Monthly Archives: November 2017

Week of 30 November 2017 – Psalms 58

This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Psalm 58 is also a Tashhet psalm – a plea to be spared from destruction. It continues the theme of Psalm 57 where, to save his own life, David had opportunity to kill his pursuer King Saul but desisted. Instead he used the occasion to prove his loyalty and to quell any hatred in the hearts of the King’s men.

The prosaic imagery and complex Hebrew in this Psalm led several Jewish commentators to attempt to offer figurative explanations.

הַאֻמְנָם–אֵלֶם צֶדֶק, תְּדַבֵּרוּן; מֵישָׁרִים תִּשְׁפְּטוּ, בְּנֵי אָדָם. Do you indeed speak as a righteous company? Do you judge with equity the sons of men? (Psalms 58:2)

This Psalm more subtly decries the hypocrisy of those claiming to be children of G-d but who act immorally. Their inclination for evil seems inborn; impervious to reason or rebuke.

זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם; תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן, דֹּבְרֵי כָזָב. The wicked are estranged from the womb; speakers of lies go astray as soon as they’re born. (Psalms 58:4)

חֲמַת-לָמוֹ, כִּדְמוּת חֲמַת-נָחָשׁ; כְּמוֹ-פֶתֶן חֵרֵשׁ, יַאְטֵם אָזְנוֹ. Their venom is like the venom of a serpent; they’re like a deaf asp that won’t hear. (Psalms 58:5)

Finally, David prays for his enemies to be disabled and foretells of their ruin.

אֱ-לֹהִים–הֲרָס שִׁנֵּימוֹ בְּפִימוֹ; מַלְתְּעוֹת כְּפִירִים, נְתֹץ יְ-הוָה. Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth; break the cheek-teeth of the young lions, O Lord. (Psalms 58:7)

יִשְׂמַח צַדִּיק, כִּי-חָזָה נָקָם; פְּעָמָיו יִרְחַץ, בְּדַם הָרָשָׁע. The righteous rejoice when seeing vengeance; he’ll wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Psalms 58:11)

וְיֹאמַר אָדָם, אַךְ-פְּרִי לַצַּדִּיק; אַךְ יֵשׁ-אֱ-לֹהִים, שֹׁפְטִים בָּאָרֶץ. And men will say: ‘There is reward for the righteous; there’s a God that judges the earth.’ (Psalms 58:12)

Deeply ingrained in the human condition is a sense of justice and righteousness. It’s a core part of our spiritual values that the wicked must be punished and good deeds go rewarded.

But, many of us know this isn’t the case. We see those who benefit from other’s suffering and many being oppressed by a few. Living finite lives it may seem there’s no justice. Nor can we comprehend the calculations that may span the centuries.

Most of us also have the tendency to see ourselves as innocent. But, to some degree or another we’re all at risk of being complicit in the suffering of others. Take those who may manufacture items that are known to cause harm to human beings. Or those of us turning a blind eye when we could be of assistance to a neighbour or friend.

Some historic calamities can only be answered by referring to the higher workings of the Almighty. But when bad things happen to us, the rabbis of the Talmud recommend to first reflect upon our own actions and find ways for improvement.

One of Rambam Sephardi’s initiatives this year is to provide workshops on managing household budgets. No doubt the hype around Black Friday & Cyber Monday will have tempted some of us to spend more than we can afford. The lure will only get stronger until the year-end. Prudent advise is to resist overspending!

The term Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in 1961 and was associated with ‘heavy and disruptive vehicle and pedestrian traffic’ occurring the day after Thanksgiving. In 2005 it’s reference was changed to mean ‘the busiest retail sales day in the calendar’. Soon after, Cyber Monday was introduced as a way for online-retailers to benefit from the same worldwide spending urge.

By contrast, in 2012, in response to this unabashed consumerism, the 92nd Street Y and United Nations led a call to introduce Giving Tuesday – a day of worldwide philanthropy,

Estimated Black Friday sales in 2017 in the USA were the equivalent of £510 billion (up 4%) and in the UK £2.5 billion. In 2016, Giving Tuesday saw worldwide donations of £130 million.

MAZAL TOB: Finally, we wish Mazal Tob to HRH Prince Henry of Wales (familiarly known as Prince Harry) and his fiancee Meghan Markle who this week announced their engagement. May the young couple enjoy a long & happy marriage together.

Week of 23 November 2017 – Psalms 57

This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Psalm 57 is attributed to David, continuing the pattern of: 1) pleading with the Almighty for protection from his enemies, and 2) praising G-d for his rescue.

This Psalm cites the incident in I Samuel 24:3-7 involving King Saul and David when they inadvertently were together in a cave in the Ein Gedi wilderness. Saul had gathered 3,000 men to chase after David but in a moment of need, entered a cave to relieve himself, unaware that David and his men were hiding close by.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ אַל-תַּשְׁחֵת, לְדָוִד מִכְתָּם– בְּבָרְחוֹ מִפְּנֵי-שָׁאוּל, בַּמְּעָרָה. For the Leader; Al-tashheth. Of David; Mikhtam; when he fled from Saul, in the cave. (Psalms 57:1)

Saul likely suffered from bi-polar depression and convinced himself that David was trying to kill him and/or take over the throne. David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life while he was indisposed, but instead surreptitiously cut off a piece of the King’s inner garment.

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם, וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי– חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה; יִשְׁלַח אֱ-לֹהִים, חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ. [G-d] … will send from heaven, and save me, when he who swallows me taunts, Selah; G-d shall send forth mercy and truth. (Psalms 57:4)

Following Saul from the cave, David called out that had he wished to murder the King, the opportunity had just presented itself. As proof he showed the cut cloth. In a moment of mental clarity, Saul saw the truth and acknowledged that David was worthy to be the next King.

רֶשֶׁת, הֵכִינוּ לִפְעָמַי– כָּפַף נַפְשִׁי: כָּרוּ לְפָנַי שִׁיחָה; נָפְלוּ בְתוֹכָהּ סֶלָה. They’ve prepared a net for my steps, my soul is bowed down; they’ve dug a pit before me, they’ve fallen into the midst themselves. Selah (Psalms 57:7)

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch comments that ‘awakening the dawn’ suggests human beings have an ability to take the darkest night of their afflictions and turn it into the dawn of a new day. (Verse 9 was popularised by Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach. Click here for a rendition.)

עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי–עוּרָה, הַנֵּבֶל וְכִנּוֹר; אָעִירָה שָּׁחַר. Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I will awaken the dawn. (Psalms 57:9)

This Psalm begins with prayer and complaint and concludes with joyous praise. It teaches that in times of trouble, as in times of joy, we must equally offer our prayers to the Almighty.

רוּמָה עַל-שָׁמַיִם אֱ-לֹהִים; עַל כָּל-הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדֶךָ. Be exalted, O G-d, above the heavens; Your glory be above all the earth. (Psalms 57:12)

NB: Though David was pressed by his men to kill Saul, he chose only to cut a corner of the King’s garment. Yet as soon as his hand completed its task, he knew that he’d done wrong. In his old age, David’s punishment was that clothing wouldn’t provide him any warmth.

Joshua in the Bible – Article for Jewish News – 16 November 2017

Joshua – London Jewish News – 16 November 2017

Joshua was born in Egypt, his father Nun, descended from the tribe of Ephraim. He’s first mentioned as the ‘lad’ who was Moshe’s devoted aide de camp.

Next he appeared in the counter-attack against Amalek – a battle that ended indecisively. He was at the base of Mt Sinai – when Moshe received the Ten Commandments from G-d and during the incident of the Golden Calf.

One of few Biblical figures to be blessed with a change of name, he became Yehoshua from Hoshea, just before the spies began their 40-day mission. His role as 1 of only 2 of the 12 Spies who returned from Cana’an with a favorable report enabled him to survive the ensuing 40 years wandering in the desert; ultimately becoming Moshe’s successor.

As newly appointed leader of the Jewish people, Joshua was described ‘as the Moon in relation to Moshe’s Sun.’ It was assumed he’d be a mere reflection of Moshe’s greatness. Yet, he instigated mass circumcision on the eve of entering Cana’an, as well as celebrating the 1st Pesah Seder since the Exodus.

In his own merit the waters of the Jordan River split, he was visited by an Angel, brought down the walls of Jericho and petitioned the Almighty to stop the sun from setting during his battle with the Amorites at Gibeon (Joshua 10:13).

His ultimate achievement was conquering the land of Cana’an from the resident nations who’d fallen out of favor with G-d, and dividing it among the 9 ½ tribes of Israel. Completing his long years of service, Joshua’s final days ended peacefully in his ancestral home near Shiloh, aged 110.

Aide de camp, scout, military commander and administrator general, Joshua’s life teaches that Implementation is as important as Vision. His enduring legacy is that integrity & rigor, consistency & self-discipline, high moral character and most important humility, are the bedrock for becoming a successful national leader.

Rabbi Jeff Berger serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree/ Borehamwood and can be contacted at

Naomi in the Bible – Article for Jewish News – 9 October 2017

Naomi – London Jewish News – 9 October 2017 – Rabbi Jeff Berger

Naomi – whose name means pleasantness – lived a life that was anything but. She appears in the narrative as the silent, accommodating wife of Elimelekh, a wealthy man from Bethlehem. And when famine struck, the family disingenuously moved to Moab. In the ensuing 10 years, sadly, first her husband, and then her married sons died off.

As the widow Naomi’s high-status evaporated, she rediscovered her own voice. Deciding to return to Bethlehem, she attempted to cut all ties with Moab. Yet one of her two daughter’s-in-law, insisted on travelling back with her; their delicate devotion to each other is beautifully conveyed in the Book of Ruth.

Returning home to country and kinsmen, Naomi asked those remembering her to call her Mara (bitterness). Her sojourn abroad had been a desolate failure!

Many of us face immense adversity and succumb to its overwhelming pressures. Naomi could have been forgiven the same. Few realize how much faith, courage, and ingenuity it takes to press forward. So it’s uplifting to read that back home, Naomi emerged a transformed woman.

Her resourcefulness and Ruth’s cooperation enlisted their kinsman’s redemptive aid. Boaz, after marrying Ruth also bought back Elimelekh’s mortgaged fields. And so, eventually Naomi returned to social importance and was credited with raising Ruth’s child, Obed, from whom King David would descend.

Let us not pretend that Jewish communities in the UK and elsewhere are without our share of struggling single mothers, once socially vibrant widows and those whose fortunes have simply taken a turn for the worse.

Lessons to learn from Naomi are that our adversity shouldn’t be allowed to define any one of us. But, equally, it is incumbent upon us all to lend support and help relieve the bitterness of the Naomi’s of the Jewish world. They have much to add to our communal success!

Rabbi Jeff Berger serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree/ Borehamwood and can be contacted at

Week of 16 November 2017 – Psalm 56

This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Psalm 56 is attributed to King David when he was in imminent mortal danger (a continuing theme since Psalm 52). It is supposed to have been conceived during the brief period when David took refuge from King Saul among the Philistines in Gath (I Samuel 21:11-16).

There are 2 parts to this Psalm; David complains of his enemies’ malice, praying for mercy for himself & Divine justice against them, and, David confides in G-d, reminding himself of the need to praise the Almighty and be strong no matter the circumstances. (The full text can be found here.)

חָנֵּנִי אֱ-לֹהִים, כִּי-שְׁאָפַנִי אֱנוֹשׁ; כָּל-הַיּוֹם, לֹחֵם יִלְחָצֵנִי. Be gracious unto me, O G-d, for man would swallow me up; all the day his fighting oppresses me. (Psalms 56:2)

שָׁאֲפוּ שׁוֹרְרַי, כָּל-הַיּוֹם: כִּי-רַבִּים לֹחֲמִים לִי מָרוֹם. They that lie in wait would swallow me up all day; for many fight against me, O Most High. (Psalms 56:3)

Torn in two directions, being forced to hide from one enemy (Saul) in the midst of another (the Philistines), David feigned madness and was left alone. His protectors didn’t know David’s real identity or they may have exacted revenge for his killing Goliath years before.

עַל-אָוֶן פַּלֶּט-לָמוֹ; בְּאַף, עַמִּים הוֹרֵד אֱ-לֹהִים. Because of their iniquity cast them out; in anger bring down those peoples, O G-d. (Psalms 56:8)

Those who face challenges and suffering are often inclined to ask; ‘Why me?’ Everyday life is mixed with joy & happiness and struggle & oppression. It’s easy to praise the Almighty in good times. But in difficult circumstances, one must overcome feelings of hopelessness, dread and despair to remind ourselves that nothing is beyond G-d’s abilities, and that relief and support can come in an instance (as often happened with David).

בֵּא-לֹהִים בָּטַחְתִּי, לֹא אִירָא; מַה-יַּעֲשֶׂה אָדָם לִי. In G-d do I trust, I won’t be afraid; what can man do to me? (Psalms 56:12)

כִּי הִצַּלְתָּ נַפְשִׁי, מִמָּוֶת– הֲלֹא רַגְלַי, מִדֶּחִי: לְהִתְהַלֵּךְ, לִפְנֵי אֱ-לֹהִים– בְּאוֹר, הַחַיִּים. You delivered my soul from death; have you not delivered my feet from stumbling? That I may walk before G-d in the light of the living. (Psalms 56:14)

This Psalm can be read by the persecuted, oppressed and the fretful, depressed, reminding ourselves we must have Faith in G-d’s eventual and ultimate Goodness.

GENERAL NOTE: 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 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 that 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.

Of the 150 chapters of Tehillim, the longest (Chapter 119) is 176 verses and the shortest are 2 verses (Chapters 117 & 131). The average is 17 verses.

Week of 9 November 2017 – Psalm 55

This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Chapter 55: Psalm 55 is attributed to the Maskhil of David. It continues the recent pattern of lamentation due-to-betrayal since Psalm 52 and resembles the sentiment in Psalm 41. It can be divided into 3 main sections; despair, indignation and trust.

David is initially distraught by the oppression of his enemies (v. 1-8). His tone shifts to righteous anger (v 9-15) and concludes with the familiar refrain of Faith in the justice of the Almighty who will exact Divine revenge upon those deserving it (16-24).

מִקּוֹל אוֹיֵב–מִפְּנֵי, עָקַת רָשָׁע: כִּי-יָמִיטוּ עָלַי אָוֶן, וּבְאַף יִשְׂטְמוּנִי. Because of the enemy’s voice, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they cast mischief upon me, and in anger persecute me. (Psalms 55:4)

לִבִּי, יָחִיל בְּקִרְבִּי; וְאֵימוֹת מָוֶת, נָפְלוּ עָלָי. My heart writhes within me; and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. (Psalms 55:5)

וָאֹמַר–מִי-יִתֶּן-לִי אֵבֶר, כַּיּוֹנָה: אָעוּפָה וְאֶשְׁכֹּנָה. And I said: ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove! Would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalms 55:7)

‘If I had wings’ echoes a beautiful Ladino phrase poignantly referenced in this Holocaust story by Hannah Pressman about her grandmother’s last years on the Isle of Rhodes, before the deportation.

בַּלַּע אֲ-דֹנָי, פַּלַּג לְשׁוֹנָם: כִּי-רָאִיתִי חָמָס וְרִיב בָּעִיר. Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongue; for I’ve seen violence and strife in the city. (Psalms 55:10)

כִּי לֹא-אוֹיֵב יְחָרְפֵנִי, וְאֶשָּׂא: לֹא-מְשַׂנְאִי, עָלַי הִגְדִּיל; וְאֶסָּתֵר מִמֶּנּוּ. For it wasn’t an enemy taunting me, that I could have borne; neither was it an adversary magnifying himself against me, that I would have hid from. (Psalms 55:13)

וְאַתָּה אֱנוֹשׁ כְּעֶרְכִּי; אַלּוּפִי, וּמְיֻדָּעִי. But it was you, a man my equal; my companion, and my familiar friend. (Psalms 55:14)

Commentators suggest this Psalm refers to the revolt of Absalom, who usurped his father’s throne, and specifically to the betrayal of David by his closest advisor, Ahitophel who joined Absalom’s side. But when his military advice to Absalom was ignored, Ahitophel realised defeat would soon follow. Quietly, he returned home, settled his affairs – and most likely to avoid David’s wrath – hung himself. (See II Samuel Chaps 15-17)

אֲנִי, אֶל-אֱ-לֹהִים אֶקְרָא; וַי-הוָה, יוֹשִׁיעֵנִי. As for me, I will call upon G-d; and the LORD will save me. (Psalms 55:17)

פָּדָה בְשָׁלוֹם נַפְשִׁי, מִקְּרָב-לִי: כִּי-בְרַבִּים, הָיוּ עִמָּדִי. He redeemed my soul in peace so none came near me; for many strove with me. (Psalms 55:19)

הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל-יְ-הוָה, יְהָבְךָ– וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ: לֹא-יִתֵּן לְעוֹלָם מוֹט– לַצַּדִּיק. Cast your burden upon the LORD, who will sustain you; never suffering the righteous to be moved. (Psalms 55:23)

Psalm 55 is often recited by those feeling indignation and anger toward their persecutors, reminding themselves that Divine salvation and joy are yet ahead. Perhaps for that reason this Psalm has been put to music by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn in 1844, Anton Dvorak in 1894 and the Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly in 1923 (click to listen).

Week of 2 November 2017 – Psalm 54

This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Psalm 54 is attributed to David and is a lament about betrayal by members of his own tribe. There are 2 main themes; a complaint to G-d about the malice of his enemies and a prayer for relief, and the reassurance that G-d’s Divine favour and protection would stay with him forever.

בְּבֹא הַזִּיפִים, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְשָׁאוּל: הֲלֹא דָוִד, מִסְתַּתֵּר עִמָּנוּ. When the Ziphites came and said to Saul: ‘Doesn’t David hide himself in our midst?’ (Psalms 54:2)

The Ziphites were direct descendants of Judah, David’s tribe, as described in Joshua 15:20/55. Their report to Saul in I Samuel 23:19-29 led to David almost being captured.

כִּי זָרִים, קָמוּ עָלַי- וְעָרִיצִים, בִּקְשׁוּ נַפְשִׁי; לֹא שָׂמוּ אֱ-לֹהִים לְנֶגְדָּם סֶלָה. For strangers rise-up against me, and violent men seek after my soul; they’ve not set G-d before them. Selah (Psalms 54:5)

The reference to strangers suggests ‘people who should have been his allies but treated him like a stranger’ which is morally more disheartening. Those closest to us are the ones we trust most. Their betrayal cuts into us deeply.

הִנֵּה אֱ-לֹהִים, עֹזֵר לִי; אֲ-דֹנָי, בְּסֹמְכֵי נַפְשִׁי. Behold, G-d is my helper; the Lord is for me the upholder of my soul. (Psalms 54:6)

כִּי מִכָּל-צָרָה, הִצִּילָנִי; וּבְאֹיְבַי, רָאֲתָה עֵינִי. For He delivered me out of all trouble; my eye gazed upon mine enemies. (Psalms 54:9)

Ironically, before the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul, Jonathan (Saul’s son) went to warn David to flee. In effect, this too was a betrayal.

Nonetheless, Saul’s army drew close to capturing David & his men. At the last moment, a messenger arrived to alert Saul; ‘The Philistines have attacked’. So Saul & his army quickly withdrew. That place became known as Selah HaMahlekot (Rock of Division). David indeed lived to see the dispersion of those wishing him harm.

It is suggested that reciting this Psalm is useful for those experiencing feelings of betrayal and hopelessness.