Weekly Davar: Shemos 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

The slavery in Egypt began with, ‘a new king arose who did not know of Joseph’. But how could a king not know of Joseph, the saviour of Egypt and indeed the entire world? It had been no more than a couple of decades. Who could possibly not know about such a person in recent history? It would be like a new Prime Minister in the UK who had never heard of Winston Churchill.

The Sages tell us that of course he knew of Joseph, but he chose not to. Because you can’t feel grateful to Joseph, on the one hand, and enslave his grandchildren with the other. In fact, there are those among the Sages who suggest that it was the very same Pharaoh for whom Joseph had worked. He lost his sense of gratitude for Joseph and, ended up enslaving his descendants.

In my mind, you can never go wrong with gratitude – and you are almost guaranteed to go wrong when you lose a sense of it. The feeling of gratitude grounds you. Had Pharaoh felt gratitude for what Joseph had done for Egypt, he would never have done what he did. The starting point for his actions was the loss of sense of gratitude. Even if he had indeed been afraid that the Children of Israel may form a fifth column in Egypt, had he felt gratitude, he would have responded differently. He would have found a kinder way to deal with the problem. Once he had lost his gratitude, however, it was open season.

Sad to say, I think the same is true of Prince Harry. If his starting point was gratitude for his family, it would ground him differently. He might have his gripes, his frustrations and his disappointments. But gratitude would provide a very different context for his response and lead him to do so with grace and generosity – even whilst addressing issues that are deeply upsetting for him.

Once gratitude has gone, however, there is no limit to how badly people can behave.

Parents are another example. When people lose the base line of gratitude for their parents, they can treat their parents very badly, even cut them out of their lives entirely. They will have all sorts of rationalizations as to the bad things their parents have done, but it will have all started with a loss of gratitude, which left the door open to any and all behaviour.

I don’t always succeed, but I have a commitment to keeping gratitude at the forefront of all my relationships, God included. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to lose gratitude. But I am very clear where that would lead me and I’m determined not to allow it to happen. If we keep our eye on the ball of gratitude, all other balls tend to fall into place in our lives and we will find ourselves being the people that we want ourselves to be. When we lose track of gratitude, it’s a very slippery slope. It might not lead us to enslaving an entire nation, but it won’t lead anywhere good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

Egypt is the prototype for future Jewish settlement. Firstly, the Jews move out to the suburbs, in this case Goshen. Then they become successful. Then they assimilate into Egyptian society and make vast contributions. Then social acceptance and complete integration, right? Not quite. A new Pharaoh arises and the persecution begins.

A child is born who is to be the saviour of the Jewish nation. Saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, he is brought up as a prince. She names him Moses. He does not forget his origins and, when confronted with an Egyptian murdering a Jew, he kills the Egyptian and flees deep into Africa. Many years later, God appears to him at a burning bush. After some arm-twisting, Moses agrees to return to Egypt to lead the Jewish people to freedom. Not surprisingly, Pharaoh, none too enamoured with the idea of his slaves leaving, decides to put down the potential mutiny before it begins and significantly increases the workload on the Jewish slaves. Again, not surprisingly, the Jews are unimpressed with Moses’ efforts so far and the portion ends with him in everyone’s bad books – part and parcel of being a Jewish leader.

Weekly Davar: Shemos 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

What does one have to do to be remembered?

I visited the disused Rice Lane Cemetery in Liverpool a few months ago. Three of my great grandparents are buried there. Whenever I walk through an older graveyard like this, the above thought occurs to me. Because I start to think that human beings, living, breathing, feeling human beings, just like me, have become nothing more than meaningless names on stones. No one remembers them. No one is interested in them. Gone, as though they never existed. And then I consider that the same fate awaits me.

And yet, when in this week’s portion Moses is born, I see there is another option. Because three thousand, three hundred years later, he is by no means forgotten.

I used to believe that to be remembered you had to write a book – and it had to be a really good one. Or paint a masterpiece. Visiting the Van Gogh immersive experience a few weeks ago reminded me of that. One hundred and thirty years after his death, he is more famous than ever – and will likely never be forgotten. Did you know, by the way, that he painted most of his paintings in the last two years of his life. Hundreds of paintings, that sell for upwards of $100,000,000, he painted in a day and a half each. A reminder of how much productivity is available to us human beings.

Nowadays, however, I think that being remembered can happen in many ways. But, most fundamentally, you must do something that matters – for better or for worse. Hitler will be no less remembered than Churchill, Stalin, no less than Mandela. You must do something that impacts society as a whole. That’s the only way not to become just a name on a gravestone in a forgotten cemetery.

I’ve talked before about the grave of Israel Poznanski in Lodz. A mausoleum larger than my house, of marble, and a mosaic made up of millions of pieces of glass……lies forgotten and decaying, in a forlorn graveyard, bereft of its once vibrant community. It’s deeds that matter, not monuments. And Moses had the deeds – not the monument.

But I want to share something my wife says whenever I share such morbid reflections with her. Do we really want to be remembered? Do we need it? Is it not simply ego and vanity?

Surely, it is the contribution itself that matters? Living in the feeling of life and sharing that with others for as long as we are blessed to do so. What means more than that? That others remember you when you are gone? And then these remembers, themselves, become the same dust that you did? It seems so irrelevant.

So, let Israel Poznanski’s mausoleum crumble to dust. What matters is how he lived his life. What matters is how each of us live our own lives. We get a tiny fraction of a moment to enjoy this world and make our own unique contribution. I, for one, am going to do my best to live my life right now. And, if I am remembered or not, matters not one iota. I’m happy to become a forgotten name in a neglected graveyard.

Shabbat Shalom

Parsha in a Nutshell

Egypt is the prototype for future Jewish settlement in exile. Firstly, the Jews move out to the suburbs, in this case Goshen. Then they become successful. Then they assimilate into Egyptian society and make vast contributions. Then social acceptance and complete integration, right? Not quite. A new Pharaoh arises who decides that Jewish children are far better off swimming at the bottom of the Nile. And so the persecution begins.

A child is born who is to be the saviour of the Jewish nation. Saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, he is brought up as a prince. She names him Moses. He does not forget his origins and when confronted with an Egyptian murdering a Jew, he kills the Egyptian and flees to Ethiopia. Many years later, God appears to him at a burning bush. After some arm-twisting, Moses agrees to return to Egypt to lead the Jewish people to freedom. Not surprisingly, Pharaoh is none too enamoured with the idea of losing his entire unpaid workforce overnight. He decides to put down the potential mutiny before it begins and significantly increases the workload on the Jewish slaves. Again, not surprisingly, the Jews are not too excited with Moses’ efforts so far and the portion ends with him in everyone’s bad books – part and parcel of being a leader, in particular in the Jewish community.