Naso

Naso

WAGON WISDOM With the race now on to see who will become the next leader of the Conservative Part and the next Prime Minister, the challenge for every candidate will be how to unite the party and the country and to heal the wounds of the Brexit campaign. The words of Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural (quoted by Rabbi Lord Sacks in his recent Newsnight interview) are particularly pertinent: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; …let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…” A powerful symbolic message emerges...

Shavuot

Shavuot

TORAH FROM HEAVEN The revelation at Mount Sinai was not just a religious event. It was a political event of a unique kind. It was the birth of a nation. Throughout Genesis, the heirs of Abraham had been an extended family. At the beginning of Exodus we hear them for the first time described as an am, a “people.” Pharaoh says, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are too many and powerful for us” (Ex. 1: 9). What made them a people were many things. There was kinship: they were all descendants of Jacob. There was culture: they...

Bechukkotai

Bechukkotai

HOW HIGH? The late Rabbi Dr. Louis Rabinowitz (1906-1984, Chief Rabbi of South Africa,) was once arriving in Israel and he saw them unload from the El Al plane two coffins that had been flown to Israel for burial. As the coffins were being carefully moved he later recalled: “At that moment I understood the meaning of the phrase in our morning prayers, Vetolichenu Komemiyut Le’artzenu – ‘bring us upright to our land.’ We pray that G-d grant us the opportunity to come to Israel komemiyut, upright- alive and well, rather than in a box!” The word komemiyut is used...

Behar

Behar

STRONG HOUSES Continuing uncertainty over Brexit arrangements have led to stagnations in Britain’s property market. In biblical times, over and above economic conditions, there were Torah restrictions in buying and selling land and houses in perpetuity. In summary: Land should not be sold unless there is dire need. Land sold may be redeemed after two years by the vendor or his relatives. Land not redeemed automatically reverts back to the original owner with the onset of the Jubilee (50th) year. An exception is the sale of a house in a walled city. Here the situation is almost in the reverse:...

Emor

Emor

A MEETING OF MOADIM Much of this week’s portion is familiar to us as Parshat HaMoadim, the festival leining for the second of Pesach and the first two days of Succot. The special times, beginning with Shabbat and continuing with Pesach, Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot and Shemini Atzeret are listed and described. The word, Moed, is related to the word, Vaad, committee or assembly. It is effectively an appointment in time for meeting with G-d, much as the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle, was a meeting-point in space. There is a Moed of a...

Kedoshim

Kedoshim

BIODIVERSITY This week, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued an alarming report. Hundreds of thousands of different species of animals and plants are facing extinction because of human activity. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely. The appreciation of the importance of biodiversity can be seen as we look carefully into the underlying idea behind a verse in this week’s parsha. There are a series of laws which deal with the intermingling of species: Do...

Acharei Mot

Acharei Mot

WHAT MAKES AN ITEM SPECIAL? This week witnessed the beginning of the enthronement of Naruhito as the new Emperor of Japan. What was striking was the simplicity of the ritual. In contrast to the coronation of a British Sovereign where fabulous jewels are part of the pomp and ceremony, unadorned wrapped boxes, containing a wooden scepter, a stone-bead necklace etc. were brought before the new Emperor. It was obvious that for the Japanese, it wasn’t the intrinsic worth of the emblems that was important. It was the fact that they are associated with their history which can claim to be...

Pesach

Pesach

THOUGHTS ON THE HAGGADA “And G-d will pass over the opening” (Exodus 12:23) We are told in the Haggadah that in every generation we should try and picture ourselves as if we are leaving Egypt. The Chassidic writers point out that this is not simply an exercise in imagination. We too, can benefit in some ways from the blessings of the Exodus in the same way as our ancestors did. According to the Midrash, the Jews of the Exodus were not especially spiritual. Indeed, some of them were as involved in idolatrous practices as their Egyptian hosts. Yet, G-d took...

Metzora

Metzora

PRAYING FOR THOSE WHO ARE UNWELL The Torah goes into great detail in last week’s and this week’s portion describing an affliction knows as tzara’at. This came upon a person as a result of transgressions such as slander. The practical application of these laws with the different kinds of sores and scabs and burns have ceased to have had relevance for thousands of years. Nevertheless, a profound and pertinent detail emerges from the way the sufferer was to conduct himself. The Torah writes: “The afflicted person…shall cloak himself up to the lips and he is to call out: Contaminated, contaminated.”...

Tazria

Tazria

QUITE WHITE? The intricate details of the laws of tzaraat that are described in this week’s sidrot are understood by our commentators to refer to diseases that are brought on by spiritual pathology rather than physical malignancy. The symbolic significance of the symptoms and treatment of the metzora are therefore legitimate areas for moral lessons and guidance. It comes as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the colour white is seen in these laws as an indicator of impurity. “And if the hair in the affliction had turned white…the Cohen shall pronounce him tamei, impure.” (Vayikra 13:3) Surely white...

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