All posts by Jeremy

Sh’lach l’cha

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch… what is wrong with these people? Anyone would think that Jews were born to complain. Oh, perish the thought? The parsha of B’ha’alot’cha, though, seems full of it. On the one hand, Aaron is lighting the lamps of the Menorah – surely a wonder to behold. The Levites are purified and inaugurated into service and some of the rules of Passover are given. On this occasion, some ask Moses a very reasonable question, not because of any ill feeling, but because they want to be allowed to prepare the Passover offering, but are concerned about their having become ritually unclean. The divine signs for moving and settling are described, more wondrous sights, surely awe inspiring, what with the cloud rising from the Tent and settling when the people were to come to rest. Yet the people complain and moan. On one occasion we are not even told what about, so we can assume it was some pretty heavy grouching about everything and nothing. Even Moses, who usually pleads on behalf of the people and begs God to be merciful, has had enough. Then Miriam and Aaron complain against their brother, who has showed no sign whatsoever of wishing to lord it over them, or over anyone else for that matter. 

Well, that was last week. This week, in Sh’lach L’cha, Moses sends out spies, who come back, all, except Joshua and Caleb, cowed and fearful from what they have seen. Then, there is another mighty bit of kvetching, matched only by the fear that leads the people to say that they would prefer to return to Egypt and slavery. They so easily forget that the God who delivered them from slavery can surely deliver them to a new land. I like to think that, had I been there, I would have joined Caleb and Joshua and shouted to the people to be stout of heart, to believe in themselves as they believe in God. But would I?

There is more in Sh’lach L’cha, and to hear and read it, to sing, pray and join in conversation, come along this Saturday at 10:30. Pat Lipert will lead us. 

Naso

While we have been in the desert for some time now, this is only the second week in the book of the desert. The common image of the desert,  or wilderness, is of somewhere formless, without clear contours, without regularity. Yet both the first two parshas contain passages of almost rigid uniformity, each reflecting the other. B’minbar starts with the census, first painstakingly enumerating the representative of each tribe and then giving the tally, tribe by tribe, in exactly the same language twelve times (Joseph being divided, of course, into Ephraim and Manasseh, while Levi is not included, at least not for now). The tribes are then divided, again uniformly, and allocated to the east, south, west and north, with the Levites in the centre, headed at the east, by Moses and Aaron. Then we have the census of the Levites, divided neatly among Gershon, Kehoth and Merari, the sons of Levi. B’midbar ends and Naso begins with the duties of each sub-tribe. 

There are other subjects in Naso, specifically purifying the camp, the suspected adulteress, the Nazirite and the beautiful priestly blessing. The parsha concludes, however, as a kind of reflection of the beginning of the previous parsha, this time enumerating the dedication offerings presented by the head of each tribe. Again, there is an exact repetition, although the order is slightly different. It does not exactly make for entertaining reading, but an important point is being made. Each tribe makes the same offering: silver bowl, silver basin filled with the best wheat and kneaded with oil, incense bowl filled with incense, bull, ram, sheep, goat, oxen, rams, more goats, more sheep – the same things in the same quantities. We learn by this that we all count, we all give, and we all respond to God’s call. And the Israelites are first taught this not while living in the relative harmony and order of a city, not even yet in a country. They learn it while living in an untamed, uncertain place to which, as passing nomads, they do not belong.

Come along this Saturday at 10:30, to pray, sing, read, learn more and to share. Adam, who will have been wandering all week with his student followers, will be home to lead us. 

B’chukkotai

One thing which ancient – and perhaps modern – Jews and Celts share is an attitude towards the land. Both peoples see the land as a space they occupy in the capacity of tenants, but which is owned by the divine. God says to the Israelites in B’har, “Since the land is Mine, no land shall be sold permanently. You are foreigners and resident aliens as far as I am concerned.” For the Celts, the land was divine in itself, occupied by spirits. Of course, such a conception of creation and of the divine is almost totally different from ours, although we also see God’s presence everywhere. It is, though, the similarity in the perceived perception of our status in relation to the land is something which marks us as different from peoples who see land simply as human property. Perhaps we are not such so strangely transplanted here as some might think. 

B’har deals with redemption both of land and of slaves. If we don’t fully own the land, how can we fully own one another?

This week we come to B’chukkotai, which prefigures much of D’varim in that it begins to summarise the gist of God’s message to His people: follow My commandments and good will ensue; disobey them and the consequences will be dire. There is, as there will be too in D’varim, the promise of forgiveness if we repent. “I will remember my covenant with Jacob as well as my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham.” This is not the end of the parsha, but to hear and read it, why not come along this Saturday at 10:30? Harvey Kurzfield will be there to bring us in harmony to the next stage in our journey. 

Next week, it’s the desert.

Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitzchazeik.

Emor

At our last service, we followed the Orthodox calendar and read Shemini, instead of the double parshiyot of Tazria – M’tzora. As for last week, it was another double parshiyot, this time  Acharei Mot – K’doshim, so we have a lot of catching up to do. There has been the leprous curse, liable to appear on the body, on fabric and even on the walls of our houses. This has been accompanied by the laws of purification and discharges that may make men or women unclean. Acharei Mot begins with Yom Kippur and follows with a much repeated prohibition of the eating of blood. Did they ever read this, the churchmen and Christian laity who accused Jews of slaughtering children for their blood to make matzah? We then have the  sexual laws, and so move on to K’doshim and a multitude of moral and ethical laws linked to holiness. For Israel will be made holy by honouring God and by doing justice. Do not gossip, love your neighbour, let your trees become strong and remember that their fruit is a gift from God, so honour God before eating. Do not indulge in the practices of idolatrous religions, such as cutting yourselves for the dead, and, do not hurt the feelings of a proselyte who comes to live among you. Have any of you seen the pictures taken in the 1950s of the immigrant Caribbeans aboard ship as they sailed into dock: men, women and children, their faces filled with nervous hope and not a little bewilderment? How our laws continue to be relevant, not only for us but for all humanity. 

Emor covers priestly laws, some festivals and sacrifice, among other things. Come along this Saturday at 10.30 to hear about them. Come along to a special service, led by Pat Lipert and our visitors and friends, David and Hannah Jacobs. After the service and kiddish, David and Hannah will also lead a discussion on anti-semitism, the hydra we have scotched more than once but never killed. 

Sh’mini

There are a lot of unclean animals about: camels, hyraxes, long-eared owls, hoopoes, skinks and salamanders, to mention just a few. Not eating them may or may not have been a challenge for the early Israelites, but keeping their dead carcasses away from themselves and their dwellings would surely have been so when living in an environment so much less sanitised than ours. Quite a few reasons have been given to explain why certain classes of animal are forbidden, including health and hygiene, differentiating our diet from idolatrous peoples living nearby and a concern that it was a double violation of life to eat creatures which themselves killed and ate other creatures. And then there is the explanation that, by differentiating unclean and clean animals, we are reinforcing the distinction between the holy and the unholy and binding ourselves closer to God. 

Crossing boundaries can be extremely dangerous, as is illustrated by the fate of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. What exactly did they do wrong? According to Rabbi Akiva, they offered strange fire. Rabbi Yose says they entered the Holy of Holies at a time when divine service was not commanded. Rabbi Eleazar says they offered secular, not holy, fire. There are other, similar interpretations, but it seems that, while they committed some violation, they were not regarded as evil. God Himself seem to mourn their fate when, through Moses, he says, “I will be sanctified among those close to Me.” Besides, Moses tells “the entire family of Israel to mourn for the ones whom God has burned.” They are thus tragic figures, newly initiated as God’s priests, eager to serve, but blinded by a mistaken understanding of their role. 

This week we are following the Orthodox calendar in our choice of parsha in honour of one of our two service leaders, Murray Brown,  who, together with Adam Feldman, will be guiding us in our prayers, songs, reading and conversation. Come along on Saturday at 10:30 to join us.