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    Grasshoppers – Sh’lach L’cha

    June 23rd, 2019

    When the delegation of spies came back from investigating the Holy Land they made a remarkable comment – remarkable in a bad, not a good way.

    They said, “We looked like grasshoppers in the eyes of the inhabitants, and that’s how we seemed to ourselves” (Num. 13:33).

    That’s the way persuasion works: people tell you bad things about yourself, and after a while you begin to believe the criticisms.

    The modern world with its tragic recrudescence of antisemitism has its own version of the grasshopper allegation. The antisemites tell us we are flawed and inferior and (God forbid) some Jews think it might be true.

    The opponents of Israel smear our State with words like “apartheid” and “racist” and (God forbid) we sometimes wonder if they might not have a point.

    True, we’re not perfect and neither is Israel, but we have to be fair to ourselves.


    A lesson from tzitzit – Sh’lach L’cha

    June 23rd, 2019

    The end of the sidra is the origin of the verses (Num. 15:37-41) that we call the third paragraph of the Shema. Their subject is tzitzit – fringes on the corners of our garments.

    The passage begins with a doubled verb, “Speak to the Children and say to them”. The commentators apply the doubled verb to the two generations that co-exist, you and your children. The adults have to tell the children about the mitzvah.

    One of the lessons we learn from tzitzit is that every aspect of our surroundings should remind us of God – cleanliness of our bodies, fringes on our garments, m’zuzot on the doors of our rooms and houses, and modesty in whatever we do.

    In England Sir Christopher Wren said, “If you want a monument, look around you”; Judaism said, centuries before, “If you want dedication, enhance yourself and your surroundings”.


    Joshua & the spirit of God – Sh’lach L’cha

    June 23rd, 2019

    One of the great Biblical leaders is Joshua.

    Like a number of others his name begins with “Jo”, which in its Hebrew form “Ye-ho” is one of the names of God.

    Names like that are called theophoric; they indicate the leading qualities of the Almighty. In Joshua’s case, “Yehoshua” means “God is (his) salvation”.

    The Joshua who figures in this week’s reading is Moses’ assistant and successor, an important and interesting person, made even more interesting by his father’s name Nun. It means “fish”, and is a symbol of progeny – hence “nin”, a great-grandson.

    In rabbinic writing Joshua is the exemplar of faithfulness and dependability.

    He is considered wise, especially in his sense of strategy. He assesses situations on their own merits and, like Caleb, reports honestly to Moses that the plan to enter Canaan and settle there is workable: ten others who were sent to spy out the land dismiss the plan as unthinkable.

    Joshua’s original name was Hoshea but when he showed the spirit of God the name was changed to Yehoshua.


    Torah to the people or the people to the Torah? – B’ha’alot’cha

    June 16th, 2019

    18th century Dutch oak statue of Aaron, the High Priest

    Aaron the kohen gadol was responsible for maintaining the Tabernacle lights.

    He was also the supreme diplomat who brought conflicts to a close by creating love and harmony amongst people who had ill feelings towards each other.

    Pir’kei Avot praises Aaron for loving people and bringing them near to the Torah (1:12).

    Aaron had two options – to bring the people to the Torah or to bring the Torah to the people.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that Aaron chose the first option. He went out to the people and discovered that some had become distanced from Judaism. Having found them, he exerted himself to bring them to the Torah.

    He could have taken the Torah to them – but this meant compromising the Torah and adapting it to the inappropriate way of thinking and living of those who were afar.


    The palace is on fire – B’ha’alot’cha

    June 16th, 2019

    When we read Parashat B’ha’alot’cha we recall how important light is in religious thinking, beginning with the verse, “Let there be light!” (Gen. 1:3).

    There are several versions of a Midrash that says a traveller saw a palace on fire and wondered if anyone was in charge. The owner of the palace looked out and said, “I am the Master of the palace!”

    Some versions say it was a tower, not a palace; some say it was lit up, not burning; some say that the person who spoke out was the caretaker, not the owner.

    What really matters is the idea that the world, even if it is in a poor state, is not hefker, forsaken and abandoned to its fate.

    On one level the story indicates that God remains in charge even if human beings try to dislodge Him from Creation and think they can manage on their own.

    If this is the message, it is up to the human beings who have a sense of responsibility to make the world once more worthy of its Maker.