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    Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem – Mishpatim

    February 16th, 2020

    Rabbi Bezalel Zolty

    The Torah says, “You shall not ill-treat any widow” (Ex. 22:21).

    Rav Bezalel Zolty of blessed memory was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem but there had been other candidates.

    Menahem Begin tried to persuade Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Levin to stand for election but Rabbi Levin refused. He said that when he and Rabbi Zolty were students, Rabbi Zolty’s widowed mother cleaned people’s houses to enable her to support her son.

    Rabbi Levin said, “How can anyone take away from a woman like that the joy of seeing her son being elevated to the chief rabbinate of the Holy City?”


    The Judge spoke

    February 9th, 2020

    The Ten Commandments begin, “And God (E-lohim) spoke all these words, saying: I am the Lord your God (Ado-nai E-lohecha)…”

    Quoting the Mechilta, Rashi reminds us that E-lohim often means a judge. The Almighty was speaking as the God of Justice when He gave the Decalogue.

    The name Ado-nai means Lord of Mercy, but here it was in the capacity of a judicial authority that he was speaking. He was not lovingly counselling the people not to kill or steal, which might have implied, “But if you do kill or steal My mercy will save you from the consequences of your actions.”

    No: He was laying down the law. He was not sharing with them ten suggestions but saying that there were times when there had to be firm rules – as the Yiddish saying puts it, Lo mit an aleph – NO!

    The Almighty was (as the rabbinic phrase puts it) seated on His judicial chair, decreeing that transgressing the ten rules would bring punishment.


    The most powerful commandment

    February 9th, 2020

    We all have our own ideas about which one of the Ten Commandments is the most serious.

    A good case can be made for the proposition that “You shall not kill” is the most significant one because life is the supreme Divine gift and taking a life is the worst possible offence.

    Indeed it might be said that if you commit murder, the victim is not just a human being but God Himself in whose image every human is made. Murdering a person affects God Himself.

    Without affecting the validity of this interpretation there is a view in the Pesikta Rabbati that “You shall not covet” is the most serious of the rules. Once you give way to coveting, nothing and nobody is safe.

    According to Abravanel, the sequence of the last five commandments is this: do not injure your fellow man by action (murder, adultery of theft), by word (speaking lies and falsehood) and thought (coveting).

    What the Torah does in the Ten Commandments is to cover both the way we act and our motivation, the reason why we act in that way.


    Jethro & Moses – Yitro

    February 9th, 2020

    Moses & Jethro, by James Tissot

    Moses acquired a father-in-law when he married Zipporah. The father-in-law was Jethro, a (the?) priest of Midian (Ex. 3:1).

    Our problem is whether we can accuse Moses of entering into a mixed marriage by allying himself with Jethro’s tribe.

    The answer is that Judaism was not yet a distinctive faith, Moses was not yet Moshe Rabbenu, God had not yet entrusted him with a spiritual role, and the dedication to God’s service with which we associate him was a thing of the future.

    Jethro’s was not an anti-Jewish ideology. Having realised that idol-worship was foolish, he resolved to abandon it. He was punished for this heresy; no-one would now keep his flocks, and this is why his daughters were tending the sheep and why the shepherds tried to drive them away.

    In the final analysis it was not Moses who was influenced by Jethro but Jethro who was influenced by Moses.


    They saw God & the sea

    February 2nd, 2020

    The Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea “and the nation saw God”. The people perceived or apprehended God’s presence in the deeds He did for them.

    The Midrash is certain that when the Israelites crossed the sea on dry land no-one could have had the slightest doubt that God had done a great, unique thing for them.

    The Mechilta, quoted by Rashi, says that human beings perceive a range of expressions of God’s nature when they think of His deeds. At the Red Sea he was the saving warrior; at Mount Sinai He was the wise sage.

    God says, “I am the Lord your God. I am in Egypt, I am at the Sea, I am at Sinai, I am in the past, I am in the future, I am in this world, I am in the World to Come”.

    When Judaism acclaims God, as it does constantly, it does not speak of the God of doctrine; it speaks of the God of Presence and compassion.