Weekly Davar: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim 2023

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

In this portion the Torah says, ‘don’t be a talebearer amongst your nation’. Above and beyond the regular prohibition of speaking badly of others, this is about ‘mixing’. Saying something that rocks the boat between people; that you know will make someone upset at someone else. I’m not sure why we human beings enjoy doing this type of thing, perhaps there’s an element of schadenfreude, but sadly we very much do, and Torah strongly warns us against it.

However, the verse continues, ‘don’t stand on your brother’s blood’. This is a wide-ranging law about assisting someone who is in trouble. In simple terms, if someone is lying bleeding in the street, you mustn’t walk by – even if you are already late for a meeting. But it’s broader than that. The rabbis explain that anywhere where you see another person in trouble, or going to be in trouble, and you have the ability to intervene and assist, you must do your best to help. Trying to talk someone out of taking their own life, for example, would fit into this command.

The reason these two commands are juxtaposed is because they sometimes come into conflict. A person is dating someone and considering marrying them, and I know that the person is cheating on them. I know that someone is stealing money from their employer or planning on doing so. To inform would make me a talebearer. But not to inform would be ‘standing on their blood’. The Torah is clear, and I don’t think anyone will disagree, that the latter takes precedence. Not only are you allowed, you must, ‘mix’ when someone is likely to be hurt if you don’t.

It’s interesting, though, how it works psychologically. Because as soon as we ‘must’, it suddenly becomes much less appealing to us. To share some juicy gossip, knowing that the other person will get annoyed about it somehow attracts us. But when that same information is now a responsibility to share in order to protect someone, it loses its appeal. Proverbs tells us that ‘stolen waters are sweeter’. There is something about the breaking free of rules, the licence to do whatever we wish, unconfined by convention or covenant, that very much attracts us.

To me, this is the essence of freewill. To follow that which attracts us. Or to follow rules, truths – truths that resonate with us, but usually don’t make our lives easy. We come across decisions like this every day. Do we choose the ‘sweetness’ of personal autonomy? Or do we do what we believe to be right, even though its immediate appeal is non-existent?

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week, we begin with a census of the Jewish nation. Each person, rich or poor, had to give a half shekel for upkeep of the Tabernacle. And they counted how much money they had received and multiplied by two.

The portion includes the building of the washstand in the Tabernacle, the making of the incense and anointing oil and the appointment of craftsmen and architects. But all this is only a prelude to the feature presentation: the story of The Golden Calf. The Jewish people, having heard God speak to them at Mt. Sinai only 40 days previously, decide to build an idol!! How this could be possible is a difficult question that I have dealt with in previous years. I’m happy to send you something if you are interested.

Weekly Davar: Ki Sissa 2023

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

The mandatory tax in support of the Tabernacle was half a shekel from each person. It’s strange that it was half a shekel and not a full shekel. Especially as it was used as a census also, it would have been simpler to require a shekel from everyone and the number of shekels was the number of people.

There is a clear message, however, in the half. We are talking here about a contribution towards the service of God. And God cannot be served by individuals. You cannot serve God without other human beings. Go to a mountain and live as a hermit, albeit a holy hermit and you are only a half person in the service of God. Because the service of God requires community. It requires human beings working together to build a better world. Just like no single one of us can survive physically in our world without the assistance of others, so too no single one of us can climb the mountain of spiritual achievement without the involvement of others. Let me share two aspects of this idea.

Firstly, one of the first things we teach our kids is to share. In a world in which there was no one to share with, we human beings would be compelled to be selfish. Living in a world with others means we can learn to be selfless, to give to others and to share what we have. Service of God requires selflessness and humility and others allow us to be so.

But secondly, there is a big wide world out there with many problems to tackle. People can change those around them; organisations can change communities; but to affect the type of change that will ultimately perfect God’s world – our task as human beings – requires nations and their governments. The task is just too big for one person alone. We are each only ‘halves’ in the service of God in that no single one of us can finish the task alone.

The half shekel was a reminder of this. No person is an island. Sharing with others is part of our service in this world and we need others to help us develop and perfect our world. Other human beings are one of God’s greatest gifts to each and every one of us. They may annoy and frustrate us at times, but our purpose in this world is impossible without their contribution.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week, we begin with a census of the Jewish nation. Each person, rich or poor, had to give a half shekel for upkeep of the Tabernacle. And they counted how much money they had received and multiplied by two.

The portion includes the building of the washstand in the Tabernacle, the making of the incense and anointing oil and the appointment of craftsmen and architects. But all this is only a prelude to the feature presentation: the story of The Golden Calf. The Jewish people, having heard God speak to them at Mt. Sinai only 40 days previously, decide to build an idol!! How this could be possible is a difficult question that I have dealt with in previous years. I’m happy to send you something if you are interested.

Weekly Davar: Tetzaveh 2023

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

God created the Universe in only thirty-one verses of Genesis. The Tabernacle, however, that we are presently reading about, has over four hundred verses devoted to its design and setup. Time, space and matter are created and shaped into our grandiose Universe in thirty-one verses. A tent in the desert requires over four hundred?!

I believe there is a profound insight here.

God created human beings to be partners with him in his world. Lions, starfish, trees, volcanoes, planets, stars, constellations and galaxies are merely bystanders. They do their thing and then they are gone. But they make no active and lasting contribution. They have no ability to improve our Universe. They are just props that set the stage for the real stars of the show – you and me.

God created his world far from perfect. As we all see and know. He did that on purpose. To give us the opportunity to partner with him in his grand scheme. And how lucky is that for us? Imagine Warren Buffet calling you up one day saying he’d like to invite you become a senior partner in Berkshire Hathaway. Well, this is the Infinite Creator of the Universe appointing us as senior partners in his one great venture.

And the division of labour is as follows. He does the heavy lifting. Creating lion cubs and feeding zebras to them; Exploding stars in supernovae or imploding them into black holes; providing oxygen to breathe and water to drink…. Those are the minor details that he organises. So, what’s our job? Our job is to make his world into a good and Godly place; to perfect it.  And each of us is given our chance to play his or her role….. King Hezekiah, 2500 years ago, destroyed a bronze idol that the Jewish People had been worshipping for centuries. The Rabbis ask why none of the earlier righteous kings destroyed it themselves. They say that God does not allow any one individual or generation to solve all the world’s problems – in order that everyone can get their chance to contribute. Us too!

The Tabernacle, the portable Temple in the desert, represented human beings contributing to our world. ‘Make for me a Tabernacle,’ said God last week, ‘so that I may dwell among you’. It represents the idea of bringing Godliness into the world. Values, morals, goodness, kindness, love, joy, wisdom – the list goes on… our role is to increase, develop and share all of these with others. The Tabernacle was a place where God’s presence dwelled – and amid the turbulent distractions of the personal ego, one could remember what being human is all about. About giving, about sharing, about loving. And perhaps most profoundly of all – simply about ‘being’. About allowing ourselves to be the Godly souls that reside at the core of each and every one of us.

Whilst God can create a universe in thirty-one verses, we human beings take considerably longer to perfect it. The ‘Tabernacle’ that we are to turn our world into requires hundreds of verses because it is a more complex task. And it’s spread over millennia – to give us all a part to play.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion is about the clothes of the Priests who worked in the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple. Like last week, it’s quite intricate details and not for the fainthearted, so it’s not a great week to come to Synagogue if you haven’t been in a while. Next week will be much more interesting.