• Home
  • Parashah
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals
  • Freemasonry
  • Articles
  • About
  • Books
  • Media
  •  

    Being fired got him fired – Pinchas

    June 27th, 2021

    Painting depicting Elijah the Prophet, by Zalman Kleinman

    Pinchas was a fanatic whose zealotry in the cause of God brought him both acclaim and criticism.

    The acclaim came from God Himself who rewarded him for being “very jealous for My sake,” granting him “My covenant of peace” (Num. 25).

    The criticism was that he forfeited any chance of becoming leader of the people in succession to Moses.

    According to the sages (Talmud Bava Metzia 114b), Pinchas was so much like Elijah, whom we read about in the haftarah, that the two can be regarded as identical.

    Elijah constantly said he was jealous for God – but God seems to have been less than impressed. That is why God told him to anoint Elisha and appoint him as “prophet in your place”.

    In the Mechilta the rabbis ask why God uses the phrase “in your place”. Their conclusion is that God is conveying a message of disapproval: “I am not pleased with your way of prophesying”.

    What did Elijah do wrong? Like Pinchas, he was so fired up for God that his fanaticism overwhelmed his patience.

    Being fired got him fired.


    Filling in my diary – Pinchas

    June 27th, 2021

    One of the deprivations of the Covid period was the shuttering of the book and stationery shops which added to everything the difficulty of buying new diaries.

    In my case I found a way of getting a diary online and was able to go through it and add the Jewish dates page by page. Strangely, this made it a bit easier to keep the Jewish practices which have punctuated my year for so long.

    Hence, long before Pesach arrived, I had already thought about the Seder and the Haggadah, about how to manage Pesach shopping when we were unable to go very far from our home, and how to run a Seder restricted to my wife and myself. Long before Sukkot I gave thought to our Sukkah and our Arba’h Minim.

    Actually even in a normal year everyone should plan the outline of the days, weeks and months to come. And a useful way of starting would be to work through the sidra we read this week with its list of high days and holy days – not to forget Shabbat.


    God is not a man – Balak

    June 20th, 2021

    The sidra contains a verse that the theologians should use in their response to Christian claims: “God is not a man” (Num. 23:19).

    God is not a man; man cannot be God. There can be a Godly spark in a human being, but the human is limited to being precisely that – a human who cannot rise above his humanness, as God cannot lower Himself and take on human form.

    A somewhat different interpretation of the verse is implied at the end of Elie Wiesel’s book, “The Town Beyond the Wall”.

    This is what Elie Wiesel writes:

    “Legend tells us that one day man spoke to God in this way: ‘Let us change about. You be man, and I will be God for only one second’.

    “God smiled gently and asked him: ‘Aren’t you afraid?’

    “‘No. And you?’

    “‘Yes, I am’, God said.

    “Nevertheless, he granted man’s desire. He became a man and the man took his place, and immediately availing himself of his omnipotence, he refused to revert to his previous state.

    “So neither God nor man was ever again what he seemed to be.

    “Years passed, centuries, perhaps eternities, and suddenly the drama quickened; the past for one and the present for the other were too heavy to be borne.

    “As the liberation of the one was bound to the liberation of the other, they renewed the ancient dialogue whose echoes come to us in the night, charged with hatred, remorse, and most of all, with infinite yearning.”

    I cannot speak for God. But I see a danger in man thinking he can be God… and I hope man can become humble enough to realise it is enough to be fully human and to live in dialogue with God.


    All by myself – Balak

    June 20th, 2021

    Bilam HaNavi, Balaam the Prophet, is central to the events related in this week’s sidra.

    One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is his going off to be alone, vayelech shefi. His intention was presumably to think things out clearly without distraction or distress.

    Targum Onkelos says that nobody was with him; Rashi says he was alone with the silence. The experts on Biblical language think that shefi means “to a bare height”.

    Somehow there seems to be a contradiction with the early chapters of B’reshit which tell us, “It is not good for a person to be alone”. In B’reshit this observation leads us to the creation of Eve as a partner for Adam.

    We have to conclude that there are several kinds of aloneness: involuntary aloneness seems to be what is described as “not good”, but voluntary aloneness, which is what Bilam chose, is valuable for a person who needs to escape from noise and bustle in order to ponder and plan.


    Australia only sends its best to immigrate to Israel

    June 15th, 2021

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 15 June, 2021.

    Every edition of the Jerusalem Post or its weekend magazines seems to showcase ex-Australians. It’s strange when you consider how far away Australia is, and what a small segment of the population Australian Jewry comprises.

    I can offer an explanation only if I recall my student experience of moving from Melbourne to Britain.

    In the 1950s I studied law and arts at Melbourne University. Coming closer to religion, I worked through the Judaica in the state and university libraries. By 1957 I had decided to make Judaism my profession.

    These days I would have opted for Israel, but that wasn’t realistic at the time, so I went to Jews’ College, the London rabbinic seminary. I lived in the college dorm and frequented the Jewish bookshops, especially Cailingolds, where the proprietor knew the content and location of every book. Though I expected to return to an educational post in Australia, I never went back to Melbourne and took 15 years to come to Sydney.

    Life in Britain was not unpleasant. I don’t recall antisemitism, even in the Labour Party. The East End still had dozens of bombed-out buildings. For a while I worked for the Association for Jewish Youth. I had an office at the Bernhard Baron Settlement on Berner Street, where the rulers were “the Gaffer” and “the Missus,” Sir Basil and Lady Henriques. I wandered through the neighbourhood – little synagogues on every corner, kosher butchers or bakers on every street. On Petticoat Lane there were herrings in barrels and pickled cucumbers in casks, with a street market on Sundays.

    At Piccadilly Circus in those days there were giant posters about Australian fruit. They said, “Australia sends her best to Britain.” The Australian fruit included apples, but this Apple had a nagging suspicion that he should not claim to be “Australia’s best.”

    Now that I live in Israel, however, and constantly come across Australian olim, I fancy changing the Piccadilly Circus poster to read “Australia sends her best to Israel.”

    Australian aliyah seems to be a great success. You meet Australians everywhere in Israel – doctors and developers, caterers and kibbutzniks… even rabbis. Most have learned to cope with Hebrew, though they keep their Aussie drawl.

    Their success can’t be just because when an Australian finds Israel hard, it is such a huge effort to go back to the Antipodes. It has something to do with Australia and Australian Jewry.

    Something like 10% of the Australian Jewish community has made aliyah. Fortunately, a great resource of human potential still remains in Australia. Judaism in Australia is far from facing extinction.

    What sort of place is Australia? Vast in size, laid-back in attitude. The sun, sea and surf make life easy. In contrast, the bush and the backblocks make life hard. There is no shortage of problems; unfortunately, a slew of intolerant opinions has come in with the immigration waves, and there are sporadic outbreaks of racism and antisemitism. The pressure and pace of modern living have not left Australia unscathed, and some find it hard to escape the rat race. On the whole, though, Australia is well described as “the lucky country.”

    Many Australians are quite satisfied with the superficiality of football, beer, betting and horse-racing. Not that there is no science, music, education, art or economic entrepreneurship. Australian cultural and intellectual life is vibrant. The denigration of Aborigines is a thing of the past. Australian universities are among the world’s finest. Significantly, Jews are probably the best educated, best organized and most highly mobilised sector of the Australian people.

    One of the most significant dimensions of life in Australia is the interfaith, intercommunity commitment to the shared challenge of building a quality society. One group sits with, talks with, shares with, the other. Jews are brothers to Christians; Christians are brothers to Jews.

    Australia isn’t the sort of place that you would willingly desert. You have to be an idealist to move elsewhere, and that is one of the main reasons that Jews decide on aliyah.

    Australia sends her best to Israel. Israel benefits from Australian brains and energy. Australian olim bring an array of ideas, skills and energies. They become Israelis and rarely complain, but they feel that the Israelis are not hooked enough on cricket; Israeli tea and beer are too weak; and the frustrations of Israeli politics are the best argument for adopting the Westminster system.

    Many Aussies make sure to attend the Australian Embassy’s Anzac Day and Beersheba commemorations, where they can sing “Advance Australia Fair” together with “Hatikvah.” Some even wear their Australian medals at these events (I do, though for the rest of the year they repose in a drawer).

    What can one say about Australian Jewry? It’s relatively small in size, 10th or so in the league of world Jewry. But it’s top of the league in terms of love for Israel and its determination to sustain Jewish identity. The Jewishness of the community is vibrant and engaging. Jewish education is a growth industry, and the communal roof bodies are powerful and articulate, though some machers need more control.

    There are dynamic askanim, articulate writers and solid scholars in Australian Jewry. Unfortunately, Australia has no leaders with vision and prophetic quality – but neither has Israel. Despite that defect, if you want to live Jewishly in Australia (even including Talmudic learning and Orthodox observance), you have every opportunity.

    It wasn’t always like this; but even before the major changes of the 1940s, there were impressive people engaged in solid work for Jewish causes. The handful of international Jewish visitors who came to Australia in those days could hardly believe their eyes.

    These days, other communities are moribund and hardly able to stay alive, but Australian Jewry is still growing and flexing its muscles. Australian Jewry has far more kiddush than kaddish. It is not perfect, but nor is it the sort of community to which one can apply the words of Abraham Carmel, “a vast army of the unattached marching from assimilation to apostasy.” It is not a community that you would willingly abandon.

    Those who make aliyah from anywhere are highly motivated Jews and warm human beings. Israel is a lucky country, small in size, great in human resources. Aliyah has enriched it phenomenally, not least from the English-speaking countries, including Australia.

    When you come across Australian olim, you see the evidence: Australia sends her best to Israel.