Tetzaveh

Tetzaveh

FOUR FACETS OF LEADERSHIP Moses enjoyed a privilege above all other prophets and sages in our history: G-d spoke directly to him. Although Moses’ name is absent from this week’s parsha, the reading begins with G-d addressing him personally as ve’atah tetzaveh, “and you shall command” with the pronoun atah, ‘you’, standing alone as a separate word for emphasis, rather than just being incorporated into the usual verbal form tetzaveh, ‘you shall command.’ The Zohar on this week’s sidra points out that this peculiarity is employed three times more in our readings of the Tabernacle. In chapter 28:1, we read...

Terumah

Terumah

GOLDEN AGE, SILVER AGE, BRONZE AGE The building of the Mishkan or Tabernacle that forms the subject of our Torah reading for the next five weeks, required the use of three kinds of metal: zahav, kesef, unechoshet, gold, silver and bronze (copper)[i] (Shemot 25:3). Recognising the underlying idea, that the Tabernacle represented, ultimately, the home we build for G-d within ourselves, the Baalei Hatosaphot give a beautiful interpretation that links these metals to the phases in a person’s life: our golden age, our silver age, and our bronze age. Our golden age is when we are in our prime. Our...

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

OUR INTERCONNECTED WORLD The laws of charity are introduced in this week’s portion. The rabbis in the Midrash make use of what appears to be a strange homily to explain these laws: Come and see how all of G-d’s creatures borrow from one another. The day borrows from the night and the night borrows from the day…the moon borrows from the stars and the stars borrow from the moon…the light borrows from the sun and the sun borrows from the light…Wisdom borrows from Understanding and Understanding borrows from wisdom…Heaven borrows from earth and earth borrows from heaven…kindness borrows from righteousness...

Yitro

Yitro

COMBATTING LONELINESS “It was on the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood before Moses from morning to night. Moses’ father-in-law saw everything he was doing for the people, and said, ‘What is this you are doing, sitting alone, and the people stand over you from morning till night…You will surely wear yourself out.’” (Shemot 18:13-14, 18) Reports this week of the English court system struggling with poor IT, remind us of the enduring relevance of Jethro’s advice to Moses, in this week’s parsha, in ensuring that he had adequate support to properly administer...

Shabbat Shira

Shabbat Shira

Some trees only grow in warm climates like the Mediterranean; the olive tree is one of them. Scientists and archeologists believe it was likely on the Syrian-Turkish border that they were first cultivated. Its oleurpein compound makes it so bitter it is inedible. Yet once cured, its oils have such rich flavour. We don’t have many olive trees here in London, although there is one in West Ham Park walking trail planted by Lady Mayoress in 2007, and they are readily available in pots all year round, down the road in Clifton Greens, Little Venice. This week we read how the...

Beshalach

Beshalach

DIVINE DETOUR According to Google Maps to walk from Cairo to Jerusalem today would take less than 150 hours. As we know at the time of the Exodus, it took the Israelites forty years! The Torah tells us at the beginning of the portion that G-d did not lead the Israelites to their destination via the coastal route (Derech Eretz Plishtim), via the land of the Philistines even though it was the shortest route in those days. The reason given? “Lest they see war and want to return to Egypt.” Instead, the people go to the Red Sea and panic...

Bo

Bo

DID G-D GIVE PHARAOH CARDIAC DISEASE? Throughout the episode of the Ten Plagues, described in last week’s sidra and this week’s sidra, we read of the ‘hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.’ For the first five plagues, it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart. For the subsequent plagues, we read that it is G-d who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. What does this mean? Did G-d cause him a hardening of the arteries? Did Pharaoh suffer from angina! We need to appreciate that the Torah uses the term ‘heart’ to refer to the source of a person’s moral, spiritual and intellectual capacities. (Indeed,...

Va’era

Va’era

HAVDALAH IN EGYPT Before G-d strikes Egypt with the fourth plague, he has Moses declare to Pharaoh: “I will make a distinction between my people and your people.” (Shemot 8:19). When the plague struck the Hebrews living in Goshen were completely unaffected. When we make Havdalah at the end of Shabbat, we bless G-d who has separated “between the holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, and between the seventh day and the other days of creation.” The late Rav Soloveitchik z”l (d. 1993) pointed out that there are distinctions between these different kinds of...

Shemot

Shemot

WHERE THERE IS NO MAN, STRIVE TO BE A MAN When Moses leaves the comfort of the royal palace and goes out for himself to see how his fellow Israelites are existing under Egyptian slavery, he is shocked to discover that an Egyptian Taskmaster is beating a Hebrew Slave for apparently no reason, and the slave is being beaten to death. The Torah then says that Moses “looked this way and that; he saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.” [Exodus 2:12] Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, the great...

Vayechi

Vayechi

LIVING FOR OTHERS “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” [Genesis 47:28] Last week’s sidra concluded with the settlement of Jacob and his family in the Goshen region of the land of Egypt, where they acquired property and were fruitful and multiplied. This week’s portion begins by informing us that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (early 20th century) in his commentary to the Torah, Meshech Chochma, observes that people can live their lives on different levels. Some people are content with a life that simply centres...