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    Climbing a mountain – B’har

    May 19th, 2019

    The name of the sidra means “On the mountain”. Psalm 121 is rhapsodic about looking up to mountains.

    The question is what comes next, when you have scaled the mountain, when you have congratulated yourself and even planted a flag to show your arrival.

    Is that the moment to stop saying, “I lift up my eyes to the mountain”?

    The answer is No. You should always see another mountain ahead. Not until your last moment on earth should you say, “I have no mountains to climb!”


    I don’t want to go – B’har

    May 19th, 2019

    When it is time for a servant to be released, what happens if he refuses to go? He says, “I like being here; I don’t want to leave” (Ex. 21:5-6).

    The rule is that no servant may willingly embrace servitude for his lifetime. Freedom is his right but it is also his duty.

    He is punished by getting what he wants. He is punished by being a servant for ever.

    But Rashi says that “for ever” only means until the Jubilee Year (Lev. 25:10). When that time comes he has to go free. It is his second chance. In case he was foolish the first time round, now he has had time to live to regret his action or lack of action.

    Hard as it sometimes is to be free and to have to make your own decisions, you must not choose to avoid thinking, to repress feeling, to reject deciding as a free man.

    If you get to like being a prisoner or a serf you have abdicated the independence and glory which God has ordained.


    Freedom to dwell – B’har

    May 19th, 2019

    “Proclaim liberty in all the land” is a keynote of this week’s reading.

    The word used for “liberty” is not cherut but d’ror. In the Talmud (RH 9b) Rabbi Yehudah links it with the word for “dwell” and says the criterion of liberty is the ability to dwell where you want and to work or carry on business wherever you wish.

    It all sounds beautiful but it has its grave dilemmas.

    What if they don’t want you in the place you choose? Can you force your way in, regardless of the immigration and employment rules?

    The problem has become acute in our day, with all the population movements that many countries, especially in Europe, seem powerless to control.

    The Torah can’t be giving carte blanche to just anyone to settle just anywhere in spite of the feelings of the local inhabitants.

    But the locals have to act ethically. If they close their borders and control their structures they have to have genuine reasons for their policies.

    The land belongs to God and those who live there have to meet His standards.


    Is religion a good thing?

    May 19th, 2019

    Why shouldn’t it be?

    It teaches there is a God and people should come close to Him through prayer and do His will through ethics. It has rituals that symbolise basic values.

    If religion didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.

    A wonderful book, “1066 And All That”, tells the story of England with a smile. The book comments on events, “That was a Good Thing” (or it wasn’t…). Presumably it thought religion was A Good Thing.

    But the more I think about it the less I am inclined to call religion A Good Thing.

    I think of two cries, both heard at racist incidents. The place doesn’t matter. Both are tragic wherever they are.

    One cry is: “O my God! O my God!” The other, “This is for Allah”.

    This cry comes every time extremists mow down harmless men, women and children. Like vultures on the attack? Worse. To call them vultures is an insult to the vultures.

    “This is for God”? If God really wants this I’d rather be an atheist. If these are really God’s policemen I’d rather not be a believer.

    “This is for God”? I prefer the Jewish idea: “Let them forget Me but live by My Torah”.

    When God offered the nations His law they asked, “What does Your Torah say?”

    One answer: “My Torah says, ‘Don’t kill!’” Some nations said that wasn’t for them. Some were told, “Don’t rob, commit adultery, pervert truth”. They said, “That’s not for us”.

    Those who accepted the Torah were told, “Love your neighbour, ease his burden, show him compassion, bind up his wounds”.

    They weren’t angels. They weren’t perfect. They didn’t always meet up to the heights of ethics, but they aspired to.

    They didn’t live by the sword or make others die by it. God told them to drop their swords and cry for others’ pain. His word mattered more than the war cries.

    Those who cry from the pain wreaked by the self-appointed avengers call, “O my God, O my God”. The cry is not abstract theology but real suffering.

    They cry for the loving Parent to pick them up and kiss them better.

    The Psalmist says, “Though others forsake me, God will take me up”. If only!

    The Almighty must be thoroughly fed up with those who claim to work in His name.

    “You think you’re acting for Me?” He says; “If you really loved Me you’d love My children! If I really mattered to you, you’d talk less about Me but fix My world!”


    A foretaste of the festivals – Emor

    May 12th, 2019

    The festivals have a crucial role in this week’s Torah reading (Lev. 23:2-3): “These are the festivals of the Lord which you shall proclaim”.

    However, the list begins with Shabbat, and many people wonder why.

    “Festivals” are great annual occasions like Pesach and Rosh HaShanah. How can Shabbat head the festival list?

    The Vilna Ga’on says the seven-day Sabbath is a reminder that there are seven festival days in the calendar so the festivals themselves enshrine the “seven day” principle.

    Another interpretation sees the weekly Shabbat as a foretaste of the festivals:

    • Shabbat is a mini-Pesach, a day of freedom, when one chooses to be free from weekday pressures;

    • a mini-Shavu’ot, when one lives by God’s law;

    • a mini-Rosh HaShanah, when one recalls the creation of the world;

    • a mini-Yom Kippur, when one is at-one with God;

    • a mini-Sukkot, when one thanks God for His blessings; and

    • a mini-Sh’mini Atzeret, when one prays that the world will enjoy rain and prosperity.