Monthly Archives: June 2017

Parshat Hukat

Summary: Parshat Hukat is the 6th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 19:1-22:1. It begins with the enigmatic laws of the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah) which, after being processed into ashes and mixed with pure water, restored spiritual purity to those who had come in contact with a corpse.

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

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

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

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

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

Messengers were again sent, this time to King Sihon of the Emorites, asking permission to take the shorter crossing through his land. Sihon refused, instead amassing his army for war. Bnei Yisrael defeated Sihon, capturing cities he had earlier taken from Moab.

Continuing on the road to Bashan, they were met by King Og and his army. G-d assured Moshe that Bnei Yisrael would defeat Og in battle and capture his cities as well. After that they reached the plains of Moab along the Jordan River.

Comment: Perhaps one of the most dreadful verses in the entire Torah appears in our parasha:

Because you didn’t believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, you won’t merit bringing this congregation into the land I’ve given them. Numbers 20:12)

יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.

With this statement, the fate of Moshe and Aharon was sealed. For the miscalculation of not speaking to a rock but striking it instead, they perished in the desert, not inheriting the Land of Canaan. A tragedy that evokes from the reader great pathos and sympathy.

Very much has been written by commentators, from Talmudic times to the present, on this set of verses. How frustrating that 40 years of struggle as their leader, enduring complaints and criticisms, discomfort and despair, what seems like the one thing Moshe wanted most, would be kept from him in his twilight years.

An explanation that rings true is that having been a leader of the generation who left Egypt, to a degree Moshe was stuck in a time frame he couldn’t transcend. Already, on more than one occasion, he couldn’t imagine how G-d would solve the challenges of life in the Midbar.

When the people complained for meat and G-d promised they’d have enough for a month until it was coming out of their teeth, Moshe cried out to G-d, ‘from where will I find so much meat to serve them?’ G-d’s solution was to bring them quail. (Numbers 11:13)

Once again, it seems at a place subsequently named the Waters of Strife (Mei Meribah), Moshe’s short-coming was being unable to imagine how the generation that would enter Canaan had changed. Referring to them as ‘rebels’, he lambasted their ingratitude; through transference, projecting upon them his experience with their parents. Perhaps, G-d felt that Moshe was out of sync.

For many of us the same can be said, we curtail our imaginations, failing to realise that so much is possible when we open ourselves up to G-d’s thinking. We’ve seen this through the lens of technological development. Those who used a typewriter but never made the transition to computers. And, today, those who know how to use a computer but aren’t able to cope with the speed of social media.

Next Sunday, 9 July, will be the Great Faith Get Together, an Inter-faith walk that will visit 3 Houses of Worship and finish with a picnic in Aberford Park. Clearly, for some of us, it may be uncomfortable going beyond the boundaries of our own faith. But this is a chance to expand our imaginations, meet new people and join in … if for no other reason than not to be left behind in a Wilderness of our own making.

Thoughts for the Week 29 June

Temperatures have dropped by half since last week, Ramadan has come to an end, London seems to be returning to a state of calm, and many families are beginning to anticipate the summer holidays.

HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER: More than 28 years on, a verdict has finally been brought this week against 6 people who will face criminal charges for their role in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster that claimed 96 innocent lives.

Coincidentally, a retired judge was appointed today to oversee the government’s enquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy. For those who may not have seen it, here is a very moving music video dedicated to its victims and heroes.

The theme of ‘accountability for past deeds’ is recurrent in other areas as well. Charges of historic sexual abuse have been raised in the entertainment industry, in politics and in religion, and more recently of tax evasion and benefits fraud.

No doubt we’re living in remarkable times, where – perhaps thanks to the instantaneous, worldwide reach of social media – there’s a greater expectation of righting injustice and exposing perpetrators who’ve for decades hidden their crimes and lived securely in anonymity.

One can’t help but remember the great work of Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal, whose life was dedicated to seeking out villains of heinous crimes who’d fled to safety. Part of the Jewish view of Messianic times is when Fear of Sin will prevail, duplicity will be transparent and righteousness widely recognised.

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 47: Psalm 47 is attributed to the Sons of Korah and is divided into 2 parts. The first is that nations of the world will recognize G-d’s sovereignty. The second is that they will seek out those who preserved and perpetuated a knowledge of the true G-d through history in order to learn how to worship the Divine.

It is suggested this Psalm may have been written to accompany the ascent of the Holy Ark on its journey to being installed on the Temple Mount. The aim is to stir the hearts of its people to rise up in praise of the Almighty. In vivid imagery, it reminds us how to express our joy; through clapping, shouting, blowing horns and skillful song.

כָּל-הָעַמִּים, תִּקְעוּ-כָף; הָרִיעוּ לֵא-לֹהִים, בְּקוֹל רִנָּה. Clap your hands, people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. (Psalm 47:2)

עָלָה אֱ-לֹהִים, בִּתְרוּעָה; ה, בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר. G-d is gone up amidst shouting, the LORD amidst a sound of the horn. (Psalms 47:6)

כִּי מֶלֶךְ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ אֱ-לֹהִים– זַמְּרוּ מַשְׂכִּיל. For G-d is the King of all the earth; sing ye praises in a skillful song. (Psalms 47:8)

The Almighty is our Creator, the G-d of nature and the Ruler of all nations. Intimately involved in human affairs, dispensing our destiny, whether leaders are aware or not. Trumpets will acknowledge the coronation of the Divine Sovereign; people will be gathered under G-d’s protection.

מָלַךְ אֱ-לֹהִים, עַל-גּוֹיִם; אֱ-לֹהִים, יָשַׁב עַל-כִּסֵּא קָדְשׁוֹ. G-d reigns over the nations; G-d sits upon a holy throne. (Psalms 47:9)

Psalm 47 is part of the Rosh Hashana liturgy and is chanted immediately before the Shofar service. Repentance, signified by the Shofar on these days of Awe, causes G-d to arise from the Throne of Judgement and ascend to the Throne of Mercy.

Thoughts for the Week 22 June

There is no justification for the sickening attack on a place of worship, and certainly not the van attack on worshippers at the Finsbury Mosque late last Sunday night. Having attended an Iftar celebration in Southwark earlier in the evening with prominent members of the Jewish community, an event that brought together representatives of many different faiths, one can’t help but feel deep sadness for victims of yet another hate-inspired incident. This applies to the brutal stabbing of Hadas Malka in Jerusalem last week.

The Torah tells us all is in the hands of Heaven except for the Fear of Heaven. All we have is our humanity, the ability to choose goodness over evil, finding what we have in common rather than promoting hatred and separation. Our prayers are that sanity will return to this great country which has provided leadership to the world for hundreds of years.

On a more positive note, the public outpouring of support and donations following the deadly fire at Grenfell Tower was overwhelming. Rabbi Mino Lavi at Holland Park has been very involved in helping coordinate support from the Jewish community to the survivors. He mentioned there’s a request not to send any more donations or volunteers. Going forward there will be a need for experts in trauma therapy, child psychology and legal aid. Those interested in helping can register here via e-mail.


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 46: Psalm 46 is attributed to the Sons of Korah. It is comprised of 2 parts with a repeating refrain in verses 9 and 12. The first part praises the work of the Divine; G-d is our stronghold, protecting us from harm and calming our fears. The second part looks forward to a time when G-d will put an end to strife and warfare, when nations will live peacefully and recognise G-d’s presence.

אֱ-לֹהִים לָנוּ, מַחֲסֶה וָעֹז; עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת, נִמְצָא מְאֹד. G-d is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:2)

עַל-כֵּן לֹא-נִירָא, בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ; וּבְמוֹט הָרִים, בְּלֵב יַמִּים. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth shakes and the mountains move into the heart of the seas! (Psalms 46:3)

Metaphorically, the violent upheavals of powerful nations are described here through natural calamities. Yet, there will always be a place of tranquillity amid the raging turbulence, the place where the Divine Presence (Shekhina) rests.

הָמוּ גוֹיִם, מָטוּ מַמְלָכוֹת; נָתַן בְּקוֹלוֹ, תָּמוּג אָרֶץ. Nations were in tumult, kingdoms were moved; G-d uttered, the earth melted. (Psalms 46:7)

Ra’dak (France – 1165-1235) explains that in the darkness of the pre-Messianic arrival, even Jerusalem will be besieged, but at the dawn of the final redemption, the Almighty will come to its aid.

מַשְׁבִּית מִלְחָמוֹת, עַד-קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ: קֶשֶׁת יְשַׁבֵּר, וְקִצֵּץ חֲנִית; עֲגָלוֹת, יִשְׂרֹף בָּאֵשׁ. G-d makes wars cease to the end of the earth; breaking the bow, and cutting the spear asunder; burning the chariots in fire. (Psalms 46:10)

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ, כִּי-אָנֹכִי אֱ-לֹהִים; אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם, אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ. Let be, and know I am God; I will be exalted among nations, I will be exalted on the earth. (Psalms 46:11)

ה צְבָאוֹת עִמָּנוּ; מִשְׂגָּב-לָנוּ אֱ-לֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our high tower. Selah! (Psalms 46:12)

This Psalm is particularly relevant in tumultuous times. In the past it was read communally during periods of trouble (by both Jews and non-Jews alike). It follows nicely if we adopt the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 45 – may we live to see the fulfilment of this vision in our time!

Alternative Reading: As this week is also Parshat Korah, a note about the Sons of Korah. Some will ponder how is it possible that there were any survivors from the earthquake that swallowed up Korah and his followers?

A Midrashic interpretation suggests the sons of Korah survived because they stayed free of their father’s rebellious plot. Korah was a grandson of Kehat. Later, Samuel the Prophet was his descendant. Other relations were famed warriors, and some were musicians during the time of King David. It is suggested that verse 3 may be a subtle reflection on the failing of their original ancestor Korah.

Interestingly, an Australian contemporary folk-rock group calls themselves the Sons of Korah. A sample of their inspirational music can be heard here.

Parshat Korah

Summary: The Book of Numbers, fourth of the Five Books of Moses, spans the 40 year period in which Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness. Korah is the 5th parasha covering chapters 16:1–18:32.

The central story in Parshat Korah is his attempted rebellion. It began when Korah, Datan & Aviram, On ben Pelet and 250 princes gathered against Moshe & Aharon, demanding they cede their leadership role, and bitterly complaining that Moshe failed to bring them to a promised land of milk & honey.

Much of the remainder of the parasha shows G-d’s miraculous support for Moshe’s leadership; the earth opens to swallow Korah and his followers, and the 250 princes who were tasked to bring an incense offering were consumed by Heavenly fire. Their brass firepans were made into an altar cover, serving as a perpetual reminder against offerings by anyone other than those connected to Aharon’s lineage.

No sooner was the revolt suppressed than the people again complained – that Moshe had killed ‘G-d’s people’. The Almighty threatened their destruction but Moshe intervened, hurriedly sending Aharon with his incense censor to stop a plague in the camp which claimed the lives of 14,700 people.

Moshe gathered 12 named-staffs from the heads of tribes and placed them along with a staff with Aharon’s name in the Tent of Testimony (Ohel HaEidut). The next morning Aharon’s staff blossomed like an almond tree with flowers and nuts. It too was kept in perpetuity to prove Aharon’s Divine investiture.

In a last gasp of despair, the generation that left Egypt acknowledged they would perish in the wilderness.

The final paragraphs of Parshat Korah repeat the role of Kohanim and Leviim. The Leviim transported the Mishkan; the Kohanim who were not given any land instead were allotted Terumah gifts from offerings brought by Bnei Yisrael. These included the waved meats, first fruits, first-born animals and more. Similarly, the Leviim who also didn’t inherit any land, were given the people’s Maaser (tithes). From this, the Leviim were to give one tenth to Aharon.

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

Comment: No doubt the parashot of these last 3 weeks show a downward-spiralling trend. First, was Miriam’s slander of Moshe at the end of BeHa’alotekha. That was followed in Shelah-Lekha by the incident of the spies slandering the land of Canaan. And, here we have Korah’s attempted rebellion and the disastrous plague that claimed early 15,000 lives.

We’re reminded of the famous Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers (4:2) that one mitsvah leads to another, just as one transgression leads to another. This means that by doing something inspirational, we’re then energised and empowered to go further. Or it could mean that establishing good habits at an early age is self-perpetuating – as parents we need to be assertive with our children and make sure they develop good ethical values along with their mandatory education.

Perhaps we also need to remind ourselves that, as human beings, having freewill to choose our behaviour, means it’s up to us to pursue a path of righteousness, just as it’s also possible to choose the opposite. Too often, we surrender our ability to choose through habituation, laziness or obsession.

It is not enough to be ritually fastidious and to go through the motions. One needs consciousness in our actions as well. Why do Jewish adult men put on Tefillin each morning (except for Shabbat & Yom Tob)? Why do we keep Kosher? What kind of relationship do we have with G-d? Are we giving of our time and effort to improving the world (Tsedaka)? Are we doing enough for others or just for ourselves?

Our protagonist, Korah, was a grandson of Kehat who was one of Levi’s 3 children. It is fascinating to learn that while his disingenuous ambitions caused a terrible result, seven generations later the Prophet Samuel came from his line. For those unfamiliar, the story of Samuel’s birth and early years is well worth reading, especially his mother’s role.

We live in challenging times. Social norms and habits are changing so quickly, our access to information is so immediate and comprehensive, sacrosanct values that make up the core of our identity such as the sanctity of human life are flaunted with contempt by small but highly visible groups, terror is becoming commonplace, and many of us are unable or unprepared to cope.

The Korah’s of the world will always exist. It is up to us to consciously and conscientiously find our way in righteousness, to embrace and teach ethical values to our children and to ensure anarchy doesn’t become the new reality.

Parshat Shelah-Lekha

Summary: The Book of Numbers, fourth of the Five Books of Moses, spans the 40 year period in which Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness. Shelah-Lekha is the 4th parasha covering chapters 13:1–15:41.

It begins with the Almighty commanding Moshe to appoint 12 representatives, one from each tribe except Levi, to surreptitiously tour the land of Canaan and report on its strategic assets. They travelled 40 days and returned with over-sized samples of its produce. Caleb proposed immediate entry, but 10 others provided a discouraging report, leading to a night of anguished tears and the spreading of fear amidst Bnei Yisrael.

For their ingratitude, G-d wanted to destroy the nation with a plague, but Moshe interceded, and instead, the generation who left Egypt (20-years-old and above), were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years until their demise. Regretting their sentence, a group awoke early the next morning attempting to ascend the nearby mountains and enter Canaan against G-d’s will. But they were struck down by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

The Parasha looks forward to a time when the land would be inhabited by Bnei Yisrael and describes the procedure for making offerings to G-d – oaths and pledges, thanksgiving, guilt and sin, and giving part of the dough as Terumah to the Kohen.

Finally, Shelah-Lekha ends with the incident of the man who gathered sticks on Shabbat, was arrested and stoned to death. It concludes with the commandment of Tsitsit, the 3rd paragraph of Shema.

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

Comment: Parshat Shelah-Lekha paints an unflattering view of Bnei Yisrael. The central story is the negative report, from 10 of the 12 spies, that it was impossible to conquer G-d’s Promised Land.

Reading this parasha, one can’t help feel a deep sense of tragedy and dread. Rashi famously states the nation’s ‘needless’ crying on that night would prove ‘necessary’ in future nights – referring to Tisha B’Av when allegedly both the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed. Other calamities on that date included the Spanish expulsion in 1492, the outbreak of WWI and more. How could one particular date be so inauspicious for Jews? It goes against reason.

The Generation who left Egypt – having first-hand experience witnessing the 10 plagues, Pharaoh’s entire army drowned in the Red Sea and the Revelation at Sinai – surely, should have believed G-d would also help them defeat the Canaanites. This may justify why they were deemed unworthy to enter the Land of Canaan. Yet we still must ask why the Almighty would visit further punishment on successive generations.

One view is to identify their failure as an inability to maintain hope. Rather than using imaginative powers to anticipate success, fear led to backward regression; in their own words, ‘better had we not left Egypt … let’s appoint a leader and return’!

If only they’d conjured up a more positive vision! Instead, trying to re-imagine the past proved their undoing. Their empty lives in the wilderness were less a result of G-d’s punishment than their own infighting and obstinacy!

Whether all of Jewish history can be addressed this way is debatable. But today the lesson of Shelah-Lekha is no different. When leaders succumb to fear, are stuck in regressive ideas, only seeing negativity and failing to look ahead, the results must follow a similar pattern. It’s up to us to create a new cycle of hope.

Thoughts for the Week 15 June

2017 is going to be remembered in London as a year of horrible tragedies. How can one begin to imagine the horror of the residents of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey building that burst into a conflagration of flames yesterday, taking many lives and leaving others homeless and void of all possessions.

Remarkably, within hours Jewish communities mobilised and are collecting food, clothing, necessities and children’s toys to be delivered to the survivors. Danine Irwin from Holland Park Synagogue who lives in Elstree will take items on Sunday morning 18 September. BES United at Croxdale Road collected items last night but you can contact the office to make further contributions.

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 45: Psalm 45 is about someone important. According to non-Jewish scholars it may have been a wedding poem written for the occasion of the royal marriage between Yehoram of Yehuda and Athalia, daughter of Ahab & Jezebel. Athalia reigned as queen from 841-835 BCE. According to R David Kimhi (Ra’dak– Provence 1160-1235), it is a description of, and metaphor for, the splendour and sovereignty of Messianic times.

This Psalm is divided into 5 parts; the Introduction, Portrayal of the King, Central Address, Description of the Bride, and Conclusion ensuring Heirs and Continuity).

If it was a song for kings and not about G-d’s anointed, this would be an example of a profane poem not intended for use in the Temple service nor for prayer.

יָפְיָפִיתָ, מִבְּנֵי אָדָם– הוּצַק חֵן, בְּשִׂפְתוֹתֶיךָ; עַל-כֵּן בֵּרַכְךָ אֱ-לֹהִים לְעוֹלָם. You are more handsome than the children of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God hath blessed you for ever. (Psalms 45:3)

כִּסְאֲךָ אֱ-לֹהִים, עוֹלָם וָעֶד; שֵׁבֶט מִישֹׁר, שֵׁבֶט מַלְכוּתֶךָ. Your throne given of God is for ever and ever; a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of your kingdom. (Psalms 45:7)

Some suggest this poem was written for the wedding of a Jewish king to a foreign woman – for King Solomon when he married an Egyptian Princess.

שִׁמְעִי-בַת וּרְאִי, וְהַטִּי אָזְנֵךְ; וְשִׁכְחִי עַמֵּךְ, וּבֵית אָבִיךְ. Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget also your own people and your father’s house. (Psalms 45:11)

The bride’s elaborate entourage would follow her into the marriage.

תּוּבַלְנָה, בִּשְׂמָחֹת וָגִיל; תְּבֹאֶינָה, בְּהֵיכַל מֶלֶךְ. They’ll be led with gladness and rejoicing; they’ll enter into the king’s palace. (Psalms 45:16)

אַזְכִּירָה שִׁמְךָ, בְּכָל-דֹּר וָדֹר; עַל-כֵּן עַמִּים יְהוֹדוּךָ, לְעֹלָם וָעֶד. I’ll make your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore shall people praise you for ever and ever. (Psalms 45:18)

Alternative Reading: In Ra’dak’s view, this Psalm shows G-d’s love for his anointed. The King, metaphorically, refers to Mashiah and the Queen to Bnei Yisrael. The reference to a dynasty lasting forever, to the war of Gog & Magog – to establish truth and righteousness, legitimacy and authority invested by G-d, the subservience of the nations, the exhortation to non-Jews to embrace the Torah, and the universal acceptance of G-d’s sovereignty, can all be inferred in the correct chronological order from these same verses.

Cited by Marcus Jastrow in his 1885-edited non-traditional Siddur Avodas Yisrael, spelling out Ashkenaz customs for public services throughout the year, he suggests this Psalm was read on Shabbat Hayei Sarah.

WOMEN IN HALAKHA: Last night the Montefiore Endowment hosted a panel discussion on Women in Halakha moderated by Rabbi Abraham Levy and including Rabbi Daniel Sperber, Rabbi Michael Rosenzweig and Rebbetsin Hannah Henkin. Representing the full spectrum from left to right in terms of progressive approaches to wear and how women can be involved in education, leadership and ritual, the evening allowed a sell-out audience to hear the respective cases of each proponent.

To the lay person, two points came across most significantly. First, the importance of dialogue with each other and the avoidance of drawing immutable red lines between views and branding each other heretics.  Second, was finding the necessary balance between tradition and innovation. Both are as necessary for a dynamic experience as breathing. Just as one can’t only survive on inhaling or exhaling, so too with religious experience.

Parshat BeHa’alotekha

Summary: The Book of Numbers, fourth of the Five Books of Moses, spans the 40 year period in which Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness.

BeHa’alotekha  is the 3rd parasha covering chapters 8:1-12:16. It begins with G-d commanding Aharon to light the seven candles of the Menorah, continuing with the consecration ceremony inaugurating the Levites.

At the beginning of the 2nd year since the Exodus, BeHa’alotekha describes Pesah in the Wilderness and makes allowance for those ritually impure to bring their Paschal offering the following month (Pesah Sheni).

The Parasha goes on to describe how pillars of cloud and fire signalled the Israelites when it was time to move and when to set-up camp. A special pair of silver trumpets were made for broadcasting instructions to the nation. Their first journey began on the 20th day of the 2nd month in the 2nd year.

Verses describing the initial movement and setting-down of the Aron Kodesh initiated each journey. (These are set apart from the rest of the Torah text by inverted letters.)

As they began marching the people complained and a fiery plague broke out along the fringe of the camp. Realising their error, they called out to Moshe whose prayers stayed the plague.

A second group began to complain there wasn’t any meat and that a diet of Manna failed to quench their appetite compared to the delicacies they’d eaten in Egypt. In despair, Moshe cried out to G-d for help and was promised 70 elders to assist him, and that the nation would be given a month’s worth of meat. Moshe couldn’t comprehend how it was possible to find enough food for such a large population.

G-d chastised Moshe for his lack of imagination. First, a spirit of prophesy was given to the 70 elders and then flocks of quail descended upon the encampment. But those who gathered, slaughtered and ate the meat died from plague. The place was called Graves of Desire.

Miriam and Aharon spoke badly about Moshe’s wife and were punished. Miriam contracted Tsa’ra’at and was quarantined for 7 days before they travelled again.

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

Comment: In the classic work of modern Jewish religious thought, Halakhic Man by R Joseph B Soloveitchik, he defines the purpose of mankind to bring Divinity into this material world. Unlike some who see religious life as mystical and esoteric, who wish to transcend to the supernal realms, Jews have the duty to bring Heaven down to earth. We celebrate and glorify life, aiming to reflect the light of the Divine in ordinary ways.

Dr Tali Loewenthal in his weekly Dvar Torah reminds us that Mannah (daily food provided by G-d to Bnei Yisrael) was consumed by all people – some righteous and others not. There was no discrimination as to who was worthy of collecting and consuming it.

Similarly, he suggests there is a modern-day substitute for the Mannah. Shabbat was given to the Jewish people to taste a part of the World to Come (Me’ein Olam HaBa). It is as equally accessible to those who are fully observant as to those who are on a journey toward greater observance.

The principle lesson is that what comes from Heaven is for everyone, including those of us who are less than perfectly righteous. The Talmud informs that whoever ate Mannah was better able to relate to and understand the teachings of the Torah.

Shabbat also has the ability to enrich our lives. Through family togetherness and community prayer, it brings a bit of Heaven into our world. And, if this is true for Mannah and Shabbat, how much more so for the Torah which was a Divine gift received on Sinai.

Torah is intended for everyone, one could say for all humanity, regardless of our level of commitment. Study brings spirituality into the world, into the lives of imperfect human beings. Ultimately, though, because it comes from Heaven, it will transform ignorance into wisdom, darkness into light and sadness into Joy.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man inhabits a physical world populated by real men and women, striving to live together with the Divine Presence.

After the 3rd UK terror incident in as many days, where thus far in London 8 have died and more than 40 have been injured, we pray the Almighty will comfort the mourners, bring healing to the injured; strengthen those who protect us, and enlighten us all toward living together peacefully.

May we be among those who help bring more light and blessing into a deeply troubled world!

Thoughts for the Week 8 June

The tragic terror events of the past weeks have made it hard to focus on today’s election. But regardless of party affiliation, we urge you to exercise your right to vote. Polling stations close at 9:00pm.

From Friday 2nd – Sunday 4th June Limmud Italia was held in Florence, Italy. The 130 delegates came from throughout Italy, Israel, the UK & Australia. The programme included Shabbat in the Comunita Ebraica Firenze synagogue. Built in 1882, it must be one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world (photo). Many thanks to Natan Servi for recommending several members of the Borehamwood community to participate.

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 44: Psalm 44 is attributed to the sons of Korah. It’s in the style of a classical lamentation which has 5 parts. 1st it addresses G-d directly, 2nd it laments the misfortune befallen the Jewish people, 3rd it recalls historic circumstances where salvation was granted, 4th it implores the Almighty’s assistance, and 5th it includes a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

From verse 1-9 the Psalmist speaks to G-d, remembering favours of old and offering humble praise. This part mentions by inference the gift of the Land of Israel as well as the support received during innumerable occasions of Exile. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) suggests that were it not for G-d’s mercy, our oppressors would have long ago eradicated us.

אֱ-לֹהִים, בְּאָזְנֵינוּ שָׁמַעְנוּ– אֲבוֹתֵינוּ סִפְּרוּ-לָנוּ: פֹּעַל פָּעַלְתָּ בִימֵיהֶם, בִּימֵי קֶדֶם. O God, we heard with our ears, our fathers told us; the work You did in their days, in the days of old. (Psalms 44:2)

אַתָּה-הוּא מַלְכִּי אֱ-לֹהִים; צַוֵּה, יְשׁוּעוֹת יַעֲקֹב. You are my King, O God; command the salvation of Jacob. (Psalms 44:5)

בֵּא-לֹהִים, הִלַּלְנוּ כָל-הַיּוֹם; וְשִׁמְךָ, לְעוֹלָם נוֹדֶה סֶלָה. In God we’ve gloried all day, and we’ll give thanks to Your name for ever. Selah (Psalms 44:9)

Verses 10-19 illustrate the poignant circumstances of our too-frequent persecutions by the nations of the world. Yet, with great pathos, we’ve never lost hope in G-d’s providence. Unable to fathom the reason for our national suffering, we faithfully yearn for redemption.

תְּשִׂימֵנוּ מָשָׁל, בַּגּוֹיִם; מְנוֹד-רֹאשׁ, בַּלְאֻמִּים. You made us a byword among nations, a shaking of the head among peoples. (Psalms 44:15)

כָּל-זֹאת בָּאַתְנוּ, וְלֹא שְׁכַחֲנוּךָ; וְלֹא-שִׁקַּרְנוּ, בִּבְרִיתֶךָ. All this has come upon us; yet we’ve not forgotten You, neither have we betrayed Your covenant. (Psalms 44:18)

The final verses reflect upon how throughout history, the metaphor of the Jew ‘being taken out to slaughter like sheep’ has been all too realistic. The Psalmist concludes with a heartfelt plea to G-d; Awaken, remember us, reveal your Countenance and redeem us – for mercy’s sake, even if we’re unworthy.

לָמָּה-פָנֶיךָ תַסְתִּיר; תִּשְׁכַּח עָנְיֵנוּ וְלַחֲצֵנוּ. Why do You hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression? (Psalms 44:25)

קוּמָה, עֶזְרָתָה לָּנוּ; וּפְדֵנוּ, לְמַעַן חַסְדֶּךָArise as our help, and redeem us, for Your mercy’s sake. (Psalms 44:27)

Psalm 44, sweepingly prophetic for more than 2000 years, is a song that accompanied the Jewish people during its long exile and wanderings.