Korach-Chukat: Is Judaism inherently rational? 

​Was Korach an absolute idiot? Did he not witness Hashem performing miracles through Moshe and Ahron? Why on earth did he think that he’d be able to take over and lead the Jewish people? 

The great commentator Rashi, asks this question, and responds that Korach was certainly not stupid. The reason he fought against the leadership of Moshe and Ahron was that he had a prophecy that his family was greater than Moshe and Ahron combined. He understood this to mean that he himself was greater than Moshe and Ahron. His mistake was that it was not referring to him, but the great prophet Shmuel (Samuel), who, a few generations later, led the Jewish people, anointing both King Saul and King David. 

Still, how could this prophecy have caused Korach to go against Hashem’s express command that Moshe be His leader, as expressed at the giving of the Torah, when Hashem appeared and spoke to the entire Jewish people, so that they would believe in him (Moshe) as Hashem’s chosen leader (Exodus 19:9).

We are taught that the avot, the patriarchs kept the entire Torah. They understood their purpose in this world, and how to achieve it, through the steps that the Torah lays down for us. However, there are circumstances where we know that the avot did not keep the Torah. One famous example of this is Yaakov marrying sisters to produce the twelve tribes, the Jewish people. How was he allowed to do this, when it is not allowed in the Torah? There are several answers given. One of these is that the patriarchs did not keep the Torah in the same way that we do nowadays. As we understand, they were keeping it for the express purpose of ensuring that they achieve their purpose in life. As such, Yaakov knew that his purpose was to produce the Jewish people. To achieve this, he needed to marry the potential mothers of the Jewish people. The fact that they were sisters was simply too bad. As such, keeping the Torah to achieve a specific purpose is dissimilar to how we observe it today. Nowadays, even if we would know the purpose of the entire Torah, and in order to achieve that purpose we need to transgress it, we may not achieve the purpose. This changed at Sinai with the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people.

Korach had always lived in a world where the Torah was something that was a directive to rationally attain one’s purpose in this world. If the Torah stymied this ability, it would be ignored. Having received a prophecy that his family was greater than Moshe and Ahron, he understood that his purpose in life would not be achieved without usurping Moshe and Ahron. This, a short time before, was allowed, as the Torah had not yet been given. What he forgot was that after the Torah was given the rules had changed. 

The next Parsha read, is that of the red heifer. The entire idea of the red heifer is that some mitzvot cannot be understood. This does not just show that some mitzvot cannot be understood, but even the ones that can be understood, often contain elements that are not fully understood. The Torah is teaching is that we cannot fully understand any mitzva. As such, we must ensure that we do not go down the Korach path. We must not try to rationalise every mitzva and then only perform what we feel is rational. Yes, there is (almost) always a rational reason for each mitzva. However, that may not necessarily be the real reason for the mitzva. Korach teaches that observing Torah through rationalisation is dangerous. It is potentially the first step towards not observing the Torah. Obviously one should pursue rational approaches to understanding mitzvot. However, this should not be the only reason for performing the mitzvot.


The Israelites topography in the desert

In this week’s Parsha, Bamidbar, we read about the way the Israelites camped in the desert. There is great length taken to separate each tribe. I recall in Israel, someone who unfortunately wasn’t fully compus mentus trying to memorise where they camped. He was in a large room, and positioned himself in the correct place for each of the tribes, running from one side of the room to the other. In frustration as to how complicated he found it, he said, “why do they need to camp each tribe separately, why can’t they all join together like one happy family and save me the trouble of memorising this all!” That got me thinking. Why DID they have to camp separately? Why couldn’t they all camp together?

stock-illustration-54480392-happy-cartoon-chess-rookThe answer, I believe, is as follows. On a chess board, each piece has a different starting place. Each piece moves differently. Each piece has a different value. If one could place any piece anywhere on the board to start the game, it would be no good as a game. If any piece could move as and where you want, there would be no strategy to the game. If all pieces had the same value, a game-plan would not be possible. The whole game is based around the fact that there are different parts to each side. These parts need to work together, each in their own specified way, in order to create the great game of the mind that chess is.

Similarly, we are taught through the encampment of the Israelites in the desert, each and every Jew, each and every person, is on this world for a different reason. In Judaism, unity is embraced, not uniformity. We are not all expected to be clones. In fact, we are all expected to be different, yet at the same time working for one cause. If there’s a lesson to be taken from the complicated encampment of the Israelites in the desert, this is it. Know that you are unique as a human being. Know that you are in this world for a purpose. Know that you, and you alone can fulfil that purpose.

It is no coincidence that Bamidbar is always the Shabbat before Shavuot (in the diaspora). We are taught that the Israelites received the Torah due to the unity they displayed at Sinai. The Torah describes their coming to Sinai as ‘He camped there’, in the plural. The Talmud explains that every single Israelite, men women and children, all camped there dnawith the same end-goal, to receive the Torah. As such, they attained a unity that had never been attained before. They are described as one person, with one heart and body. In the body, there are many different parts. Each part functions in a very different way. The body cannot function correctly without all these parts. Each part is made from DNA strings, and the same raw material, yet they turn out so very different, each performing a very different part in the united product of a human being. We are the DNA. We may look, sound and seem identical, yet we are not. We need to work together, with all other Jews and people in this world, to create the united product, which we can only attain by each of us attaining our personal purpose within the greater goal of spreading light around the world.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

Der Unterschied zwischen Jakow und Esaw

Was ist der Unterschied zwischen Jakow und Esaw?

Was ist der Unterschied?! Ist das nicht klar? Jakow war ein Zaddik, ein großer Mensch, und Esaw war ein Rasha, ein böser Mensch. Das ist einfach, das wissen wir alle. Aber wenn wir suchen, ein wenig tiefer gehen, was finden wir unter der Oberfläche?

Wir wissen, was geschah, als sich Jakov und Esaw nach 22 Jahren wieder getroffen haben. Vor diesem Zusammentreffen hat Jakow seinem Bruder auf dessen Weg immer wieder Geschenke entgegengesandt.
Aber Esaw wollte diese Geschenke nicht annehmen. Er sprach zu Jakow: „Ich habe schon viel, Ich brauche deine Geschenke nicht!“ Jakow erwiderte darauf: „Ja, aber ich habe alles. Ich brauche sie nicht mehr, nimm sie für dich.“
Unsere Weisen lehren uns, dass die Worte von Jakow und Esaw zwar sehr ähnlich sind, sich aber trotzdem fundamental unterscheiden. Darum können wir von hier viel lernen. Welches ist das Wort, das Esaw sagt und Jakow nicht? Esaw spricht: „ich habe viel“ dagegen sagte Jakow „ich habe alles“.
Chasal erklären uns an dieser Stelle, dass das Wort „viel“ im Gegensatz zu „alle“ der große Unterschied zwischen den Brüdern ist. Jakow meint, „ich habe alles“, „ich brauche nicht mehr“; Esaw aber sagt nur, dass er viel hat. „Viel“ ist nicht „alles“ und „viel“ ist vor allem nicht genug. Jakow vermittelt uns, wie wir mit Geld umgehen sollen: was wir bekommen haben, ist das, was wir brauchen, es reicht aus. Es ist dagegen einer der Charakterzüge von Esaw, immer mehr Geld haben zu wollen.
In Pirkei Awot sagen uns unsere Weisen: wer 100 hat, wird 200 wollen. Der, der 200 hat wird 400 wollen. Geld ist eine schlechte Sache – es macht uns gierig.

Aber das ist nicht das ganze Bild. Während Jakow Esaw entgegen zieht ereignet sich noch eine zweite Geschichte: Jakow überquert mit seiner ganzen Familie einen Fluss. Er bemerkt auf einmal, daß er zwei kleine Geschirrteile auf der anderen Seite des Flusses vergessen hat.
Brannam_jugsEigentlich hätte er da sagen müssen: „Ich habe alles was ich brauche, und jetzt habe ich dieses wertlose Geschirr auf der anderen Seite liegen lassen. Was soll’s, ich brauche dieses Geschirr nicht.“
Doch in Wirklichkeit ist er mitten in der Nacht zurückgegangen, hat nochmals den Fluß überquert und dabei sein Leben gefährdet. Warum? Für was? Nur für zwei wertlose kleine Geschirrteile? Wie können wir da sagen, dass Jakow alles gehabt hat und nicht mehr brauchte, wenn er für dieses wertlose Zeug so einen Aufwand betrieb?

Außerdem – im letzen Wochenabschnitt sprach er zu Lawan: „Ich habe viel für dich gearbeitet, wann kann ich für mich selbst arbeiten? Wann kann ich für mich Geld verdienen?“
Mehr Geld? Er hatte doch schon alles. War er vielleicht doch auch einer von denen, die 100 haben und 200 wollen? Es kann doch nicht sein, dass einer unserer Vorväter sich so gab, dass er zu anderen sprach: ‚ich habe alles’ während er zu sich selbst sagte: ich will mehr! Nein, das passt gar nicht zu ihm. Wie sollen wir diese Geschichte also verstehen?
Vielleicht hilft uns hier folgende kleine Anekdote weiter: Einst sprach ein großer Rabbiner zu seiner Gemeinde: „Wenn wir alle Gebete des jüdischen Volkes nehmen, und zusammenpressen, und immer mehr pressen, lottowas wird am Ende dabei rauskommen?“ Geld, Geld, und noch mehr Geld. „G-tt gib mir Geld! Hashem ich brauche Geld! G-tt ich habe ein großes Geschäft heute, bitte mach, dass es erfolgreich wird! Bitte lass mich im Lotto gewinnen“
Die Gemeinde war geschockt! Was wollte der Rabbiner damit sagen? Wollte er, dass sie nicht mehr beten?

Natürlich nicht! Aber sie sollten zuerst ihre Ziele und dann auch ihre Worte besser wählen: „Ich brauche Geld um Zedaka zu geben. Ich brauche Geld um koscheres Essen zu kaufen. Ich brauche Geld, um meine Kinder jüdisch erziehen lassen zu können. Ich brauche Geld, um den jüdischen Staat unterstützen zu können!“

Geld nicht um des Geldes willen, sondern Geld, um jüdisch zu leben – darum geht es!
Und dann ist Geld nicht mehr nur noch Geld, sondern es verändert sich, es wird zur Mizwe. Denn unsere Gebete um Geld, unsere Bitten, mit Reichtum gesegnet zu werden, sie sind ja nun richtig ausgerichtet: wir wollen all das, um unsere Mitzwot erfüllen zu können und nicht, um einfach nur reich zu sein.

Mit Jakow war es genauso: Er hat seinen Reichtum nur für seinen Glauben verwendet. Um jüdisch zu sein und jüdisch zu leben, hat er eben auch Geld gebraucht und Hashem hat ihm viel davon gegeben. Aber Jakow hat im Gegenzug verstanden: Dieses viele Geld, es ist nicht da, damit ich in Luxus lebe, es ist da, damit ich Mitzwot halte! Deshalb ist er auch für die eigentlich nicht sehr wertvollen Geschirrteile umgekehrt und hat noch einmal den gefährlichen Fluß überquert. Er wußte: „Wenn G-tt mir dieses Geschirr gegeben hat, dann hatte es eine Bedeutung, dann hatte es den Zweck, daß ich damit Mitzwot erfülle. Es ist nicht überflüssig, ich kann es nicht einfach liegenlassen.“

Und jetzt verstehen wir auch seine Bitte an Lawan: Er wollte, nein, er mußte viel Geld verdienen. Und warum? Er hatte 12 Kinder, denen er ein jüdisches Leben mit Mizwot ermöglichen mußte. Jakow hat das Geld gebraucht, um diese wichtige Aufgabe zu erfüllen.
Esaw dagegen hat Geld nur gebraucht um des Geldes Willen. Deswegen hat Jakow sagen können: „Ich habe alles“ und Esaw nur: „ich habe viel“.

Mögen wir alle erkennen und viel Geld bekommen, damit wir unsere Aufgabe erfüllen können!

Why the Temple needed to be destroyed.

As Chatzot, midday, on Tisha b’Av arrives, the level of mourning drops. We no longer sit on the floor, Teffilin can now be worn (though we wait for Mincha to do so).
Why is this so? The answer given is even more intriguing that the original question. The answer is that at Chatzot the Temple started burning. Until then the Babylonians and Romans were fighting to get into the Temple, and then looting it. Finally, at Chatzot, they managed to set it alight (with Heavenly assistance).
Wait a minute, at Chatzot the Temple started burning! If so, the mourning should increase at Chatzot. The mourning has been built up gradually, from the 17th of Tammuz when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, until the 9th of Av when the Temple was destroyed. How is it then, that as we hit the climax, the Temple being destroyed, we relax our mourning. Is this not the time to mourn even more? What is going on here?

The Midrash (Lamentations 4:14) speaks about a chapter in Psalms (79) written by Assaf. This chapter begins with ‘A song of Assaf’s, G-d, the nations came into your inheritance (Israel), they defiled your holy Temple and turned Jerusalem into rubble…’ The Midrash asks what is meant by ‘A song of Assaf’s’, surely it would be more correct to begin with ‘A lamentation of Assaf’s’ or ‘A heartrending cry of Assaf’s’. How could this possibly be a song?
The Midrash answers that there was certainly a joy, a joy that G-d vented His anger on sticks and stones, by destroying the Temple, rather than on us, the Jewish people. There is therefore great joy in the fact that we were saved and the Temple was destroyed. This is why, although we are still mourning, although we are still fasting, at Chatzot, the time that the Temple started burning, we relax our mourning a little. We show that there was a silver lining inside this very dark cloud which still hangs over us. Although we have been in exile for almost two thousand years, at least we are still here to be in exile.

If this makes sense to you, very good, you can stop reading now! However, if this sounds a bit strange, please read on…

My personal feeling when I really thought about this explanation was one of total bewilderment. If we were talking about a person getting angry and needing to vent, then I can understand the feeling of relief when that person vents their anger on a punch bag and not on another person. However, here we are talking about G-d. He does not get angry like a human. He has no need to vent His anger. What can it possibly mean that He vented His anger on the Temple and not on us, the Jewish people?

To understand this, let’s look at a story where a great philosopher (possibly Plato) found the prophet Jeremiah crying over the destruction of the Temple. The philosopher asked Jeremiah why he was crying over something that happened in the past, as we say in English, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Jeremiah responded by asking the philosopher if he had any hard questions he’d never managed to answer. The philosopher answered that yes, he did, but he was quite sure that no human could answer these questions. Jeremiah successfully answered all the questions. The philosopher was dumbfounded. Jeremiah explained that all this wisdom that he had, was attained from these very sticks and stones of the Temple that he was crying over. However that is not why he was crying over the Temple. The reason why he was crying, he explained, was too deep for a philosopher to understand.
When we look at this story, two thoughts cross our minds, firstly why is this not enough of a reason to cry over the loss of the Temple. Surely the loss of all future information that could be attained through the Temple is reason enough to cry. Secondly (or perhaps firstly) what was the reason that Jeremiah was crying, could we understand it?
The answer is, that the real reason he was crying was so important, that the loss of information that would result from the destruction of the Temple paled in comparison. So let’s try to understand the real reason Jeremiah cried.

There are certain things that must work together. For example, a container and its content must have some sort of correlation. One would not keep a strong acid in their china teacup. Nor would one serve tea in a container made for storing acid. Imagine what would happen if one had a strong acid, stored correctly in a container lined for that acid. One day the lining begins to disintegrate. There is now a danger of the acid seeping through the container. Therefore, the acid must be removed from the container, as if the acid is not removed, the container will dissolve in its contents.
Here is what Jeremiah understood and the philosopher could not. The Jewish people and the Temple are like a container and content. The Temple is the content of the Jewish people. It is from the Temple that we derived all our material, spiritual and mental wealth. The Temple provided for us, as long as we were a worthy container. When we slipt in our spirituality, we no longer deserved to be a container for the Temple. There was therefore only two ways that events could transpire, either the Temple would, like an acid, dissolve the container, and the Jewish people would be destroyed, or the Temple needed to be removed immediately, so that we could survive.
Jeremiah was not crying so much about the loss of the Temple, as about the loss of spirituality amongst the Jewish people. He was crying for what happened to us. He was crying for the catalyst of the Temple’s destruction, as opposed to the destruction itself.
Now we can understand the ‘anger’ that G-d poured onto the Temple. This was not anger as we understand it, rather it is a way of describing the reaction of the Temple and the Jewish people as a non-conforming container and content. It is not that He found a punch bag to let out on, rather like the fury of a storm or a chemical reaction, one of us, the Temple or the Jewish people, couldn’t survive. This was what G-d directed on the Temple. He plucked the Temple from within us, leaving us bereft, but able to survive, as we were no longer a malfunctioning container, as we had no content.

Let us hope that this is what Napoleon understood in the famous story where he heard many people crying. He sent a messenger to find out what was going on. When he heard that it was the Jews crying, he wanted to know what they were crying about. After hearing that it was for the destruction of the Temple, some 1,500 year beforehand, he exclaimed that if they are still crying, they will certainly get it back one day. We have not forgotten that we were once on a level where we deserved to be a container for the Temple. We also have not given up getting back this level. We are constantly hoping and wishing that we will get there again, and let’s hope that we do, very soon… Amen!


Why should I feel bad on the 9th of Av?

EichaOn Tisha b’Av we sit on the floor and cry. Or at least that is what we are supposed to do.
What are we crying about, or maybe the question should be why are we not crying?

To understand what there is to mourn for, we must understand what we are missing.
There are a whole load of kinnot written on this very subject. However, these kinnot were written many years ago, and unfortunately, times have changed. Nowadays, believe it or not, we see much more the destruction of Jerusalem and what it means to us.
In Eichah (1:7) it is written, Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries, all her pleasant ones that she had in the days of old…
Who were these ‘pleasant ones’ that she had?

The Jewish people were created to be a light unto the nations (Devarim 14:12). When we were given the Torah we became a ‘mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh’ (Shemos 19:6), a nation of priests and a holy nation.
Looking back through history, we were always a nation of ‘greats’.
Our forefather Avraham discovered Hashem on his own, and even managed to work out all the 613 commandments, without any divine assistance.
Moshe Rabbeinu spoke directly with Hashem, even demanding responses for his questions.
Although there are only 32 books of prophets, there were many more prophets over the generations that prophecy existed. The prophecies that we have recorded, were only the ones that are pertinent to all future generations of our nation. There were in fact millions of Jewish prophets over the generations if not in each generation.
All the people mentioned in the Talmud were at least capable of reviving the dead, apart from all the other miracles they could do, from making rivers flow backwards to calling on Heavenly beings to say what they wanted.
The Anshei Knesset Hagedola created the Shemone Esrei prayer. They built it in such a way that each and every single time it gets said, by each person who recites it, there is a different meaning and connotation.

Jewish_Memorial_P1000723Since the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish highs have been different, but no less heroic and great. Stories of heroism are told about Jews throughout the generations, who gave up their lives, preferring to die sanctifying G-d’s name, rather than give in one iota with regard to their religion.
When we go through the kinnot, we see such heroism time after time. Often religious heroism, where we as a nation have shown countless times that the Torah and its ideals are the only thing we are prepared to believe in and follow. It is the absolute truth.

But why did they give up their lives? Was it so that their future generations would willingly give up this rich heritage? When we look around us, we see something that didn’t exist before the exile, an apathetic lack of religious knowledge and practice amongst the Jewish nation.

Rabbi Uri Zohar writes a graphical description of the non-believing Jew of pre-war Europe. When the Christians came looting after their Sunday mass, he was the one who didn’t go into hiding. He was sure that his Christian friends, the rioters, would not touch his house. But when the time came, his non-Jewish friends turned their backs on him, coming themselves to loot and plunder his house. When they burst through his door and dragged him outside, he may have been very shaken at the lack of faith shown by his friends. However, when the sword was put to his neck and he was given the choice to convert or to die, there was no question, not even a hint of a consideration that this non-religious Jew would give up his rich heritage.
Why is it then that nowadays, we cannot imagine ourselves overcoming such temptation? In fact, we are willingly doing this to ourselves, running away from our religion and tradition.
Knowing this, can there still be a question of whether or not to cry! This is a real exile! If only the Temple would not have been destroyed, if only we would still be on the religious level we were when the Temple existed, such things would be unthinkable.

http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/will-your-grandchild-be-jewish-chart-graph.htmAt the beginning of the ninth kinnah, Reb Eliezer Kalir writes, ‘this is your fault,’ you, the Jewish nation caused the destruction, don’t blame Me (Hashem). This sounds incredulous, we caused the destruction?!
The Vilna Gaon writes that the last exile the Jewish people will go through, is ‘Galut Yisrael’, the exile of the Jews. Generations have seen this piece and wondered what hidden meaning the Gaon could have had in this, all the exiles must have been Galut Yisrael, an exile of Jews, as otherwise it would mean that Jews are persecuting Jews, which is unfathomable.
This generation though can truly marvel at the heartbreaking truth of these words of the Gaon. Only in the last one hundred or so years has there been such a concept of Jews making an exile for and to themselves.

Though we are living in what is probably the most comfortable exile in Jewish history, there is almost no open hatred, we do not need to fear the post-Sunday-mass progroms every week, we don’t have to lock up our houses and hide in the woods during the non-Jewish festivals. We even have plenty of money, not having to worry if we can afford a sliver of chicken for Shabbat or slice of bread for tomorrows meals, relatively, we are most likely in the wealthiest period of our exile. Yet, we are not getting anywhere with our spiritual lives. Over eighty percent of Jews, voluntarily, don’t even define themselves as Jewish, and how many of those eighty percent have not yet married out?

What was the Jewish nation like at the time of the destruction, and what are we like today?
There is a rule in Judaism which has only been proven right by each and every generation. This is the rule that every subsequent generation, as they are further removed from Sinai, are on a lower spiritual level. They therefore cannot attain what previous generations attained in their religion.
If we wouldn’t have been exiled, this would have happened, but not on such a large scale. Who nowadays would be prepared to give their lives and their family’s lives up for the sake of their Judaism? Perhaps when it comes to it, many people would manage, but how many things do we do that are contrary to how Judaism should be portrayed?
How can we not cry when we see how far removed we are from the pre-war generation, never mind the generations of prophecy when the Jews originally went into exile. How can we not cry when we see ourselves sitting back and being happy with what we are achieving, when however good it might be, it can never possibly be anywhere near where it should and would have been had we not gone into exile.

This is truly destruction, and it really is a galut.

Let us truly feel this sadness, and daven hard that Hashem should redeem us, not just for the petty things that seem so important to us, but for the sake of His honour, which is sorely lacking in this ‘Galut Yisrael’, our self-made exile, where we, on our own accord are wiping ourselves out.


Is blue a Jewish colour?

What does blue make you think of? The colour that is, not the band!

In football, it could mean Chelsea, Manchester City, or Everton, amongst others. In politics, it would be the Tories. In technology it could mean most social media platforms. In nationalities, it could mean Scotland, Australia and of course Israel, to name but a few.

What does blue mean in Judaism? Obviously, the first thing that springs to mind is our homeland, with its blue flag. However, there must be a ‘blue’ that dates back further than that. In fact, if there is, this may well be where our national flag gets its blue from.

Western_Wall_-_by_Jacob_RaskLet’s look for blue in the Torah. When one thinks synagogue and blue, the Tallit, the prayer shawl, is probably the first thing one thinks of. A Tallit has stripes on it. Many people wear a Tallit with blue stripes, others wear with black, whilst there are those that wear ones with multi-coloured stripes. Where do these stripes come from and what are their purpose? That the blue of the Tallit is derived from Israeli national colours seems unlikely, as there are Tellitot that are older than the state that also have blue stripes. Rather, the blue colours of the state seem to come from the Tallit. The question that follows is therefore, where did the Tallit get its blue stripes from?

At the end of this week’s Torah-portion, we read how the mitzva of Tzitzit was given to the Jewish people. The Torah teaches that G-d told Moses that any four-cornered piece of clothing requires Tzitzit-strings on each corner. What do the Tzitzit-strings actually comprise of? The Torah teaches that there are four strings doubled over (through the hole in the corner of the clothing), and tying together, thus we end up with eight strings. One of these strings, writes the Torah, must be dyed blue. This is the first time we meet the colour blue in Scripture, with regard to our daily life. (The other time is with regard to the clothing of the priests, especially the high-priest.) It seems to follow that the blue on a Tallit stemmed from these blue strings, coupled with the fact that we don’t put blue on our strings anymore, and the idea that one should have a nice Tallit.

To understand the meaning of blue in Judaism, we must understand this blue Tzitzit-string. Why do we put blue on our Tzitzit? The explanation given is that Tzitzit are supposed to remind us of our Father in Heaven. How do they do this? The blue of the Tzitzit-strings reminds us of the sea. The blue of the sea reminds us of the blue sky (think Mediterranean). beach panoramaThe blue of the sky reminds us of the blue Heaven. This in turn reminds us the blue Heavenly ‘throne’ that G-d sits on, which in turn reminds us of G-d – if you haven’t already lost track of what’s going on.

Wait a minute, what IS going on? The Tzitzit-string is dyed blue. G-d’s ‘throne’ is blue. Why all the stages in between to lose us, why can’t the blue thread remind us directly of G-d Himself? The answer is simple, yet deep at the same time. What the Tzitzit are teaching us, is that we are constantly in G-d’s presence, as He is everywhere, always. The idea of wearing Tzitzit is the idea that we know and understand that G-d is constantly with us. This however, does not mean the same thing for everyone. How we understand that G-d is always with us, and how we run our lives according to that can be very different. However, one thing is clear, if G-d is there with us the whole time, we are constantly striving towards getting closer and understanding Him more. It’s like marriage, one is constantly working on understanding their spouse more and more, but at the end of the day, men and women are wired so differently, that one can never understand the opposite gender entirely. So too, with understanding what G-d wants from us, there are so many levels that we can attain in understanding and appreciating His constant presence with us. This is why we are not so worried about losing people on this roundabout way, from the Tzitzit to G-d, as we are worried of people thinking, “since I can’t see how Tzitzit should remind me about G-d, Judaism is not relevant to me.”

blue tzitzitHence, the colour blue is teaching us a very important and relevant message. Blue in Judaism means “take your time”. You are not expected to look at the blue Tzitzit-string and immediately think, “Oh, G-d’s watching over me.” Rather, by looking at the blue, you think that on whatever level you are, there is something that you can do to get closer to G-d. By doing that thing on your level, you are achieving your own level of perfection and greatness, which is what G-d wants. So, if when you look at the Tzitzit, you think of the beach, it is ok. You are not expected to see further, at the moment. However, when you have progressed, and you already know more, then you may be expected to already see the sky too, eventually reaching the highest level, where you get all the way to thinking of G-d, living one’s life with a constant understanding that G-d is there with you all day long.

So, what is the meaning of blue in Judaism? I’d suggest it is the most important colour. It means take your time, work at what you can work. This means something different for each and every one of us. It is no wonder therefore that the Luchot, the Tablets with the Ten Commandments, were made of blue sapphire. How is one expected to keep the Ten Commandments, which are effectively a table of contents for the entire Torah? In stages. Look at where you are now, work on what you can now, and only then can you move on to something bigger, something greater. We may never get a chance to achieve the ultimate level, however, we are not all expected to achieve the same lofty levels, rather each of us is in this world on his level, to achieve the best that he can achieve.

(Maybe that’s why blue is currently the colour-scheme of my blog, as this is something I truly believe in and stand for, individualism.)

Can an All-German Champions League final on English soil be reason for English fans to celebrate?

There’s no denying it, England has viewed Germany as their greatest football rival since the beginning of time, or at least ‘football-time’. Now, with two German football giants about to pay a visit to Wembley for the
Champions League final, what are English fans supposed to be thinking?!

There’s an old joke, that whilst the pessimist and the optimist are busy arguing over whether the glass is half empty or half full, the realist walks over and drinks it. Whilst football pundits are arguing over who is going to win, and how English fans are reacting to an all-German Champions League final on English territory, I’d like to point out a reason for English fans to be celebrating. No less than half the players who will be present at this match are guaranteed to lose! Is that not a reason to celebrate? With 100% odds that a German team will lose this match, should this not be a dream come true for English fans?

In truth, it is not quite so simple. There is a very interesting story in the Talmud (Berachot 65b). When the Talmudic Sage Rava became ill, he kept it secret for one day. The second day though, he allowed his illness to become public knowledge. Rava explained that when everyone found out he was ill, the following reactions would occur. Those who felt bad for him would pray for his recovery, whilst those who hated him would get excited. He then quoted the verse in Proverbs (24:17-18) “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; do not rejoice in your heart when they stumble, for G-d will see and disapprove, and He will turn His wrath away from the enemy.” It seems that Rava wanted his enemies to gloat over his downfall, thus removing any reason that G-d may have had to make him ill. This would grant him an immediate recovery.

Why is this so? It seems that gloating is so bad, that G-d will remove any reason to gloat if one were to do so. But what is so terrible about gloating? There is an interesting piece in the Torah (Exodus 23:4-5), where it discusses what to do when one finds an enemy’s animal that is in trouble, whether it got lost, or is overloaded. The Torah stipulates that although it is the property of an enemy, one must assist the owner, by returning or unloading the animal. Obviously, the same would apply whether or not it is an enemy’s animal. Why then does the Torah specifically refer to an enemy’s animal in these cases? The Torah isover_loaded_donkey teaching us two things.
Firstly, one must even help an enemy.
Secondly, the fact that this is an enemy makes one even more obligated to assist them. There is a natural tendency to avoid one’s enemies. This opportunity though, may be divinely orchestrated to recant all prejudices they may have about this enemy, thereby achieving peace. When one gloats over their enemy, they reinforce any
prejudices they have. By assisting their
enemy, they can repair their relationship.

However, that is not all. A more extreme example of this idea is seen on Passover. Although there are eight days of Passover (outside Israel), only on the first two do we say the entire Hallel. After that we only say the ‘shortened version’ (like on Rosh Chodesh). The Yalkut Shim’oni (Proverbs 24:17) explains that this is because Passover ends with the Egyptians drowning. It is not right that we celebrate the Passover festival in its entirety when others, even our enemies, were suffering. Though this is extremely difficult, to feel the pain of an enemy who hurt us, something may be within our reach. If we need an incentive, we have it too! In Proverbs, we are warned not to gloat over an enemy’s downfall, as if so, G-d may turn the tide, and we will suffer instead. It is not simply because G-d doesn’t want us gloating, He wants us to reconcile with our enemies, achieving true peace. This is why gloating is so terrible that anything that may be
remotely viewed as gloating (such as saying the entire Hallel on Passover) is not done. Not only is it a missed opportunity for reconciliation, it is the exact opposite, it nurtures and increases the hatred between enemies.

Though this will not be happening with regard to English and German fans (at least not so quickly…), there are points that can be applied to our situation. It may not be within our reach to celebrate when a German team wins the Champions League, which is quite understandable. However, we should not allow ourselves to celebrate that a German team loses on English soil. From the connotations of Proverbs, if we want an All-English final in Lisbon next year, it seems like a good idea to cheer along with the German fans. If we cannot, we should at least not gloat over the losing team. Though this may not bring about the peace that G-d wants, it is a way to internalise the idea of peace. Through not gloating here, we may be able to stop gloating about personal downfalls too. This will bring about the peace that Proverbs wants us to achieve. So, sorry, but there’s only one reason for English fans to cheer about an All-German final, and that is simply the fact that it is on English soil! A small celebration perhaps, but it is certainly better than gloating over our greatest football rivals.


That’s a long aliya!

Last week I blogged about how long the Megilla is. This week it’s about how long the first two aliyot are!

Torah_ScrollIf you looked in this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tisa), you’ll have notice that the first two aliyot go on forever! If not, then be warned, the first two aliyot are extremely long. Is the Torah portion long this week? Well, yes, but that’s not the answer, the first two aliyot cover over two thirds of the entire Torah reading.

This seems like some kind of deliberate way of putting those who are not a Kohen or Levi on the sidelines, giving the lion-share of the Torah reading to the Kohen and Levi. Is that fair?

Let’s analyse the content of these two aliyot.
Though the first one is as long as the second, it is not so interesting. It is ‘only’ about creating things for the Tabernacle. The excitement only really begins in the second aliya. It is here that we read about the Golden Calf. We read how the Jews gave up on Moses returning from Sinai, creating and worshipping an idol. We read what happened when Moses came back down mountain, how he called all those who had been faithful to punish those who had not. The second aliyah ends when the shame and embarrassment of the Jews is over, and Moses is asking G-d to forgive the Jews. It seems that we are deliberately avoiding allowing an Israelite to be called up to this piece about the Golden Calf. This is especially apparent, as the aliyah ends as soon as the sin of the Golden Calf is over.

This is in fact exactly what is happening. We are avoiding giving an Israelite (myself included) an aliyah that contains the Golden Calf saga. Why should we do this?

Imagine you knew somebody who regularly committed certain crimes. He has since renounced such a lifestyle, and is living as a fine upstanding citizen. One day there is a major news story of somebody who has been caught, doing exactly what this person did. Would you feel comfortable discussing the events with them? How about if this person himself was a news sensation for their crime. Would you leave any information about that story lying around when you knew this person was going to visit? Surely you would hide away any reminder of this person’s previous crime.

When we read this week’s Torah portion, we are reading of a terrible sin committed by the Jewish people. A mere forty days after receiving the Torah, they turn to idol worship. What could have done worse?! After renouncing such actions and returning to where they were previously, do you think any Jew wants to hear about this story again?

Golden_CalfWell, it is in the Torah, it is something for us to learn from, and we read it every year. It is not the most pleasant piece to read, and we do not really want to call up someone who might be offended by this misdeed.

Who can we turn to if all the Jews participated in this misdeed? When Moses came down from Sinai, what was his call to arms? ‘Those who were true to G-d, those who did not commit idol worship, should join with me.’ Who stepped forward? The entire tribe of Levi. Not one Levite committed this misdeed, they all remained true to their faith. If so, it is only fitting that a Levite be given the story of the Golden Calf, so as not to remind those who failed in the past of their failings.

This is absolutely amazing! We worry about the shame of the descendants of something that happened over three thousand years ago! This shows just how far we must go to protect the feelings of others.

A free answer to bored crowds at Megilla readings!

Ever had trouble keeping the crowd involved during Megilla reading?

Well here is your answer!

A free PowerPoint presentation that you can tailor to your specific needs.

To download, click here.

Please feel free to use it, share it and spread the word. All I do ask for is that my info stays on the front page.

You will need the free font SBL Hebrew, which you can get at http://www.sbl-site.org/Fonts/SBL_Hbrw.ttf.

The page numbers are not in, pick the version most commonly used in your congregation (or all of them) and put them in, so that people can find the place when they lose it!

Please note the English is UK spelling.


P.S. Slides 52 and 53 may need a PG warning!

Why such a lengthy megilla reading on Purim?

Purim_greetingsPurim, what a wonderful festival, we eat, drink and make merry. But why do we spend so long on the services?

It is not simply a longer service than usual, there is in fact a regular service. The extra time is spent on the megilla reading. We spend between half an hour to an hour, in both the night and the morning over reading the megilla. Why do we need to spend so long over a historical overview of the festival, something that we don’t do on any other festival?

The only way of understanding this is by digging into the roots of the Purim festival, understanding where it comes from and what we are supposed to be doing on Purim.

Believe it or not, Purim is not simply about physical merriment! There is a deep spiritual side to this seemingly solely physical day. If we don’t just read the megilla, but take some time out on this busy day to actually read the megilla in a language we understand, we would see not only how fascinating the story is, but with a little thought, how it is so full of coincidences that just so happen to fall into place in perfect timing to make such an unbelievable story.

Anyone who sees Purim as simply a fun merry day, is unfortunately missing the most exciting past of the day. Compare two people who show us at the bar. They both order the same drinks, they both get drunk. They both do the same merry dances. It looks like they are both having as good a time as each other. Afterwards you find out that one of them is celebrating winning the lottery, and the other is drowning his misery of bankruptcy. Which one had a better time? Obviously the one who won the lottery. The same would hold true even if the second one is not miserable, but has no reason to celebrate.

Megillas EstherThe lengthy reading of the megilla is there for us to remember and appreciate why we are merry on this wonderful day. We are not simply eating drinking and making merry, we are celebrating winning the lottery, the lottery that the evil Haman drew turned against him, and we were the winners. This is truly an event to celebrate. The megilla reading is there as an anchor, reminding us of those long ago events so that we can enjoy the Purim spirit even more.

So on Purim, when sitting through the megilla reading, try to use the time to connect to the joy that Purim gives, the joy of salvation and then we can truly enjoy the physical merriment.