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    The same look – Tol’dot

    November 12th, 2017

    Abraham & Isaac, by Jan Lievens, c.1637

    “These are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham: Abraham begat Isaac” (Gen. 25:19).

    Rashi and Ibn Ezra explain that the double statement is in order to emphasise that father and son looked alike and no-one had the right to think that anyone else was the father.

    The commentators add that the double phrase indicates that Abraham not only bore but reared his son. He gave him lineage and also moral principles. He brought the boy up with beliefs and ethics.

    Whoever looked at Isaac knew that he was in the Abraham tradition.


    Vision, hard work & patience – Tol’dot

    November 12th, 2017

    Isaac and the wells, from a 1906 Bible card

    The Torah reading narrates how the local tribes bitterly resisted the Hebrews.

    Every time that Isaac tried to find water the tribesmen filled the wells with sand. The water would have brought benefit to everyone in the locality but that was too logical for the Gerar tribesmen.

    No wonder Isaac called one well Esek – Contention – and another Sitnah – Enmity.

    Isaac never gave in. Finally there came a day when the tribesmen realised what benefits Isaac would bring them as well as himself and his family.

    Now Isaac was able to dig a well without opposition and call it Rechovot, “space”, because at last the family could develop the area.

    The story shows that vision, hard work and patience pay dividends.


    Mourning a father – Tol’dot

    November 12th, 2017

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    When the enmity between the brothers was at its height, Esau said, “Let the days of mourning for my father draw near” (Gen. 27:41).

    Did he really want his father to die? Was it not his father who loved him best?

    What Esau meant was, “When my father dies I will show Jacob the full force of my vengeance for what he has done to me”.

    Yet Rashi says we must take the verse “in its plain sense”, i.e. literally.

    There are many interpretations of what Rashi was telling us.

    For a moment let us presume that he was actually suggesting that Esau had a death wish for his father. What Esau loved he also hated. Maybe he hated himself too.

    Is this Samson pulling down the palace around himself? Is it the cow kicking over the bucket? Is it Esau saying, “I love my father so much that I can’t bear it”?

    Are there moments in the life of each of us when, without apparent reason, logic or justification, we want the happiness and exhilaration to collapse, when we (God forbid!) toy with the idea that we would want a loved one to go, when we almost invite destruction and calamity?


    Organised religion – Ask the Rabbi

    November 12th, 2017

    Q. I don’t go to shule or take part in organised religion, but I believe in God and worship Him in my own way. Do you approve of me?

    A. The question is not whether I approve of you but whether you approve of yourself.

    The Torah warns us against doing what is right in our own eyes (Deut. 12:8). This says two things, one negative and one positive.

    Negatively, when you want to do your own thing it may be too difficult and you need the support that comes from being part of a community.

    Positively, if you succeed in creating a link with God you may be able to help others find Him. Being part of the religious community will help to make this possible.

    You have to decide whether you aren’t running a spiritual risk by opting out of organised religion.

    As far as I am concerned, I recognise your need to be true to yourself.


    Watergate & Citygate – Chayyei Sarah

    November 5th, 2017

    America has its Watergate which changed the course of national history. The Bible has its Citygate where deals were made and decisions formulated.

    It appears a number of times in Scripture beginning with this week’s sidra, where negotiations secure the site of Machpelah for Abraham’s family.

    The gate of the city was not only where individuals came in and out but the place where people met and where community affairs were decided.

    That’s why in the famous Eshet Chayyil chapter of Mishlei, the wise woman’s husband is “known in the gates” – a public figure who was an acknowledged partner in the community’s counsels.

    There is a Jewish teaching that the word sha’ar, a gate, is composed of three of the most useful letters we have in the Hebrew alphabet – shin, ayin and resh. Whichever way you use them you have one of the community’s leading concerns.

    Shin-ayin-resh, sha’ar, a gate, symbolises discussion: decisions are not imposed or taken lightly but thoroughly considered.

    Ayin-shin-resh is osher, wealth: a community’s stability stands or falls by its economic stability.

    Ayin-resh-sin is eres, a cradle: the birth rate and how we bring up children determines our future.

    Resh-shin-ayin, resha, wickedness, tells us that a community must have its criteria of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

    All these combinations of letters (and others) identify the agenda for the discussions at Citygate.