Archive for febrer de 2018

This time of year always seems to elicit extremes in emotions. We have the exultation of Purim followed by the panic of cleaning, shopping and cooking for Pesach. It is a packed portion of the calendar, for it is an auspicious time. In the days before calendars were written down, there were several additional harbingers of Pesach and to a lesser extent Purim to alert the populace that the time for preparation was upon us.

This week, aside from being Parasha T’tzaveh, it is also Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat traditionally before Purim where an additional reading is added to the normal weekly reading. In this case, even though we are in the midst of the book of Shemot (Exodus), we read the additional portion from Devarim (Deuteronomy).

The portion reads: “Remember (Zachor) what Amelek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt…you shall blot out the memory of Amelek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

This Shabbat (Zachor) gets its name from the opening of the Maftir (additional) reading, Zachor (remember). We are charged to recall not only what Amelek did to us, but also, there is a rabbinic tradition that Haman, the villain in the story of Purim, is a descendant of Amelek, and thus the connection with this portion being read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. But who is Amelek?

According to our tradition, Amelek is not only the people who attacked the Israelites from the rear, slaughtering the defenceless weak and elderly. Amelek is the embodiment of an evil that thrives, even today. I do not read literally that Haman was the genealogical descendant of Amelek, but the ideological one. The command therefore, which is still relevant today, is not to eradicate the Amelekite people, but what they stood for. It is to stand up to evil and injustice in the world.

The story of Purim is a joyous one because we were saved from almost sure destruction. It happened because Esther took it upon herself to make a stand at great hazard to her life. We must remember her example and the evil which threatened us. As the portion from Deuteronomy states, we must blot out the memory of that evil. We must not forget what almost happened and we must remember what can happen if we take a stand.

That I believe is the message implicit in the name of this Shabbat. Remembering who we are, our values, our ethos, but more than that, remembering we have an eternal and divine charge to blot evil from under heaven. Wherever we may encounter it, evil must be resisted and destroyed. It is not enough simply to remember, but to be inspired to action from that memory, just as Esther was.

Join us on Saturday night to laugh with the wonderful schpiel and on Wednesday night as we come together to read the Megillah, to laugh and to celebrate the holiday of Purim.

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This week’s parasha contains quite an in-depth description of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, designed to be a resting place for God’s presence.

The Torah goes into intricate detail of how the Mishkan should be built, what should go where, as well as many other specifics that one would need when building a resting place for God’s presence.

The Ark that was housed inside the Mishkan, contained what is more commonly referred to as the Tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, as depicted in many recollections of the events at Mount Sinai.

The Cover was made of pure gold, and was decorated with two Cherubim, also made of gold. Adonai had told Moses that it was there that God would speak to him. Then there was a Table, made of acacia wood, also covered with gold, as well as a gold crown. There was also a Menorah, as well as Covers for the Tabernacle, a Partition, and Altar, and a Courtyard.

This seems rather lavish for the Children of Israel to have to build, especially since they would have to carry this Mishkan with them throughout the journey towards Canaan. This was to be a direct symbol, tangible evidence of God’s existence.

When we look at the design and structure of the Mishkan in detail, we find ourselves in a familiar environment. Many of the individual pieces used in the Mishkan are present in our own homes today. A table, which was originally intended for “meetings” between God and Moses. Today, we generally gather around the table to talk, or to eat, and there’s usually talking involved whilst eating, anyway. The Mishkan also contains several other structures or elements that are basic to any house today – walls, curtains, covers, partitions.

While it would be incorrect to equate the Mishkan with our everyday houses and homes, these structures we live in probably resemble the closest concepts that we would have, as to what the Mishkan would have looked like. After all, today, a home is a Mishkan, our very own sanctuary.

The Mishkan was finally settled in the Temple in Jerusalem, and when the 2nd Temple was destroyed, the home eventually became a substitute, albeit, a more subdued version, of the Mishkan. It is true to say that many of our religious practices and occurrences take place in the synagogue. However, we don’t spend most of our time in the synagogue, but rather in our homes.

Therefore, the home has become the more appropriate replacement for the Mishkan. How often have we heard the home being referred to as the sanctuary in which the family lives? Just as the Mishkan represented the centre of Jewish existence, so too does the home represent the centre of our Jewish existence today. What we do and for that matter, don’t do in our homes, reflects our religious lives more than we anticipate. At home, we feel, well… at home. Our behaviour and practices in the Synagogue and the wider community, should reflect our behaviour in our homes.

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, God says; “V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti betocham.” (They shall make Me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them).

Our Sages explain that the goal of building the Mishkan is not merely to create a House for God, but to sanctify a place for God within the people. Each individual should personally strive to make their home a home where God feels welcome, as if it were God’s home.

Let us strive to find the strength and inspiration to build our very own Mishkan within our homes, and more than being crafted of fine wood, laden with gold, may it be a symbol of our gratitude, a place where we would be proud for God to dwell therein.

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When is it time for your Sinai Moment? This week’s Torah reading begins in the desert close to Mt Sinai, with God giving Moses a list of around fifty mitzvot commandments and rules connected to how people should relate to each other in various ways – in the justice system, at home and with neighbors. An example of this is “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger…”

Next, Moses, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, seventy elders ascend a little way up the mountain, and see a vision of God, and then all the Children of Israel perceive God. Then they eat and drink. And after a week, Moses is called to climb up Mount Sinai alone, staying on the cloud-covered mountain for forty days and nights, receiving the Torah in solitude.

The sages tell us each person is to see ourselves as, at times, receiving Torah and being in that place of Moses. Ascending the mountain in solitude and connecting with the highest inspiration is an archetypal experience we might all have in our lives. We might feel called to have a break from the frey of regular life, and tap into the depths of our own inspiration. It is a time to connect with holiness and the Oneness of God. A Sinai moment.

There is a time to throw ourselves into the rumble tumble of every day life, and be guided by the many rules and mitzvot of daily life. And there are times to be still and quiet and tap into the inner wisdom of reflection – metaphorically climbing the mountain, being covered in misty clouds. A time to perceive God and our inner truth. Judaism, being such a practical path, states that once we have seen God, we go on to eat and drink: “And they perceived God and they ate and drank”. We don’t stay up the mountain, we come back down and use that inspiration in our lives and in the world.

May we be blessed to have those inspired times and may we use them for good in our lives.

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 “No one is old just because he or she was born a long time ago or young just because he or she was born a short time ago. People are old or young much more as a function of how they think of the world, the availability they have for curiosity giving themselves to knowledge” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the heart 2004. page 33 

A month ago two friends celebrated their birthday and for both was a landmark in their lives. It meant the entrance into the realm of the “middle” age because today at “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age” as Victor Hugo wrote.

The truth is that we experience middle age differently how previous generations experienced it. Before reaching this landmark was considered as the entrance into a physical decline, the gates to old age. And today, thanks to the greater life expectancy and a higher quality of life, we reach 50s full of vitality and with the possibility of reinventing our lives. Middle age can be a very exciting time in our life cycle if we know how to take advantage of it.

Speaking of age is always a difficult emotional issue. How do we establish the age? The way I see it is a combination of three elements. The first is our biological age. Organically we are experiencing changes. The chemistry of our body is changing, secreting less testosterone which leads us to develop less muscle mass, for example. Our cells receive less hydration which causes the appearance of wrinkles, We have less dopamine, more gray hair, etc.

The second element is the age that we appear. In this area is where we must take into account the way we have treated our body during the previous years: exercise, healthy diet, taking care of our emotional being, etc. Finally, the third element is how old we feel inside and this is where we feel the crisis because over the years our body is in constant change.

The crisis we can experience during this period is not different from any other crisis in the human life cycle. These organic changes occur in our bodies, in the same way as when we evolve from childhood into adolescence, or into adulthood. This requires a process of adjustment and adaptation. Awareness of these changes leads to acceptance and an emotional balance, which is essential to ensure a quality of life.

We all know someone who, arriving at this age, feels that he “has lost the train.” This train is the social pressure that has to do with a stereotype of beauty and a behavioral expectations. There are clichés or stereotypes that demand eternal youth and that are presented to us through a consumer market and the media. Pressured to buy into this model, we can feel a deep anguish and even get to experience rejection of ourselves.

How did we get here? We can not live in the past. At this stage of our lives we learn that our past actions have consequences and we come into contact with our own mortality through the physical losses we experience. For this reason there are people who go into crisis trying to avoid losses and try to recover lost time. The solution is to get out of the stereotype and accept oneself and reconcile with oneself.

With a loss there is always a gain. This can be a time of fulfillment because we can live it without haste, without impulses. Nor does our mind age as we continue to perceive as when we were younger. It is a time when we can take those projects that we had left in the back burner because we had to attend to other priorities, career, family, job etc.. Entering into this stage, we learn that we must live for ourselves and not for others. There are those who are afraid of the empty nest syndrome, but the truth is that the nest is never really empty because we are always in it. We realize that physically we are alone, but we do not feel alone if we learn to be with ourselves.

Middle age can be a very exciting and enriching stage in our lives if we learn to feel comfortable with ourselves and to live authentically here and now and if we ask ourselves without fear how we want to face the coming years.

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This week we read one of the central parashiot of our Torah; the giving of the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. There are many wonderful legends about what it was like for the Israelites who stood together, heard the voice of God and bound themselves to one another and to God in a covenant. Some suggest it was like a wedding; Mt. Sinai, covered in flowers, held over the heads of the Israelites like a chupah, the commandments serving as the ketubah, the marriage contract and that day, a true celebration of their freedom as they committed themselves to a life together with God.

The ten commandments form a central part of Jewish life, they are the overarching principles by which we are to direct our actions in the world. Most of the rulings today seem obvious: don’t murder, don’t steal and hopefully we are not regularly transgressing those commandments, but one of the rules has always been a struggle for me. It seems to be controlling our thoughts and by the time we have the thought, it is too late, we have broken the commandment! It is number ten, “you shall not covet.” We are told; you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. It is a simple commandment, do not envy, do not be jealous of your neighbor, yet as soon as we have the thought, we have transgressed the commandment. As soon as we wish for something our neighbor has, we are in violation of the commandment, and it is very hard to un-think a thought. So other than knowing that Yom Kippur affords us the opportunity to seek forgiveness and proving that we are all fallible, what is this commandment trying to teach us?

I read a lovely commentary from Yossy Goldman which brings a slightly different take on the commandment and gives a new insight into its application. He draws on the commentaries which ask: if there is a list of objects which we should not covet, why also include “or all that is your neighbours?” They answer that we should be careful not to envy what our neighbour has without looking at ALL our neighbour has, meaning, that it is important to consider the totality of the person’s situation and maybe we will discover that our envy is misplaced. Our neighbour may have a beautiful shiny new boat, but he had to work from morning until night in a high pressure job to afford it. He has the boat but no time to enjoy it and his children are growing up without him. Our neighbour may have a glamorous lifestyle; parties, designer clothes, fame but she is lonely and craves the anonymity of regular life, real friends. We all have our burdens to bear and what may appear on the surface to be the perfect life is often far from it. We all have our struggles, our times of difficulty and challenge and this commandment is reminding us to look at it all. Before we envy our neighbours we should remember to look at the reality of their lives and to see what is really there rather than be blinded by the objects and items we desire.

I hope this Shabbat we can take a moment to be grateful for what we have and recognize that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

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