Category Archives: Jeremy’s Notes

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.

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 at Three Bridges School,  starting 10.30.

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.

Vayikra

Last week there was a double parashiyot, namely Va-yakhel and P’kudei. In Ya-yakhel, the instructions given to Moses earlier on the building of the Tabernacle, the Ark and the other furniture, furnishings and devices to be used both as a place of sacrifice and an amazing mobile home for the presence of God begin to become a reality. What a wonderful transformation we have here after the dreadful sin of the golden calf and our earlier complaints and fears. Moses ask for offerings of skins, wool, fine linen, gold, silver and precious stones with which to build and weave the furniture and furnishings. He asks for volunteers to craft and form everything as it should be, and he is overwhelmed by the contributions and by the volunteers. So much is given that the architects and builders have to ask the people to stop bringing things. Sometimes one’s family can bring sorrow and pain, but here they bring joy.

What a wonderful ending to Shemot, the book of names and the story of the Exodus. “God’s glory filled the Tabernacle” and the people are ready to move on, as move they must. The journey will be difficult and sometimes painful. There will be backsliding and rebellion. Yet, slowly, we will grow in strength and, with God’s help, make ourselves ready. Chazak, chazak, v’nitzchazeik.

And so we come to Vayikra. God calls to Moses, speaking to him from the Communion Tent, and proceeds to instruct him in the intricate rituals of sacrifice. There are many kinds of offering, some freely made by any member of the community, peace and sin offerings, one for the High Priest, one for the King (though there is not yet a King to sin) those for the community and those for commoners. There is far too much for me to recount here. However, this week we will have a shabbat service that will be even more special than usual. We are lucky to have David and Hannah Jacobs visiting us, and David will be leading the service, together with our very own Liz Berg.

After kiddush, David Jacobs will  lead a discussion. The topic will be Pesach and the Haggadah .

Don’t miss our most excellent day: Shabbat service, kiddush and discussion all rolled up in one super package at Three Bridges School, starting 10.30.

Terumah

Why is the first law, after the Ten Commandments that is, to do with slavery? One reason may be that the Israelites have just themselves emerged from slavery, so the first thing they should regulate is slavery itself, thereby avoiding the mistreatment of the weakest in society. Another reason could be that God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that one of the hardest sins to eliminate is the exploitation of others. Last year I mentioned how little time has gone by since the abolition of slavery in the United States and in the British colonies of the Caribbean. I did not remind you that slavery exists until this day, not only in some Arab and African countries, not only in South Asia, but here, in Europe, in Britain. Think of how some refugees are abused and sold into prostitution and forced to labour for meagre, or no, wages. How desperately we need the laws of Mishpatim, the injunctions against murder, kidnap, injury (of slaves, again), stealing, putting your neighbours and your neighbours’ animals in danger by a reckless lack of common concern. How the poor and weak needed, and still need, protection against cruelty and selfishness.

Besides the practical and the moral, there are deeply spiritual, even mystical elements in Mishpatim. God says he will send an angel to safeguard the people on their way. The people for once, speak with one voice in accepting God’s word. Moses, Aaron, his sons Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders go up and see “a vision of the God of Israel, and under His feet was something like a sapphire brick, like the essence of a clear (blue) sky”. Moses then ascends higher and God’s glory descends and rests on Mount Sinai. This is the reverse of the story of the Tower of Babel, when man, in his hubris, tried to reach the heavens. Now, in a way, Moses does reach the heavens. Because he goes up with great humility, God comes down with great grace.

With Terumah we move from a blueprint for building a just society to a blueprint for building a sacred space, upon which the moral and the social will be based. Fittingly, the first of God’s instructions to Moses is to have the people make Him an offering “from everyone whose heart impels him to give”. In other words, the foundation stone of both the sacred and the social-moral is willingness. The people choose to make the Covenant.

And you can choose to come to Three Bridges School this Saturday at 10.30 to take part in our service. It will be led by Pat Lipert.

Yitro

Imagine the wonder of it: to witness the plagues, each one more awful than the one before, to see the hail lash the land and darkness to descend for three days, but only outside the Israelite neighbourhoods, to sense the angel of death passing overhead but to be safe inside one’s home, then, after the departure from Egypt, to gaze up at a huge pillar of cloud guiding the way by day and a pillar of fire by night. Most of all imagine what it must have been like to watch the waters divide, allowing passage to the whole people, only for the waters to return and drown the pursuing Egyptian forces: chariots, horses, spearmen and bowmen, officers and soldiers, every last one of them. Wondrous, but traumatic.

Now if I were the Managing Director of Promised Lands and I were interviewing the Israelites for the position of settlers in the land of Canaan, I would not have been much  impressed by them. My first question would have been:

“Can you give me an example of when you have faced a challenge?”

A truthful reply would have had to be along the lines of, “Well, after God led us out of Egypt, we reached the sea and then saw the Egyptians pursuing us. That was a real challenge.”

“And what did you do?” I would have continued.

“Well, we sort of… um… we panicked, I suppose. Mind you, we did give Moses a good telling off for getting us into the scrape in the first place.”

“I see, and now,” passing to the next question on my list, “Can you tell me of an occasion when you took the initiative?”

Their faces might have lit up a little here, as they replied, “Yes, after we defeated the Egyptians… ah, we mean,.. after God helped us defeat the Egyptians – for which, by the way, we thanked Him with a wonderful song –  we came to this place called Marah and couldn’t drink the water.”

“Mmm, yes and…”

“We complained to Moses. We did it without being prompted.”

“And did that solve the problem?”

“Ah yes,” they might have answered, gaining in confidence. “You see, Moses was really impressed. He threw bits of wood from a tree which God showed him into the water and then we could drink it.”

At this point, I would have wished to draw the interview to a quick close but I might have risked one more question.

“Can you give an example of when you have thought and acted strategically?”

“Oh yes, that’s easy. After the affair with the water, we began to take the long view and consider our history, so we accused Moses of taking us out of Egypt to starve us. The thing is that in Egypt we got lots of food, even if we did have to work hard and suffer the odd humiliation and beating.”

Now I would definitely have stopped the interview. I would have thanked them for coming and told them I’d let them know at the latest within the next forty years. And that would have been the end of it for the Israelites. I would have moved on.

“Sarah,” I would have said to my PA. “Have the Nomadic Turkmen representatives come in, will you.”

Except that it wasn’t the end for the Israelites, not the end for us, because God was able to see the potential in the people, despite their complaining and backsliding. They might have kept losing faith in God, but God didn’t lose faith in them. And with His gentle guidance, by the end of B’shallach, they were able to fight a battle against Amalek and win. A fit preparation for Yitro, which starts with Moses’ father-in-law giving him some excellent advice to shift some of the burden of leadership from his shoulders onto those of leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds and leaders of tens. In this way, the people begin to take responsibility for themselves and to face up to challenges. They are ready now to receive a great revelation. To hear this, come to the service at Three Bridges School this Saturday at 10.30. Harvey Kurzfield will be leading us.