Weekly Davar: Vayetzey 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

The portion opens with Jacob’s famous dream. He sees a ladder upon which angels are ascending and descending from Heaven. God tells him not to worry. He will be with him in all of his travels.

Insecurity is perhaps the most basic human drive. Granted, there is a more fundamental and much deeper drive which is the drive to be Godly, to touch the transcendent. But that drive is well below the surface for most of us most of the time. I would say that insecurity is the driving force behind most of what most human beings do most of the time.

From insecurity comes the false security of ego; from insecurity comes worry; from insecurity comes fear; from insecurity comes doubt and uncertainty. Many would say that because of insecurity, we human beings made up the idea of God in the first place. The atheist’s age-old rhetorical question – did God create man, or did man create God?

And so, when Jacob is leaving the security of his home and his family, leaving the security of his homeland, something he has never done before, God sees fit to come and tell him that he is being taken care of and he should not worry.

As a worrier, I sometimes wish that God would come and do that for me also!

The book I mentioned above, though, has provoked more insight around this for me, however. A great deal of his diary is about how worried he is. He will not live through the next week. And even if he does, his manuscripts will be lost and he will never publish them. The next week comes along and he’s worried again – he will not live through the next week and if he does…. Then the next week, he has exactly the same worries. The fact that his worries were unfounded last week, and the week before and the week before that, has no bearing whatsoever on his present worries.

And that’s just how we human beings work.

So, this month I have been extremely worried about the finances of my charity. How will we get through this and next month? I saw no way forward at the start of November. It was all falling apart. I would have to close it down. And then what? My wife reminded me that I have felt this way numerous times before. Yes, but this time is different. Well, last time you thought it was different also! Yes, but this time really is different!

And so, I have come to realise that God is indeed doing for me what he did for Jacob. He is not just telling me that he is looking after me. He is actually doing so – and that’s so much better! God has helped me to raise the money that I need for the past two hundred and fifty months. Why should this month be any different? Indeed, now I see the light at the end of the tunnel for this month. Other than my crazy worries, I could have realised that everything would be OK at the beginning of the month and had a much less stressful time. That’s never easy to do in the moment, but I feel that now I have an advantage. Yes, like Victor Klemperer, I might be worrying despite the evidence rather than because of it. Yes, like him, my worrying might be crazy. But at least now I realise I’m crazy – and that’s a great start.

Good Shabbos,


Parsha in a Nutshell

Jacob leaves Canaan for Haran, arriving 14 years later. On the way, he experiences his famous vision of the ladder stretching to heaven. He arrives at the home of his wonderful uncle Laban: a good-for-nothing of the highest order who misses no opportunity to cheat his nephew out of all he has.

Jacob wishes to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. He works seven years for her and then Laban substitutes Leah under the chuppah. He works another seven years for Rachel. He fathers eleven sons and a daughter. Jacob works for Laban for another six years, during which time he makes Laban into a very wealthy man and, although Laban tries to swindle him at every turn, Jacob manages to make himself into an even wealthier man. Finally, the time has come, and he packs his bags and begins the long journey home to Israel.

Weekly Davar: Noach 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

I came up with this idea to say at my rabbinic ordination. I’m pleased to see that it resonates with me no less today than thirty years ago.

Last week the Torah listed the ten generations between Adam and Noah. This week it lists the ten generations between Noah and Abraham. Now we Rabbis don’t view the Torah as a history book; history is the medium rather than the message. So why are these, seemingly superfluous, lineages included?

The Sages explain: the message is to highlight God’s mercy; each generation mentioned, is progressively more evil than its predecessor. Yet God allows the world to continue for generations, providing opportunity after opportunity for humanity to change for the better before taking drastic action himself.

A lovely idea, but it still leaves a question. If the Torah wanted to show God’s mercy, it could have done so by listing one set of the ten generations. Why does it need to give us the same message a second time?

My answer lies in a contrast that we can clearly see between the two sets of generations. Adam to Noah: generations that only got worse and worse. In the end they were destroyed. Noah to Abraham: generations that only got worse and worse. In the end they were not destroyed. What was the difference?

The difference lies in one man: Abraham. In what must be the greatest indictment in all of history, the Rabbis say that Noah could have saved his generation; but he did not care enough. Abraham did. Whereas Noah was happy to build an ark to save himself – and forget about humanity, Abraham reached out to those around him. He taught everyone he could about monotheistic values. He didn’t do enough to change his generation entirely. But, the Rabbis say, he did enough to save it.

The message is very clear; one individual who cares enough can shape world history. And while we may often tell ourselves, as Marx did, that forces beyond individuals create history, even a glance at the past shows this to be false. For better or for worse, there would almost certainly have been no October revolution without Lenin, no victory at Waterloo without Wellington, no holocaust without Hitler. Who’s to say how the Second World War would have turned out without Churchill, the Civil Rights movement in America without Martin Luther King and South Africa’s transition to equality without Mandela? How different would the world be had Einstein, Freud or Darwin never lived?

Individuals shape history. Abraham was nothing special. He just cared enough to try. Noah was nothing special. He just didn’t.

The question for us all is who are we to be? Abraham or Noah?

Good Shabbos,


Parsha in a Nutshell

Noah is a very decent man – the exception rather than the rule in his generation. The world around him is full of debauchery. They worship idols, murder and are experts in sexual immorality. Not vastly different to the world we live in.  God decides to take action and it rains…. and rains….. and rains……and rains. A true British summer. The world is filled with water and everyone drowns – except for Noah, his family and loads of animals who were on his famous Ark.

Noah leaves the Ark and immediately plants a vineyard – preferring the escape of wine to the challenging task of rebuilding humanity. The world is repopulated via Noah’s sons and once again, they slip into immorality and build a tower in a place called Babel in order to ‘fight’ with God. This time, he mixes up their languages and creates 70 nations and the wonderful diversity of the human race is set in place for future generations.

Weekly Davar: Noach 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

There is no one in all of Torah who is introduced to us with such glowing accolades as Noah. He is righteous; he is the purest of his generation and he walks with God. Three separate times during the chapter of the flood, the Torah tells us that Noah did ‘exactly as God told him to do’.

And yet, who is Noah? He disappears into history as quickly as he came. He is not an Abraham to whom the Bible devotes four portions, nor certainly a Moses to whom the Bible devotes most of its chapters. Midway through the portion we are told that he lived for three hundred and fifty years after the flood and that’s that. Goodbye Noah. He isn’t heard from again.

What differentiates him from a man like Abraham?

I believe the answer lies precisely in the phrase that Noah did ‘exactly as God told him’. God comes to him and tells him that he is about to destroy all of humanity and so Noah should build an ark to save himself. How does Noah respond? He doesn’t flinch. Yes, sir. One ark coming right up. Exactly as God told him.

Notice something strange? God tells him he is about to destroy the world and Noah simply goes out and builds an ark for his extended cruise while everyone is dying?

Let’s contrast this with a similar story with Abraham in a couple of weeks. Abraham is told that God is about to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah, evil and debaucherous cities. He doesn’t tell God he’ll be sure to avoid the Sodom’s supermalls on that day, rather he fights tooth and nail for them – arguing with God and insisting that God save them. God did not tell him to fight, but God did not need to. Abraham made his own judgment as to what he felt was right and stood up for his fellow human beings – even when that meant arguing with God Himself.

Noah was a righteous man, yes. He did everything that was asked of him. He went by the book. But that’s not enough. Noah was subservient to God, but Abraham was a partner with God. Noah abdicated responsibility for the world to God, whereas Abraham grasped it with both hands. Whilst Noah was a righteous man, Abraham was a great man. There was nothing per se wrong with Noah. You couldn’t fault him. But he wasn’t great. The word ‘Noah’ in Hebrew means ‘rest’, as though he didn’t want to trouble himself too much.

The Torah doesn’t criticize him, but equally, it doesn’t remember him. Because it is great human beings who are remembered, those who stand up and take responsibility for the world around them. Noah ticked all the boxes, but watched passively as all of humanity was destroyed.

Shabbat Shalom,


Parsha in a Nutshell

This portion talks of the flood and the tower of Babel, as well as the 10 generations leading up to the birth of Abraham.