Monthly Archives: February 2017

Parshat Mishpatim-Shekalim

Summary: Parshat Mishpatim is the 6th in the Book of Exodus, spanning chapters 21:1-24:18. Following in close proximity the Revelation at Sinai of the 10 Commandments, it includes details of 52 mostly societal laws.

Among them (and in order) are laws pertaining to; Hebrew slaves, murder & manslaughter, bodily damage, tort damages from animals to humans or animals to animals, theft of cattle or sheep, negligence with fire or pit, responsibility as a watchman, borrower or renter, penalties for seduction, not oppressing the stranger and the prohibition against taking interest.

The next section includes laws about; not cursing G-d or perverting justice, returning your enemy’s animal and helping when it collapses under its burden, avoiding taking bribes, observing the Sabbatical year of the land, Shabbat and Festivals, bringing first fruits and not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk.

The reward for following the commands was G-d’s protection from your enemies, the removal of all hardship, and inheritance of the land of Canaan. The people mustn’t worship local gods.

Mishpatim ends with Moshe & Aharon, Nadav & Avihu and the 70 Elders approaching the mountain. Moshe taught the people who responded in unison ‘we will do’.

Moshe then wrote down all of G-d’s words and arose early the next morning to build an altar with 12 pillars (one for each of the tribes). He sent young lads to offer sacrifices collecting half the blood in basins and the other half to throw on the altar. Then he read the Book of the Covenant to Bnei Yisrael who this time replied ‘we will do and we will listen.’ Moshe sprinkled blood on the people as a covenant between them and G-d.

Finally, Moshe and his entourage ascended the mountain part-way where they saw a vision of the Almighty like ‘smooth sapphire as clear as the heavens’. G-d told Moshe to ascend to the top of the mountain where he would receive the tablets of stone on which the Torah and Mitsvot were written. Moshe took Joshua with him, instructing the Elders to remain behind, leaving Aharon & Hur in charge until his return.

Moshe alone ascended toward the mountain covered in cloud. The glory of G-d dwelt on the mountain for 6 days and from amidst the cloud on the 7th day G-d called out to Moshe. It appeared like a fire consuming the top of the mountain in the eyes of the people. Moshe entered the cloud, ascended the mountain and remained there for 40 days and 40 nights.

Comment: It has been many years since we had a newspaper delivered to our door. Instead, the morning news arrives either by radio or via the Internet. It is hard to resist scanning the 25-30 headline features on at the start of the day. Some are actually interesting, most are designed just to titillate. These past few days attention was grabbed by the Easy-Jet Haredi scandal and the IS Suicide Bomber allegedly paid £1 million to blow himself up in Iraq.

Special algorithms are used by Internet providers to note what we click on and provide us more of the same. After a period, the news we receive begins to conform narrowly to our personal interests. If we’re not careful, our inputs eventually may consist only of that which agrees with us.

Mishpatim begins with a discussion of the rights of the Hebrew slave, male and female. ‘Should you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall work for you 6 years and be set free in the seventh.’ And ‘Should a man sell his daughter into servitude, she mustn’t be treated like an ordinary slave.’ (Exodus 21;2,7).

Slavery was a system in which laws of property were applied to human beings, allowing some individuals to own, buy or sell others. Often the slave had no say in the matter, couldn’t regain his/her freedom, and worked without being compensated for their productivity. Worse, owners were often physically abusive to their slaves. More loosely defined, slavery was about forcing someone to do things they didn’t want to.

Though slavery goes back nearly to the beginning of time, it was outlawed in the last century and is now recognised by human rights organisations and international courts as illegal. Yet, according to Wikipedia, there are nearly 45 million people in the world still enslaved. Known as human trafficking, many are confined through relationships of forced marriage, domestic servitude, child soldiering and debt bondage.

Some question the ongoing relevance of the Torah, due to its seeming acceptance of slavery. Others defend the Torah for its ancient wisdom and innovative stance that all humans are created in the Divine image and thus entitled to freedom. A more accurate view would be that Judaism provides a foundation for morality and justice against a world that often lacks both.

From a philosophical viewpoint, the commandments are intended to help refine us into a nation of priests and a holy people. Within each of us lives a Divine soul surrounded by a physical body – the intent of each not always in harmony with the other. Our life-long struggle is to gain control over our lower impulses, raising ourselves up to a higher standard.

Adherence to laws such as how we treat our fellow human beings define what kind of people we become. So it’s important that we’re committed to defend the rights of all people to live as free human beings.

One element of being truly free includes self-control and an ability to observe ourselves objectively, moderating our behaviour when necessary. While not comparing the offensive bad manners of those who flew on Easy Jet to the deranged assassin detonating himself for money, we can point out that religious extremism often leads to losing that important sense of objectivity.

Too frequently we’re content to live a narrowly focused life, only seeing things which conform to our baser inclinations leading to a very closed-off world view. The Torah’s laws against slavery metaphorically remind us that servitude can occur in the mind as well as through the body and that we must be ever vigilant towards both.

Thoughts for the Week 23 February

Again this week we remind you that we’re urgently appealing to readers to participate in a drive (to volunteer a saliva sample) to help Sipy Howard, a member of our UK Sephardi community suffering from blood cancer. The details of how to donate are attached. Please attend the 5 March remaining session at BES Synagogue or contact DKMS to get a free sample kit.

FOLLOW-UP ON SAD NEWS FROM BOREHAMWOOD: Shiva for 5-year-old Shani Berman finished yesterday. The outpouring of support from our local community was gratefully received by the family. Now begins the immensely difficult task of returning to the world of the living. For the past years during Shani’s illness, Simon wrote a blog ‘How Fragile We Are’. It offers a fragmentary glimpse of the continuous treatment and hope-filled struggle of a very brave 5 3/4 year-old child. We pray the family will be comforted by the Divine and learn to cope in the days and months ahead.

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

For those who read Psalms regularly as a prayer for well-being, it’s interesting to note the 150 chapters are divided into 3 different partitions. There is the Days-of-the-Week division where one can recite roughly 20-30 Psalms per day completing the entirety within 7 days. There is a separate division based on the 30-day Calendar where one can read roughly 5 chapters per day and also finish the entirety within a month.

Then there is a division which comprises 5 books; Book 1 consists of Psalms 1–41, Book 2 of Psalms 42–72, Book 3 of Psalms 73–89, Book 4 of Psalms 90–106, and Book 5 of Psalms 107–150. This is referenced in the midrash as being modelled on the 5 Books of the Torah. Scholars have noted in the 5 books the unique use of the name for G-d. Books 1, 4 & 5 predominantly use the 4-letter name beginning with the letter Yod, while Books 2 & 3 more frequently use the name Elohkim.

Chapter 31: The 31st Psalm may have been written during David’s persecution by King Saul. Initially, it offers praise to the Almighty for providing him a place of spiritual refuge…

בְּךָ-ה חָסִיתִי, אַל-אֵבוֹשָׁה לְעוֹלָם; בְּצִדְקָתְךָ פַלְּטֵנִי.

In You, O LORD, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness. (Psalm 31:2)

בְּיָדְךָ, אַפְקִיד רוּחִי: פָּדִיתָ אוֹתִי ה–אֵל אֱמֶת.

Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You’ve redeemed me, O LORD, God of truth. (Psalm 31:6)

Then David turns to thank G-d for delivering him from personal afflictions and from his enemies.

אָגִילָה וְאֶשְׂמְחָה, בְּחַסְדֶּךָ: אֲשֶׁר רָאִיתָ, אֶת-עָנְיִי; יָדַעְתָּ, בְּצָרוֹת נַפְשִׁי.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your lovingkindness; for You’ve seen my affliction, You’ve recognised the troubles of my soul. (Psalm 31:8)

מִכָּל-צֹרְרַי הָיִיתִי חֶרְפָּה, וְלִשְׁכֵנַי מְאֹד– וּפַחַד לִמְיֻדָּעָי: רֹאַי בַּחוּץ– נָדְדוּ מִמֶּנִּי.

Because of all my adversaries I am a reproach; to my neighbours exceedingly, and a dread to my acquaintances; they who watch flee from me. (Psalm 31:12)

In exile, David was constantly betrayed to Saul, but G-d rescued him from mortal danger.

הָאִירָה פָנֶיךָ, עַל-עַבְדֶּךָ; הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי בְחַסְדֶּךָ.

Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness. (Psalm 31:17)

מָה רַב-טוּבְךָ, אֲשֶׁר-צָפַנְתָּ לִּירֵאֶיךָ: פָּעַלְתָּ, לַחֹסִים בָּךְ; נֶגֶד, בְּנֵי אָדָם.

Oh how abundant is Your goodness, which You’ve prepared for those that fear You; which You’ve made for those who take refuge in You, in sight of the sons of men! (Psalm 31:20)

Our lesson, through hardship and challenging times, is to trust in G-d whose Divine Will determines the fate of each individual.

חִזְקוּ, וְיַאֲמֵץ לְבַבְכֶם– כָּל-הַמְיַחֲלִים, לַ-ה.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all who wait for the LORD. (Psalm 31:25)

This last verse in Psalm 31 is found at the end of U’Va L’Tsion.

Parshat Yitro

Summary: One of the shorter parashot of the year, Yitro is 5th in the Book of Shemot, spanning chapters 18:1-20:23. In it, Yitro brought Moshe’s family into the desert and offered his son-in-law advice on how to establish an efficient judicial system.

Moshe was commanded by G-d to bring Bnei Yisrael to the base of Mt Sinai and to charge them to sanctify themselves for 3 days. Meeting the Almighty, he was told to warn the priests and the people not to ascend after him.

On the 3rd day, with the mountain ablaze in fire and reverberant with sound, the Almighty revealed to all those assembled the 10 Commandments. The parasha ends with laws about altars for offering sacrifices to G-d.

Comment: Several puzzling questions arise when looking at Parshat Yitro. First, why after the national experiences of the splitting of the Reed Sea and the Revelation at Sinai do we have this seeming interruption of Moshe’s family being reunited?

Next, looking at the way he was initially addressed in the Torah as Yitro, High Priest of Midian, Father-in-Law of Moshe, why does his name change through the rest of the narrative until he’s simply referred to as father-in-law?

And, why is the parasha in which the 10 Commandments appear named after Yitro and not Moshe or anyone else?

As a recently freed, young Joseph said to Pharaoh in Genesis when asked to interpret dreams of the 7 Fat Cows and the 7 Ripe Ears of Corn, ‘these are one and the same.’ Here too, we may be looking for a single answer that addresses all of our questions.

The Parasha opens with a narrator’s description that ‘Yitro, the Priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moshe heard … all that G-d had done for Moshe and Bnei Yisrael … and Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law came with his wife and children…’ (Exodus 18:1-5).

The great medieval Biblical exegete Rashi (1040-1105) explained that Yitro heard news of the 10 plagues that struck Egypt, the splitting of the Reed Sea and the attack by Amalek. In an age without internet, it’s unclear how fast news travelled but if we assume this part of the Torah is in chronological order, it could only have been a matter of weeks.

Let us also recall that since the time of Viceroy Joseph, the surrounding nations were indebted to Egypt for feeding them during the great famine and a series of suzerain relationships may have been in place – with Egypt receiving annual tribute from its surrounding neighbours.

The news their slave population was freed and the elite Egyptian soldiers drowned in the Sea would have been an enormous shock to the known world. Egyptian culture was considered the finest of its period. The Jewish exodus in effect foreshadowed an imminent decline to what was then the known civilisation.

In a way, Bnei Yisrael’s departure destroyed the regional balance of power. More than iconoclastic, they were a threat to the established world order. How could Egypt continue economically without its slave base? At what point would the empire crumble?

But Yitro was a high ranking national figure. His initial interest, as Priest of Midian, would have been more diplomatic than familial. Just as one sends spies to learn about one’s enemies and one’s allies, Yitro may have wanted a first-hand look at what might be the new world order. Perhaps, the same fear of change may also explain why Amalek felt a need to attack. Emancipation was a threat that might impact all cultures.

In verse 18:8, Moshe recounted to Yitro the entire odyssey – of what G-d did to Pharaoh and to Egypt for the sake of Bnei Yisrael, how they’d been saved from harm and delivered, leading Yitro to declare in his own words ‘Blessed is G-d who delivered you’ (18:9-10).

The importance of this transition is not lost on the rabbis of the Talmudic period, some of whom speculated that Yitro then converted to Judaism. At this point, Yitro’s interest was no longer national or diplomatic but familial.

Yet, soon afterwards, watching his son-in-law adjudicate, seeing him work so hard as to preclude time for family life, the narrative describes Yitro only as ‘father-in-law’. Having seen that this newly-freed slave-nation lacked even basic social controls and organisation, Yitro decided to return home.

There are many angles with which to refract and reflect upon this story. First, that Yitro, a respected leader during a time of great flux and instability, ascertained for himself that the Exodus was a good event and the collapse of Egypt would lead to new circumstances and not to world chaos. Second, that Yitro’s arrival helped authenticate the Jewish experience and bring legitimacy to their struggle for freedom. And third, that Yitro, despite high rank, put aside his title to have compassion for Moshe and his family.

Was this enough reason to warrant naming the parasha of the 10 Commandments after Yitro may be a point to argue. But, it helps us visualise some of Yitro’s motives and the diplomatic value his support offered to Bnei Yisrael.

And it reminds us that in troubling times such as ours, we should stand for our own beliefs and not be swayed by rumours and rabble. And that we must have compassion for those who are scapegoated and made the object of our fears.

Thoughts for the Week 16 February

Nearly a year ago we were actively involved in trying to rescue a young lady with blood cancer. Thankfully, in publicising the details, enough people came forward to volunteer a saliva sample yielding a donor match.

We’re again urgently appealing to readers to participate in a drive to help Sipy Howard, a member of our UK Sephardi community. The details of how to donate are attached. Please attend one of the remaining sessions at Neve Shalom, Ohel Devorah, Mill Hill Synagogue or BES Synagogue or contact DKMS to get a free sample kit.

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 30: The 30th Psalm is attributed to King David. The major theme is the dedication of the House of G-d. It includes David’s recurring thanks to the Almighty for rescuing him from his enemies, enabling him to rejoice in G-d’s presence. It also hints at the ultimate purpose of Creation.

אֲרוֹמִמְךָ ה, כִּי דִלִּיתָנִי; וְלֹא-שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִי.

I will extol You, O LORD, for You’ve raised me up, and haven’t suffered my enemies to rejoice over me. (Psalm 30:2)

זַמְּרוּ לַ-ה חֲסִידָיו; וְהוֹדוּ, לְזֵכֶר קָדְשׁוֹ.

Sing praise unto the LORD, O ye His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. (Psalm 30:5)

More existentially, David poses the rhetorical question ‘of what benefit is a human life?’ His reply suggests our true purpose is Worship& Recognition of the Divine. Thus, a world where humans fail to praise or acknowledge G-d, is a world of limited value.

מַה-בֶּצַע בְּדָמִי, בְּרִדְתִּי אֶל-שָׁחַת: הֲיוֹדְךָ עָפָר; הֲיַגִּיד אֲמִתֶּךָ.

What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth? (Psalm 30:10)

An alternative interpretation of Psalm 30 sees this as the ‘dark cloud before the silver lining’. Before dedicating the Temple, the nation experienced frustration and difficulty. Just as the darkest part of night precedes sunrise, so affliction and suffering will precede the jubilation of our Eternal Redemption. Nonetheless, our challenge is to relentlessly, no matter the hardship, offer unstinting praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty.

שְׁמַע-ה וְחָנֵּנִי; ה, הֱיֵה-עֹזֵר לִי.

Hear, O LORD, and be gracious unto me; LORD, be my helper. (Psalm 30:11)

לְמַעַן, יְזַמֶּרְךָ כָבוֹד– וְלֹא יִדֹּם: ה אֱ-לֹהַי, לְעוֹלָם אוֹדֶךָּ.

So that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent; O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Psalm 30:13)

This well-known Psalm appears in the daily Shaharit service before Barukh She’amar. It is also recited on Hanukkah. (A Sephardi custom is to only recite the 1st verse of Psalm 30 on the 8 days of Hanukkah. The remainder of the year, we begin from the 2nd verse.)

Parshat Beshalah

Summary: Beshalah is the 4th parasha in the Book of Shemot, spanning chapters 13:17-17:16. Most noteworthy for the Song of the Sea, Beshalah opens with the Egyptian pursuit of the freed Israelite slaves, their drowning at the Sea of Reeds, the song of rejoicing and Miriam’s song for the women.

Beshalah continues with the miracle of the Manna and the quail, the commandment not to gather Manna on Shabbat, the water test at Meribah and G-d’s command to Moshe to strike a rock to quench the nation’s thirst. The parasha ends with an unprovoked attack by the tribe of Amalek on the rear flank of the wandering Israelites.

Comment: Earlier this week, while out for a mid-morning walk in the neighbourhood one couldn’t but notice the many young mothers and nannies perambulating with their pre-school children. One ambitious mother uploaded the boot of her car with all the baby gear needed for a half-day outing. Watching, it struck me how under-appreciative we are of the contribution of nearly half our population.

It isn’t enough that we expect women to endure the physical pains of child-bearing and rearing but to expect our wives to be home makers, homework tutors and social-calendar organisers is a bit much. And, on the rare occasion when women band together on a Shabbat afternoon for group study and education, some husbands have been heard to complain how, after a long week working in their offices, it’s difficult to look after the children for a few hours. Are we not unworthy of the women who enhance our lives?

Enter Miriam, the prophetess, who in this week’s parasha is instrumental in drawing all the women into song after Shirat HaYam (Song of the Sea) – a short, percussive performance that might raise eyebrows in today’s religious circles. One can almost hear the complaints from wizened grey beards. Why must these women play music in public?

Yet, the story behind Miriam’s performance is a testimony to the honour showed her by Moshe and by G-d. As a small child, the Midrash recounts how she chastised her parents for refusing to bear further children once the Egyptian infanticide edict was announced. She prophesized that her parents would give birth to a baby that would one day redeem the enslaved Israelites.

Having listened to their eldest daughter, Moshe was born and though his initial chances of survival were slim, Miriam stood on the banks of the Nile to see how matters would play out. A new-born floating in a basket without food had little chance of survival. Yet her determination, to an extent, willed him to live, and may have brought about the miracle with Pharaoh’s daughter.

Now, 80 years later, after the harshest decades of enslavement and suffering, the Jewish people were finally released with great ‘borrowed’ riches as well. And, at the final moment when again it seemed their fate was sealed by the great waters of Egypt, Bnei Yisrael who instead witnessed a miracle unlike any that had ever occurred before, stood staring at their former task masters drowned by the sea.

That Miriam earned the privilege to sing with the women should be no surprise. For it was her initial role as a prophetess and as a caring, protective sister that brought about Moshe’s birth and survival. All the more reason that at the culmination and climactic moments at the Song of the Sea, she too was recognised for her contribution and took up timbrel in song.

May those in a position of authority give pause to consider the often truly under-appreciated role that women play in our world!


Among the unusual traditions in Judaism, is the custom to feed the birds during Shabbat Beshalah. There is a Midrash that some cynics placed Manna on the ground on Shabbat to prove Moshe had lied – because G-d had said no Manna would fall on Shabbat. But before anyone could find it, the birds ate everything. Another story is that birds joined with Bnei Yisrael while they sang the Song of the Sea.

Because this week’s portion includes the section about Manna, some believe by reciting this chapter it will increase one’s livelihood. Notwithstanding, the above, our custom is to simply sing the entire song, including verses 19-26, during Shaharit.

Thought for the Week 9 February


It’s hard to believe a year has passed since our 5th Anniversary Gala Dinner that took place on Tu BShvat. For those interested in a brief explanation about this festival and how to conduct your own Seder, please click here.


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 29: The preface to the well-known 29th Psalm identifies this as a Psalm of David. The themes are that G-d’s strength and glory are perceived in Creation, that our world only exists through the Divine Will, and that in Messianic times, G-d’s intervention in history will be retrospectively understood.

Unique to this Psalm is the appearance of the Divine name 18 times within its 11 verses. Some commentators suggest this led the rabbis to formulate the 18-blessing silent Amidah known as the Shemonah Esreh.

מִזְמוֹר, לְדָוִד: הָבוּ לַ-ה, בְּנֵי אֵלִים; הָבוּ לַ-ה, כָּבוֹד וָעֹז.

A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of might, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. (Psalm 29:1)

Mighty kings with great empires have arisen and disappeared. Like the majestic cedars of Lebanon, great rulers who’ve disdained G-d have seen all shatter before their very eyes.

קוֹל-ה בַּכֹּחַ; קוֹל ה, בֶּהָדָר.

The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. (Psalm 29:4)

קוֹל ה, שֹׁבֵר אֲרָזִים;    וַיְשַׁבֵּר ה, אֶת-אַרְזֵי הַלְּבָנוֹן.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (Psalm 29:5)

Noah’s Flood washed away what was evil in G-d’s eyes. In future, those setting themselves as G-d’s enemies will again be uprooted. But when G-d’s nation embraces and pursues spiritual achievements, they will be granted the Divine blessings of strength and peace.

ה–עֹז, לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן; ה, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.

The LORD will give strength unto His people; the LORD will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)

This Psalm is central to our liturgical service. It appears as part of Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night and is sung when returning the Torah to the Ark on Shabbat morning. The last verse is also found at the end of Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals).

Parshat Bo

Summary: Bo is the 3rd parasha in the Book of Shemot, spanning chapters 10:1-13:16 and containing the last 3 plagues (locusts, darkness and death of the first-born) brought by G-d against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people.

It includes a detailed description of the Paschal Lamb and the laws of the Pesah Seder. Toward the end of the parasha, Pharaoh unconditionally released Bnei Yisrael, ending in an instant their 430-year servitude. The parasha concludes with laws about redeeming first born animals and humans, and about wearing tefillin.

At the beginning of Parshat Bo, Moshe and Aharon warned Pharaoh to release the Jewish slaves or suffer the plague of swarming locusts that would consume all remaining vegetation in the land. Persuaded by his advisors that all was lost, Pharaoh recalled Moshe & Aharon. But when they refused to leave their children as security, talks collapsed. After the plague struck, Pharaoh quickly capitulated promising to let Bnei Yisrael go. But no sooner had the East wind blown the locusts to the sea, Pharaoh reneged again.

The plague of darkness descended on the Egyptians and for 3 days they weren’t able to leave their dwellings. Yet in Jewish homes there was light.

Pharaoh told Moshe to go, leaving behind the cattle. Moshe instead demanded that Pharaoh give them additional offerings to take. Pharaoh warned; ‘the day you see my face is the die you’ll die.’

G-d told Moshe to have Bnei Yisrael borrow silver and gold utensils from their Egyptian neighbours. Moshe warned Pharaoh at around midnight a plague would kill their first-born, there would be an enormous outcry of grief and the Egyptians themselves would expel Bnei Yisrael. G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he refused to release the Jewish people.

The Torah turns to the story of the first Pesah. Told this would be the 1st month of the calendar, G-d commanded that each household take a lamb on the 10th of the month. On the 14th at twilight they would all slaughter their animals, putting some of the blood on their door posts and lintel. Those inside should roast and eat the meat, dressed in their coats and shoes with their staffs in hand, eating the meal in haste. While outside, G-d would pass through the land striking dead all the Egyptian first-born. This would be a ritual festival in perpetuity. From the 14th to the 21st one must eat matzah and not leavened bread.

Moshe instructed the elders how to prepare the Paschal offering, telling them that when they reached the Land of Canaan and their children asked the reason for this ritual, they should explain it was because G-d passed-over all the homes of Bnei Yisrael. At around midnight the plague struck; no Egyptian home was spared, Pharaoh arose to hear the cries of the entire country, called Moshe and Aharon and told them to leave unconditionally, and asked only that they bless him.

The Egyptians pressed Bnei Yisrael to leave quickly, before their bread dough could rise. Roughly 600,000 men, as well as a mixed multitude, left abruptly, ending 430 years of servitude. The remainder of the parasha contains laws about Pesah, redeeming first born animals and humans, and about wearing Tefillin.

Comment: Several portions from this week’s parasha make up the Pesah – Festival and Hol HaMoed readings. In fact, much of our prayer liturgy revolves around a daily remembering of the experience of our ancestors when they left Egypt.

Yetsiat Mitsrayim (the Exodus) is the singular defining characteristic in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. Earlier in Shemot 4:22-23, G-d told Moshe to tell Pharaoh the Jewish people are ‘my first-born’ and if Pharaoh would fail to release them, G-d would strike down the Egyptian first-born in their stead.

One role of first-born is to be responsible in conveying the parental will and values to younger siblings. As G-d’s first born, it’s our national duty to uphold and transmit Divine Principles to a world that has adopted cruder, baser values. On the other hand, though we aspire to a more tolerant, inclusive view than perhaps in past generations, some would mis-define tolerance and pluralism to dilute recognition and adherence to a belief in G-d.

Egypt, like all civilisations, was proud of its achievements, substituting a belief in its triumph, for the recognition that all true success comes from the Almighty. For Bnei Yisrael, the Exodus is meant to disabuse us of such misinterpretation. Being unable to extract ourselves from the oppression of our taskmasters, enabled us to see that redemption had to come from G-d.

In times of political flux and uncertainty, remembering our Exodus anchors the Jewish people in our faith and confidence as a nation. Once redeemed by the hand of the Almighty, we will again be redeemed as G-d’s first-born.

Thought for the Week 2 February

HRH VISITS YAVNEH COLLEGE: Borehamwood was abuzz this week with a visit from HRH the Prince of Wales to Yavneh College. Invited by the Chief Rabbi to see the school’s many programmes that impact the wider community, Prince Charles was very generous in his praises of the students and staff. News articles & photos can be found here, here, and here.

TIME TO TALK: Today is ‘Time to Talk Thursday’, the first Thursday in February. Launched in 2007 as part of Time to Change, the objective is to get people throughout the country talking about mental health and well-being. For example, did you know that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 teenagers will experience a mental health issue each year?

Recognising that mental health issues are as valid as physical health, and removing any stigma from the patient, is essential for treatment to move forward. To this end, the UK Jewish Charity JAMI has designated this week Mental Health Awareness Shabbat.

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 28: The relatively short 28th Psalm is attributed to King David. It follows the pattern of several previous Psalms; crying out to the Almighty from a place of distress, seeking G-d’s retribution against one’s enemies, reasserting faith in G-d’s benevolence to Bnei Yisrael, and finishing with confidence in a victorious future.
שְׁמַע קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנַי, בְּשַׁוְּעִי אֵלֶיךָ; בְּנָשְׂאִי יָדַי, אֶל-דְּבִיר קָדְשֶׁךָ.
Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry to You; when I lift up my hands toward Your holy Sanctuary. (Psalm 28:2) 
David’s reference to the Holy Sanctuary reminds us that prayers should always be directed toward the Holy of Holies in the Beit HaMikdash (Jerusalem Temple). David’s reference must have been the temporary Mishkan (Tabernacle) housed in Shiloh during his lifetime.
בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה:    כִּי-שָׁמַע, קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנָי.
Blessed be the LORD, who has heard the voice of my supplications! (Psalms 28:6) 
When we pray and offer our supplications, our aim should be not just for personal needs but for the well-being of the wider world, including those who may even share differing views and beliefs than we do.
הוֹשִׁיעָה, אֶת-עַמֶּךָ– וּבָרֵךְ אֶת-נַחֲלָתֶךָ; וּרְעֵם וְנַשְּׂאֵם, עַד-הָעוֹלָם.
Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; tend them and carry them for ever. (Psalms 28:9)
Inevitably, our desire is to locate ourselves within the embrace of the Divine Presence; a spiritual space that combines the richness of our ancient past with the vision of a redemptive future.
The final verse in this Psalm is familiar to those who recite part of the early morning Shaharit known as Pesukei DeZimra. It’s also commonly used as a substitute for counting to 10 when discerning whether there are enough present for a minyan.