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    Lights inside and out

    December 10th, 2017

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the Chanukah lights fulfil a double purpose.

    They are a source of light within the house, and they also symbolise the duty of bringing light to the world outside.

    This is suggested by midrashic sources which speak of the Jewish people as the world’s shammash, its “servant light”.

    The Midrash itself is based on the teachings of the prophet Isaiah, who says God has appointed us as “a light unto the nations”.

    The world needs the light of morality, ethics and truth to be brought to its dark corners, part of the messianic process that hopefully will lead the whole of mankind to redemption and fulfilment.

    It’s hard to be the world’s shammash, not only because of the weight of responsibility but because inevitably it brings criticism and accusations of national egotism.

    Other cultures and groups do not like our claim to be the world’s moral teacher, but there is not too much evidence that they have done the job better themselves.


    Hallel on Chanukah

    December 10th, 2017

    Chassidism explains why Hallel is said on Chanukah and not on Purim.

    It says that on Purim the body of the Jew was saved, whilst on Chanukah it was his soul.

    The freedom of religion which Chanukah symbolises is summarised in a poem by Dryden that says, “Of all the tyrannies of human kind, the worst is that which persecutes the mind”.


    Death & resurrection – Mikketz

    December 10th, 2017

    The name of the sidra means “At the end”.

    It derives from the Pharaoh and Moses story but it can hold a broader significance for every human being, indicating what will come at the end of this earthly life.

    Judaism traces back the notion of death to the Creation saga when God warned Adam and Eve that there would come a day when they would die.

    Judaism additionally says that eventually the dead will be resurrected.

    Let’s ask about those who are already alive at the time of resurrection. Since those who are resurrected need to have previously died, the Zohar says that those who are alive at that point of history will pass away and be revived at once.

    What about people who died when they were ill or disabled?

    The sages said, “A person will be resurrected as he was at the time of death. But the Healer of all flesh will cure them of their ailments”.

    No one knows whether the dead will resume their earthly relationships, though it gives us comfort to think that our dear ones will recognise us in the next world and in the world of resurrection.


    Dreams & deeds – Mikketz

    December 10th, 2017

    Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, by James Tissot

    The dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh are quite different.

    One of the big differences is that Joseph dreams of being at work, binding sheaves; Pharaoh dreams of things becoming available without apparent effort.

    One could of course say that that’s a natural reflection of who the dreamers are. Joseph is a servant boy who knows he has to work for his living, whilst Pharaoh is a king who takes things for granted and doesn’t bother to investigate how the results come about.

    But maybe it’s more than this: Joseph knows the rabbinic maxim in Pir’kei Avot (5:23), L’fum tza’ara agra – “according to the pain is the gain”.

    A person can never feel satisfied without the sweat of their own brow.


    Settling & dwelling – Vayyeshev

    December 3rd, 2017

    Vayeshev Ya’akov (Gen. 37:1) means “Jacob dwelt”.

    Pir’kei d’Rabbi Eliezer understands this as “Jacob dwelt in security and ease in the land of his birth, the land of his ancestors’ sojourns”.

    Bereshit Rabbah 84 explains why life in Israel gave him ease and security: “Jacob had no satisfaction from any dwelling place until he settled in the land where his father Isaac sojourned”.

    Midrash HaGadol says, “Living outside the Land of Israel is not called ‘dwelling’. The term only applies to living in the Land of Israel”.

    Before 1948 the Jewish community in the Holy Land was “The Yishuv – the Settlement”.

    These days “settlement” has a pejorative political connotation but it really isn’t the post-1967 Settlement Movement that is the problem (if there is one).

    The so-called settlements occupy no more than about 2% of Judea and Samaria and most will remain Israeli if and when the peace process achieves results. Any problem existed before 1967.

    It was the Yishuv as a whole, the reality that the Children of Jacob have come home to the ancestral land with a feeling of ease, security and fulfilment.

    A high percentage of Israelis tell the statisticians that they feel happy with their lives. Can the peoples of other lands, including the Arab nations, say a similar thing?