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    Giving & receiving – Re’eh

    August 5th, 2018

    The phrase naton tittein, “you shall surely give” (Deut. 15:10) means, in Rashi’s view, that there is never a moment when you’ve done enough giving.

    You have to keep giving even up to a hundred times. However, the word “hundred” is not necessarily to be taken literally. One should never say, “I’ve done giving”.

    The Chafetz Chayyim says that every time you give something, the yetzer ha-ra questions how pure was your intention. He adds that if you constantly give, it becomes part of your nature.

    There is an interpretation of naton tittein which says something additional, that in giving you actually receive.

    What you give to others makes their lives easier; it also makes your own life more meaningful and worthwhile.


    What a heel – Ekev

    July 29th, 2018

    The opening verse of the sidra of Ekev (Deut. 7:12) has two translations.

    One is, “It shall come to pass ekev – because – you listen to and keep these rules, that the Lord your God will keep the covenant with you”.

    The other translation says that ekev means “a heel”.

    Rashi explains, “If you listen to even the ‘lighter’ commands which people tend to tread on with their heel, then God will keep His covenant with you”.

    Some commands are not highly regarded by a section of Jews. They speak of tinkering with pots and pans and regard the minute detail of the food laws as deserving only to be treated like Haman’s name in the Megillah, to be trodden on and blotted out.

    Some people have no patience for the intricacies of Shabbat observance, which they say have no grandeur or inspiration and warrant being trodden on and eradicated with the heel.

    Normative Judaism has a different view. It says nothing should be trodden on because everything is all part of the pattern that makes even the smallest moment and experience a spiritual opportunity.


    Memory – Ekev

    July 29th, 2018

    Time after time the duty to remember comes into this week’s portion.

    Judaism not only believes in remembering but makes a ritual out of it.

    Every time a b’rachah is said it ensures that we do not forget the Almighty whose deeds have brought us into being and given us the world we enjoy.

    The story-book little child asks, “Where did I come from?”

    What the child wants is not a geographical answer (“France… Russia… South Africa…”) but a personal phenomenon (“From the love of your father and mother!”)

    When as children of God we ask, “Where did the world come from?”, the Midrash warns us against looking for whatever is above, beneath or behind the universe. No: what we need to know is that a loving Creator brought the world and its inhabitants into being.

    The genesis of the world was no accidental explosion, implosion or other historic event, but the design and plan of a Designer and Planner who wanted to bring into being an earthly home for His earthly creatures to inhabit, improve and adorn.


    Long upon the land – Ekev

    July 29th, 2018

    In his final speech to the people of Israel, Moses tells them it is God’s wish that they enter the Promised Land and prolong their days upon it (Deut. 11:9).

    Rav Kook, echoing the Talmud, points out that there are two ways in which Israel will inherit the land – suddenly or gradually.

    The gradual way is a step-by-step redemption like the coming of dawn.

    There is a parable about a person who has lived his entire life in darkness but now we have a miraculous possibility of introducing him to light.

    First we enable him to see a little amount of light so that he can get used to it, and only gradually do we let him see the whole of the light of the Heavenly Gates.

    From a spiritual point of view we can liken this experience to a person’s discovery of God.

    He sees God’s works little by little until finally he is ready for the wondrous manifestation of the entire Creation and its Maker.


    Jewish contributions to civilisation – Ask the Rabbi

    July 29th, 2018

    Q. What is the secret behind the sheer number of Jews who have contributed so much to civilisation?

    A. There are several solid books listing the vast numbers of Jews who have made immense contributions to every aspect of human culture.

    No aspect of the world would be the same without the Jewish contribution.

    Look at science and medicine, literature and the arts, commerce and adventure – Jewish names figure out of all proportion to our population figures.

    We aren’t looking for Nobel Prizes or votes of thanks: we have simply served humanity and its many areas of interest.

    The question is whether there is something in the Jewish mindset that impels such contributions.

    Taking names at random – Salk and Sachs (or Sacks)… Chagall and Kafka… Mahler, Marx and Malamud – does not answer the question.

    Maybe the thought that unites the Jewish contributions to civilisation begins with the Bible and marks us out all through history: creativity, education, compassion, messianism, literacy, community.

    Maybe we can call them the forces of mental, moral, spiritual and utopian energy.

    We are never able to leave things as they are.

    What did Jacques Maritain say? Jews are “deeply involved in the warp and woof of the world, irritating, exasperating and moving it”.