Monthly Archives: March 2017

Parshat VaYikra

Summary: The Book of Leviticus spans the few weeks in which Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai learning from Moshe that which G-d commanded him atop the mountain. It was the time period of inaugurating the Mishkan, before they began their journey in the wilderness.

As third of the 5 Books of Moses, Leviticus comprises the well-known codes for Jewish behaviour – Kashrut, Family Purity, Shabbat and Festivals. The book focuses on behaviour that enabled Bnei Yisrael to remain in a state of ritual purity and become a Sanctified Nation. This ultimately included laws aimed at Divine as well as social justice, intended as part of their life in the Land of Canaan.

Parshat VaYikra is the 1st in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 1:1-5:26. It outlines the specific laws and rituals related to the Mishkan and to living within close proximity of the Divine Presence. These first chapters describe mandatory and voluntary sacrificial offerings making-up the daily service.

It opens with a description of the sacrificial and blood service for the Olah (Burnt) offering and continues with the Minha (Meal), Shelamim (Peace), Hatat (Sin), Asham (Guilt) and Me’ilah (Trespass) offerings.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment:  In his weekly Parsha commentary, Dr Naftali Lowenthal draws an analogy between the electricity circuit board in a home – which provides all of the power to heating, lighting and electrifying the premises – with the Mishkan. Just as a house needs a stepped-down source of power to serve the needs of all its occupants, so does our world need an energy connection with the Divine.

Equally, when our home power system is damaged, we fail to achieve optimum and uniform benefit throughout the building. For the Jewish people, whose Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, it should come as no surprise that our world and the way we live is fraught with imperfections.

Rabbi David Fohrman suggests that the 3-tier sacrificial service in Parshat VaYikra teaches us that to restore a broken relationship requires basic recognition of our transgression and an attempt to set it right. At the very bottom of the frame is the Hatat or Sin offering, none of which is given to the donor. It’s meant to rectify a sense of betrayal and disrespect through acknowledging restrictions and resetting the boundaries of proper behaviour.

The next level is the Shelamim or Peace offering which is partially consumed by its donor and partially offered on the Altar, showing an attempt to restore reciprocity in our relationship with G-d. As in a marriage, mutual engagement between parties helps build love and affection. 

Finally, at the top of the hierarchy is the Olah or Burnt offering. Wholly consumed on the Altar, with nothing going to either the donor or the priest, it makes us aware of the Awe with which we as created beings must relate to G-d.

Tragically, without a Temple or equivalent mode of worship, one is left to anticipate a further breakdown of relationships in the wider world around us. While employing the ideas behind these three steps could perhaps offer a formula for drawing us closer to the Almighty and to each other.

Thoughts for the Week 30 March

As we adjust to the clock-change last weekend trying to make up for that lost hour of sleep, this week we have news of the formal commencement of BREXIT negotiations. The national decision, made just over 9 months ago, was launched through formal diplomatic channels on Wednesday.

On its own, this is a great testimony to the vibrancy of democracy in the UK. That global financial markets were unaffected, may indicate the desire by most investors to see the UK get on with its business and succeed.

Some in the Anglo-Jewish community perhaps may see a connection between Brexit and Exodus or BREXODUS – defined as spending the upcoming Passover holidays outside the European Union- as both are intended as protests against perceived oppression.

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 36: Psalm 36 is attributed to David, servant of the Lord, and is about the false wages of sinfulness. It is divided into 3 main themes; the attractive lure of transgression, the antidote of Divine kindness and righteousness, and a call for the downfall of the wicked.

Referring to the Evil Inclination, David informs that Sin corrupts the innocent, telling them there is no Providence. And since the Almighty is unconcerned with their behaviour than why be concerned about G-d while making one’s way in the world.

נְאֻם-פֶּשַׁע לָרָשָׁע, בְּקֶרֶב לִבִּי; אֵין-פַּחַד אֱ-לֹהִים, לְנֶגֶד עֵינָיו. Transgression speaks to the wicked, there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:2)

Instead, David asserts, G-d’s lovingkindness is with those who pursue righteousness. Encompassing all of Creation, there is a system of justice and accountability.

מַה-יָּקָר חַסְדְּךָ, אֱ-לֹהִים: וּבְנֵי אָדָם–בְּצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ, יֶחֱסָיוּן. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalms 36:8)

Those who choose to follow pathways to purity benefit not just by avoiding Divine punishment but they avail themselves of the joys of life as reflected through G-d’s light.

כִּי-עִמְּךָ, מְקוֹר חַיִּים; בְּאוֹרְךָ, נִרְאֶה-אוֹר. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see light. (Psalms 36:10)

David offers a prayer for all times; beseeching the Almighty’s protection against veering off onto the path of sin – for the wicked shall surely fall – while aspiring instead to live in the presence of the Divine.

שָׁם נָפְלוּ, פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן; דֹּחוּ, וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ קוּם. There the workers of iniquity have fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. (Psalms 36:13)

It might be added that the tragedy of sin, experienced by all with a sense of conscience, is the great post-event let-down. The excitement generated in anticipation – usually related to hoped-for selfish gains – proves far less desirable; and the sinner quickly realises their immediate gratification was far outweighed by a longer-term sense of lost spirituality or holiness.

In our liturgical tradition, verse 6 is found in the Tsidkatekha prayer recited on Shabbat afternoon, and verses 8-11 are found both in the recitation for putting on one’s Talit as well as in the Anglo-Jewry Ashkenaz funerary service.

Parshat VaYakel-Pekudei-HaHodesh

Summary: Parshiot VaYakel-Pekudei are the 10th & 11th in the Book of Exodus comprising Chapters 35:1-40:38. VaYakel begins with the command to observe Shabbat and includes a description of the materials donated by Bnei Yisrael and their tribal princes until it was necessary to call for the cessation of further gifts and volunteering.

VaYakel continues with building the Mishkan; beginning with its curtains and coverings, it describes the wood beams of the interior chamber. Then it turns to the vessels – the Ark and Kaporet, Showbread Table, Menorah, Incense and Sacrificial Altars, Washing Laver and, finally, the outer curtains.

Pekudei, after crediting the work to Betsalel and Aholiav, gives an accounting of the amount of gold, silver and copper that was collected and how it was used. Then it describes the making of the High Priest’s clothing; the Ephod, Precious Stones, Breastplate, Robe, Tunic, Turban and Forehead Plate.

Once completed, the entire work was brought before Moshe who assessed the results and blessed the people. G-d commanded Moshe to erect the Mishkan on the 1st day of the 1st month and to consecrate all of its parts with anointing oil; to wash and dress Aharon and his sons inducting them into the priestly service.

Finally, when all was set-up, the glory of G-d descended in a cloud and filled the Mishkan. When the cloud lifted it signalled time to travel but as long as the cloud remained they stayed encamped.

This week’s special Maftir, HaHodesh (Exodus 12:1-20), is the last of the 4 special weeks leading up to Passover. It describes the Biblical Pesah in Egypt and the command to observe an annual Festival of Matsot in perpetuity.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: Parshat VaYakel-Pekudei is a lesson in tangibly making space for G-d to dwell among Bnei Yisrael. Appearing at the end of the Book of Exodus, it demonstrates an essential life message. When we pause to consider both the larger picture and the more immediate one, we see the Mishkan as a physical space for G-d’s presence. Though G-d is not corporeal and has no need for a House of Worship, it was still necessary for humanity to reach out physically to engage with the Divine, perhaps because that is what we want most in our lives.

From a broader view, VaYakel begins with the command to ‘guard’ Shabbat showing that just as there’s need to make a place for G-d, so there’s need to make time to engage with G-d in our world.

The Talmud uses the juxtaposition of these verses to teach that the 39 categories of work involved in building the Mishkan are the same 39 categories of prohibited labour on Shabbat. The rabbis explained the cessation of Melakha (creative work) on Shabbat overrode even the urgency of building the Mishkan of the desert. Essentially, the importance of ‘guarding time’ exceeded the command to ‘build a space’.

From a more immediate view, though we no longer have a dedicated national place for G-d to reside, we still have opportunity to engage with G-d’s presence through the setting aside or sanctification of time –declaring Shabbat one day in every seven; reconnecting us with the idea of the 1st day of Rest as part of G-d’s original Creation. And, that in turn, reminds us that the ultimate aim of a human being is to be ‘creative and restful’ – in relationship with our world and with G-d.

Tragically, we live in a time when most people no longer believe in the Creation story or in G-d. It seems too much of a mythology – the entire vast universe emerging in only 6 days, the irrational belief in a world only 5777 years old, and, a G-d that might care whether we rest on Saturday or mix our meat with our milk. Thus, many have abandoned any sense of belief in G-d as Creator. But in giving up the one, we regrettably have also given up the idea of being able to have a relationship with the Almighty.

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is well known for his view that G-d lives where we let G-d in. The concluding verses of Pekudei describing the cloud of G-d’s glory descending upon the Mishkan, remind us that G-d made great effort to engage with Bnei Yisrael, just as our ancestors made great effort to engage with G-d. It’s up to us to carry on that legacy.


FOR PASSOVER IN LESS THAN 3 WEEKS: In completing the Book of Exodus, we take with us a sense of perspective (now and in anticipation of Pesah). Our ancestors who descended to Egypt in search of Joseph and later became slaves to the most advanced civilisation of its age, through the drama of the Exodus emerged as a nation not without faults and failings. At Sinai they were given opportunity to have a relationship with G-d and to be representatives of holiness to all families, tribes and nations around the globe. It is a mission which sometimes feels like an overwhelming burden yet, equally, promises the greatest potential result – the day when ‘throughout the world all will recognise G-d as Sovereign; and G-d’s presence and name will be One.’

Thoughts for the Week 23 March

We begin this week in solidarity, and with sadness, for those who lost their lives and who were injured in yesterday’s terror attack at Westminster. Though we’ve seen this form of ‘marauding terror’ in Israel or parts of Europe and the Middle East, when it occurs in that landmark place, Parliament, which represents the heart of freedom and democracy in our own country, we can’t help but feel great compassion and pain. May the Almighty grant comfort to the mourners and send a speedy healing to the survivors and to all of us who are affected.

In a recent televised discussion between the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and New York Times columnist David Brooks, in New York City, Rabbi Sacks reiterated the importance of returning to our search for meaning in order to restore our lost sense of humanity. The two men agreed that a renewed focus on relationship and community above indulgent individualism is essential to help heal a broken world.

Recently, at a conference on Faith & Dispute Mediation organised in London, someone asked why we’re seeing so much movement to the extreme right of the spectrum? A useful article by Dr. Vivian Skolnick, veteran psychologist, published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals, offers insights into issues confronting the wider world but especially today’s Orthodoxy.

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 35: Psalm 35 is attributed to David and is lengthy at 28 verses. Among the 150 chapters of Tehillim, the longest (Chapter 119) is 176 verses and the shortest are 2 verses (Chapters 117 & 131). The average number of verses is 17.

Psalm 35 contains David’s heart-wrenching appeal to G-d for help against enemies who’ve betrayed and persecuted him. David begs G-d’s righteous protection from those who intend him grievous harm, lamenting injuries already sustained.

David pleads his innocence, prays for G-d’s deliverance and prophesises the destruction of his enemies, vowing that when better days arrive, he will again give praise to the Almighty.

לְדָוִד: רִיבָה ה, אֶת-יְרִיבַי; לְחַם, אֶת-לֹחֲמָי. A Psalm of David. Strive, O LORD, with them that strive with me; fight against them that fight against me. (Psalms 35:1)

יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִכָּלְמוּ, מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי: יִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר וְיַחְפְּרוּ–חֹשְׁבֵי, רָעָתִי. Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion who seek after my soul; let them be turned back and be abashed who devise my hurt. (Psalms 35:4)

Indicating David’s unrestricted praise of the Almighty, this verse is found in the Nishmat prayer on Shabbat morning.

כָּל עַצְמוֹתַי, תֹּאמַרְנָה– ה, מִי כָמוֹךָ: מַצִּיל עָנִי, מֵחָזָק מִמֶּנּוּ; וְעָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מִגֹּזְלוֹ. All my bones shall say: ‘LORD, who is like You, who delivers the poor from him that is too strong, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoils them?’ (Psalms 35:10)

Poignantly, several verses describe in rarely-used poetic Hebrew how even the Goodness showed by David to those in need was turned against him.

בְּחַנְפֵי, לַעֲגֵי מָעוֹג– חָרֹק עָלַי שִׁנֵּימוֹ. With the profanest mockeries of backbiting they gnash at me with their teeth. (Psalms 35:16)

Petitioning, David appeals to G-d through his own righteousness and devotion, pledging his intention to continue doing so.

אוֹדְךָ, בְּקָהָל רָב; בְּעַם עָצוּם אֲהַלְלֶךָּ. I will give You thanks in the great congregation; praise You among a numerous people. (Psalms 35:18)

רָאִיתָה ה, אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ; אֲ-דֹנָי, אַל-תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי. Thou hast seen, O LORD; keep not silent; O Lord, be not far from me. (Pslams 35:22)

וּלְשׁוֹנִי, תֶּהְגֶּה צִדְקֶךָ; כָּל-הַיּוֹם, תְּהִלָּתֶךָ. And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day. (Psalms 35:28)

Echoing an age-old refrain, the verses of Psalm 35 could be uttered by the Jewish people over any of the past centuries; when Jewish communities were often cruelly oppressed in exile, despite the progress and prosperity they achieved for their host nation.

An equally important personal message for these difficult times may be to remind ourselves of the loathsomeness to G-d and the need to put an end to our own petty jealousies and ill wishes toward those who’ve done us no harm – whether within or outside the Jewish nation.

Parshat Ki Tisa-Parah

Summary: Parshat Ki Tisa is the 9th in the Book of Exodus comprising Chapters 30:11-34:35. The first part contains descriptions of the Mahatsit HaShekel (the silver half-coin for taking a census) and the command to construct a washing laver placed between the outside of the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) and the Sacrificial Altar.

It includes the formula for sacred anointing oil and incense, the appointment of Betsalel from Judah and Aholiav from Dan, as chief and assistant architect, and the command to consecrate Shabbat – part of which is recited each week in the morning Kiddush.

The remainder of Ki Tisa addresses the calamity of the Golden Calf and Moshe’s desperate but brilliant efforts to come to Bnei Yisrael’s rescue. Achieving a stay of execution, Moshe descended the mountain, smashed the Luhot, destroyed the Calf, punished the perpetrators and went back to further beg G-d’s forgiveness, threatening to remove himself from the Torah unless G-d relented.

Told to carve out a second set of tablets, Moshe ascended Sinai the next morning and was met again by a cloud, from where he heard a description of G-d’s majesty known as the 13 attributes. His face illuminated by the Divine encounter, Moshe employed the use of a veil, taking it off when speaking with G-d and the Jewish people, returning it during the interim periods.

The special maftir this week is from Numbers 19:1-22, a section describing the purification ritual of the Red Heifer. It reminds us there is less than a month until Pesah.

(Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.)

Comment: The ‘Why’ of Forgiveness – La’mah vs Ma’du’ah

Parshat Ki Tisa begins cheerily enough until we reach the section of the Golden Calf. When we look more closely at the chronology, the Sinai narrative interrupted at end of Chapter 24, picks up again in Exodus 31:18 with G-d giving Moshe two testimonial Stone Tablets (Shnei Luhot) at the end of their 40 days and 40 nights together atop the mountain.

Down below, those who feared Moshe’s delayed-return clamoured for a new leader to take them through the desert. So they turned to Aharon and pressured him to make the molten calf which became an object of their worship.

In anger the Almighty told Moshe, descend for ‘your’ people have become corrupted and will be annihilated. But Moshe deflected G-d’s anger by questioning its futility. ‘What would the Egyptians say about G-d were the Jewish people wiped out’? ‘How would Your promise to the Patriarchs, to give their descendants the Land of Canaan, be fulfilled if Bnei Yisrael were wiped-out?’

One insightful textual observation looks at Moshe’s use of the word La’mah (why) instead of Ma’du’ah (why) in challenging G-d’s accusation against Bnei Yisrael. ‘Why does G-d grow angry with Your people whom You took out of Egypt with great effort and a strong arm.’ (Exodus 32:11)

Rabbi David Fohrman points out that La’mah is a question anticipating the future while Ma’du’ah is rooted in the past. Moshe attempted to calm the Divine anger by anticipating the consequences of G-d’s proposed punishment – and he found no benefit on two counts.

First, after all the miracles and wonders, and the effort to overturn Egypt’s corrupted culture, not to take Bnei Yisrael forward would undermine G-d’s omnipotence. And, to destroy Bnei Yisrael would contradict the thousands-of-years-old promise made to the Patriarchs. With sophistry, Moshe contained the Almighty’s wrath, preventing disaster.

Moshe’s prayers on behalf of Bnei Yisrael brought G-d’s forgiveness and lead to a new covenant. This was a bold strategy that paid-off as a lesson for future generations seeking G-d’s forgiveness. Ki Tisa teaches us that just as we must contemplate the consequences of our actions before sinning, we also have to ‘think forward’ to achieve forgiveness.

Not surprising, this portion of Ki Tisa is read on Public Fast days. It’s also read on Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesah and Sukkot.

Thoughts for the Week 16 March

We live in very blessed but equally testing times. Never before has there been this much wealth in the world and at the same time such abject poverty. While we’re grateful to the Almighty for our many blessings here in the United Kingdom, we recognise the suffering of others in our midst and further afield.

Thanks to the generosity of many who attended Purim last weekend, funds for Matanot LaEvyonim were distributed to local families last Sunday. As a community which still depends on the support of our benefactors, it is good for us to also be donors.

Rebecca Singer, Communications Officer at World Jewish Relief, visited our community and helped set-up a charity bag-pack event this Sunday, 19 March, at the Tesco Extra Borehamwood.

WJR is looking for cheerful and enthusiastic volunteers to offer customers the chance for their groceries to be packed in support of World Jewish Relief. The 1.5 hour slots between 10:00 and 16:00 allow participants to choose a time that most suits them.

Separately, WJR are providing relief aid to countries in East Africa where recently it was reported that severe famine will harshly impact millions of people. For more information or to donate, please click here.

Finally, WJR is also sponsoring the pop-up meaty restaurant in JW3 ‘A Taste of Syria’ to raise funds for those caught-up in the Syrian humanitarian crisis. A portion of the cost of each meal will go to charity relief.


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 34: Psalm 34 is attributed to King David. It is an alphabetic acrostic (where each verse begins with the next letter of the Aleph Bet – except here the letter Vav is absent).

The themes of this Psalm include; offering blessing to the Almighty, acknowledging G-d helps those in need, being protected by Angelic forces, fearing the Lord and desiring life, an assertion that G-d supports the righteous while cutting-off evildoers, offering comfort to the broken spirited, and protecting worshippers from harm.

This Psalm specifically alludes to the period when David took refuge clandestinely among the Philistines while fleeing King Saul (I Samuel 21:14). When his identity was discovered by Akhish/ Abimelekh, David feigned insanity and was driven away.

Thus, David begins with praises to G-d for being rescued from death. This leads him to draw others into praising G-d’s greatness.

אֲבָרְכָה אֶת-ה בְּכָל-עֵת; תָּמִיד, תְּהִלָּתוֹ בְּפִי. I will bless the LORD at all times; praise will continually be in my mouth. (Psalms 34:2)

גַּדְּלוּ לַ-ה אִתִּי; וּנְרוֹמְמָה שְׁמוֹ יַחְדָּו. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt G-d’s name together. (Psalms 34:4)

The follow-on is that those who contemplate the wonders of G-d’s world, will come to be in awe of the Almighty.

יְראוּ אֶת-ה קְדֹשָׁיו: כִּי-אֵין מַחְסוֹר, לִירֵאָיו. O fear the LORD, holy ones; for there is no want to them that fear G-d. (Psalms 34:10)

Nearly every verse in Psalm 34 is a pearl of wisdom that can stand on its own. The best known are the verses about guarding one’s tongue from evil. The rabbis differ whether the ‘life’ sought here, is in This World or the World to Come.

מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים; אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב. Who is the man that desires life, and loves days, in which to see Good? (Psalms 34:13)

נְצֹר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע; וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ, מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה. Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. (Psalms 34:14)

Psalm 34 reminds us to be positive when confronted with hardship and struggles. For, one can’t achieve righteousness without such challenges.

רַבּוֹת, רָעוֹת צַדִּיק; וּמִכֻּלָּם, יַצִּילֶנּוּ ה. Many are the ills of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him from them all. (Psalms 34:20)

פֹּדֶה ה, נֶפֶשׁ עֲבָדָיו; וְלֹא יֶאְשְׁמוּ, כָּל-הַחֹסִים בּוֹ. The LORD redeems the souls of those who serve; none who take refuge in G-d will be desolate. (Psalms 34:23)

Liturgically, in the Shabbat and Festival morning service, this chapter follows immediately after Chapter 33. Several verses are also found in other key parts of our prayer service.

Verse 4 is sung when taking out the Torah from the Heikhal (Ark). Verses 10-11 are found at the end of Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). And verses 14-15 are part of the very final paragraph in the Amidah (silent prayer). Finally, verse 16 is prominent in the teachings of Chabad Hassidism, describing the ultimate goal of humanity – our Fear & Love of G-d.

Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor


(Dedicated to the Memory of Eva Haberman – a beautiful human being)

‘Memory is the diary we all carry with us.’

Oscar Wilde

‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.’

Dr Seuss

Memory, and particularly our ability to analyse the past, distinguishes human beings from all living creatures. We’re the sum total of our actions, an accumulation of our individual and collective remembering. When ability enables us to not only reflect on the past but to ‘process it’, anticipating – and if necessary changing the course of – our future, we emulate the Divine.

There are at least 2 connections between Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor and Purim. The first is the commandment to remember (Zakhor) the deeds of Amalek and the other, a bit less obvious, relates to the clothing of the High Priest.

In synagogues around the world, the Shabbat before Purim is Shabbat Zakhor where we’re commanded to read about the unprovoked attack by the tribe of Amalek on our early ancestors just after their release from Egyptian bondage. Haman, son of the Aggagite (Esther 3:1), was also a descendant of Amalek (I Sam 15:32).

A separate more tenuous Purim connection to Parshat Tetsaveh-Zakhor is found in the Talmud’s commentary on Megillat Esther (TB Megillah 12a). Referring to the lavish 180-day party hosted by King Ahashverosh where he displayed ‘the vast riches of his kingdom and the splendour (tiferet) of his majesty’ (Esther 1:4), the rabbis drew a link to Tetsaveh which describes the High Priest’s clothing ‘for honour and splendour’ (l’khavod Ul’tifaret – Exodus 28:2).

This parallel wording implied Ahashverosh wore at his party the captured High Priest’s garments, brought back from Israel by Nebuchadnezzar who’d destroyed the 1st Temple in 586 BCE.

In these two cases, memory was used negatively. The first, reminding ourselves of Amalek’s injury and of our everlasting obligation to annihilate them; and the second, Ahashverosh’s cynical reminder to his guests from throughout the Persian Empire, of the lost independence of the Jews who, recently in exile, longed to return to their conquered homeland.

How we cope with unhappy memories is an enormous challenge! The Jewish nation whose history is pockmarked with uncountable tragedies and sadness, know this as well as any people alive today. The first step is to focus on the good rather than the bad.

Thus, G-d’s command to remember Amalek can be alternatively described as a call throughout the ages for vigilance, to justly respond against unwarranted attacks. While Ahashverosh’s efforts to humiliate his Jewish subjects and prevent them from returning to Judea, proved to be a plan soon overturned.

G-d, whose name is spelled Yud and Hey, Vav and Hey, is the Originator of all creation, existing beyond any sense of time. Thus, within those 4-letters, one finds the Hebrew words for Past, Present & Future. When we live aware of our past and its impact on the present, and when we design our future based on right ideals, we express our G-d-like character.

Purim, a drama where the Divine Presence was hidden while Esther & Mordekhai rescued the Jews, is a festival where for one perfect moment we see our vulnerability in G-d’s eyes, but remember that history can be changed by acting our part too.

Thoughts for the Week 9 March

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Many events were held and much has been written about International Women’s Day this week. Along with many others, we support the Be Bold For Change initiative. We are so proud of the amazing achievements of women in the Rambam Sephardi community. May we be worthy of their support throughout the year.

One project building momentum quickly and worth drawing attention to is Nisa-Nashim, led by Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi. This grassroots interfaith women’s initiative is creative and wonderfully social, and at the same time discuss issues of relevance to the Jewish and Muslim communities. More info can be found here.

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 33: Psalm 33 begins without attribution to King David. It can be divided into several familiar themes; the call to worship G-d with praise and jubilation, recognition that all of humanity must recognise G-d’s sovereignty, acknowledgment that the Almighty observes us from Heaven and that our victory in battle is not from physical strength, and the need to be in awe of G-d and to long for a relationship with the Divine Presence.

Readers will recognise this Psalm from the Shabbat morning Pisukei D’Zimrah. Some individual verses are in use throughout our traditional annual prayer cycle. Because of its jubilant tone, some scholars have suggested it may be from the time of the Maccabees.

רַנְּנוּ צַדִּיקִים, בַּ-ה; לַיְשָׁרִים, נָאוָה תְהִלָּה. Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous; praise is desirable from the upright. (Psalms 33:1)

Just as the natural laws are consistent, so are G-d’s moral and spiritual principles. As G-d has tempered justice with mercy, so too shall we act compassionately towards each other.

בִּדְבַר ה, שָׁמַיִם נַעֲשׂוּ; וּבְרוּחַ פִּיו, כָּל-צְבָאָם. By G-d’s word were the heavens made; and all the host by the breath of G-d’s mouth. (Psalms 33:6)

The world only exists because G-d commands it each day. Were it not for G-d’s eternal life force, Creation would cease.

עֲצַת ה, לְעוֹלָם תַּעֲמֹד; מַחְשְׁבוֹת לִבּוֹ, לְדֹר וָדֹר. The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts in G-d’s heart for all generations. (Psalms 33:11)

Natural laws govern our world; beyond that is the potential for a more personal relationship with the Divine.

מִמְּכוֹן-שִׁבְתּוֹ הִשְׁגִּיחַ– אֶל כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ. From the place of habitation G-d looks intently upon all inhabitants of the earth; (Psalms 33:14)

Whosoever violates life’s spiritual principles won’t endure, but those who practise righteousness will persevere and be preserved.

הִנֵּה עֵין ה, אֶל-יְרֵאָיו; לַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ. Behold, the eye of the LORD is toward the fearful, toward they who wait for G-d’s mercy; (Psalms 33:18)

G-d will relate with us through the attribute of lovingkindness in the same measure that we choose to relate in our minds and hearts with G-d.

יְהִי-חַסְדְּךָ ה עָלֵינוּ: כַּאֲשֶׁר, יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we have waited for You. (Psalms 33:22)

Thoughts for the Week 2 March

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.]

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 last division is referenced in the midrash as being modelled on the 5 Books of the Torah. Scholars have noted among the differences between the 5 books of Psalms is the 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 32: One can but marvel at the emotional depths evoked by King David. Psalm 32 explores the joy and virtue of forgiveness contrasted by the ignorance and self-loathing of sin. Considered one of the Thanksgiving Psalms of the Individual, the chapter ends with a triumphant cheer from those who are righteous in heart.

Not by the innocent but rather for those who have sincerely repented, they can take solace in being forgiven by G-d.

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם–לֹא יַחְשֹׁב ה לוֹ עָו‍ֹן; וְאֵין בְּרוּחוֹ רְמִיָּה.

Happy is the one to whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. (Psalms 32:2)

Penitents shouldn’t expect to be spared misfortune or suffering but rather when difficulties arise, they should pray not to be swept away in a flood of remorse and self-pity.

עַל-זֹאת, יִתְפַּלֵּל כָּל-חָסִיד אֵלֶיךָ– לְעֵת מְצֹא: רַק, לְשֵׁטֶף מַיִם רַבִּים– אֵלָיו, לֹא יַגִּיעוּ.

For this let the devout pray at a time when You may be found; surely, when the great waters overflow, they won’t reach him. (Psalms 32:6)

Just as an animal being groomed and adorned needs restraint for failing to understand its discomfort is for a better purpose, those being chastised mustn’t be defiant. They too should realise this is for one’s spiritual benefit and improvement.

אַל-תִּהְיוּ, כְּסוּס כְּפֶרֶד– אֵין הָבִין: בְּמֶתֶג-וָרֶסֶן עֶדְיוֹ לִבְלוֹם; בַּל, קְרֹב אֵלֶיךָ.

Be not as the horse or the mule, which has no understanding; whose mouth must be held with bit and bridle so not to come near you. (Psalms 32:9)

The wicked who are unchanged by their suffering experience it over and over, whereas the joy of those who repent knows no limit.

רַבִּים מַכְאוֹבִים, לָרָשָׁע: וְהַבּוֹטֵחַ בַּ-ה–חֶסֶד, יְסוֹבְבֶנּוּ.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked; but he that trusts in the LORD, mercy encompasses him. (Psalms 32:10)

שִׂמְחוּ בַ-ה וְגִילוּ, צַדִּיקִים; וְהַרְנִינוּ, כָּל-יִשְׁרֵי-לֵב.

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all who are upright in heart. (Psalms 32:11)

This Psalm is in the Yom Kippur liturgy. It is also part of the 10 Psalms that comprise the Tikun HaKelali (General Rectification) of Rabbi Nahman of Breslav.

PURIM: It’s less than 10 days until Purim – so you’ll understand if we’re very excited about this year’s Rambam Sephardi celebrations on 11/12 March. The new development this week is our fantastic Persian menu (click here) for Sunday’s Seudah prepared by our own 5* chefs Jason Sasson & Lauren Carmel! And, for a sneak preview from dress rehearsal, please click here. We urge those who plan to attend the meal to please book now!

HALAKHOT OF PURIM Attached is a description of the main halakhot pertaining to Purim. Please note that this year – because Purim occurs on Saturday night & Sunday – the Fast of Esther is advanced to Thursday 9 March, beginning at 4:51am and concluding at 6:35pm.

SAVE A LIFE – SEEKING YOUR ASSISTANCE A final reminder this week 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. Please attend the 5 March remaining session at BES Synagogue or contact DKMS to get a free sample kit.

MHAS FOLLOW-UP Following-up after the Mental Health Awareness Shabbat of 3/4 February, we’re hoping to begin a series of Mindfulness Meditation workshops and are looking for a few volunteers interested in helping to facilitate a regular programme of short sessions, as an on going activity in Borehamwood.

No previous experience is necessary. This will be a chance to find out about the benefits of practicing Mindfulness while helping others to participate. If you’re interested, please contact or click here and send us your contact details.

We wish academic success to the children who this week received placements in the school of their choice. We remind parents that if your child didn’t get a place yet please do not panic as some spaces are likely to be freed up in weeks ahead.

Parshat Terumah

Summary: Parshat Terumah is the 7th in the Book of Exodus comprising Chapters 25:1-27:19. Following immediately after Moshe’s cloistering at the top of Mt Sinai for ‘40 days and 40 nights’, this week’s parasha details G-d’s instructions to Moshe to build a Tabernacle and its vessels – to provide ‘a dwelling place for the Divine in your midst’.

Included are; the Golden Ark and its Cherubs, the Showbread Table, Menorah, Inner Curtains, Beams and Sockets, Parokhet Drape, Copper Altar and Outer Courtyard. (Please look here for an Aliyah-by-aliyah summary.)

Comment: In David Fromkin’s biopic ‘In the Time of the Americans’ – a retrospective look at key decision makers in WWI & WWII – he notes following the unprecedented Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, other important historic American documents and the Magna Carta were sent from Washington DC to the underground vaults of Fort Knox, Tennessee for safe keeping. Seemingly great effort was exerted to protect these ‘mere pieces of paper’.

Each year when we begin the 7 chapters describing the construction of the Mishkan, questions arise – why is the Torah’s chronology interrupted and why is G-d’s initial order of building the Mishkan out of sequence?

For we know that immediately following Moshe’s ascent to Sinai and 40-day sojourn there, a segment of the people built and worshipped a Golden Calf. That perfidy lead G-d to send Moshe down from the mountain where, seeing the idolatrous merrymaking, Moshe smashed the Tablets he’d only recently been given by G-d.

And, for those who follow the view of the Ramban (Nachmonides – d 1270 Acco) that this portion of the Torah is not out of sequence and that while Moshe was on Sinai G-d taught him details of the Mishkan and all its accessories, it is still odd to start with the Ark first before the actual structure was described.

An explanation for the order of the vessels in Parshat Terumah is that they draw attention to the ultimate purpose of the Mishkan – as a place where humanity could meet and interact with the Divine. By placing the Ark first – where the Tablets of Stone were stored – the Almighty demonstrated to Moshe that the central focus of the Mishkan was to be the 10 Commandments.

Essential to the national identity of the Jewish people wasn’t the food they ate, the clothing they wore, the occupations they held or the memberships they enjoyed, but the value system and laws that enlivened them and uniquely set them apart from among other peoples of the world.

Just as Americans in December 1941 feared the loss of their foundational documents and the potential that might have had to demoralise the nation, perhaps, similarly, the Divine intention in instructing Moshe to build a Mishkan, was to sanctify those tablets which served as the fundamental artefacts for the coalescence of the Jewish nation.

A message for us today, living in very testing times, is to not lose focus on our founding principles and to ensure we protect them and live by them – for through them we’re still granted opportunity to experience the life-sustaining warmth and vigour of the Divine Presence.