Weekly Davar: Ha’azinu 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

God told Moses to ascend Mount N’vo to die ‘in the middle of the day’. The Rabbis explain that the Jewish People had told themselves they were not letting Moses leave them without a fight. He had taken them out of Egypt, split the sea, given them the Torah and provided mannah for 40 years. Who wants a leader like that to move on? God responded by taking Moses ‘in the middle of the day’ to show the Jewish People that no one could stop Him from taking Moses back.

It always amazes me. Never have the Jewish People complained about a leader in his lifetime more than they did about Moses. They didn’t listen to him; they slandered him; they abused him; they even tried to kill him. And yet, when he was leaving them, they were desperate for him to stay?!

Human beings, and most especially we Jews, love to hang on to the past. The past always looks so much rosier than the now for a simple reason. When we look at what is in front of us right now, whilst we might see the goodness that it is offering, we are also well aware of the challenges and hardships involved. If we are not careful, that feeling of hardship can easily cast a very long and dark shadow over the pleasures that are here for us at any given moment.

I sometimes look back on my teenage years with very fond memories. Until I remind myself what a miserable time they really were for me!  But that’s the nature of nostalgia. We forget how things really were and only see the past through rose coloured lenses.

The problem with all of this is that we are often challenged to enjoy the ‘now’ because the past seems like it was so much better. Egypt was such a miserable experience for the Jewish People. But when Moses was the present, leading them into a desert, suddenly the ‘past’ of Egypt seemed oh so appealing. Then, when Moses was about to become the past, all of a sudden the Jewish People didn’t want to let him go.

The truth is that the Jewish People did fine without Moses. New and different leaders came along who led each generation just as well as Moses led his. The Jewish People grew; they developed; and they thrived – all without Moses to lead them. Keeping Moses alive was not the solution for them. The solution was to realise the incredible possibilities that remained for them even when he was not there.

Concern to hold on to what is in the past clouds our perception of the new possibilities that exist now that the past is gone. And it is the nature of our world that there are always new possibilities coming to fruition.

Life is what we make of the moments we are given. And every moment is of identical potential. The past and future are no better than today. In the grandest of all equalities, all moments are created completely equal in their potential for us to realise the rich and varied possibilities that God constantly places before us. God is not in the past, nor is He in the future – He is outside of time. He exists only in the eternal ‘now’ that every moment provides. God is right here, right now – it’s not worth living anywhere else.

Shabbat Shalom and well over the fast,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

The Torah portion is a song; a beautiful poem taught to the Jewish people by Moses.

It recounts the trials and tribulations of 40 years in the desert. Jewish consciousness, until the present generation, was to teach every Jewish child to memorize Ha’azinu. In this manner, we internalised the lessons of our history. Santayana said, ‘He who does not learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.’ We Jews seem to have proven him right over and over again.

The portion ends with Moses being told to ascend Mount N’vo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is ‘gathered to his people’. This turn of phrase, the Rabbis explain, is an allusion to the afterlife.

It’s all set up and ready for the tragic and yet uplifting climax. Make sure you tune in to a local Shul on Simchas Torah for the epic denouement. Dickens is my second favourite author. God is the best.

Weekly Davar: Mattos-Maasei 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

I heard this idea from one of my rabbis, Rabbi Yitzi Blachman, at our graduation this week. It’s simple, but, I believe, profound.

This week’s portion lists forty-two journeys that the Children of Israel undertook during their time in the desert. Rabbi Blachman asked why did the Torah need to write down the details of every journey? If its purpose, as a book, is to provide wisdom, not historical details, why do we need to know every journey that was undertaken?

He answered that each journey was a part of the overall journey – from Mt Sinai to Israel. It was a roundabout route, and it took them forty years, but they made it in the end. His point was that whilst the journey took forty years, the actual arrival at the destination was immediate. So much of our lives is the journey, he pointed out, not the destination. So much more of our time is spent achieving, than the achievements themselves. More than life is about the destination, it is about the journey itself.

In Jewish thinking, the destination is what might be called spiritual enlightenment, connection to God, or achieving Godliness ourselves. But this is a moving target. There are always higher levels. There is no point at which one sits back and says, ‘I am enlightened’. In fact, believing oneself to be enlightened, is, for me, quite a good sign that a person is not. And hence, life is really only a journey and nothing else. Destinations are all false peaks because there is no peak. That might sound discouraging but I feel it is the opposite. Imagine a train journey in a comfortable train through a magical land of incredible sights and wonders to behold. Would you want to reach your destination? This is life. An amazing journey – limitless contribution for us to make, limitless growth, limitless development, limitless giving and limitless love. Limitless hope, limitless possibility. Limitless wisdom to discover. And even though it does appear to come to an end for all of us, in my mind, that end is merely another stop along the way, a segue into an even greater and more glorious journey. The same train ride, only on steroids. The rabbis say that for the enlightened, there is no rest – not in this world, nor in the next. Because rest is a break in the journey of life. And who would want a break from such an incredible experience?

The only thing to do is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Every moment of life is here for us to savour and enjoy, to grow and develop. And, funnily enough, one of the only things that gets in the way of that happening is when we set up arbitrary destinations for ourselves – I need to achieve this; I need to accomplish that; I need some specific outcome to my actions. It’s like sitting on that wonderful train journey and be squinting our eyes to try to see what is beyond the horizon. All of the beauty that is right in front of us goes out of focus. So too with life – whilst we do orient towards specific destinations, obsessing about them takes us out of the pleasures of the moment. Focusing on the woods, we lose sight of the trees. And not only do we not reach the destination, we don’t even enjoy the ride.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

Mattos includes the laws of making and annulling vows and the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan River. Maasei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert and God’s instructions to divide the land by a national lottery system. God establishes the borders of the land of Israel. New leadership is appointed. The laws are set forth regarding manslaughter and murder.

Weekly Davar: Chukas-Balak 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

Rainforests of paper have likely been consumed, through the ages, writing about the nature of Moses’ transgression. It’s not immediately obvious from the reading of the text. But that’s one of the great things about learning Torah. It is rich, deep, and multi-faceted. If you think you understand it straight away, then most likely you do not. Fortunately, with modern media, I can add my voice to the chorus without expending even a sheet of paper.

Just to recap. The Jewish People complain that they have no water. God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will emerge. Moses gets angry and calls the people mutineers, then strikes the rock with his staff (as opposed to speaking to it) and water indeed emerges. God immediately responds to Moses that ‘since you did not believe in me, you will not enter the land of Canaan’. A story for the ages – in only twelve sentences (unlike Dickens, God was not paid by the page).

There is a lot to unpack in this story, but I’m going to focus on one point. Moses may have been right that the Jewish People were terribly wrong to complain about the lack of water. God has given you water in the desert for forty years. It’s gone for one day and instead of politely requesting, you come and protest bitterly, full of entitlement?

Granted, Moses was at the end of his tether. Let’s see you try leading the stiff-necked Children of Israel for forty years through a wilderness. Nevertheless, his response was wrong. And part of that mistake, in my mind, was that he listened to their words, not their feeling. Their words were words of complaint and rebellion; they were abusive. But the feeling was one of fear and insecurity. The water had dried up, they were thirsty, in the middle of a desert, with two million bodies to hydrate. They were looking oblivion square in the eye. And, for all their lofty belief in God and commitment to serve, their humanity rose to the surface. Raw instinct overcame known truths and their fear bubbled over. They were not rebelling; they were just afraid. And, had Moses look at that very human feeling, instead of looking at the response it elicited, he might have felt compassion, rather than anger.

This is true so often in our own lives. How often do we look at, and judge, the behaviour of those around us, instead of seeing the humanity that is behind it. We almost always see the humanity in children – and don’t judge them for it. But, for some reason, we expect more of adults. And bless them, adults usually meet our expectations. But there are times that they do not. As indeed, we are guilty of ourselves on occasion. Instead of being impressed that this is a failing amongst great success, we get upset and annoyed – as did Moses. Instead of seeing the Godliness and overlooking the humanity, we forget the Godliness and judge them for their humanity. Shame on us. No, shame for us. Because when we live in judgement, we are the ones who miss out. As indeed did Moses. If the failures of Children of Israel were to be at the forefront of his mind, he could not share with them the success of entering the Land of Canaan.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

The first portion begins with the ritual of the red heifer – an offering related to the spiritual impurity of a dead body. Although challenging to understand, it is not un-understandable per se. The ritual is replete with meaning – but beyond the scope of this davar.

Miriam dies and there is no water. The Jews immediately revert to character and begin to complain. Moses brings water from a rock, but in doing so, his subtle, but significant, mistake is responded to with the decree that he will not enter the land of Canaan. The Jewish people complain now about the mannah. Snakes attack the camp but are warded off by Moses’ timely intervention. Aaron dies and the Jewish people are set upon by various nations who they defeat.

In the second portion, Balaam, a Moabite, is granted a level of prophecy equal to that of Moses. He is an intriguing character ‑ honour driven, arrogant, money chasing and narcissistic. The world doesn’t change that much.

Balak, the king of Moab, seeing that conventional methods have not worked, decides to hire Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Balaam accepts the assignment. God allows Balaam to go with Balak, but Balaam does warn Balak that he will only be able to say that which God allows him to. Three times Balaam tries to curse the Jewish People and three times God places prophetic blessings in his mouth instead. His prophecies are some of the most poetic and beautiful parts of the whole Torah. The whole story is well worth a read.

Weekly Davar: Korach 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

Korach felt that Moses was wrong (see Torah Portion section below). He had grabbed too much power for himself. Korach felt he was a great man also. He too had a role to play and a contribution to make. Moses was preventing him from doing so. It all looked black and white to Korach. Moses was wrong and he was right.

And yet, as events played themselves out, Korach was proven to be wrong – very wrong. Such that the earth swallowed him alive. That’s pretty clear vindication for Moses and damning for Korach.

I think there is a fundamental lesson for all of us in Korach’s attitude and behaviour. Rarely do our egos say, ‘it’s wrong, but let’s do it anyway’. The ego, rather, explains why we are right. It shows us the clear justification of our position. And it’s oh so very convincing. It all looks so absolute. Such that one often sees people argue absolute opposite perspectives, each certain to the point of arrogance that they are right. When only one of them can be.

It’s disconcerting to consider that people can be so convinced about truth – and yet be wrong. Because that leaves open the door very wide for the same to be true of me. Does certainty about something make me right? Does the fact that I am convinced make me correct? There was a time in my life when I believed the answer to be yes. Now, I am less than sure.

It seems to me that the ego is the part of me that yearns for certainty. It is the part of me that wants to be right (and for others to be wrong). Because ‘truths’ make it feel secure and confident. My soul, on the other hand, seems to have less of a need for such absolutes.

Korach was certain he was right. Moses was ready to consider all options – so instead of arguing, he simply said let’s put it to the test and see who God chooses. And here was a key difference between Moses and Korach. Had God chosen Korach, Moses would not have minded. But Korach could not live with the idea of Moses being chosen. Korach, blinded by his own ego, could only see the world his way. Moses, the humble man, was always open to new possibilities.

In more recent years, I have come to see that with humility comes uncertainty. And openness. Openness to being wrong. Openness (dare I suggest it) to someone else being right. Or openness to the truth being less black and white than I might once have believed. For me, nowadays, there is one immutable truth – and that is God. Granted, that truth requires some definition and has broad implications. But, beyond that, all the rest is open for consideration. And so, I find myself trusting ‘certainty’ less and less; I see it as most likely my ego innocently seeking security. Funnily enough, doubt seems more genuine to me. More Godly. More honest. Doubt leads me to trust in God; certainty leads me to trust in myself.

There is a quiet confidence that doesn’t need to be shouted out or defended in the things that look true to me today. I have shifted away from Korach’s need for validation and vindication. I see the world more like Moses, trying to follow where God seems to be leading. I have no certainty as to where it will be – but strong conviction that it will be somewhere good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion is about the argument that Korach, Moses’s cousin, deliberately picked with Moses and Aaron. He claimed they were holding tightly on to power and allowing no one else to take part in the leadership of the Jewish People. The whole thing was just a pretext for an attack on Moses and potential coup d’etat. Had Korach taken over, he would himself have done exactly that which he accused Moses of doing. Korach’s little rebellion, however, ended up failing miserably when he and his followers were swallowed up by an earthquake – a pretty effective way of ending a dispute, but not one to try at home kids.

Weekly Davar: Shlach 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

How is it that great men, like the spies, go so wrong? Rashi, in his seminal Torah commentary, says that when the spies were sent on their mission they were all righteous men – human beings looking to do the right thing in their lives and to be of service. And yet, somehow, after forty days travelling around the land of Canaan, they encouraged the Children of Israel to rebel against God? The contrast is glaring.

Maimonides, in his treatise on return to God, says that just as a person can be evil all their life and wake up to completely new insight and change at the moment of their death, so also a person can be a good all their life – and yet fully and wholeheartedly regret the life they have lived at the moment of their death. That is the range of human freewill. All possibilities are on the table for all of us. At all times. The rabbis tell us, ‘don’t trust yourself until the day you die’. Don’t think that you are safe from the misguided and unhelpful choices that you have seen others make in their lives. We are all human and our egos can make any one of us as foolish as any other.  I have seen very sensible people throw away good marriages of thirty and forty years for the sake of whimsical fantasies of a better life, or even just for a few moments of desire and passion. I have seen people throw away careers and reputations, built over decades, in moments of madness. Equally, however, I have seen individuals who have lived lives of crime and immorality wake up – often overnight – to lives dedicated to good and public service. I have seen people who have suffered with addiction for decades, find a new future, free of their slavery.

So, back to my original question, where did the spies go wrong?

I think that for them, like all of us, it boils down to insecurity. They couldn’t handle trusting something beyond their control. The Promised Land was utterly unconquerable in a natural way – inhabited by giants in strongly fortified cities. A slave nation with no military experience had no chance. Instead, their trust needed to be in an invisible and distant God. They needed to embrace the unknown and allow possibility to unfold without being able to visualise how it would do so ahead of time.

In my experience, for most human beings – and for all of us at different times – that’s just too difficult. We want to know in advance, we want certainty, we want it all planned and worked out. The spies, and indeed the Children of Israel, were not ready to embrace the insecurity of the unknown. Their choice was a simple one – to trust or not to trust. And they chose not to.

Insecurity is part of the existential angst inside every one of us. How we deal with insecurity will define, to a great extent, the paths our lives take. If we rebel against it, like the spies, we end up not solving it, but exacerbating it. Instead, we can learn to embrace it and trust that greater forces are at play in our lives – just as our physical bodies function well for us, so too our emotional and spiritual worlds. We are guided by something greater, and falling into that trusting feeling, a feeling that is there for all of us should we seek it, is the only road that will lead to the security that we all crave.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion focuses on the tragic story of the spies who were sent by Moses to check out the land of Canaan. They return with a negative report – it is a land that eats its inhabitants. It cannot be conquered. A land of giants…. While the women, as usual, stood strong and insisted on entering Israel nevertheless, then men were terrified. In spite of the miracles they had witnessed, they were unwilling to put their trust in God. God responded that they were most welcome to spend another 40 years in the desert instead. Their children would inherit the land, not them. This was not a punishment, merely a granting of that which they wanted – that they should not have to enter the land of Israel. God doesn’t ‘punish’. He just leads us in a way that we have chosen, whatever the consequences.

The portion talks of other bits and bobs, but the spies’ story is the main event.

Weekly Davar: Bamidbar 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

I don’t know. One of life’s most touching and powerful phrases. Do we say it enough? Because when we don’t know – and we humbly accept that we don’t know – new worlds open for us. New vistas, new horizons, new possibilities. In the world of I don’t know there are boundless possibilities. In the world of I know, there is only one. I know is a confined space, a box. I don’t know is a vast universe ready to be filled.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Knowing is very important for us human beings. It gives us solid ground to stand on, stability. It gives us focus and direction. It paves a path for achievement and development. It’s great to know. But it’s also limiting. Maybe in a good way – but limiting, nevertheless. I would not want to be God, knowing everything. Because in knowing everything, there is nothing left to know; nothing left to find out; no space to grow into. In a funny way, that’s an advantage we human beings have over God. God has nothing to aspire to. Not that I get to choose, but I’m not sure I would want that.

And yet, paradoxically, as wonderful as it is not to know, growth is about coming to know. But here’s the good news. As much as any single one of us can know, Knowledge itself is always so much greater. The Wisdom that is God, that formless infinitely deep pool of insight and understanding, is limitless. Whatever any of us comes to know in our lifetime is the tiniest tip of a vast iceberg. In a clearly designed parallel, our Universe reflects this. Getting to the moon is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. And yet, the distance from the earth to the moon is, by present understanding, around .000000000000000025 of the known Universe. That ‘giant leap’ for mankind was only a very slight shimmy into our vast cosmos.

Wisdom is the same. The very wisest of human beings has taken a similarly slight shimmy into the vast universe of true Wisdom. And the very wisest of human beings knows that better than anyone.

This week’s portion, indeed the entire book we are about to read, is known as Numbers in English. But in Hebrew it is Bamidbar, ‘In the desert’. The Rabbis highlight this for us – the Torah was given in a desert – and an entire book of the Torah was named such to remind us.  Because it is only the person who realises that he or she is a desert, knowing nothing, that will ultimately find true wisdom. When we know, or think we know, learning is impossible. Only when we see ourselves as empty vessels, ready to be filled, will we open our hearts to the divine Wisdom that is waiting to fill them.

The only thing that ever gets in the way of wisdom is ego. The certainty that we already know. The humility of I don’t know is the greatest gift for a human beings on the journey to enlightenment. Like a desert, the one who does not know has plenty of space to build in. The one who already knows is like Manhattan – let’s see you squeeze a new building, even a small one, into there!

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

This portion contains the census of the Jewish people –600,000 men of army age, around 2.5 million souls in all. It also describes the passing of spiritual leadership from firstborn to Levite. The firstborn lost their position as a result of their involvement with the Golden Calf – now the formal transfer of power occurs.

Weekly Davar: Behar-Bechukosai 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

‘For the land belongs to Me; you are strangers and temporary residents…..’ (Leviticus 25:23)

This one idea – that land belongs to God and not to us – would have saved so much human suffering throughout the generations.

I often hear people say that religions have caused many wars. I usually counter that it is human beings supposedly practicing those religions that cause wars, not the religions themselves. But if we are to really consider the causes of war, the most common, by quite some way, is land. Alexander the Great, Rome and the other great early empires – fought for new lands. Russia’s war in Ukraine, is ultimately a dispute over land. Israel and the Palestinians – land. Hitler’s expansion eastward – ‘lebensraum’, land. America and the Native Tribes – land. Yes, there are often other factors such as ideology (religion being one example) and politics, but land is most commonly the fundamental factor.

There is something about land, and the ownership thereof, that arouses a visceral response in human beings. My late father, of blessed memory, was a mediator. He said that the worst disputes he dealt with were divorces. But a very close second was neighbours – and often it was about the tiniest and most irrelevant pieces of land between their properties. Land ownership is something that we human beings feel very strongly about. We get very attached. I think it’s about a sense of security. Possessions come and go, but land seems solid. It cannot be moved so it looks like it cannot be taken away. (Ask Jews who went through the holocaust about that one, though.)

The Torah goes out of its way to discourage this sense of attachment to land ownership. Land belongs to God, not human beings. We are simply grateful tenants. And laws in this portion strongly support this aim. Every seven years the land must lie fallow for a year – God owns the land, and we are given permission to use it only six years out of seven. Land must not be sold unless a person is becoming destitute – it is, after all, not ours to sell. Even when sold, it is only ever leasehold. A freehold cannot be sold in Torah law. And it returns to its original owners every jubilee year. 

Torah is not just a set of laws. It is a set of laws with divine purpose; a set of laws designed to develop and refine the human spirit. In its laws around land ownership, its goal is clear and noble. If only humanity would see the land we live on as God’s, this primordial and visceral drive could be curtailed and controlled. Of course, we would find other things to fight over, as is our nature. But ultimately, I believe that with our most fundamental cause of dispute gone, our world would look like a very different place.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shaul

Parsha in a Nutshell

The Torah portion begins with the laws of the Sabbatical year in which the Jewish people are commanded to desist from all agricultural activity. Every 50th year is the yovel, the Jubilee (an English word which clearly derives from the Hebrew) year, where agricultural activity is also prohibited. The portion also talks about land ownership and the buying and selling thereof. In Jewish law, there is no such thing as selling a freehold. Land can only ever be leased.

The second portion talks firstly of the good that will befall the Jewish people if they live up to their billing of being a light to the nations and then it talks about what will happen if not. Unfortunately, the latter part of the portion is much more the story of Jewish history than the former.

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.