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    So many commandments – Ki Tetzei

    August 19th, 2018

    This parashah contains so many mitzvot that it proves Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya’s statement in Mishnah Makkot, utilised as the epilogue of each chapter of Pir’kei Avot, that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, wished to bestow merit on Israel; therefore He gave them a copious Torah and commandments”.

    The traditional enumeration of the commandments is 613 – 248 positive and 365 negative.

    Those who coldly criticise the Jewish system constantly cavil at the abundance of precepts and claim that observant Jews are so constricted by commandments that no-one has any freedom and there is more legalism than spirituality in Judaism.

    The strange thing is that the Jew who lives by the commandments sees them not as constricting but empowering.

    Take the command, “Do not murder”. In one sense it does restrict you; it makes it impossible to wilfully destroy a human life.

    In another sense it is totally empowering; it says, “Now that other people are safe from being murdered at your hand, what can you do to enrich their lives?”

    Take the command, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”. Yes, it restricts you in that you cannot transgress the requirement to make the day different.

    But it also says to you, “Now that you know Shabbat is special, what can you do to imbue the day with spiritual and cultural quality?”


    The mitzvah of forgetting – Ki Tetzei

    August 19th, 2018

    One of the mitzvot enumerated in the sidra cannot be fulfilled on purpose – the mitzvah of leaving a forgotten sheaf in the field for the poor (Deut. 24:19).

    You can’t decide to forget. You can’t forget on purpose. You can’t deliberately forget. If you forget, it has to be inadvertent.

    There are commentators such as the Shelah who suggest that because finding a forgotten sheaf is such a pleasant experience for a poor person, God deliberately orchestrates the situation for the sake of the poor man.

    God influences the ba’al habayit to forget his sheaves so that the needy can benefit.


    Fearing God & remembering Amalek

    August 19th, 2018

    The portion is about remembering what Amalek did to us.

    The Malbim explains that “he did not fear God” (Deut. 25:18). God had taught that all human beings were entitled to respect, and Amalek did not respect them.

    Another view says that the verse can be read as referring to Israel, not Amalek: “You were famished and weary and did not fear God”.

    The Israelites saw Amalek coming and put the young and strong men at the front of the column to protect the old and weak at the rear. They put their trust in human strength and forgot to appeal to God (cf. Psalm 147:10).


    Foodies & idolatry – Ask the Rabbi

    August 19th, 2018

    Q. Is it ethically right for people to be foodies and say they can’t manage without their designer meals and culture coffee?

    A. It’s a sign of an empty life if all you can think about is decadent dining and fine wines.

    I remember a kosher butcher who was consulted by a congregant who had decided to go kosher and wanted elaborate meat cuts.

    “Whatever for?” asked the butcher, “You’re only going to eat it!”

    What you eat and drink certainly matters in life. You need food and drink in order to stay alive, and it’s good to eat well and nicely… but you don’t have to make a fetish of it and turn it into a new form of idolatry.

    If you have money to spare, why not give more charity, endow more scholarships, buy more books, give more hospitality?

    And whatever you eat, make sure it is kosher. Why do the food mavens seem to think they’ve got to eat treif?


    We’re all involved – Shof’tim

    August 12th, 2018

    Surprising, isn’t it, that when a dead body is found in between two settlements, the elders of both places have to bring proofs to say, “It wasn’t our fault!” (Deut. 21:1-9).

    Now would anyone have suspected the elders? (That’s the question the Talmud asks in Sanhedrin 48b.)

    For that matter, whenever there is a horrific occurrence anywhere, would anyone have blamed the local lord mayor or town council?

    The teaching of Jewish ethics says “yes”.

    We rightly blame the perpetrator, we probably attach blame to their family… but is it necessary to also blame their school, their shopping centre, their local municipality?

    It seems we have to. The whole of society is implicated in the deeds of any of its members.

    True, most of us disclaim any responsibility: “We’re fair-minded, decent, law-abiding, honest, generous, aren’t we?”

    Of course we are all these things and more, but maybe we were wrong to go along with unwise immigration policies, over-tolerant educational techniques and inadequate policing.

    There are ways in which we can all make the ethical climate of our society more respectful, ways in which we can make our environment safer, ways in which we can counter the poison of fanaticism.

    Archibald MacLeish, the American poet, said, “We are neither weak nor few, as long as one man does what one man can do.”