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    Divine qualities – B’reshit

    October 25th, 2016

    globeIn Genesis, God brings into being a world that will acknowledge Him.

    He uses wisdom, understanding and knowledge to create His world, and man must use the same qualities to build civilisation.

    Rashi defines chochmah as what one learns from others; t’vunah as finding the meaning in what one has learnt; and da’at as inspiration.

    Some explain chochmah as coming from others, t’vunah from oneself and da’at from God.

    Though the three terms have human content, when God uses them He is not defining Himself but speaking human language.

    Look what you’ve done! – B’reshit

    October 25th, 2016

    Adam & Eve under the Tree of Knowledge, Charles Foster, 1897

    Adam & Eve under the Tree of Knowledge, Charles Foster, 1897

    Adam heard the voice of God calling Him with the question, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).

    It can’t be a cognitive question, God wanting to know and Adam needing to explain.

    By definition God is All-Knowing and there is little point in asking Adam for information which He possesses in much greater depth than Adam does.

    It’s not a cognitive but a rhetorical question. Think of the person who sees that someone has smashed a vase. The smithereens are all around and yet they say, “What have you done?” It’s an exclamation: “Look at you, look at what you’ve done!”

    Similarly with Adam, “Look at what you’ve done with My world, look at the mess you’ve made!”

    Of course Adam is so new at this being-the-keeper-of-the-Creation experience that he hasn’t worked out how to handle his responsibility.

    This suggests the explanation for the later Divine statement, “Man’s heart is evil from (i.e. because of) his youth” (Gen. 8:21).

    When Adam gets older and more experienced his moral judgment will be more reliable.

    Telling children about death

    October 25th, 2016

    yahrzeit-candleGod warned Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would die. The sages say that when they sinned the result was that death entered the world.

    The Simchat Torah service says, “Moses died – who does not die?”

    Because we do not know precisely when we will die, we have to be ready to face God at all times. Finality is finality: there’s no second chance.

    I remember when a young adult I knew lost her grandfather. He was elderly and she knew rationally that his life expectancy was limited, but when the moment came she attacked God (regarding me as God’s representative), accusing Him of deliberately taking her grandfather away. I had no easy answer.

    Even worse were the times when it was a child, not a young adult, who was experiencing bereavement for the first time. You can’t tell them not to grieve, be angry or feel dislocated. They are natural emotions. So is guilt (“Was it my fault that they died?”).

    Euphemisms are no answer (my parents told me that Grandma had moved to another city). You can’t tell them that Grandma has gone to sleep, because then the child will be afraid to go to bed or be scared to find Mummy or Daddy asleep.

    But small children can’t realise that Grandma is never coming back. Tell the child this and though you think they understood, a week later they will probably still ask, “When is Grandma coming back?”

    One of the best methods is to see the grief that the adults are going through. You might not want to take the child to the funeral, but they should be present in the shivah house and pick up some of what is happening.

    Something you can do is to encourage the child to have a pet or their own garden. They will see that nothing is for ever. There are no quick fixes for any of life’s problems.

    In the end you will find that the sages are right in advising not to talk too much when someone has died but to be there and see how people comfort one another.

    Why are we waiting?

    October 18th, 2016

    Rain_on_grassLife without rain is unimaginable.

    Prayers for rain are essential just before the onset of winter. This makes perfect sense in the northern hemisphere, notably Israel, though it seems somewhat problematical in the southern hemisphere.

    Sh’mini Atzeret is the last occasion on the High Holydays for the recital of the rain prayers.

    Why are we kept waiting until the end of Sukkot to say these prayers? Surely we should say them at the beginning of Sukkot!

    But if we pray for rain at the beginning of Sukkot we might not really mean it since rain would spoil the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah.

    Further, Sh’mini Atzeret is a solemn final opportunity to repent (even though turning away from sins is possible any day of the year). Since rain is a sign of God’s blessing and approval, we need to utilise the final opportunity for repentance in order to deserve the rain.

    Not just the Chassidim

    October 18th, 2016

    malnovitzer zvi 1945 dancing with the torahSomehow the Chassidim get all the credit for the joyful spirit of Simchat Torah.

    It’s true that Chassidism was known for its ecstasy in the presence of God and for practices that aroused joy and emotion. But joy in religion began with the Bible.

    Not only does the Psalmist say, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), but he tells us Iv’du et HaShem b’simchah, “Serve the Lord with joy” (Psalm 100:2).

    When the annual cycle of Torah readings became the norm in the Middle Ages, the annual arrival of Simchat Torah was greeted with rejoicing and all sorts of Simchat Torah customs developed.

    In Spain the Torah crown was placed on the head of the Chatan Torah and the Torah vestments were placed on the people who read the Torah. Torah processions took place everywhere and the children received cakes and sweets.

    In some communities the Chatan Torah and Chatan B’reshit were accompanied home with processions, music and dancing.

    Jews were subject to so much oppression and persecution that they relished any and every opportunity to rejoice.

    The Chassidim made their contribution to the history of the festival, but they neither invented or created the occasion.

    Of course there were places where the festivities were so structured that they were almost as grave as Tishah B’Av, but on the whole, nothing could restrain the people’s joy.