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.

Ki-tetze

“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a bondsman that is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, in the midst of thee, in the place which he shall choose within one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not wrong him.” 

There is a tenderness about such a commandment, one of many aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable. It fits with the command not to harvest all the corn, olives or grapes, but to leave some for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and the law not to oppress a servant. Other laws appearing in Ki-Tetze seem to be designed to ensure the functioning of a well-ordered and considerate society, such as building a parapet around the roof of one’s house to prevent anyone from falling, or looking after the lost animals of a neighbour until they can be claimed. 

There are, on the other hand, some laws which, today at least, appear draconian. Stoning a rebellious child or the adulterous man or woman, or banning the mamzer (often translated as ‘bastard’ but, more likely, the offspring of an incestuous or forbidden union) from marrying a son or daughter of Israel are examples of such laws. Indeed, throughout the Torah, there are laws which are troubling, to say the least. Perhaps we should make a list of them and seek to explain or confront them. 

Do not miss this week’s service on Saturday starting at 10:30, for it will be your last chance to hear Sharim Atilano for some time, since she will soon be giving birth to a son or daughter of Israel.

Re-eh

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. Man is the measure of all things, at least that is what many would have us believe for the last few centuries. And yet, to me, this is a depressing prospect at best, since I, a member of the human race, am often filled with base thoughts, my mind full of trivia, my heart full of dross. If man is the measure of all things, poor man, poor all things! The possibility that there is no greater, better being in the universe than the human being is terrifying. How brilliant then that Re-eh, together with most of the other parashiyot in Devarim, is filled with a greater presence. Obviously, God is mentioned all through the Torah, but in the last Book His presence is at its most intense. Consider the following short passage from Chapter XIII, for example: 

 “…for the Lord your God putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love your God with all your heart and with all your soul. After the Lord you God shall ye walk, and Him shall ye fear, and His commandments shall ye keep, and unto His voice shall ye hearken, and Him shall ye serve, and unto Him shall ye cleave.” 

Israel is so bound to God that it truly is the laws and the story which is woven between God and Israel which bring the nation into being and give it its identity. 

To hear the laws and the story at their most eloquent, come this Saturday at 10:30 when Pat Lipert will lead us with noble words and song. 

Va’ethannan

The names we give today to the five books of the Torah are revealing. In the beginning is Bereshit, which, with vibrant intensity balanced by serene elegance, launches the Torah, life and the world. Shemot and Exodus are both apposite names. The latter is a perfect introduction to the story of our, well, exodus from slavery, Egypt and the past. The former is more subtle. Names are wrenched from people who are enslaved or are imprisoned in concentration camps. Their names are replaced by numbers as one part of the brutal process of dehumanisation. Our names, after all, are part of our identity and have their stories to tell. It is fitting then that, immediately before we read of the slavery of our ancestors, we start with the names of their tribal parents. We never stopped being people. 

Vayikra (and He called) Moses. Why? To tell us the levitical, and other, laws. B’midbar is perfect, for, while it also includes more laws, it also focuses on the forty years we spent in the wilderness, seemingly going from pillar to post, but really preparing to arrive, to become Israel. 

Which brings us to Devarim. Words, just words, words which make us human. God uses words in Bereshit to create the world. Adam and Eve complete the creation of the animals by naming them. Together with music and art, words are what enable us to transcend our mortality.  While they may be used to hurt, deceive and lie, at their best, they enable us to soar with the angels, though our feet may be made of clay. They are what dreams are made from. They weave harmony, beauty, Torah.

Now we have come to the second parsha of Devarim, Va’ethannan, which is packed with riches, some of which have entered into our liturgy, and a special guest, namely Student Rabbi Lev Taylor, will tell us more, lead us in prayer and song (for, remember, Lev Taylor has a full-hearted, melodious voice). Don’t miss him this Saturday at 10:30.

Mas’ei: map of the past, map of the future

Forty years of wandering through wilderness, mountains and desert are coming to an end and the future is about to arrive. What stories of hardship, inspiration, rebellion and faith we have heard. The one constant through all of them has been the towering, though most humble, figure of Moses. Moses has been through so much. He has put up with repeated kvetching, pleaded with God to spare the people on several occasion. He has fought battles, dictated laws, directed the construction of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings. For years he was supported by the brother and sister, who had shared so much and been so close, but now he has lost them. His wife seems absent or also dead. He has been told that he will not enter the Promised Land and, on asking God to appoint a successor, he has had to accept that he will not pass on the leadership to either of his sons. He has endured more than any of his fellow Israelites. Does he complain? Does he speak out in bitterness? No, he continues to guide the people, while appointing Joshua to lead where he will not go. He continues to pass on the laws given by God, to encourage and to reassure them as they prepare for a great and daring venture. What nobility is here, self-sacrifice and heroism!

And so we come to the end of B’minbar but not the end of the story. There are words to come, many and rich. Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!  And to help us all be strong, Sharim Atilano will lead us in prayer and song and prepare us for the journey ahead. Be there at 10:30 this Saturday.

Pinchas

Balak and Balaam are a right pair, two nasty pieces of work determined to curse and persecute an innocent people. Balaam is a right pair in himself, a two-sided coin, one side seemingly good, the other definitely bad. He is a prophet and says repeatedly that he can only declare the words that God puts in his mouth. Initially, he rebuffs the emissaries sent by King Balak. Yet he also appears to be a sorcerer  and he ascends with Balak to the “High Altars of Baal”. He also tries three times to curse Israel, but is unable to do so, not through repentance or compassion, but because he is only able to utter the words God gives him. Equally bad, he beats a poor donkey who hears the divine voice better than he does. 

Israel is other. “God does not look at wrongdoing in Jacob, and He sees no vice in Israel. God their Lord is with them and they have the King’s friendship…. How good are your tents, Jacob, your tabernacles Israel. They stretch out like streams, like gardens by the river; they are like the aloes God has planted, like cedars by the water. His branches shall overflow, and his crops shall have abundant water.”

It is all clear: Moabites bad, Israelites good. And yet, and yet, immediately after this episode, some of the Israelites, seduced by the Moabile girls, accept invitations to eat and worship with them. How good are your tents, Jacob, your tabernacles, Israel, now? Not very good at all, I think. What is needed is a good zealot to put things right, and this is precisely what Pinchas does by setting an example in dispatching an Israelite and a Midianite woman who are cavorting in the former’s tent. Pinches is rewarded with “My covenant of peace… a covenant of eternal priesthood” and the people are, once again, forgiven. Why, though, is the vav in the word ‘shalom’ written in the Scroll in a broken form? 

Besides the intriguing questions raised by the sequence of events in the stories of Balaam and Pinchas, there is much else to consider in this week’s parsha. Here in Cornwall to help us consider the parsha and to lead us in prayer, song and conversation will be two special guests: David and Hannah Jacobs. Do join us this Saturday at 10:30. As already announced, the service will be followed by a session led by David and Hannah on ‘Nine reasons to be Reform and one not‘. 

At least ten reasons to come.