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    ANZAC Day address 2017, Mount Scopus

    April 25th, 2017

    Address by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the 2017 ANZAC Day commemoration at the Jewish graves, Commonwealth War Cemetery, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem.

    The First World War was more than a lifetime ago.

    Those who fell in combat were mostly boys. They are still boys. Age never wearied them, unlike those who came home and grew old.

    The Jewish ex-service community in Australia used to call the survivors the AKs, for reasons you can work out for yourselves.

    In time the AKs passed away and even the YKs from the Second World War, such as are still with us, are AKs themselves.

    Both groups are part of our commemoration on Anzac Day.

    But we are in two minds about it.

    Nearly a hundred years since the so-called Great War we are proud of man’s great, memorable achievements of culture, science and technology.

    The AKs would be proud that they helped to make these achievements possible.

    At the same time they would be ashamed of the world’s great, memorable failures, especially the limping lack of success of the rhetoric of 1945 that the United Nations would save the world from the scourge of war.

    Everywhere there are conventional battles – including the cruel internal conflicts that tear nations asunder; the terrors of noon and night that shatter man’s safety; the wars of words that sloganise the world and scandalise decent human beings; and the outlaws all over the globe who can’t or won’t be reined in.

    We still haven’t learnt how to hold back the hatreds, to eliminate the enmities, to counter the cruelties.

    The AKs and YKs would shake their heads and sadly remind us that they stood for the Jewish principle, “See in each other the face of a brother or sister, yearning to sit peacefully under their vine or fig tree with none to make them afraid!”


    Ritual impurity – Tazria

    April 23rd, 2017

    Depiction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

    A person who was in a state of tum’ah, ritual impurity, could not enter the sanctuary.

    Maimonides thinks this was in order to evoke awe and reverence for the sanctuary. One had to be in a fit state to come into the holy place.

    Nachmanides had a different idea, that the human body was capable of a temporary negative experience.

    In both cases a person could change his or her own situation for the better. The Jewish idea is therefore that nothing is permanent in the human situation. One does not have to accept things as they are, either in the world or in one’s own self.

    As an optimistic religion, the Jewish belief is that one not only can look forward to the future but can work towards it.


    My son the doctor – M’tzora

    April 23rd, 2017

    Doctors were always highly regarded in Judaism, and parents were so proud if their child became a doctor or married one.

    Was it that they thought doctors brought in a good living, not that the doctor always receives an adequate reward for his or her years of training and expertise? Was it that the doctor was considered a miracle worker, able to restore a sick person to health, not that the doctor always succeeds in finding a cure?

    One would hope that a few parents also remembered that in this week’s Torah portion the healing arts are associated with the priesthood, implying that the doctor is somehow doing God’s work.

    In a sense the doctor is a kohen who ministers in the sanctuary. The kohen brings man and God closer together; good doctors bring their patients closer to God.

    When they achieve a cure, doctor and patient should both offer thanks to the Divine Healer.

    During the struggle to find a cure, both need to ask God to be with them. If, God forbid, no cure eventuates, they should implore Him to have them in His keeping.


    Israel as memory

    April 23rd, 2017

    In his book, “Israel: An Echo of Eternity”, Abraham Joshua Heschel asked why Jewish hearts and minds always turned to Israel.

    He said there were three reasons, memory, hope and distress.

    He said that to believe is to remember. Not in the sense of a dim, distant record, but as a stimulus to hope. The memory was symbolised by rituals and customs that ensured that Israel remained part of everyday Jewish consciousness.

    The memory kindled within us the hope that Israel the land and Israel the people would both be redeemed.

    There was a strand of distress that came into every generation. The fulfilment of the hope was challenged in every age. But the Jew never gave up hoping, dreaming and praying.

    In our day both God and the Jewish people have shown they never abandoned the pledge to build and rebuild.

    Many other powers had control over the land for a period, but the land did not respond to them. The land was waiting for its own people, and there came a day when God reunited them, land and people.


    Speaking with them – Sh’mini

    April 18th, 2017

    Targum Onkelos makes a tiny change to the instructions Moses gives his brother and the elders.

    In the text (Lev. 9:3) Moses says, “Speak to the Israelites”; according to Onkelos, the instruction is “Speak with the Israelites…”.

    The difference between speaking “to” and “with” is the tone of voice and attitude. “Speak to” is harsh and peremptory; “speak with” is softer and quieter.

    Onkelos’ change in the wording highlights the two ways of approaching a subject. There are times to bark out a command, like a drill sergeant on a parade ground or like a parent who shouts at a child, “Get away from the fire!” There are also times to reason things out so that the addressee of the message feels no resentment but thinks they have been consulted and convinced.

    There are times for that approach too, but it can be dangerous when someone uses words and a sweet tone to manipulate you into feeling that it is your own decision.

    The secretary of a certain synagogue knew the president would oppose a particular policy so the next day he called the president and said, “Mr. …, I’ve been mulling over what we discussed yesterday. I think we’ve made a good decision and this is what I’ve done this morning…”

    The president was so disarmed that he found himself supporting a policy that he had adamantly objected to the previous day.