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    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.


    A Great Nation – Lech L’cha

    October 10th, 2021

    Genesis 12:2, the beginning of the parashah, promises that God will make us a great nation.

    “Great” can have many meanings. It cannot denote great in numbers, since the Torah itself says that Israel will be one of the smaller nations on earth.

    “Great” cannot indicate fame or status, as if we had the right to advertise and show off our prestige, power and significance: that would be mere exhibitionism.

    The best interpretation of the adjective great is ethical – a nation that strives for moral quality and ethical excellence.

    Is this really true of the land or people of Israel?

    Maybe not (yet) – but we have a vision, a conscience, a dream, and we constantly do our best to be worthy of it.

    Edmond Fleg wrote a book titled “The Land where God Dwells”, and that title encapsulates our greatness as the land where the people endeavour to live an upright life that accords with the Divine ethical call.


    Parting of the ways – Lech L’cha

    October 10th, 2021

    Abraham & Lot separating

    Abraham and Lot decide to part company. One will go to the right, the other to the left.

    The question is why their separation takes place when their shepherds have had a quarrel. Surely it is the two principals, Abraham and Lot, who should work out the situation: why let the servants, the shepherds, necessitate the decisions?

    It is out of character for Abraham not to be tolerant and patient, even if Lot irks him.

    The problem is that each group of shepherds backs their own employer. Lot has nasty, grasping servants for whom Abraham and his servants need to be put down.

    Abraham’s own workers are alarmed and they feel that the Lot brigade is unfair and unappreciative. Each group of servants defends their own employers.

    With servants like these, it is best for Abraham and Lot to separate.


    Three steps up – Lech L’cha

    October 10th, 2021

    Abraham’s journey to Canaan, by József Molnár, 1850

    At the beginning of the sidra, God tells our patriarch Abraham to leave his land, his kindred and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1).

    Nachmanides sees a series of challenges in these three elements of Abraham’s background.

    It is hard to leave one’s country, but if it has to be done, one can manage it. It is harder to leave the kindred with whom one’s upbringing has been bound up, but if one makes a big enough effort it is possible.

    Hardest of all is leaving one’s parental home, with all its memories, feelings and associations, but a person of courage and faith can achieve it.

    Nachmanides says that Abraham left all three, to show how great was his love of God.