Bereishit

Bereishit

AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER? G-d’s dialogue with Cain reverberates across the generations. When Cain has killed his brother, G-d challenges him: “Where is Abel, your brother?” Cain responds: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9) Of course, it was unnecessary for G-d to ask. He knew the answer already. Rashi (d. France, 1105) explains that G-d engaged Cain in conversation hoping to prompt him to confess to what he had done. Cain maintains that he is responsible for himself and no one else. Cain is punished by being expelled from society. “You shall be an...

Vezot Haberachah

Vezot Haberachah

THE BELOVED ONES “Of Benjamin he said: May G-d’s beloved dwell securely by Him” (Deuteronomy 33:12) The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) observes that Benjamin was one of six in the Bible to be called ‘beloved’ or yedid. His merit began even before he was born since he was the only one of Jacob and his family not to bow down to Esau the idolater. Moreover, he was the only one of Jacob’s children to be born in the land of Israel. That is the reason why most of the Temple in Jerusalem was erected in the territory of Benjamin. The other...

Succot

Succot

TAKING THE ARBA MINIM The Arba Minim are taken every day of Succot, except on Shabbat. When bound together, they must be held, all 4 species touching, with the Lulav in the right hand and the Etrog in the left. The 3 Hadassim must be on the right-hand side of the Lulav’s spine and should be slightly higher then the Aravot. (Left-handed people, like myself and Rabbi Yoni, should take the Lulav in the left hand and the Etrog in the right.) The Lulav is held with the spine facing you. When they are first taken up (this year, on...

Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

THE SONG OF HISTORY “May my teaching drop like the rain.” (Devarim 32:2) The song of Ha’azinu is Moses’ peroration to his people.  The great medieval Spanish rabbi and leader, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (1194-1270) and other commentators see this song encompassing the whole process of Jewish history.  How can a mere song summarise the history of our people that has gone through more dramatic moments than any other nation on earth?  Rabbi Elie Munk (father of the late LadyAmelie Jakobovits) quotes the Tzror Hamor (by Rabbi Avraham Saba of Castile, fifteenth century) who sees in the verse two, ‘may...

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW KOREN MACHZOR The ten days that begin on Rosh HaShanah and culminate in Yom Kippur are the holy of holies of Jewish time. The atmosphere in the synagogue is intense. You can almost touch the Divine Presence. Isaiah said: “Seek God where He is to be found, call on Him when He is close” (Is. 55:6). The rabbis wrestled with this verse. What could it mean? God is the God of everywhere and all time. He is always to be found, always close. The verse seemed to make no sense at all. This was...

Nitzavim Vayelech

Nitzavim Vayelech

THE FOURTEENTH PRINCIPLE OF FAITH The thirteen principles of the Jewish faith were enumerated by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) in his introduction to his commentary on the Chapter Chelek in the tractate, Sanhedrin. They are probably most familiar to us in their poetic form in the hymn, Yigdal. Scholars of Maimonides are puzzled why he opts for thirteen principles of faith. If one were ever to talk about Maimonides favourite number, it would be fourteen, rather than thirteen! Maimonides classifies his classic code of Jewish law, the Mishne Torah, into fourteen books, representing fourteen categories of commandments. In his philosophical work,...

Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo

BE HAPPY! In 1998, the author, Denis Prager, wrote a perceptive work, Happiness is a Serious Problem. He describes a paradox. Although many people in the West enjoy better standards of living, with improved health care, advanced technology and increased leisure time, there has not been a corresponding increase in levels of happiness. Every year, the United Nations publishes a World Happiness Report, ranking 156 nations according to various criteria of satisfaction. For some years, the Nordic nations have consistently outranked the rest of the world with Finland coming top for the past three years. A country’s wealth is not...

Ki Teitze

Ki Teitze

RUNNING-MATES “You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together.” [Devarim22:10] Whilst this commandment forms one of the hukim, or statutes for which there is no clear rational reason, many commentators, over the ages, have given insights into the significance of this mitzvah. Moses Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed relates the prohibition to that against the interbreeding of species. He says that not only the ox and donkey, but associating any two species for any work is forbidden to guard against interbreeding. The Torah mentions the ox and donkey as these were most often encountered. The...

Shoftim

Shoftim

TWO KINDS OF BLINDNESS “Do not accept a bribe for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked” [Devarim 16:19] This is not the first time in the Torah where we have been warned about the corrupting influence of bribery. In the sidra of Mishpatim there is a similar phrase, except it says that bribery will blind the eyes of the shrewd (pikchim) whereas here it says it will blind the eyes of the wise (chachamim). What is the difference? The Vilna Gaon (eighteenth century) explains that when a Dayan or a judge rules...

Re’eh

Re’eh

FOR ONE AND FOR ALL “Behold I am setting before you this day a blessing and a curse” [Devarim 11:26] The opening words of today’s portion have occasioned much discussion amongst the commentators. The nuance of grammatical form of the verse is lost in the English translation. The verse begins with a command in the singular form, Re’eh, “Behold or See” addressed to an individual. The sentence concludes in the plural form, Lifneichem, “I am setting before you (plural)”. Why does the verse start in the singular, addressing the individual, and conclude in the plural, addressing the community? One of...