All posts by Jeremy

Korach

Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.

“How long shall this nation continue to provoke Me?… I will kill them with a plague and annihilate them.” So says God when the spies return from spying out the land and the people complain against Moses and Aaron for bringing them there. Is it any wonder that God becomes angry? What a fractious lot we have been. Despite being fed manna from the skies, we groan for meat. Despite being brought to the very gates of the promised land, we lose faith and are filled with terror. Even Aaron and Miriam complain against Moses. Our miserable behaviour is more marked by coming so soon after the tribal leaders brought generous gifts for the altar. Is it not enough that God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm? Is it not enough that he has fed us and protected us from our enemies, guiding us with his presence and communing with our leader? It looks like we have a long way to go before we will be ready to commit ourselves to our destiny as a free people dedicated to God and to building His just and holy society.

Look to the future, but remember the past and remember God. We are given many props and structures to help us, the most recent of which are ‘tzitzit’, which we are commanded to wear at the very end of Sh’lach L’cha, a fitting conclusion to a parsha which begins by telling us to send out for ourselves and explore the territory we are to inhabit.

Surely, the complaining, the fear, the backbiting must be finished. Unfortunately, they aren’t, for along comes Korach, accompanied by Dathan and Aviram, to rail against Moses and Aaron and demand power for themselves. One of the ironies is, of course, that Moses, the humblest man alive, never wanted power. Korach and his fellow rebels are in for a shock which must now put an end to the complaining, but it doesn’t. To find out what happens next and how it is dealt with come along this Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert will be leading us.

Beha’aloteckha

When I was a child, I believed that the reason Samson lost his strength and was captured by the Philistines was because Delilah shaved his hair off while he was asleep, as though there were some magic power contained within that hair and that his strength derived directly from it. Of course, the real reason the Philistines were able to subdue mighty Samson was because he broke his vow as a nazirite. First, he allowed himself to be seduced by a prostitute. Second, he betrayed God’s trust to her deceit. After he had repented, and renewed his nazirite vow, his strength returned, symbolised by, but not contained in, his hair. The haftorah for Naso, which recounts the birth of Samson,  links the story of a truly tragic hero with the nazirite rules detailed in the parsha. These rules make up only a small part of the longest parsha in the Torah. Also appearing are the census of the Levites and the duties of the different families, the purification of the camp, the trial by ordeal of the suspected adulteress, the offerings of the tribal leaders after the completion of the Tabernacle, all equal and all equally generous, and the priestly blessing.

‘This is how you must bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.

“May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”‘

Are there any words more beautiful?

Now raise up and light the lamps, for we have come to Beha’aloteckha. This is a parsha also packed with topics. The Levites must be purified and prepared for service. God’s signal of when to reside in camp and when to move on is explained. Instructions are given to make two trumpets to signal to the Israelites the moments to assemble,  to make war and to celebrate the festivals. There is much more, not all of it good, for we are busy complaining again, despite the ever visible presence of God over the camp. Did we really deserve to be delivered from slavery? Not only do the people complain, but also Moses’ elder brother and sister, the very brother who went to meet Moses on his return from exile in Midian, the very sister who saved his life as a baby. Aaron quickly repents and Moses, ever unassuming, ever compassionate, plead for Miriam to be pardoned.

So much to come for, as I hope you will this Saturday at 10.30. Our much esteemed and loved Honorary President, Harvey will be leading us.

B’midbar

Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.

People and places are what it’s about in the desert or wilderness of B’midbar. The wilderness is, as is evident in the English, a wild place, without boundaries or clear delineating forms, but in the opening parsha of the book of B’midbar, definition is given to the people of Israel. They are counted, all except the Levites, according to their tribes, and then they are placed around the Communion Tent: Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun, to the east; Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, to the south; Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, to the west, and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali to the north. The Levites are in the middle, also divided into sub-groups. In the midst of nowhere, a nation is created on both a spiritual and a physical plane.

But I forget myself. What about B’har and B’chukkotai, last week’s double parshiyot? Well, the first covers redemption of land, property, people and, in a sense, time. There is good agricultural sense in letting the land rest, but the Torah adds a spiritual dimension. Resting the land every seven years clearly reflects Shabbat and honours God and His creation. B’chukkotai underlines the importance of following God’s laws, promising peace and fulfilment if we keep them, suffering and loss if we don’t. Yet there is also the promise of redemption, thus continuing the theme of B’har. Property and slaves can be redeemed by time. Israel can be redeemed by repentance.

Let us return to this week. Liz Berg will be leading us in prayer, song, reading and conversation, so come  on Saturday at 10.30

Tazria-M‘tzora, Shabbat Atzma’ut

Imagine, you are walking along beside the Ark of the Covenant, as King David leads the procession to take the Ark to Jerusalem. You are in a privileged position at the side of the cart on which the Ark is placed and feel especially responsible. Just as you reach an important farming settlement on the way, the oxen pulling the cart stumble. What do you do? Do you stand by and risk the Ark tumbling to the ground, or do you reach out to catch hold of this most precious of all of Israel’s possessions? Well, Uzzah, son of Abinadav, in whose house the Ark had been kept up until this journey, did reach out and God’s anger burned against him and “God smote him there for his error, and he died there by God’s ark.”

This terrifying event, recounted in Samuel 2 6:1 – 7:17, appears in the Haftorah for Shemini and mirrors the equally terrifying account in the parsha of the death of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons, for offering unauthorised fire to God. The death of the brothers appears even more shocking as it comes just after Aaron and his sons have been consecrated as God’s priests and when the people were in a state of harmony with the will of God.

Why were the punishments so severe? Several reasons have been given in each case. Uzzah was a Levite and it was right for him to be involved in the carrying of the Ark, but there is the whole point. The Ark was meant to be carried upon the shoulders of the Kohathites, not loaded upon a cart. It was meant to be carried, but not to be touched. As for Nadav and Avihu, they failed to appreciate the difference between the sacred and the profane and they assumed that they were able to decide what God wanted. And yet, I, for one, still feel great sorrow for the brothers and for Uzzah. Yes, they did wrong, but could we not expect mercy from “God, omnipotent, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with tremendous love and truth”? (Shemot 34 8)

No doubt, we will wrestle with such questions for long and many times. However, this week we are come to the double parshiyot of Tazria-M’zora and the exposition of the laws of cleanliness and uncleanliness as they relate to the leprous curse and to both male and female discharges. Pat Lipert  will lead us in prayer, reading and discussion. Come and take part.

Yom Ha-Atzma’ut begins this year on the evening of Monday 1 May.

Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed Pesach

On the news this morning, I listened to an item on money laundering and the corruption of oligarchs from a country somewhere to the east of here. Clearly, these oligarchs have not read Deuteronomy 10: 12-19 where it says, “He is the great, mighty and awesome God, who does not give special consideration or take bribes.” Perhaps they have read this, but, to them, it is just words. We will read them this Shabbat, when the normal cycle of Torah readings is interrupted for Pesach. We will also read Exodus 13: 3-10. How appropriate that, during this festival of remembering, we go back to consider again the laws of Pesach and how we are instructed, in the future, to tell the story. How appropriate, too, that we go forward to remember the journey we have made through the generations, and now through the desert, always with God’s love. God loved our ancestors and “chose you, their descendants, from among all nations, just as the situation is today.” What do we do in return? Only “remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all his paths and love Him, serving your God your Lord with all your heart and all your soul.”

The Torah reading finishes with another, oh most significant reminder to show love toward the foreigner, since we were foreigners in the land of Egypt, and have been again many times since.

Come and celebrate the fifth day of Pesach together at Three Bridges School, starting at 10.30.  Harvey Kurzfield will make the past present.

Since it is still Pesach, please bear this in mind when deciding what to bring for the kiddush lunch. Given our varied traditions, food containing kitniyot is fine, but, equally, given our respect for other traditions, please make it clear if what you bring does contain it.