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.

Va-yeira

What I like about our heroes is that they are not too heroic. To a man and to a woman, they are admirable, even great, but each one with his or her faults. Jacob was a man of vision, but he was also a trickster and spoiled his second youngest son.  His mother Rebecca was kind and had a sense of destiny, but she helped Jacob trick his father. Isaac perhaps cared too much for his stomach. Moses, our great leader and teacher, humble, and devoted to his people and to mission, lost his temper more than once. Our greatest, most valiant, poetic and loyal of kings engineered the death of one of his soldiers to gratify his selfish desire. What’s more he showed scant mercy to some of those who made lesser mistakes. Did he have to kill the poor young man who, begged by Saul to put him out of his wounded misery, and so caught in a terrible quandary, after much pleading, gave into the king’s demand? Even Elijah, a prophet so honoured that we pour him a cup of wine every year during the Seder, failed to recognise the true nature of God when Hashem ‘appeared’ not in a a ferocious wind, nor in the earthquake that followed, and nor in the fire that followed this, but, rather, in a still, small voice.

We have not reached any of these figures yet. This week we come to the second of three parashot dedicated to Abraham and Sarah, our first grandfather and grandmother. Like those who will follow, this wonderful couple, combining between them hospitality, wisdom, faith, generosity to strangers and peace making skills, not to mention love of one another, have nonetheless their faults. Abraham foolishly repeats the lie about Sarah being his sister, despite being rebuked for doing it the first time. He fails to protect his son Ishmael from his wife’s jealousy, itself no credit to Sarah. Ah yes, our heroes are not saints. They do not stare out at us, beatifically filled with luminous purity, devoid of all sin or weakness. Their eyes are human and their heart are too. They are not perfect. Which is fine, just perfect. 

This week Abraham and Sarah are camped in the Plains of Mamre, waiting for us to arrive at their tent and partake of their hospitality. To lead us there, we have a new Sh’liach Tsibbur, namely Sharim Atilano. Come along this Saturday at 10:30 and lend Sharim your support. 

Noach

It take just two parashot, or eleven chapters, for God to create the universe, equip the earth with the means to support life, populate this earth with living creatures, bring forth humanity, test its first representatives, establish the principle of mortality, judge the world and flood it, repopulate it and, finally, to ensure that diversity rules over monoculture by humbling the hubris of the builders of Babel. It then takes ten parashot, eighty chapters, to weave the story of a small family, beginning with Abraham setting forth from his father’s home and culminating with Jacob, his twelve sons and daughter and their children settled in Egypt. It takes a further forty-two parashot (a very large number of chapters indeed!) to lead a small people through the desert and, by way of its righteous, devoted and selfless leader, prepare the people for statehood and a holy mission. It just shows that, if you want to do a job well, you need to spend your time over it –  in this case not cosmic or historic, but ‘personal’ time.

Of course, you’ll be relieved to hear me say, before condemning me for sacrilege, that God does not do anything badly and certainly does not make a mistake. Adam and Eve are not failures. Cain may be evil, but he did not live, or even kill, for nothing. The Flood was not a frenzied rubbing out of a blackboard full of errors of calculation, and the Tower of Babel was not a worthless episode of overweening ambition. Bereshit and Noach serve to prepare the ground for a wonderful human experiment: the making of a covenant between the supreme power and a small family grown into a small nation, so that a model of civilisation, human relations and reverence for life and for the divine could take form.

To hear more about Noach and Babel, come along this Saturday at 10:30 when Harvey Kurtfield will endeavour to ensure that we are neither drowned nor thrown off a tower, but rather guided to a future based on wisdom and understanding.

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.