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    Starting to learn – Vayikra

    March 19th, 2023

    Once upon a time, the Jewish child would begin his Hebrew education with the Book of Vayikra, the section of the Chumash that we open this Shabbat. The sages said, “Let the pure ones (the little children) begin with things that are pure (the subjects of Sefer Vayikra)”.

    The principle of this method is commendable, and it was never as important as it is today, when in some countries, the schools have become centres of vulgarity, indecency and immorality – not to speak of the fact that in there are places where prejudice against other people is imparted to the little children in elementary schools.

    Albert Einstein said in his autobiography, “Education is that which remains when one has forgotten all that he learned at school”.

    If a child begins his life with an immersion in love and respect it does not really matter that he later forgets the jussive grammar rules and the phenomenon of algebra.

    Ending this week, beginning next week – Vayikra

    March 19th, 2023

    The rabbinic sages always saw a link between the weekly Torah readings.

    They noticed that the reading this week says that if you have sinned against another person and robbed them, you must restore what you have taken. They also saw that next week the sidra commences, “This is the law of the burnt offering”.

    How are the two passages linked? According to the Midrash the rule is that only if you have performed the requirement of restoring stolen property have you the right to worship God and bring Him an offering.

    Worship is only possible if (in the words of Psalm 24) you have clean hands and a pure heart. If you are guilty of sin, God is not interested in your prayer unless you have made peace with others. You can ask Him to support you, but you have to want Him on side…

    Art in the wilderness – Vayakhel

    March 12th, 2023

    Though many people think that this week’s long double sidra is exceedingly boring, Pinhas Peli finds its description of the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness a fascinating chapter in the history of art and artistry.

    The skills of Betzalel and Oholiav – both of whom come from impressive lineage – are exceptional. The way they translate the Divine command into an edifice equipped with furnishings is nothing less than genius.

    Despite the leadership status of Moses, the building and furnishing of the sanctuary show Betzalel and Oholiav in their element. Though the task they undertook came from Above, they brought their own creative abilities into areas in which Moses had no expertise, so, for example, they constructed the Ark before the building itself.

    Their spiritual soul knew that the Torah was a higher priority than the walls and drapes, and they knew what had to come first.

    The Levite accounts – P’kudei

    March 12th, 2023

    P’kudei begins, “These are the accounts of the sanctuary… the work of the Levites by the hand of Itamar the son of Aaron the high priest” (Ex.35:21-23).

    We wonder why the Torah does not stick to the subject of accounting and introduces an apparently irrelevancy.

    Abravanel asks this question in his commentary. He answers that Itamar was an expert in assessing costs and accounts and he led a team of Levites in working out and summing up the effort and expenses involved in constructing the mishkan.

    They realised that there might be ways of siphoning off some of the valuables donated to the project and the method of checking and reporting the figures had to be totally true and honest.

    The attributes of God – Ki Tissa

    March 5th, 2023

    We find a remarkable list of God’s qualities in the sidra this week (Ex. 34:6). There are 13 attributes, beginning Ado-nai, Ado-nai E-l rachum v’channun – “The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious”.

    None of these words tell us what He is, only what He does. Being totally unique (as the Shema reminds us when it says He is echad), His nature is completely beyond our understanding. But we know from individual and national experience what generosity and care He extends to His creatures.

    Man can never be God, nor can God turn into Man, though Elie Wiesel relates in one of his books the legend that Man and God had been so upset with each other that they changed places for a time, and Man so enjoyed playing God that he refused to change back.

    This illustrates the modern problem that Man thinks he can do a better job of running the world than God.