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    A land of holiness

    October 24th, 2021

    The Torah portion informs us that God chose Eretz Yisra’el as His people’s dwelling place.

    Even separated from the land for lengthy periods, Israel the people and Israel the land remained bound together in spite of countless historical challenges and changes.

    These days people often say that the other nations, especially the Arabs, do not understand.

    Amos Oz said in an article written for the 25th anniversary of the State of Israel that the problem is not that other peoples do not understand but that they understand all too well.

    I once had a Talmud teacher who used to say to one of my fellow students, “Mr. C…., I think you deliberately misunderstand the Gemara”. I cannot judge whether my teacher was right about Mr. C., but it sounds as though Amos Oz borrowed the teacher’s terminology when he said that the rival claims to the Holy Land are not based on accidental misunderstanding.


    Abraham’s accords – Vayyera

    October 17th, 2021

    Abraham & Sarah, by James Tissot c. 1896

    B’reshit is the book of biography. Beginning with Adam and Eve, it introduces us to the succession of generations with an emphasis on the patriarch Abraham.

    Abraham is the dynamic initiator who establishes the Jewish people and their land. His faith and courage lay the foundations for the future.

    Where Parashat No’ach is understood by the sages as a contrast between No’ach and Abraham, Parashat Vayyera makes a contrast between Moses and Abraham a historical inevitability – Abraham as the knight of faith, Moses as the builder of the community.

    In Abraham we see how the Divine word calls to the individual, in Moses the Word calls to the people. Each man stands on a mountain: Abraham on Moriah, Moses on Sinai

    Without Abraham there could be no Judaism. Nor could there be a Judaism without Moses.


    Saints in the city – Vayyera

    October 17th, 2021

    Abraham sees Sodom in flames, by James Tissot c.1896

    God is willing to negotiate. If there are sufficient righteous people within the city, He will be forbearing and forgiving (Gen. 18:26). The phrase “within the city” is to be taken literally.

    To find righteous people in the synagogue or house of study is taken for granted. To find righteous people on sacred occasions can also be assumed.

    Look back a few weeks to Yom Kippur. Even though the day was much more difficult this year, it still brought out the best in almost all of us. To be a righteous person in shule or on a holy day is almost automatic.

    But to be righteous “within the city”, that’s another thing. There are temptations all around, invitations to unrighteousness, addictions that lead us away from God and His Torah.

    We have to try to be righteous wherever we walk, wherever we work, wherever we lie down and wherever we rise up.


    Three good men – Vayyera

    October 17th, 2021

    Lot flees from Sodom, by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1908

    Abraham was more famous than Lot, but Lot was not without his good points (Gen. 19:1).

    When Abraham saw three men who turned out to be angelic beings (Gen. 18), he ran to greet them. Lot acted similarly. What then was the difference between Abraham and Lot?

    The Chassidic personality Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt asked this question, and this was his answer: “Lot thought they were angels: Abraham thought they were men.”

    Lot had immense respect for leaders, especially if he thought they were part of the Heavenly retinue: Abraham had immense respect for ordinary people and was certain that even though they looked ordinary and unprepossessing they were still capable of rising to angelic heights.


    Psalm 23 – Ask the Rabbi

    October 17th, 2021

    Q. What does the final verse of Psalm 23 say – “I shall dwell in the House of the Lord” or “I shall turn to the House of the Lord”?

    A. The problem is the verb, v’shavti. Does it mean “dwell” (from yashav) or “turn” (from shuv)? Either interpretation could fit.

    On the one hand, it could be telling us that the psalmist is cared for by the Divine Shepherd. On the other hand it could be saying that though the psalmist has enemies that seek to harm him, he will find safety in the hands of God.

    In the first version the Hebrew should be a simple verb – veyashavti (“And I shall dwell”) or a verbal noun, shivti, (“My dwelling”) as in Psalm 27:4. In the second version v’shavti – I shall turn – accords with grammar. Most translators follow the first version and say that the verb has been abbreviated.

    The second version, indicating that the psalmist’s enemies will be overcome by goodness and love, is not impossible. If translated into English it could be saying,

    Surely goodness and love will follow me
    All the days of my life.

    And I shall turn to God’s presence
    As long as I live.