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.


The two parshas which come immediately after the episode of the golden calf and which, this year, form a double parashiyot, are marked by their brightness and serenity. They begin with Moses asking the people to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle. From then on, everything that happens is good, with the people giving either of their possessions or of their labour. They bring bracelets, earrings, ornaments, sky blue, dark red and crimson wool, fine linen, skins and leathers, silver, copper, and acacia wood. As for the tribal leaders, they bring precious stones, fragrances and their best olive oil. Such is the enthusiasm and generous energy of the people that Moses has to tell them not to bring more. Now, with all necessary materials assembled, it seems that everyone is busy, as craftsmen and workers hammer and mould, carry and carve. The camp is filled with the noise of busy, happy work. The step-by-step description, first of the building, sculpting, weaving and sewing, followed by the  assembly of the Tabernacle, with all its parts – Ark, Table, Lamp. Incense Altar, Drape and Altar, Washstand, and Enclosure – has a mesmerising effect. The narration is imbued with a kind of tenderness springing from a people  joyful in God’s work. It is a tenderness which, despite all the setbacks and backsliding which will characterise our history, is realised in the Psalms of David and Songs of Solomon and even in the words of the Prophets, when they remember that God will remember His people. In more modern times we continue to add to this store with new songs and prayers, particularly during Shabbat.

It is good that the Book of Shemot, which starts with the fight to leave Egypt, should end on such a positive note, made most patent by the maftir describing the cloud covering the Communion Tent and God’s glory filling the Tabernacle.

And so on to Va-yikra, God calling to Moses and, through him, to the people. We start with the laws of sacrifice, and who better to introduce these than Pat Lipert, who is deep in her thoughts and her books in order to give you a service to remember this Saturday at 10.30.

Ki Tissa

The instructions given on the making of the priestly vestments in T’tzavveh are so extraordinarily detailed, a tailor and metalworker would have no problem following them. Interestingly, so many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century worked as tailors in the East End of London, in Glasgow and elsewhere. It is as though a shadow of the Torah passed by. Why was God so particular in what He wanted made and in how he wanted to be honoured? Perhaps one reason was because, in this way, He also honoured the Israelites. To be a priest dressed in magnificent robes and carrying on his person the engraved names of the tribes of Israel was a sacred duty. It was also a sacred honour.

This two-way honour continues in Ki Tissa with instructions on making the washstand, the anointing oil and incense. It is focussed on the persons of Uri and Ohaliev, the architects blessed with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and craftsmanship. They are joined by other talented and creative people, all blessed with God’s wisdom. And then what happens? From the heights of divine inspiration we plummet to the sin of the Golden Calf. It is curious that, when Aaron had all the gold given by the people to make a god melted and cast, what came out was a calf. A calf! Not a bull or a lion of power, not a mythical, inspiring beast like a sphinx, or a human body topped with an animal head, as one might expect from a people recently parted from Egypt, but a baby cow. What a pathetic falling is this.

Yet Ki Tissa does not end in pathos. Having started with the creative divine, it rises again to the sublime. Moses witnesses God’s presence. A second set of tablets are made and the parsha ends with a description of Moses’ face filled with divine light. A parsha packed with drama and resonance. To experience more, come along this Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert, who has an eye for a good story and two for an excellent one, will unpack some more drama and resonance for us.


We are not very far into the Book of Shemot, when the laws begin to come thick and fast, as though there were an urgency to setting the foundations for a just society and a nation holy to God. The Ten Commandments given in Yithro are followed almost immediately with the lesser, but still important, rules of Mishpatim. These range across the treatment of slaves, manslaughter, murder and kidnapping, cursing a parent, treatment of animals, loans and borrowing, the rectitude of those in authority and the administration of justice. Then Moses ascends the mountain and, while the people can see the “appearance of God’s glory on the mountain top”, God begins to give instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and its accompanying furniture and trappings.

Rabbi Lord Sachs has pointed out in Covenant and Conversation how the building of this small but beautiful home for God (though, of course, God needs no home in the way we can conceive of it) parallels God’s own creation. There is, too, a broader theme. One can see the Torah as a great and multi-level work of architecture. It begins with the creation of the world, while this week we are given the blueprint for the Tabernacle. As mentioned, the rules for building a new society have also begun. The architectural motif applies on other levels too. The theme of sibling rivalry, often referred to, opens with an opposition so strong it leads to murder, develops in different ways, through Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, displaying a little more growth of understanding and reconciliation, until it culminates in the story of moral change, repentance and forgiveness in the story of Joseph and his brothers.

There is a pattern. The creation of things itself has an overarching design. The grandeur of the creation is followed shortly by the building of Noah’s ark, a relatively small construct which carries the seeds of life on vast, stormy waters. The hubris of Babel follows. For its builders it is a grand and aggrandising tower, but it is toppled by God as we might topple the play-brick tower of a toddler. Much later, in Egypt, the Israelites are forced to build the ambitious cities of imperial Egypt, but then escape into the desert to live in flimsy, ephemeral tents. Yet they build there a small, but intricate, dazzling house for a presence which is beyond all presences.

There is, too, an architecture of language in the Torah, but this is enough already. I will leave the last to a gentile with rather a way with words:

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

And to listen to another man with a way with words, come along this Saturday at 10:30, when Adam Feldman will be leading the service.


What a feckless lot the Israelites were, feckless, feeble and faithless. I mean, for Moses’ sake, they have no sooner witnessed the plagues, all of which struck the Egyptians with ever increasing force and devastation, while leaving them free from hail, beasts, boils, darkness and death, than they panic at the sight of the pursuing Egyptians and complain to Moses. They would rather scuttle back to Egypt and drop into the grave of slavery than face a new life of freedom. Reassured and led between the divided sea, they watch the Egyptian army swept away only to complain soon afterwards that the water is too bitter. The water is made sweet, but soon they are moaning about hunger. Manna and quails they are given aplenty, but it is not enough. They’re complaining about the water again. What is wrong with this people? I would never have behaved like that, would I?

Well, yes, I most probably would have. After all, these Israelites were all born into slavery, as were their parents. All their lives they had learnt nothing but to obey their Egyptian masters, who could in turn be indulgent, allowing their slaves to keep animals and grow good healthy food, and horribly cruel, depriving them of the materials they needed to fulfil their daily quotas of production and then blaming them for not doing so. The Israelites had fought no wars, made no difficult political decisions, faced no challenges, except for that of hard, back-breaking work. They had made no choices. Except one, and it was this choice which made them worthy of God’s faith in them. They had never wholly, through all the long years of dispossession and persecution, deserted their God, the one and only God. Yes, idolatry had rubbed off on them to some extent, as we see later in the sad episode of the golden calf, but it had not taken hold. The spark of faith had remained alight and it would not go out.

In Yitro, Moses receives some sound advice from his father-in law, Jethro, which will help him nurture this spark. Jethro is himself an example of a righteous and God fearing gentile. Moses also receives some rather important laws from God. To hear these and to join in song, prayer and conversation come along at 10.30 this Saturday, when Liz Berg will lead us.


According to the Talmud, when the angels were about to burst into song on seeing the Egyptian forces drowning, God rebuked them, saying, “How dare you sing for joy when my creatures were dying.” The Israelites, on the other hand, were allowed to sing. But what about Moses? How did he feel on seeing his adoptive countrymen drown? We know nothing of the years Moses spent growing up in the Egyptian court, but, given that a princess adopted him as her own son, presumably he was educated as a prince, surrounded by the Egyptian elite. Did he shed a tear when the first-born were struck, from the first-born of Pharaoh to the first-born of the prisoner in the dungeon? Did he shed another when the army was drowned? After all, he must have known that not all Egyptians were evil and wished the Israelites harm. It is thought that his adoptive mother was named Bithiah, which means daughter of God. Shifrah and Puah, the two midwifes who flouted Pharaoh’s order to kill the Israelite baby boys, according to some sources, were also Egyptian. Did Moses think upon such individuals, those who are rich not in wealth or power, but in integrity, courage and goodness, whose souls are kept pure, though surrounded by despotism, corruption and evil? These individuals lived in Egypt, as they live today in similar regimes around the globe. How little has the world changed!

Moses spends forty years pleading for the Israelites before God, asking over and over again for mercy, as he was shown mercy by an Egyptian princess. Perhaps we should bear this in mind as we read Bo, with its shocking tenth plague, balanced by the long-last liberation of the children of Israel.

Come along this Saturday at 10:30 and read the story of the final plagues and the exit from Egypt, join in song and prayer, as Pat Lipert leads us forth.