• Home
  • Parashah Insights
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals & Fasts
  • Articles
  • Books
  • About

    The can & the man – Tzav

    March 29th, 2020

    Immense detail is given by the Torah when it comes to the clothes that the Israelite priests and especially the High Priest have to wear.

    The rules governing clothing are, however, not limited to the Temple priesthood.

    We are defined as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Every Israelite has rules about what type of clothes to wear and how to wear them.

    Scholars are told in the Talmud not to led a speck of dirt disfigure their garments. Everyone, male or female, must dress modestly.

    Yet there is a strange feature about the Hebrew words for garments. Beged, a garment, seems to be connected with the root b-g-d which means to be treacherous. Me’il, a coat, appears to be linked with m-a-l, to be unfaithful.

    The moral is that whilst we learn from the Adam and Eve story at the beginning of B’reshit that clothes are necessary for comfort, protection and modesty, the really important mark of a person is not their appearance but their inner character.

    As we know from Pir’kei Avot, Al tistakel b’kankan ella b’mah sheyesh bo, “Don’t look so much at the container but at its contents” (Avot 4:20) – or as a rhymist put it, “Look not at the can but at the man”.

    The eternal light today – Tzav

    March 29th, 2020

    The Torah says, “The fire shall burn upon the altar continually; it shall not go out” (Lev. 6:6).

    Rashi says that this verse teaches us more than appears at first sight.

    It indicates that when the Temple is rebuilt, the menorah of the sanctuary is to be rekindled from the flame of the altar.

    Maimonides says (Hilchot Melachim 1:1) that three things must be done upon returning to the Holy Land: rebuilding the Temple, establishing a monarchy, and destroying Amalek.

    The land of Israel should not be regarded simply as a piece of territory nor even as a place of refuge after centuries of wandering and oppression. It must be a land known for its Jewish character.

    This does not mean the same as the vague phrase, “a Jewish State”. It is not enough to have a vacuous reference to Jewishness. Having a Jewish State needs to be more rigorously defined.

    There needs to be – in religion, government and external relations – a visible link with the eternal light.

    The Seder: The culinary & cultural dimensions

    March 29th, 2020

    “Passover” by Arthur Szyk

    The Seder meal has both culinary and cultural dimensions.

    There are Biblical precedents for both, beginning in the 12th chapter of Sh’mot.

    The Seder meal began the first year after the exodus from Egypt, developed accretions as it went, was added to in the days of the Greeks and Romans, and became what Cecil Roth called “a fossilised domestic feast of twenty centuries ago”.

    There are two ranks of Seder foods.

    Top priority goes to the Biblically-ordained pesach (roasted lamb), matzah and maror (bitter herbs). Without them a Seder is incomplete, and Rabban Gamli’el says that one who does not expound these three items has not done his duty.

    Now that the Temple service is in limbo, the Passover offering is no longer possible, and Judaism and Christianity handle the problem differently.

    Judaism leaves the list unchanged but moves up the other two foods, with matzah now receiving top billing and the lamb left symbolically to the z’ro’a (bone). Christianity avers that the sacrifice remains, though in a new form with Jesus as the “lamb of God”.

    This is not the only problem. What should we use for maror?

    The Talmud uses the Hebrew name chazeret (Pesachim 39a), which many writers (e.g. Mishnah B’rurah 203:10) identify with chrain, horseradish. However, it is chassa in Aramaic (lettuce in modern Hebrew). Rashi calls it letuga, akin to lettuce.

    What ranking do we give to the wine? Though not Biblically-ordained at Seder, we consider it highly important. Its role is not unique to Pesach. It is part of every happy event: Psalm 104 says, “Wine gladdens the heart of man”.

    The second-level foods – egg (betzah), sweet paste (charoset), vegetable (karpas) and salt water (mei melach) emerge from the history of Pesach.

    The egg represents the festival offering, the charoset recalls the mortar binding the bricks used by the slaves, the salt water symbolises the tears which the Israelites wept.

    The karpas is not important in itself but is needed for the dipping of sweet into sour (the sour is dipped into the sweet when we dip maror into charoset). The meal customs derived from the Roman gentry include appetisers dipped in condiment.

    There is a range of theories about karpas, focussing on its name, its nature and its purpose.

    The name is Greek or Persian and is found in Megillat Esther. Karpas is sometimes explained as a vegetable and sometimes as a fabric. In a drama that begins with Joseph and moves into and out of Egypt, either view has Biblical precedents in the dipping of Joseph’s coat or alternatively hyssop.

    There is a light-hearted thought that karpas is a notarikon: kartoffel (potato) / radish / parsley / celery.

    Covid-19 – “How Long, O Lord?”

    March 22nd, 2020

    The world has often been written off as an incurable invalid but somehow it has come through the crises.

    Early in B’reshit the Creator promises not to destroy His Creation. I am sure He will keep His word.

    Our problem is that we are uncertain of His timetable. The Tehillim ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

    Whenever human beings were in agony they feared that He had removed His presence.

    Every time, however, He showed us that He only seems to be absent; in the long run His mills grind the challenge into small pieces and He affirms that He is in charge.

    We must never lose our faith.

    Some places, some people might pay a heavier price than others – but the prophets assure us, Netzach Yisra’el lo yeshakker – “The Eternal One of Israel does not deceive.”

    The Hallel says, Gavar alenu chasdo – “His lovingkindness prevails eternally.”

    See also, Coronavirus – the moral aspect

    #coronavirus #covid-19 #covid19

    Inner & outer freedom

    March 22nd, 2020

    On Pesach, z’man cherutenu, “our time of freedom”, we not only celebrate freedom but try to define it.

    The following idea might be relevant and useful.

    There was a 19th century German novelist, Berthold Auerbach, who wrote, “Only he is free who cultivates his own thoughts”.

    What a remarkable definition!

    Freedom has an outer shape – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from fear, freedom from want.

    Auerbach tells us that it also has an inner shape – the independence of heart and mind that allows one to think his own thoughts.

    Sometimes that private freedom has to be kept private: when others deny a person their outer freedom, the freedom to think one’s own thoughts retains a specially precious value.

    How many people over the course of history have known what it was to defy the forces of evil by determining that nothing would prevent their thoughts from soaring upwards.

    The ability to cherishing the inner thinking of one’s own thoughts eventually, hopefully helps towards gaining outer freedom too.

    In a sense it is what was said by another German author, Ludwig Boerne, who wrote, “To want to be free is to be free”.