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    Doing God’s work – Tazria

    April 15th, 2018

    The Torah reading has a focus on medicine. One of its great affirmations is that the human body is God’s handiwork.

    We are not just a collection of spare parts put together haphazardly but a functioning entity in which every aspect fits into the whole.

    There is such a Brain behind the interlocking bodily system that this is what we acclaim in the Asher Yatzar blessing said on leaving the toilet. All our b’rachot are cleverly framed: maybe this is the cleverest of them all.

    The Torah calls God our Healer (Ex. 15:26), and the doctor does God’s work (the Mishnah points out that the best of doctors is cursed unless he humbly recognises his duty to the Chief Physician). The Chazon Ish said that going to the doctor reinforced his faith and trust in God.

    The Hebrew for “healing” is from the root resh-peh-alef, three letters which sum up what the doctor deals with – not just the body but the patient as a total person, not just the “spare parts” but the overall well-being of the patient, not just the physical but the metaphysical.

    Resh is rosh, “head”, summarising the mental faculty. Peh is the mouth – what it takes in, i.e. food and drink, and what it emits, i.e. speech. Alef is the first letter of the alphabet, the initial letter of ani, “I”: the person as a whole.


    Offering on the baby’s birth – Tazria

    April 15th, 2018

    Excitement at a baby’s birth is so evident that we can well understand why the Torah expects an offering to be made to mark the occasion.

    The strange thing is the difference between the offering for a boy and the offering for a girl. Not just the offering but the amount of time that must elapse in each case – 40 days for a boy, 80 for a girl.

    One theory is that the baby girl symbolises her future child-bearing faculty.

    It is the female who has the privilege of bearing a baby and bringing it to birth. It is the female who has to cope with the stresses of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. In all the birth processes the female plays a greater role than the male.

    That’s not to say that the male lacks importance in the life of his child: of course he doesn’t. But the crucial contribution to a child’s beginnings is that of the mother. Maybe that’s why the role of the female is endowed with greater sanctity from her very first moment.

    Being a woman is never going to be easy for her, but without her there will be no continuity. Without her the family will have no future and nor will the Jewish people.


    Israel at 70

    April 15th, 2018

    The 70th anniversary of the State of Israel is celebrated this week.

    Israel is one of the great achievements of modern history.

    But of course the backers of BDS don’t agree. They can’t be too proud of themselves because they haven’t achieved a thing apart from slogans and stereotypes.

    And they have to accept (and enjoy!) Israeli inventions and initiatives. How they must grit their teeth!

    Do they use cell phones and computer technology? – mostly Israeli developments.

    Do they rely on medical and scientific advances including desalinisation techniques? – mostly worked out in Israel.

    Do they live in and enjoy the modern world? So much that they take for granted comes from Israel.

    Can their nations compete with Israel in numbers of university graduates, in start-ups, literacy, books, museums, and self-reliance? Israel is small in size but a giant in achievement.

    Do they pay even lip service to the Bible and Biblical ethics? Both are products of Israel…

    They blame Israel for the world’s problems when they should be praising it for enriching humanity.

    They think they’re clever in cooking up such a clever set of initials as BDS, when the three letters really stand for “Back to the Jungle”, “Destroy Civilisation”, and “Smother your Brains”!


    8 strings on the harp – Sh’mini

    April 8th, 2018

    The eighth day of the consecration ceremonies of the sanctuary was dedicated to the induction of the kohanim.

    Logic tells us that the number eight was chosen for this purpose because the previous seven formed the first week in the history of the tabernacle.

    Yet the eighth day was not the mere mathematical continuation of the seven that preceded it. In a sense the seven belonged to the earth and the eighth to the Almighty.

    It took seven days for the earthly worship focus to become a reality, but that could not be the end of the story. Merely having a building for worship was not an end in itself. Once there was a physical sanctuary, the spiritual era could begin.

    Where do the kohanim fit in? Surely they are physical and not ethereal beings!

    Their role is not merely to perform the rituals of the tabernacle but to train the people to yearn for God and little by little to reach up to Him.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe quotes in his commentary on this sidra what the K’li Yakar points out, that whilst the harp in the sanctuary orchestra had seven strings, the harp of messianic times will have eight strings (Kohelet Rabba 11:8).

    The number eight denotes the commencement of a new era. That’s why when a community erects a synagogue there are two stages – physical, the creation of the edifice of bricks and mortar, and the spiritual, the utilisation of the building for the spiritual ascent of the worshippers who use it.

    If a congregation think their task is done once they have a fine synagogue, the sidra warns them that that’s only the first stage.


    Difference & distinctiveness – Sh’mini

    April 8th, 2018

    Several times the sidra commands us to make a distinction between the permitted and the forbidden.

    One understands how this applies to food; some food is kosher and some is t’refah, and the essence of kashrut is to know the difference.

    The same distinction ought to apply in the moral sphere too.

    The greatest compliment one can pay a person in Jewish terms is to say someone is “a kosher mensch”.

    This does not just mean the food they eat. It denotes their character. If all their deeds and dealings are kosher, they are indeed admirable. On the other hand, all the kosher food in the world cannot whitewash a person whose business and general morality are murky.

    Psalm 15 defines a good person as one who “swears to his own hurt and changes not” – even if the result is that he suffers, he lives by the truth and does not change his tack to accord with the way the wind of personal advantage may be blowing.