In a world where communication has become instantaneous, and where the volume of every kind of information available is in the hands of the lay person, we’re challenged to think beyond our parochialism and our prejudices. There is a spirit within each of us that wishes it were possible to live without hatred and violence, without selfishness and strife.

In many religions this is anticipated in the equivalent of a Messianic period that has thus far never materialised. And according to some views, humanity will never reach that point without making the compromises required. It used to be fashionable to discuss utopian lifestyles but these days we’re far more preoccupied with the polity’s shift toward nationalism.

With regard to the difficult issues, of saving our environment, of helping refugees, of youth radicalisation, many of us have adopted a NIMBY policy – not in my back yard, or I’m too busy to be involved, or ‘aren’t there more qualified people looking after this?’.

But neglect and avoidance are unsuccessful strategies. By comparison, this happens with regard to personal health. How many times have we noticed some small thing not going right in our bodies but then can’t find time to visit the GP to have it examined?

With so much political movement to the right, isn’t it time we asked ourselves ‘what’s really going wrong and what can we do to find a new sense of balance?’

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 19:

Authorship of the 19th chapter of Psalms is credited to King David. It is a meditation – and it contains a two-fold message. In the first part, King David extols the works of Nature which allow us to perceive the wonders of G-d’s creation.

הַשָּׁמַיִם, מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹדאֵל; וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו, מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ. The Heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the Firmament shows His handiwork. (Psalms 19:2)

The second message from verse 8 onwards is that through G-d’s revelation to Bnei Yisrael at Sinai, we can have a relationship with our Creator.

 תּוֹרַת ה תְּמִימָה, מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ; עֵדוּת ה נֶאֱמָנָה, מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalms 19:8)

The final verses then beseech G-d’s protection in keeping us from going astray.

 גַּם מִזֵּדִים, חֲשֹׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָאַליִמְשְׁלוּבִי אָז אֵיתָם; וְנִקֵּיתִי, מִפֶּשַׁע רָב. Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins, that they may not have dominion over me; then shall I be faultless, and I shall be clear from great transgression. (Psalms 19:14)

This Psalm may be familiar because it is read on Shabbat morning during Zemirot (Pisukei D’Zimrah). And, its last verse is said silently and at least thrice daily at the end of each Amidah.

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵיפִי, וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ: ה, צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, O LORD, my Rock, and my Redeemer. (Psalms 19:15)