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 Teitzei

An aged parent sits at home in his favourite armchair, surrounded by his children. He speaks softly of the past and of the future. He knows that death approaches and wishes to pass on his accumulated wisdom and experience to his descendants. His children face a future full of promise and some uncertainty. They will move on into a world the parent will never know, but they badly need his advice. The old man thinks of everything. He provides moral rules to guide their behaviour both at home and abroad. He gives guidance on property and land rights. He has practical advice on building houses. He even covers personal hygiene necessary to avoid ill-health for both his children and their neighbours. It seems he can see well into the future, for he knows that one day some of his descendants will become kings. Humble for both himself and for his illustrious progeny, he warns against the greed and self-indulgence which power can bring. As he speaks, he looks serene, or is there a hint of regret in his eyes for a future he will not know, for a world he will not explore?

Thus speaks Moses, only Moses speaks to a whole people and he is not sat at home in his favourite armchair. Indeed he has no home at all, for he is one of thousands on thousands of refugees wandering the desert, shunned by the resident tribes and peoples, moving ever on. Also, Moses does not speak his own words, but those of God, though it is the same thing, since Moses’ heart is with God.

The parshas for last week, Shoftim, and for this, Ki Teitzei, overflow with laws and guidance. Surely, the people will go forth and build as near perfect a society as humanity can hope for. Or will they?

To have a better idea of the blueprint for a better world, come to the service this Saturday at 10.30. Adam Feldman will lead us in prayer, song and reflection.

R’eih

Can there be a more impressive scene? Moses, the humblest of men, the stammerer, devoid of ambition, who has surrounded himself with no pomp or ceremony, servant of God, leader and servant of the people, knowing he is near death, that he will not enter the promised land, but without bitterness or resentment, delivers the greatest of addresses. He reminds the people of their long journey to where they now stand, both physically and morally. He recounts the most important laws and puts before the community the choice they have between good and evil, life and death. He warns against idolatry, complacency, and forgetfulness. He warns against idolatrous prophets, who are not real prophets. And what is this at the beginning of R’eih?

The curse will come if you do not obey the commandments of God your
Lord, and you go astray from the path that I am prescribing for you today,
following other gods to have a novel spiritual experience.

One of the most significant developments in the last fifty years in the west, particularly in the UK, has been the decline in the number of people regularly attending places of worship or identifying themselves with a traditional religion. At least this is true of the main religion of the country, i.e. Christianity. In some cases, people have simply lapsed into secularism and become agnostic or atheist. In other cases, they have still had spiritual yearnings but have looked for meaning elsewhere, in alternative or new religions. The conceptualisation of faith in these cases is often vague, sort of eastern, sort of pagan. It is precisely to avoid a similar fate for Judaism that Moses reminds the people that the stories and the laws and the words of God should be placed in their heart and soul and, oh so importantly, taught to their children both at home and away from home. The Torah is for then, for now and for the future. And to keep it ever relevant, it has, is and will be questioned and interpreted by sages and men and women of faith through the ages.

So how can you possibly resist hearing the insights of Harvey Kurtzfield, who will be leading the service this Saturday, starting 10:30 a.m.?

VA-ETCHANAN, SHABBAT NAHAMU

In two week’s time, it will be the first of Elul. How appropriate, then, that we are beginning the last book of the Torah, Devarim, as so many of the themes of the High Holy Days are included in the final Discourses of Moses as the children of Israel find themselves after 40 years, in the Transjordan, about to enter the Promised Land. Moses at 120, has his last chance to address the people of Israel before he ascends Mount Nebo to die. The connections he makes through his Discourses cement for the Jewish people all that has gone on before with the present time. We Jews, then, seem to live in Devarim and now, both inside man-made time and space and eternal time, Olam veh Olam.

The man-made time of which Moses speaks discusses specifically what has gone on before, the successes and the failures, the devotions and the defections and how that relates to the present situation as all Israel looks across the Jordan to contemplate the land God promised them through Abraham, so many years before, and also to envision the future that they will enjoy. It is a momentous moment. But, in order to do so, the people Israel must also contemplate Olam veh Olam, eternal time, by adhering to the Torah, to merit the keeping of the Promised Land.

This fifth book then, represents evolutionary growth; it complements and enriches the four books which have come before it. This is why Devarim, or the Greek term, Deuteronomy, is sometimes called Mishneh ha-Torah, the second law, second teaching. Its core is from God, a book divinely inspired but also with the insight of complex living in an age many hundred of years later after the death of Moses when it was compiled. This ability of Torah to transcend man-made time, to be part of and apart from man-made time, is what gives Torah its timelessness, its relevance today as it did for those living thousands of years before.

And so this week in Va-etchanan, we find ourselves with Moses, tragically denied access to the Promised Land, as he begs God to allow him to enter. Rather than give up, he, like the true leader and man of overwhelming integrity and perspective, chooses instead to teach us again The Shema and the Commandments. For more specific information about how he does this, come to this week’s service to hear Pat explain the Parsha.

5th August – Pat Lipert

 

Beha’aloteckha

When I was a child, I believed that the reason Samson lost his strength and was captured by the Philistines was because Delilah shaved his hair off while he was asleep, as though there were some magic power contained within that hair and that his strength derived directly from it. Of course, the real reason the Philistines were able to subdue mighty Samson was because he broke his vow as a nazirite. First, he allowed himself to be seduced by a prostitute. Second, he betrayed God’s trust to her deceit. After he had repented, and renewed his nazirite vow, his strength returned, symbolised by, but not contained in, his hair. The haftorah for Naso, which recounts the birth of Samson,  links the story of a truly tragic hero with the nazirite rules detailed in the parsha. These rules make up only a small part of the longest parsha in the Torah. Also appearing are the census of the Levites and the duties of the different families, the purification of the camp, the trial by ordeal of the suspected adulteress, the offerings of the tribal leaders after the completion of the Tabernacle, all equal and all equally generous, and the priestly blessing.

‘This is how you must bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.

“May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”‘

Are there any words more beautiful?

Now raise up and light the lamps, for we have come to Beha’aloteckha. This is a parsha also packed with topics. The Levites must be purified and prepared for service. God’s signal of when to reside in camp and when to move on is explained. Instructions are given to make two trumpets to signal to the Israelites the moments to assemble,  to make war and to celebrate the festivals. There is much more, not all of it good, for we are busy complaining again, despite the ever visible presence of God over the camp. Did we really deserve to be delivered from slavery? Not only do the people complain, but also Moses’ elder brother and sister, the very brother who went to meet Moses on his return from exile in Midian, the very sister who saved his life as a baby. Aaron quickly repents and Moses, ever unassuming, ever compassionate, plead for Miriam to be pardoned.

So much to come for, as I hope you will this Saturday at 10.30. Our much esteemed and loved Honorary President, Harvey will be leading us.

B’midbar

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.

People and places are what it’s about in the desert or wilderness of B’midbar. The wilderness is, as is evident in the English, a wild place, without boundaries or clear delineating forms, but in the opening parsha of the book of B’midbar, definition is given to the people of Israel. They are counted, all except the Levites, according to their tribes, and then they are placed around the Communion Tent: Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun, to the east; Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, to the south; Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, to the west, and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali to the north. The Levites are in the middle, also divided into sub-groups. In the midst of nowhere, a nation is created on both a spiritual and a physical plane.

But I forget myself. What about B’har and B’chukkotai, last week’s double parshiyot? Well, the first covers redemption of land, property, people and, in a sense, time. There is good agricultural sense in letting the land rest, but the Torah adds a spiritual dimension. Resting the land every seven years clearly reflects Shabbat and honours God and His creation. B’chukkotai underlines the importance of following God’s laws, promising peace and fulfilment if we keep them, suffering and loss if we don’t. Yet there is also the promise of redemption, thus continuing the theme of B’har. Property and slaves can be redeemed by time. Israel can be redeemed by repentance.

Let us return to this week. Liz Berg will be leading us in prayer, song, reading and conversation, so come  on Saturday at 10.30