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Pinchas – Contributing to the outside world

The second half of Parashat Pinehas relates the different sacrifices which are brought every day, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and each of the festivals. Of the various sacrifices, our Parasha relates two bulls are brought as burnt offerings עולה on Rosh Chodesh, each day of Pesach and Shavuot; one is brought on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur as well as Shemini Chag Atzeret. However, on Succot, 13 are brought on the first day, 12 on the second and so on finishing with seven of the seventh day which is Hoshana Rabba making 70 in total.

Our rabbis suggest that the 70 bulls represent the 70 nations of the world. It would seem therefore that we are considering the welfare of all peoples. It is not always appreciated that when the temple stood, sacrifices were not only brought by Jews or on behalf of Jews, non-Jews could also bring burnt offerings.

On Shemini Chag Atzeret we go back to one bull allowing us to be intimate so to speak with the Almighty and reassert our chosen status. So the question which begs to be asked is what type of relationship should we be seeking with other nations. Do we want to have an exclusive relationship with God or one which includes our fellow human beings?

Rabbi Alan Brill in his 2010 book entitled “Judaism and other Religions: Models of understanding” identifies four approaches providing sources from the Tanach, the Talmud and Jewish commentators and philosophers from medieval times through to the modern day.

One model he relates is “exclusivism” suggesting only ours is the true religion (Rashi, Maharal, Ari, Ramchal, Tanya). Secondly, “inclusivism” which purports that Judaism is best but others have part of that truth (Halevi, Rambam, Abarbanel, Radak, Rashba, Arama, […]

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Parashat Balack – Self made destruction

Thoughts from the Parasha
Self made destruction

Quoting our sages, Rashi says that Bileam was a prophet, so the nations could not have the excuse of favouritism by Hashem to the Jewish people who benefited from several prophets whilst they didn’t. Why did He choose Bileam and why did it go wrong for Bileam?

On paper, technically Bileam was well qualified to be a non-Jewish prophet. He was respected amongst the Moabites and Midianites as a man with special magical powers. So much so that a frightened Balak the King of Moav at the time promised him great riches and honour if he successfully cursed the children of Israel. Further, Bileam also demonstrated that he was able to connect to Hashem through the meditation rites and ruses he utilised.

He was however quite unsuccessful. Instead of cursing Israel, Hashem on three occasions put words of blessings in his mouth. Bileam completely understood from this the omnipotence of Hashem and how powerless he was to influence. Still he persevered – according to our Sages – advising Balak to use Moabite and Midianite girls to entice the Israelite men to sin and commit idolatry. Bileam himself was killed in the vengeance carried out by Israel on the Midianites.

It is difficult to believe that Hashem set Bileam up for failure, for surely he had free will like any other man. Indeed, the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:19) suggests that it was his poor character traits which led to his doom. Contrasting Bileam directly with Avraham, the Mishna accuses Bileam of having ‘an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a proud soul’ עין רעה, ורוח גבוהה, ונפש רחבה. As Rav Kahati points out in his commentary on the Mishna, this parallels the […]

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Aaron and the rock – Chukat 5777


Our Parasha relates the death of Aaron at the age of 123 and that the children of Israel mourned him for 30 days. Rashi emphasises in his commentary the love the whole people (men and women) had for him. As a lover and pursuer of peace אוהב שלום, רודף שלום he had intervened to help resolve multiple disputes between man and wife and between arguing rivals.

Just two paragraphs before, the Parasha speaks of the event which prevented Aaron and his brother Moshe entering the promised land before passing to the next world. With the congregation lacking water, Moshe hits the rock when Hashem asked him to speak to it resulting in both Moshe and Aaron being accused of not believing in and sanctifying Hashem יען לא האמנתם בי להקדשני. But what did Aaron do to be blameworthy? It was Moshe who took the staff (as commanded), who hit the rock (instead of speaking to it), chose which rock to hit (instead of asking the people), became angry and insulted the people calling them rebels. Aaron did none of this.

Whilst our commentators give a plethora of reasons for Moshe’s sin, they are relatively silent on Aaron’s role. We might suggest that  it is indeed Aaron’s silence which was his misdemeanour in this case. He should have protested his brother’s actions. This was of course not the only situation the Torah relates that Aaron acquiesced when challenged with a moral dilemma. The golden calf is one example and another is when Myriam his sister “spoke to him about” Moshe, he simply listened. He should have stopped her.
Aaron’s pursuit of peace and silence in adversity (for example when his sons Nadav and Avihu died וידם אהרון) made […]

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Destructiveness of undermining behaviours – Shelach Lecha 5777

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The request of the tribes to send spies to view the Land of Canaan was it would seem supported by both Hashem and Moshe. Hashem as the name of our Parasha  שלח לך  indicates tells Moshe to “send for you”. It is true He is saying “for you” but as shown in other cases where spies are used (Moshe sent spies to Yazer an Amorite town (Bemidbar 21:32); Joshua sending two spies to Jericho as related in our Haftara), He is not averse to the use of spies. Similarly, Moshe when he recounts the story in Devarim says that he was happy וייטב בעיני הדבר. Ramban says that Moshe was right as we shouldn’t rely on miracles. So what went wrong?

Moshe sends the 12 spies with two objectives. Firstly, he is interested militarily in the lay of the land, where the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses are. Secondly, he is looking for a report back to the people on how good the land and its fruits are, probably as a morale booster. 10 of the 12 spies however fundamentally undermine the mission’s objectives.

Instead of providing information to help with military tactics, they conclude that it is mission impossible. They grudgingly accept that the land is plentiful but then negate its value when they mendaciously say that the land consumes its inhabitants והארץ אוכלת את יושבה. Furthermore, instead of thrashing out their concerns privately with Moshe they go to the people initially in front of Moshe and then also behind his back creating a populist frenzy.

There are a number of lessons here. Firstly, in general whilst it is legitimate to have concerns, they need to be aired and talked through in […]

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Bamidbar Sedra Sheet – 5777

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Thoughts from the Parasha 
Neutralising the influence of the Evil Eye

Our Parasha במדבר, begins with the second census of the Jewish people as they prepared militarily to enter the Land of Israel. In contrast to the census which King David ordered which resulted in a plague and many Israelites dying, there was no such occurrence in the wilderness. Ramban gives a number of explanations for the difference. One of the reasons he gives is that in our parasha’s census there was a reason that is to prepare to enter the land whilst David only ordered the census so he could glorify himself in the size of the population and by doing so gave power to the “evil eye”.

Our sages tell us to be very careful in counting people to avoid the evil eye. Hence, when counting a minyan we typically recite a verse with ten words rather than count to 10.  So, what is the evil eye, how does it have power and what should we do to confront it?

Whilst the evil eye is only alluded to in the written Torah in Yaacov’s blessing to Yoseph, בן פורת יוסף, בן פורת עלי עין (Bereshit 49:22), the Talmud is more explicit with Rav suggesting that 99% of deaths are caused by it (Bava Metzia 107b) and legislation for damages linked to sight נזק ראייה (Bava Metzia 30a). Whilst Rambam explains this as a protection of an individual’s privacy, most commentators put the damages down to the evil eye.

Ribbi Eliezer Ben Hyrcanus one of Ribbi Yochanan Ben Zaccai’s students suggests the evil eye is the worst trait someone can have (and equally a good eye as the best trait) (Pirkei Avot 2:9). This […]

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Thoughts from the Parasha – Emor: Giving Jews a good name

One of the main themes of the book of Leviticus ויקרא is the call for the sanctification of Hashem’s name ‘קדוש ה and the warnings against the profanation of His name חלול ה׳. In our parasha, in addition to the Cohanim receive their own command, the whole people are also charged with ולא תחללו את שם קדשי, ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל,… “Do not profane my holy name; rather ensure I am sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel…”. (VaYikra 22:32)
What exactly are we being asked to do? The מצוות ה which sets out each of the 613 mitzvot according to HaRambam and what they entail says that חלול ה׳ and its opposite קדוש ה׳ manifests itself in 3 ways. Firstly, describing when a Jew should give up their life rather than transgress ie the laws of martyrdom. Secondly, it describes חלול ה׳ as occurring when someone transgresses a law not because of desire or benefit but simply to be rebellious. Thirdly, when someone brings Hashem or Judaism into disrepute through an action which might even be permissible.

There are manifold examples of the latter category of חלול ה׳. They can range from the ultra orthodox UKIP politician being reportedly involved with ladies of the night or rabbinical authorities being accused of covering up child abuse by teachers to simply losing one’s temper with customer service in a public place or one’s own appearance or communal buildings in an unkempt or unhygienic state. Being honest in our business dealings and positively contributing to the society we live in is also absolutely critical. The responsibility of safeguarding against חלול ה׳ or more positively doing a קדוש ה׳ applies to how observant Jews appear to their […]

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Thoughts from the Parasha – Achrei Mot: Everything in moderation

Following as it does the laws of forbidden relationships at the end of parashat Acharei-Mot, Rashi explains the command “Be holy” קדשים תהיו as a command to remove oneself from immorality. Ramban in a famous commentary disagrees and says that the command is much broader, requiring a moderation of our activity even in what is permitted to us.

In addition to relationships, Ramban gives examples of gluttony, drunkenness, uncleanliness טומאה and crude speech in the confines of this command. He says very clearly that if we don’t moderate our activity in such permitted activities we are degenerate.

His approach is supported by other scholars also. Taking marital intimacy as an example, whilst the Maran takes quite a strict view (Orach Chaim 240), the Rama (Even Haezer 25:2) following Rambam, Rabbenu Yitzhak of Dampierre (the Ri) and the conclusion of the Talmudic discussion in Nedarim 20b, takes a more liberal view of what is permitted. Still each of the more lenient poskim (arbiter in Halacha) encourages moderation, mutual respect and piety in the way one behaves with one’s spouse.

It is instructive that unlike other mitzvot, applying Ramban’s interpretation of קדשים תהיו “be holy” is not precisely legislated in each sphere of its application. It is down to the individual with advice from a spiritual mentor to judge what is appropriate in his or her specific circumstances.

The impact of making the right choices in one’s diet, drink, work/life balance, private life, time allocated to Torah learning and carrying out acts of kindness versus earning a living should not be underestimated. It will have an impact on how grounded you are as a person, your ability to control your desires and addictions, your general happiness, your spiritual development and […]

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Parashat Tazria-Metsorah Sedra Sheet

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Vayikra 5777 – Sedra Sheet

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Vayakhel Sedra Sheet

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