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    Covid-19 – “How Long, O Lord?”

    March 22nd, 2020

    The world has often been written off as an incurable invalid but somehow it has come through the crises.

    Early in B’reshit the Creator promises not to destroy His Creation. I am sure He will keep His word.

    Our problem is that we are uncertain of His timetable. The Tehillim ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

    Whenever human beings were in agony they feared that He had removed His presence.

    Every time, however, He showed us that He only seems to be absent; in the long run His mills grind the challenge into small pieces and He affirms that He is in charge.

    We must never lose our faith.

    Some places, some people might pay a heavier price than others – but the prophets assure us, Netzach Yisra’el lo yeshakker – “The Eternal One of Israel does not deceive.”

    The Hallel says, Gavar alenu chasdo – “His lovingkindness prevails eternally.”

    See also, Coronavirus – the moral aspect


    Inner & outer freedom

    March 22nd, 2020

    On Pesach, z’man cherutenu, “our time of freedom”, we not only celebrate freedom but try to define it.

    The following idea might be relevant and useful.

    There was a 19th century German novelist, Berthold Auerbach, who wrote, “Only he is free who cultivates his own thoughts”.

    What a remarkable definition!

    Freedom has an outer shape – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from fear, freedom from want.

    Auerbach tells us that it also has an inner shape – the independence of heart and mind that allows one to think his own thoughts.

    Sometimes that private freedom has to be kept private: when others deny a person their outer freedom, the freedom to think one’s own thoughts retains a specially precious value.

    How many people over the course of history have known what it was to defy the forces of evil by determining that nothing would prevent their thoughts from soaring upwards.

    The ability to cherishing the inner thinking of one’s own thoughts eventually, hopefully helps towards gaining outer freedom too.

    In a sense it is what was said by another German author, Ludwig Boerne, who wrote, “To want to be free is to be free”.


    You & we – Vayikra

    March 22nd, 2020

    Vayikra 1:2 begins in the singular (“anyone”) and ends in the plural (“you shall bring your offering”).

    The Midrash compares the verse to the body.

    Each limb has its identity and purpose but they are all co-ordinated in an overall body.

    Similarly with a community: each individual matters independently but they are all part of the overall community.

    The individual must ask “Who am I? What do I need for myself?” and “What are we as a group? What does the group need from me, and what do I need from the group?”


    Does God want sacrifices? – Vayikra

    March 22nd, 2020

    The sidra goes into great detail about the sacrifices.

    Clearly God wants sacrifices or else He would not have commanded them. But does He get any benefit out of them?

    There are many views. The prophet Isaiah opens his Book with this question. Jeremiah goes so far as to deny that God requires anything but obedience to His voice.

    The Talmud (M’nachot 110a) says that the important thing is whether a human being directs his heart to Heaven.

    Amongst the commentators, the B’chor Shor says that the sacrifices are a stage on the path to their abolition. Their purpose is to wean Israel away from offerings to idols.

    Ibn Ezra focusses on the psychology of the person who brings a sacrifice. Making a sacrifice and placing one’s hands on the animal’s head emphasise how deeply one must love God and wish to serve Him.

    Ramban links the sacrifices with the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac; the animal sacrifices are a substitute for the sacrifice of a human life.

    All this shows how significant the sacrificial system is. It is “pleasing” to God as a symbol of the human need to seek God’s forgiveness and blessing by bringing one’s thoughts, desires and feelings to His service.


    Sanctuaries in time – Vayakhel

    March 15th, 2020

    Though the Torah reading focusses on the Mishkan, the tabernacle built in the wilderness, it begins by stating the law of Shabbat (Ex. 35:1-2).

    Rashi explains that this shows that not even for the building of the tabernacle may Shabbat be broken.

    The thought behind this rule may possibly be that the tabernacle represents holy space while the Sabbath is holy time.

    Both are essential to Jewish life, but if they are in conflict the top priority goes to time.

    By establishing sanctuaries in time we carry holiness with us. We can be holy outside the holy space which is represented by the tabernacle, the temple or – in the world of today – the synagogue.

    We invest every moment with meaning and enrich every moment with inspiration and opportunity.