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.

Sukkot Chol HaMoed

If we were following the sequence of parashot, one after the other, this would be the week of the very last one of Devarim and of the Torah. V’Zot HaBerachah (And this is the blessing)  is lovely way to begin that end. After all the trials and tribulations the people have gone though –  those they passed, one or two they excelled in, but many they failed in – how good it is to receive a blessing, one for each tribe and one for all Israel. And as one man, the noblest of them all, climbs Mount Nebo to view the land he will never walk on, to die and be buried so wisely and so tenderly by the hand of God, a story ends. It is a story in one way complete in itself, in another the opening chapter to a bigger story that goes in one direction forwards to a land, a history and a destiny. In yet another way, it prepares to replay, yet never quite the same. 

How fitting that Sukkot seems to interrupt the end of the Books of Moses. We are preparing to cross a river, to end our journey, to settle and build a home and a nation. We have been warned of how the prosperity that may follow will make us forget our mission and our identity. Just before we cross that river then, we are reminded of the forty years of wandering, the insecurity, the closeness of nature. Therefore, we go back and read again of God’s protection of Israel throughout these years and of the laws of Sukkot. The Sukkah is both fragile and beautiful, decorated with green and with fruits. Wandering is not all bad.

So why don’t you wander along to the service this Saturday at !0:30. Adam Feldman will be leading the prayers, songs, readings and conversations. 

Ki Tavo

One can never have too much John Humphrys rubbish in this life, so here is some more from the parshiyot of Ki Teitzei and Ki Tavo:

Social welfare rubbish

When you reap your grain harvest and forget a sheaf in the field, you must not go back to get it. It must be left for the foreigner, orphan and wide, so that God will bless you, no matter what you do.

Judicial and gender  rubbish

…if the man encountered the betrothed girl in the field and raped her, then only the rapist shall be put to death. You must not impose any penalty upon the girl, since she had not committed a sin worthy of death.

Neighbourly rubbish

If you see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray, you must not ignore them. You must return them to your brother….

…Cursed is he who moves his neighbour’s boundary marker.

Military rubbish

Listening to another Radio 4 programme this week, in which John Humphrys took no part, I was reminded that the great mythical hero Achilles, at the siege of Troy, raped the captive Polyxena, murdered two of her brothers and eventually had her killed too. The Israelites warriors were told to behave in a somewhat different fashion:

When you wage war against your enemies, so that you will take captives. If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife… She must take off her captive garb and remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother… If you do not desire her, however, you must send her away free. Since she has been violated, you may not sell her for cash or keep her as a servant.

Military and public hygiene rubbish

You must designate a place outside the camp as a lavatory. You must also keep a spike with your weapons, so that when you have to sit down to relieve yourself, you will first dig a hole with it, and then sit down, [and finally] cover your excrement.

Rubbish about animals

If you see your brother’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, you must not ignore it. You must help him pick up [the load].

Health and safety rubbish

When you build a new house, you must place a guard-rail around the roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house, since someone can fall.

Penal code rubbish

In the British navy two hundred years ago, 100 lashes, or even 200, were sometimes given to sailors guilty of some misdemeanour while on board ship. The milksop Israelites, on the other hand, were told to “not go beyond the limit and give him forty lashes.”

Business code rubbish

You must not keep in your such two different weights, one large and one small. [Similarly], you must not keep in your house two different measures, one large and one small.

You must have a full honest weight and a full honest measure.

Family and genetics rubbish

Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife… with his sister… with his mother-in-law.

Finally, again, some poetic rubbish from the haftorah for Ki Tavo

The sun will no longer be your light by day, nor will the moon give light for brightness. But God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane. God God will be you everlasting light and your days of mourning will be ended.

There is just so much of this stuff and much more other, equally engaging instruction and inspiration. And again, Pat Lipert will be there to reveal it, so come along on Saturday at 10:30.

Shof’tim

A few days ago, in the Today Programme on Radio 4,  veteran newsman John Humphrys asserted, while discussing religion with a Christian minister, that the Old Testament is a load of rubbish. Well, here are a few examples of such rubbish taken from last week’s parsha of R’eih and this week’s, Shof’tim:

Political rubbish

When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you, so that you have occupied it and settled it, you will eventually say, “We would like to appoint a king…. He, however, must not accumulate many horses…. He must not have many wives, so that they do not make his heart go astray. He shall likewise not accumulate very much silver and gold.

Judicial rubbish

Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that God your Lord is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people.

Do not bend justice and do not give special consideration (to anyone). Do not take bribes, since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous. 

Social welfare rubbish

Therefore, make every effort to give to him (your impoverished brother), and do not feel bad about giving it, since God you Lord will then bless you in all your endeavours, no matter what you do. The poor will never cease to exist in the land, so I am commanding you to open your hand generously to your poor and destitute brother in your land. 

Religious rubbish

Among you there shall not be found anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, who practises stick divination, who divines auspicious times, who divines by moments, who consults mediums and oracles, or who attempts to communicate with the dead.

Military rubbish

The lower officers shall then continue speaking to the people and say, “Is there any man among you who is afraid or faint-hearted? Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralise his brethren. 

Environmental rubbish

When you lay siege to a city and wage war against it a long tome to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding an axe against any food producing tree.

And finally, from the Haftorah for Shoft’tim, some poetic rubbish

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good news, who announces peace, the harbinger of good news, who announces salvation; who says to Zion: “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices and sing together; for eye to eye they will see God’s return to Zion. Break forth joyously together, you wasted places of Jerusalem. For God has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. God has bared His holy arm before the eyes of the nations; and all the ends of the earth will see God’s salvation. 

To hear some more such rubbish come along this Saturday at 10:30, when Pat  Lipert will show us piles of the stuff. 

Eikev

Can a woman forget her nursing child, not having compassion on    the son of the womb? Yes, they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;

These words are not from the parsha of Eikev, but from its accompanying haftorah, words by Isaiah, prophet of doom and of hope. Why quote them, rather than a text from Eikev itself? Well, as we know, all of the haftorot are, in one way or another, commentaries on their respective parshiyot. The seven haftorot of consolation which come just before Rosh Hashanah, however, are so profoundly linked they serve as continuations of the texts they follow on from. They are a fulfilment of the words of Moses. In much of Devarim he swings continually between promises of reward for good behaviour and warnings of dire punishment for bad. The descriptions of disaster and ruin are so heavy and detailed they augur ill for the future. And, with the benefit of painful hindsight, we know that disaster and ruin did come, not once, but repeatedly. Isaiah’s words of comfort, the promise that God will never completely forget His people, are, therefore, both poignant and vital to our sprit and survival. 

Eikev, and Va-etchanan before it, are rich with text, meaning and resonance. As they unfold, Moses gathers oratorical strength and purpose, like the first movement of a symphony, which sets in motion the sounds and echoes of the grand themes which will be picked up and developed in the following movements. Many of these themes resonate regularly for us in our services. prayers and blessing, particularly from the Shema, the Commandments, even from the Seder. Moses also continues to remind the people of the story to date, some of it good, but much of it embarrassingly bad, especially the episode of the golden calf. So let us return to Isaiah and thank God for His mercy. 

For God has comforted Zion. He has comforted all her waste places and had made her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like God’s garden. Joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving, and the voice of song. 

And let us remember to turn up on Saturday at 10:30, when Harvey Kurzfield will lead us away from disaster and ruin.

Out of the Wilderness

With the last two parashot of B’midar, we conclude the first four books of Torah. The second law of Torah (Devarim Mishneh Torah), which we call Devarim and the Latin name, Deuteronomy, which means the same thing, begins the concluding section of Torah. Mishneh Torah means  that this final book is a ‘Copy’ of the contract made between God and the Jewish people at Sinai, and is “renewed again,” according to R. Jonathan Sacks, as “the written record of the agreement.” The children of Israel  await on the Plains of Moab for the  crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land. The journey from Kadesh-Barnea to the Plains of Moab should have taken 11 days according to God’s original plan; instead it took 38 years which is clearly explained in B’midbar.

And so, the last two Parashot, Mattot-Mas’ei, bring us to and prepare us for this momentous point in time of the religious history of the Jewish people. The books in the Tanakh which follow Devarim, comment on what happened subsequent to the crossing over the Jordan.

The final two Parashot in B’midbar, wrap up the  proclamations for the Jewish calendar and secular obligations  set down in PInchas which we discussed at the last Shabbat service:  the obligation of women who inherit property to marry within their clan, the war against the Midians and the moral obligations upon the victors in dealing with captives, the settlement in the Transjordan, the listing of important place-names to highlight the power of God and His divine intervention at the various places of encampment along the 38-year journey when the children of Israel rose and fell, slipped and redeemed themselves time and time again.

This Shabbat parsha, then, is a dramatic and poignant point in Torah; we have finally arrived to begin to manifest the Divine plan God has laid out for us. Will we slip? Will we fall? Will we be worthy of inheriting the land which God promised us all those generations ago  to Abraham? Will we listen to Moses’ final discourses and acquire the spiritual strength to begin the conquering and settlement of Eretz Yisrael? Will we become a ‘nation of priests’? Tune in and listen to Pat this coming Shabbat to find out what our prospects are.

Pat Lipert