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    Two Lech L’chas

    October 25th, 2014

    Lech LechaThere are actually two Biblical commands that say Lech L’cha, one here (Gen. 12:1) and one next week (Gen. 22:2) when the Akedah is prefaced by God telling Abraham to take his son and lech l’cha (“Go for yourself!”) to the land of Moriah.

    This Hebrew phrase, as Nachmanides points out, is a grammatical idiom, but the commentators read a special significance into it. Rashi, utilising a famous Midrashic comment, explains that the l’cha means “for your own benefit and good”. Literally the command is, “Go to yourself”: in other words, “Go, and follow your destiny” or “Go, and find out what you really are”.

    In both cases, this week when God tells Abraham to go to a new country, and next week, when He tells him to ascend a mountain and be prepared to offer his son, the patriarch is confronted with a massive challenge. In effect, the question God puts to him is, “Will you be able to handle a major life-changer?”

    The second challenge is even greater than the first: “Are you prepared to pay an impossible price for the sake of God?”

    The theologian Ignaz Maybaum points out that the story of the Akedah is diametrically different to the central story of Christianity. Judaism does not expect the patriarch to actually make the sacrifice. What it tests is Abraham’s willingness.

    The rabbi’s lamp – Lech L’cha

    October 25th, 2014

    lanternMy teacher Dr Isidore Epstein was once the rabbi in an English provincial town. After his day’s work was done he sat in his study, learning Torah by the light of his lamp. People who passed by the house couldn’t make sense of why the rabbi had his light on so late at night and when someone said, “He must be studying Torah”, they said, “Then that’s not the rabbi for us. Who wants a rabbi who still hasn’t finished his studies? We want one who knows it all already!”

    A contrasting episode happened to Rabbi Joel Sirkes, known as the Bach, who was rabbi in an Eastern European town. He received such a small salary that he couldn’t afford oil for his lamp, so at night he sat in the dark reviewing his learning by heart. The congregants were disgusted to have a rabbi who apparently didn’t study at night so they dismissed him. He got a post in another town, but first he told the congregation something about this week’s sidra:

    “Why did God punish Sodom and Gomorrah? Because they had the wrong order of priorities – instead of increasing their own knowledge and observance, all they could do was to find fault with their leaders!”

    Gelatine – Ask the Rabbi

    October 25th, 2014

    Q. Is gelatine kosher?

    gelatine jellyA. When dried bones from a kosher species of animal go through chemical processes that render the substance unrecognisable and uneatable, they lose their original character and become a new entity, and the gelatine made from them is allowed by some authorities. However pig hides are deemed non-kosher and pig bones are considered unacceptable in all circumstances.

    There are many authorities who forbid any gelatine derived from animal sources on the basis that when drying bones there is no guarantee that the mixture will be free of meat, and gelatine is collagen extract which is like marrow, not bone.

    There are brands of gelatine available that are totally vegetarian.

    The passing of Gough Whitlam

    October 21st, 2014

    Rabbi Raymond Apple, emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, today* made the following statement about the passing of former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam:

    Whitlam“Living through the Whitlam era made Australians more politically conscious than most had ever been previously. Whether you loved Whitlam or abhorred him, you could never be indifferent to the man or his policies (and achievements). Though he upset many Jews by some critical and inappropriate remarks about Israel at the 25th anniversary celebration of the State of Israel, he was generally on good terms with Jewish and Israeli leaders and was mostly regarded as a friend of the Jewish community. In 1978 he almost stole the show outside the Great Synagogue when the crowd recognized him and cheered when he arrived for the centenary service of the historic Synagogue in Elizabeth Street. The arrival of John Howard, who was not yet prime minister, attracted far less attention. Of course Whitlam loved the acclaim!”

    * 21 October, 2014.

    Evils & inclinations – No’ach

    October 18th, 2014

    The first lessons that Man learned were how far he could go, both physically and metaphorically.

    Physically he felt safe as long as the Garden of Eden lasted – but then came the expulsion which propelled him into an often unfriendly world. Thereafter his physical adventures and experiences sometimes brought discovery and delight, sometimes doom and destruction.

    Metaphorically he started with the moral bounds set by his Creator, but soon (if one may mix the metaphors) he tested the waters and attempted to break loose into areas that God had forbidden.

    Why did he step out of line? The Torah says (Gen. 8:21): because “the inclination of his heart was ra min’urav”, which some translate, “evil from his youth”. If that were correct it would suggest that man’s sins were inevitable, bound to happen, part of his make-up – and one wonders why he was punished simply for being himself.

    But the translators had another option: to say that min’urav meant “because of his (moral) youth”. He was not yet morally mature enough to handle his competing inclinations, the passions and energies which could lead him in opposing directions. Only time and experience would teach him how to cope.