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.

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

From Chukkat to Pinchas

At the last service, we left the children of Israel on the Plains of Moab overlooking the Jordan after their monumental 40 year journey from Egypt into the wilderness and their arduous struggle to reach the Transjordan. Generations have died off; as they settle here, the ups and downs of their final months of camping out before Joshua leads them into the Promised Land is about to be narrated in the final few chapters of B’Midbar. The wonderful story of Balaam and his ass takes place, and to tell the truth, the ass, operating on much higher moral ground than either Balaam or the Israelites at times, must set the example. But, because God is in control, as Balaam looks down upon the Israelite encampment, he utters the famous lines which begin most of our Shabbat services: How good are you tents O Jacob! But are they? For this maybe God’s story and plan being enacted, but the children of Israel seem unable to allow the rest of the narrative to go without a hitch. No sooner do they settle in, than the temptations of Moabite women and false gods enter the picture. Again! This, of course, leads us to the next series of conflicts when another heroic figure in our history, Pinchas, must try to save the day. To learn more about the whys and wherefores, another heroic figure, our own Adam Feldman, will be on hand to let you know the details at this next Shabbat service. Be there!

(Pat Lipert)

Chukkat

After all the rebellions and unrest Moses has recently suffered, he must have needed a good Shabbat. The number and intensity of the revolt has been enough to drive any leader to despair. First of all, the food is not good enough. Next, Aaron and Miriam complain. That must have been a real shock to their unassuming brother, who has consistently honoured both of them. Then the spies’ fearful reports provoke the people to turn against him and demand another leader. No sooner has Moses interceded yet again for them than they rebel the other way and insist on mounting an attack, despite Moses’ plea for them to remain still. And now Korach starts one of the most evil rebellions of all, clothed in the words of equality but, in fact, embodying envy, greed and the lust for power. Surely, the destruction of Korach and his fellow conspirators is enough, but no, the people begin to grouse again, this time claiming that Moses has “killed God’s people!” On this occasion, Aaron saves the people. Only a demonstration by God, who makes Aaron’s staff burst into leaf and blossom, puts an end to the spate of almost continuous revolt. We are not told how Moses, and Aaron and Miriam for that matter, spent their Shabbats, but the one that came after the Korach episode must have seemed particularly blessed. 

Unfortunately, the spirit of revolt is not completely quelled, and the next episode will lead to Moses and Aaron themselves losing the right to enter the promised land. The parsha of Chukkat does not end badly, however. The people finally discover courage and burst into song when they next come across water. There is also the little matter of the red heifer to consider, and to consider it more deeply, come along on Saturday at 10:30, when Pat Lipert will lead us once again. 

Sh’lach l’cha

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch… what is wrong with these people? Anyone would think that Jews were born to complain. Oh, perish the thought? The parsha of B’ha’alot’cha, though, seems full of it. On the one hand, Aaron is lighting the lamps of the Menorah – surely a wonder to behold. The Levites are purified and inaugurated into service and some of the rules of Passover are given. On this occasion, some ask Moses a very reasonable question, not because of any ill feeling, but because they want to be allowed to prepare the Passover offering, but are concerned about their having become ritually unclean. The divine signs for moving and settling are described, more wondrous sights, surely awe inspiring, what with the cloud rising from the Tent and settling when the people were to come to rest. Yet the people complain and moan. On one occasion we are not even told what about, so we can assume it was some pretty heavy grouching about everything and nothing. Even Moses, who usually pleads on behalf of the people and begs God to be merciful, has had enough. Then Miriam and Aaron complain against their brother, who has showed no sign whatsoever of wishing to lord it over them, or over anyone else for that matter. 

Well, that was last week. This week, in Sh’lach L’cha, Moses sends out spies, who come back, all, except Joshua and Caleb, cowed and fearful from what they have seen. Then, there is another mighty bit of kvetching, matched only by the fear that leads the people to say that they would prefer to return to Egypt and slavery. They so easily forget that the God who delivered them from slavery can surely deliver them to a new land. I like to think that, had I been there, I would have joined Caleb and Joshua and shouted to the people to be stout of heart, to believe in themselves as they believe in God. But would I?

There is more in Sh’lach L’cha, and to hear and read it, to sing, pray and join in conversation, come along this Saturday at 10:30. Pat Lipert will lead us.