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    The Sydney siege – a prayer

    December 17th, 2014

    Sydney_Hostage_Crisis_flag_raisingAlmighty God, with hearts torn by the tragic events in Sydney this week we turn to You for comfort and support.

    You made this country beautiful, but ugly events disfigured its face.

    You made this city a garden of light and joy, but dark reality brought it close to a jungle.

    You meant mankind to smile without fear, but we had a week of fright and terror.

    You expected religion to spread love and harmony, but religion turned a dangerous believer into a monster.

    We mourn the death of two of his victims: we pray for those who lived but will bear the scars.

    We thank You for the courage of all who were caught up in the events.

    We thank You for the quality of those who serve in the emergency services.

    We know that Australians remain a generous, helpful, fair-go nation, even when their resilience is sorely tested.

    We pray that the spirit of the Divine will remain with us, and sustain the fundamental soundness of the Australian way of life.

    We pray that Your word will be the principle of all religions and sectors of citizens, when You say, “Choose life! Love your fellow as yourself!”

    May Your arms support us, Your hand steady us, and Your love sustain us.

    May this be Your will, and let us say Amen.

    A prayer written by Rabbi Raymond Apple in the wake of the hostage crisis at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place on 15-16 December, 2014.


    What was wrong with Joseph? – Mikketz

    December 14th, 2014

    Joseph's dream, from the Holman Bible, 1890

    Joseph’s dream, from the Holman Bible, 1890

    Things did not prove easy for Joseph. The lad who embodied so much potential, who dreamt such visions of the future, was degraded and sold as a slave by his own brothers. Whether they were justified in taking offence at what he dreamt and said is another question, as is their choice of what to do about him. But Joseph ended up lonely, misunderstood, and hardly able to see daylight at the end of the tunnel.

    He almost lost all his self-confidence and generally feared the worst. Even when he succeeded in explaining the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants, he could only ask, probably quite plaintively, that they should not forget him but try and get him freed from prison.

    A question – where was his faith in God?

    One answer is that even if he did not realise it, God really was guiding the events that came upon Joseph. One of the worst features of his youthful years was his self-pride and arrogance. He had dreams, but they all showed him as the one who came out on top. Everyone else had to bow down to him. He was the giant and they were the pygmies. An impossible show-off!

    Life (i.e. God) needed to take him down a peg or two, to teach him humility, to learn to appreciate other people. Only after he had become a nicer, more modest human being was he beginning to fit himself for the role of leadership.


    Holding up the heavens – Mikketz

    December 14th, 2014

    handsThere are a lot of dreams in the Book of B’reshit. Jacob dreams, Joseph dreams; Pharaoh dreams. Dreams are a way to unite the earth and heavens.

    Human beings through their dreams implement the Mission Impossible. The boundaries that limit us to the earth are no longer a barrier. Heaven strengthens the earth; the earth strengthens the heavens.

    The dreams have cosmic significance. The Kotzker Rebbe said that man was created to hold up the heavens.

    Whatever the Rebbe himself meant, we can use his words to suggest that what happens with us on earth can make a difference on high. This is not necessarily a question of what we dream about in bed, over which we probably have little rational control… even though the sages say in the Midrash, ”We see in our dreams that which is suggested by our thoughts”. But if we have the right ambitions, choose the right decisions, and live the right sort of life, Heaven says “Thank you!”


    Seeing & believing

    December 14th, 2014

    menorah lightsThe Chanukah blessings are followed by HaNerot Halalu, a meditation about the lights we kindle. It is both a moment of spirituality and a halachic summary reminding us that the Chanukah lights are to be looked at and not to be used.

    There is quite a different rule concerning the Shabbat lights, which are not only there to be seen but to bring illumination to the home.

    There are other differences between the two types of lights, but that is for another occasion. Today let us focus on the rule that says the Chanukah lights are to be seen.

    On a deeper level this law is telling us that we need two gifts in order to see – sight and insight.

    The distinction is made in a Midrash about the Binding of Isaac.

    Approaching Mount Moriah, Abraham asks his servants, “What do you see?” Their answer, put in colloquial English, is, “What do we see? Another old hill!” He turns to Isaac and asks the same question. Isaac’s answer is, “I see a majestic mountain with clouds entwined about its summit!” To the servants Abraham now says, “Isaac and I will go yonder, but you stay here with the donkey. Donkeys have no spiritual perception and neither do you.”

    The servants had sight – but little insight.

    I am often reminded of this distinction when the media report on Israel. They see a troublesome little Middle East state: we see Biblical prophecy come true, Divine promises fulfilled, a stage in the unfolding of world redemption.

    We see Israel’s defects and deficiencies; we also see visions of what Israel can and will be.


    Tishah B’Av & Chanukah

    December 14th, 2014

    Echah EichahThere could hardly be a greater contrast than between Tishah B’Av and Chanukah – sadness and joy, subdued emotions and exuberant rejoicing, darkness and light. Not only is the mood different: so are the prayers. Yet a Tishah B’Av poem unwittingly suggests a new angle on Chanukah.

    Divide the word into two and you get chanu kah – “they encamped (or ceased fighting) on the 25th”, i.e. 25 Kislev. The letters k-h, with the numerical value of 25, can also be read koh, “Thus”. Which brings us to Tishah B’Av, when a piyyut offers a play on the word Echah, the Hebrew name of Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations.

    The piyyut divides Echah into Ai Choh, literally, “Where is the ‘thus’?” Many Biblical promises begin with a “Thus” – e.g. “Thus shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:5). On Tishah B’Av the poet confronts God; the Temple is in ruins, the people are suffering – where are all the promises of blessing and prosperity?

    Let’s borrow the “Thus” approach and apply it to Chanukah. A novel play on words could suggest that the purpose of Chanukah is to bring about a further “Thus” – “Thus says the Lord”, which is another common Biblical phrase in the books of the prophets.

    The original Chanukah celebrated the return to the Temple on 25 Kislev. May it inspire us to strive further to hear the “Thus says the Lord” that will enable us to merit the rebuilding of the Temple in our days!