The Piano Rabbi…

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Short, humorous, relevant, contemporary musings on the weekly Torah portion suitable for all levels. Always with a take-away message. Suitable for all levels of Jewish knowledge. Something for your Friday night dinner table!

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My book is available on Amazon!

FROM THE TEACHINGS OF RABBI LORD SACKS zt” l–

Reproduced with permission from the book Rabbi Sacks And The Community We Built Together By United Synagogue

A MULTI-FACETED ENVIRONMENTALISM

Much has been made of Tu Bishvat – the New Year for Trees – (originally mentioned in the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1) in Jewish schools and chadarim around the world.  In Israel it is widely observed and has become synonymous with tree-planting and environmental projects and lessons.

The word environment in Hebrew is “svivah” – which means, quite literally, surroundings.  Our environment, our awareness of it and relationship to it, exists in different facets –the ecological environment, the spiritual environment, the moral environment.

I have long argued and preached in my own sermons that whilst traditional environmental concern is a Jewish value, so is concern for the moral and spiritual environment.  This dual concern is echoed in Rabbi Sacks’ work in several places where he writes passionately about both facets.

One thing all these facets have in common is that the seeds we sow today may not yield fruit for a long time, possibly only in future generations.  The Chumash and Talmud prepare us for this possibility:

The Torah teaches that “man is [like] the tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). To grow a tiny seed into a flourishing tree takes patience and effort. In life, too, we who often toil hard and long may despair of ever seeing the fruits of our labours.

As the Talmud relates in Tractate Taanit 23a:

It once happened that Choni the Circle Drawer was walking along, and he saw an old man planting a young fruit tree. Choni asked the man how long until the tree would bear fruit. 

‘Seventy years,’ the old man answered.

‘Do you really think you will be alive for another seventy years to enjoy the fruit from this tree?’ Choni asked in wonder.

The man replied, ‘Just as I was born into a world with fully grown fruit trees that were planted by my ancestors, so I plant a tree for my children.’

The word used in Avot – Ethics of the Fathers – 1:1 to describe the transmission of Torah from Moses to Joshua, and to subsequent generations is not to teach, or to pass on, but “masar” – from “limsor” – to hand over, intact.  When we express observing Shabbat, or kashrut, or mitzvot, we use the word “shemirat shabbat”, “shomer mitzvot” not just to keep shabbat but to preserve and guard it intact.  These phrases are deliberate and allude to not just our own observance but the need and desire to preserve the integrity and vibrancy of our Torah to pass it on to the next generation effectively and to preserve it and be its stewards for future generations, just like the physical trees we plant.

It takes a long-term view and a lot of patience!

I would like to further explore two facets of Rabbi Sacks’ work which deal with environmental issues.

The physical environment – In Genesis 2, God creates Adam, in the Garden of Eden “to work it” (le’ovdah – literally to serve it) and “take care of it” (leshomrah – to guard it on behalf of another).” Rabbi Sacks points out the significance of these two verbs: “We do not own nature…We are its stewards on behalf of God, who created and owns everything. As guardians of the earth, we are duty-bound to respect its integrity.”

There is an incredible Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes (7:13) (“Consider God’s doing! Who can straighten what He has twisted?”).

The Midrash relates that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

In his work compiled just prior to his passing and released for Tu Bishvat this year, R’ Sacks writes about what he refers to as the Stewardship Paradigm.

“The choice is ours. If we continue to live as though God had only commanded us to subdue the earth, we must be prepared for our children to inherit a seriously degraded planet, with the future of human civilisation at risk.

If we see our role as masters of the earth as a unique opportunity to truly serve and care for the planet, its creatures, and its resources, then we can reclaim our status as stewards of the world and raise our new generations in an environment much closer to that of Eden.”

Next the moral and spiritual environment – to quote Rabbi Sacks “Wars are won by weapons but it takes ideas to win a peace.”

Rabbi Sacks frequently contrasts the concern for our physical environment with the lack of concern for our moral and spiritual foundations.

Regarding the human environment, R Sacks writes “There have been protests… against the erosion of the natural environment… but there has been no equivalent protest at the erosion of our human environment, the world of relationships into which we bring our children. How, I have often asked, can we devote our energies to saving planet earth for the sake of future generations while neglecting our own children who are our future generations?” (Faith in the Future p. 25)

On the environment of thought: “Just as we are concerned at the purity of the air we breathe and the water we drink, so we should care about the clarity of the words we speak.  Debase language and you erode the very environment of thought.” (From Optimism to Hope p. 107)

On the moral environment: “As well as a physical ecology, we also inhabit a moral ecology, that network of beliefs, relationships, and virtues within which we think, act and discover meaning. For the greater part of human history, it has had a religious foundation. But for the past two centuries, in societies like Britain, that basis of belief has been profoundly eroded. And we know too much about ecological systems to suppose that you can remove one element and have the rest unchanged. There is, if you like, a God-shaped hole in our ozone layer. And it is time that we thought about moral ecology too.”

So, what is the solution?

Education, education, education!  It is a fitting testimony to the life of Rabbi Sacks that one of his greatest legacies is the explosion of Jewish day schools during his tenure as Chief Rabbi.  Without Jewish Education there is no future.

In the Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, Rabbi Sacks writes that “Education means teaching a child to be curious, to wonder, to reflect, to enquire. The child who asks becomes a partner in the learning process, an active recipient. To ask is to grow.”  As Rabbi Sacks put it, the greatest nachas and pride for a Jewish parent is not when the teacher calls up the parent and says, “your son or daughter gave a great answer today” but rather “they asked a great question in class”.

I saw first-hand how much Rabbi Sacks loved children.  At my own induction in Liverpool in 2011 Rabbi Sacks told the story which Dayan Binstock later told so movingly at R Sacks’ levaya, about the only time he had ever pulled rank as Chief Rabbi to give out sweets to the children and ruin the decorum in shul!

So much of Rabbi Sacks’ teachings deal with the environment but not just the physical environment, but the spiritual and moral environment in which we live and in which we raise our children.  As Rabbi Sacks makes clear, the two are indivisible, it makes no sense to have one without the other.  Just as we strive to increase awareness and concern (and rightly so) for the physical environment and the ecological state of this earth, so we should also strive to improve the society and the moral and spiritual environment around us, to invest in education and our children for their future.

FROM THE TEACHINGS OF RABBI LORD SACKS zt” l–

Turn Purim into Shabbat….

If you are struggling to figure out how to have a “Purim Seudah” meal with bread etc. and also a Friday night dinner, here is a little “cheat” to turn your Purim Seudah in to your Friday night dinner…

  1. Wash for bread (not challah, can be any bread, not 2x) and start eating before shabbat begins
  2. Stop eating at candle lighting time.
  3. Light candles as usual
  4. After that bring 2 whole challahs to the table and cover them
  5. Say Kiddush over wine or grape juice as normal.
  6. Immediately after Kiddush, without washing hands or saying Hamotzi, cut the bread, and give each person an ounce or more of bread to fulfill their Friday night meal. Hamotzi is not said as one has already said Hamotzi in the beginning of the meal before shabbos.
  7. The rest of the Friday night meal takes place as normal.
  8. During bentsching add in BOTH the Purim additions (Al Hanissim) AND Shabbat additions (Retzei)
  9. Enjoy!!
Turn Purim into Shabbat….

Mumbai 11 years on

The sermon I gave after the Mumbai tragedy 11 years ago… parshas Vayetze (last week’s…)

In today’s Parsha we read G-d’s promise to Jacob that “you shall spread out East, West, North and South, and through you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed”.

You can’t get too much further than Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, a place which was sadly in the news in the past week.  Amongst the many people murdered by terrorists were at least six Jews who died Al Kiddush Hashem – Sanctifying the Name of G-d, because they were tortured and murdered for the sole reason that they were Jewish.

As a teenager I visited Auschwitz with a group of Jewish high school children.  Some of us didn’t really take it seriously enough and were perhaps a bit irreverent.  However, the turning point came when we saw a glass case in the museum displaying a huge pile of suitcases belonging to camp inmates.  The cases had names on them and many of the group recognised their own family names – Goldberg, Shapiro, Cohen, etc.  Many of us broke down at this point and from then on it all became more relevant and ‘real’ to us.

As a human being, as a Jew, as a Rabbi and as a Chabad Rabbi, I was personally affected by the vicious murder of a Rabbi and Rebbetzen, and their guests last week.

Who can forget the pictures of a two-year-old Jewish yingele who will now be an orphan?  I have a Rabbi friend whose 6-year-old boy had been praying for the hostages.  When he saw the picture of the orphan, Moshele, my friend explained that Moshele is going to live with his Bubby and Zeidy.  The 6-year-old, tears in his eyes, cried out “but a boy needs his Mummy and Tatty (Daddy)”.  Even a child understands the need for parents.  For a mother to be torn from her child, denied the opportunity to bring them up, is harder even than death itself.

The truth is, these things happen all too frequently in Israel.  I personally do get affected by that too and it got to a point where I stopped listening to the Israeli news as it was so depressing.

Nonetheless something about Mumbai affected a large part of the Jewish world, to the extent that tens of thousands of people gathered to pray and say psalms for the hostages.  I saw an amazing quote from an American Rabbi who was asked what the message was for the local community, replied “the message is that there is no local Jewish community.”  How true.  There is no difference between a Jew next door and a Jew on the other side of the world.

The target was a Chabad House which has put the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the Spotlight.  My wife and I belong to the Chabad Lubavitch movement.  Let me explain a little bit about what Chabad is and what a Shaliach is and how a New York Jew ended up in India.

Chabad is an acronym for Chachma, Bina, Da’at – different facets of intellect.  It means the intellectual pursuit of G-d and Torah through study, through mystical interpretation and through prayer and joy.  These are the Chassidic goals as espoused by the founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov.  Also central to the Chassidic movement and the Chabad movement particularly under it’s last leader, or “Rebbe”, Rabbi M M Schneerson who passed away in 1994, is Ahavas Yisroel – loving and caring for another Jew.  There is no difference between a Jew next door and one on the other side of the world, we are all connected.  Some have even asked “Why are Jews in dangerous places like India?  Stick to London, New York, Israel”!  We all know only too well the dangers found in these places as well.  If we are to avoid places dangerous to Jews, we have nowhere to go.

The Rebbe had lived through the Holocaust – and seen hate of huge magnitude.  As Chief Rabbi said on Radio 4, the Rebbe’s antidote to the Nazis hunting people down in hate was to pursue people with unlimited love.  The Rebbe saw this as the only answer to such an outpouring of hatred – an equal and opposite outpouring of love and kindness.  In fact the name Lubavitch, interchangeable with Chabad – the town in Russia where the movement originated – means City of Love, an appropriate name for an ideal based on love of humanity and of fellow Jews.

In this spirit, his followers espoused the ideology of giving up the comforts of large, orthodox communities with schools, shuls, kosher restaurants etc. to spread out North, South, East and West – “Ufaratza” – spread out and help Jews wherever they may be.  This was called Shlichus as a Shaliach means being a representative, representing the Rebbe and his ideals.  Some Shluchim set up shop on their own, like in Mumbai; their centres became known as Chabad Houses, a home away from home.  Others work as teachers or as shul Rabbis like myself.   All have in common a belief in service to one’s community, self-sacrifice and the need to love and help a Jew wherever they may be.  Our ideology is to stay in place as long as we are able and as long as we are useful, and to conquer any challenges head-on rather than giving up.

So what is a Chabad House?  A place of peace, of spiritual solitude, where the seeker can find answers and a Jew can find a warm Yiddishe home.  The exact opposite of what the Mumbai Chabad House became this week!  It is unbelievable sacrilege to take such a place of love and turn it into such a place of hatred.

Rabbi Holtzberg a”h was the epitome of the perfect rabbi and the perfect Chabad Rabbi to boot, loving every Jew and putting others first.  It was reported that the guest quarters in their home were of great opulence and five-star quality, whilst their own tiny living quarters were sparse and threadbare.  In the ultimate ironic twist it was rumoured that they had hosted 2 of the killers who had posed as Malaysian students passing through.

Why was he taken?  And the others – six people in total, one of whom was five months pregnant making seven, all mown down in cold blood simply because they were Jewish.

The image playing in my mind like an endless reel, again and again, is that of two year old  Moshele Holzberg, at the memorial service in Mumbai screaming IMA IMA –  MOMMY MOMMY and no one answering.

It is the oldest question in the book – on Yom Kippur we read the horrors of the Ten Martyrs, in our own time the Holocaust; even Moses himself asked Hashem why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper and the L-rd turned aside and did not answer… there was no answer yet they didn’t give up then and we can’t now.

The story is told of a letter written by an inhabitant of the Kovno ghetto.  In it he writes “Dear G-d, I know exactly what you are trying to do.  With all the horrors and tragedy, you are trying to stop us from believing in You.  You will never succeed.  No matter what, our faith will remain intact, so you may as well give up now.”

We have no answers – there are no explanations.  In the Torah portion of Acharei Mos, on the day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, on what should have been the happiest day of Aharon’s life two of his children had their lives snuffed out in fire and died

The Torah tells us Aron’s response was ‘Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aharon was silent.

He was silent but he wasn’t still.  He continued on that very day, through the tears and through the heartbreak, to serve, to lead, to teach and to inspire. In fact there are many Halachot that we still live by today as a result of what Aharon taught.

Last week we saw the unmitigated evil and carnage that a group of young people could wreck.  For almost three days a great and powerful city was under virtual siege, a brave and mighty army and police forces was held at bay. While the world watched in horror they unleashed death and destruction, horrors unimaginable, destroying lives maiming humans and transforming day and light into darkness and cold.

They were able to do it because the hate and evil that warped their minds and their hearts was so deep and so unlimited that nothing would stop them.  With a passion and willingness to sacrifice themselves they turned a world on its head and scarred all of us forever.

We hear talk constantly about the war on terror – I’m not a military strategist – I’m not a political scientist, but it seems pretty clear to me that you can’t fight terror with guns and rockets. Terrorists maybe – but terror, terror ?

Terror you fight with kindness,
Darkness you fight with light,
Evil you fight with good.

And with every fibre of our being we believe that good is greater and more powerful then evil

If WE respond with at least as much commitment, as much passion, as much willingness to disregard every obstacle in our path, every excuse for why we can’t, and yes, with a willingness to sacrifice if we need to.

That isn’t a job for armies
That isn’t the obligations of governments
It isn’t the mandate of nations
It is the responsibility of every single one of us

WE need to fight terror – with kindness – with goodness, with light – The symbol of our battle is not a gun or a tank – it’s a candle

To fight it with dedication, with passion and with a commitment not to give up.

As one commentator said, they picked the wrong people to mess with.

There are many many children of  India  this very night crying, AMMI AMMI for mothers and fathers brothers and sisters slaughtered for no reason other than that they were human beings created in the Image of G-d.

Last week as we watched the news about Mumbai  400 Nigerians were slaughtered because they were either Muslim when they should have been Christian or Christian when they should have been Muslim, did any one of us even shed a tear?

Would I have even known if I wasn’t glued to the Internet watching what was happening in Mumbai?

Each and every one of us needs to say loudly and clearly we will make this a good and warm world .

That is an obligation that we all share, all six billion of us as human beings created in G-d’s image and recipients of His guidance.

And yet we as a Jewish Community we also come together because we’re actually family – our grief is for our very own brothers and sisters.   But is it really family?  Is it shared DNA that ties us together?  Is it simply a unique history shared over three millennia that makes us one?

What is it that really defines us as a nation distinct and special.  What is it that gave us, for two thousand years, without a land of our own that we could call home, the ability to instil in all of mankind the principles of goodness and kindness, justice and morality, a belief that yes we must make this world a better place? A nonsensical notion of supposed intellectual superiority??!! No!  There is really only one common denominator –   Torah.  Our heritage.

It’s really Torah that makes us unique – It’s Torah that makes us a people, a nation a family.  And so when we as Jews go about the task of making this world – all of it – a better place – we need – if we are to be faithful to our obligation to the family of man as a whole  – to do it proudly and unashamedly, as Jews, as Torah directs .

When we talk of candles it’s the Shabbos candles that Jewish women light each Friday night that lights up a world for every human being,

It is the Chanukah candles in EVERY SINGLE JEWISH home that shines the light of the message of the triumph of good over evil, of the righteous over the wicked to EVERYONE in our world.

When a Jew fulfils Torah’s mandate to put on Tefillin each weekday the world becomes a better place for all of us.

Mitzvah after  mitzvah, person after person, one at a time but increasing exponentially until inevitably we change the world we have into one truly filled with light and warmth, a world where we never again will need to confront tragedy, a world, where as we say in the funeral service death is removed forever and sorrow ends.  This is the Jewish response to tragedy.

Today we mark the birth of our daughter and celebrate her life.  A child brings so much joy to so many.  The terrorists picked the wrong people to mess with, because you cannot destroy the Jewish people.  We have survived and we will continue to survive, we will never sink to their level, we will always seek to bring light and joy to our surroundings.

Yet still we wonder what our world is coming to?

I spoke last Rosh Hashanah about people’s fears for their children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit.  Arnold Slyper spoke last week about the eschatological conflict with Islam and the deep-rooted issues which drive hatred and fear.

The Jewish belief about the End of Days is very benign – an era of peace and harmony; a return to the Land of Israel; the wolf shall lie with the lamb; swords into ploughshares.

The Talmud relates the following story about Rabbi Akiva.  When his colleagues saw the joy of Rabbi Akiva as he gazed upon a fox running amongst the stones of the destruction on the Temple Mount, they asked in wonder “Akiva, why are you so happy?”  He responded that the same prophets who spoke of foxes roaming the temple ruins, spoke of rebuilding and rejuvenation, of Jerusalem and Zion returned to their glory.  Once Rabbi Akiva realised that the first part had indeed been fulfilled, he was confident that the next part would happen too – speedily in our days!

When we see the horror, the tragedy, the only possible answer has to be that there is a better tomorrow in store for humanity and we have to demand it from G-d today.  There certainly cannot be a worse tomorrow.  And at the same time we have to do our bit, by doing more, bringing more light, more mitzvot, and more holiness into our own lives and those of others.  We say Kaddish not as a memorial prayer but as a praise of G-d’s greatness, to compensate for the damage done to the Image of G-d whenever a person dies.  We can also compensate by resolving to do our own little bit to bring more light and holiness into our lives and those of others, out of respect for those we lost and out of hope for the future.

Mumbai 11 years on

Noah for the 21st century…

In the year 2019 the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in London and said, ‘Once again, the earth has become wicked and over populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. Build another Ark and save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.’ He gave Noah the digital designs, saying, ‘You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.’

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark.

‘Noah!’ He roared, ‘I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?’

‘Forgive me, Lord,’ begged Noah, ‘but things have changed. I needed Building Regulations Approval and I’ve been arguing with the Fire Brigade about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I should have obtained planning permission for building the Ark in my garden because it is development of the site, even though in my view it is a temporary structure.

We had to then go to appeal to the Home Office for a decision which took weeks.

Then the Department for Transport demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it. Getting the wood was another problem. All the decent trees have Tree Preservation Orders on them and we live in a Site of Special Scientific Interest set up in order to protect the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but no go!

When I started gathering the animals, the RSPCA sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.

Then the County Council, the Department for the Environment and the Rivers Agency ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood. I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission on how many ethnic minority carpenters I’m supposed to hire for my building team. The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only accredited workers with Ark-building experience.

To make matters worse, Customs and Excise seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark.’

Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, ‘You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?’ ‘No,’ said the Lord. ‘The government beat me to it.’

~~~~~~

Last week we read the account of Creation.  There is an incredible medrash, an allegorical commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes that sounds like it was written by a present-day environmentalist.  When G-d created Adam, he took him around the whole Garden of Eden, explaining how he made it so beautiful especially for him and his family.  G-d then instructed Adam, saying: See My works how beautiful and balanced they are. And all I created, I created for you. But be careful that you don’t damage or destroy My world for if you ruin it there will be no one to repair it after you.

Today we read the story of Noah and the flood.  Surprisingly, we again find evidence of a concern and sensitivity for the Environment.  Noah was instructed to build 3 floors on the Ark.  The commentators explain that one floor was for humans, one for animals and the bottom floor was for rubbish.  None of the commentators use the term ‘storage’ or anything similar; they all explain it was used specifically for rubbish.

Now, can you imagine that the world is being destroyed, there’s nothing out there except for water.  Besides that, what kind of rubbish did Noah have already? It certainly wasn’t polystyrene, plastic or non-biodegradable stuff!  It was leftover food and animal waste. Yet he didn’t just throw it overboard but showed a concern for its proper treatment rather than polluting the water!

Since then, observant Jews have been concerned about the environment for centuries.  Nowadays we are exhorted to leave our cars at home one day a week and swtich off our electrics – we have been doing this since time immemorial, it’s called Shabbos, when we reduce our consumption significantly for one whole day a week.

All of this is under the banner of “Tikun Olam” “Repairing the World”.  The phrase is often misunderstood nowadays but it comes from Aleinu which we recite three times a day.  In it we speak of our obligation “to establish the world with G-d’s Kingship”.  The Hebrew word for establishing is tikun which also means to fix or repair.  Tikun Olam means fixing or repairing the world, making good that which is not.  Whilst it derives from a religious imperative, it is a central theme of Judaism which propels many varieties of social activism in different spheres of life.

In broad terms, Tikun Olam means leaving the world in a better state than you found it.  In Judaism the term Environment is a very broad one, encompassing not just the modern concepts of cutting down on waste, protecting nature and reserves, global warming, pollution and similar concerns, but also other types of pollution which may affect the family environment, the moral environment, the social environment, the economic environment and of course our spiritual surroundings.  In Jewish terms, the environment means one’s surroundings, in every sense of the word.  People focus on what we normally understand as “THE environment” but it is worthwhile noting that Jewish law and tradition abhor any form of pollution, whether physical, moral or spiritual, and Judaism commands us to repair the world, to improve it in every aspect and to minimise such pollution.

In Pirkei Avos, the Ethics of the Fathers, our Sages tell us:  “Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His Glory, as it is said: “Everything that is called by my Name, was created for My glory; I have formed it, I have made it.”

This source speaks for itself: everything in this world was created by G-d and therefore it is our responsibility to enhance and not destroy it. This is a precept no less worthy than all the others.  Many people learn about the biblical prohibition against unnecessary destruction or waste- but perhaps there is a gap between the theoretical teaching and the need to enliven this learning with an awareness of today’s problems and how to apply traditional concepts to solving them.

The Talmud also tells us “Of all that G-d created in His world, He did not create one thing that is useless.” Everything has its place, its role in Tikun Olam, in fixing and enhancing the world, and when society wastes that which G-d has created we are acting against His purpose for our being.

A far as application of contemporary environmental concerns, Judaism has always taken a balanced, pragmatic view.  On the one hand we are told that “the earth is the L-rd’s and all that is in it” meaning it is only through His grace and concession that we are permitted to use any resources at all.  It is for this reason that we have a custom of reciting a brocho before partaking of many different aspects of G-d’s world, including eating, drinking, smelling a pleasant scent, viewing natural phenomena, and much more.  The rationale is that we are recognising the preciousness of the Created World and acknowledging that it is really only a concession that we are allowed to make use of it.  This Is in addition to the other biblical narratives, shows a profound concern for the world around us.  Judaism teaches that with this proviso in mind, we can – and indeed should – use the world around us to fulfil our purpose in life.  The key word is USE and not ABUSE.  We are permitted to use resources in moderation for our day-to-day needs whilst being commanded not to waste anything –– as well as being enjoined to seek responsible alternatives to protect the resources around us.

Indeed, Judaism does not provide a blanket endorsement to man’s domination of nature for his own benefit. Judaism imposes numerous restrictions on how, when, and to what extent people can use the natural environment. Many of its ideas and principles either explicitly or implicitly evoke themes that are consistent with “green principles”.

But while Judaism may be consistent with many contemporary environmental values and doctrines, its teachings are not identical to them. Specifically, Judaism does not regard the preservation or protection of nature as the most important societal value; it holds that humans are not just a part of nature but have privileged and distinctive moral claims; it argues that nature should be used and enjoyed as well as protected. Jewish tradition is complex: it contains both “green” and “non-green” elements and as with everything else, sensible balance is required.

The Talmud relates that a certain righteous man once encountered another man planting a carob tree. “How long will it take to bear fruit?” he inquired. “About seventy years,” the man replied. “So you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” The man explained, “I have found ready-grown carob trees in the world. As my forefathers planted them for me, so I plant for my children.”

There is no question that the choices we make today in the environmental arena have long-reaching consequences for tomorrow.  We can choose to plant for the future through care and sensitivity, or to destroy the future through our carelessness today.

I must confess I myself am not as green as I should be.  We all tend to be cynical – one Rabbi told me that he presented his pleas for greater environmental concern to a conference of colleagues only to be met with silence.  There is much work still to be done.  That said, the building blocks are there in the Torah itself, as well as Jewish tradition, for a meaningful, resourceful relationship with the world around us, making the best use of it to serve G-d, repairing our environment, whilst utilising everything responsibly and with an eye on protecting the future.

The parshas we are reading teach us the fundamental concept of “tikun olam” of repairing and enhancing the world around us – and in an age when faith is often seen as being out of date it is encouraging that modern-day trends actually have their roots in our tradition.

Noah for the 21st century…

Davening Directed: Shir Shel Yom

SHIR SHEL YOM

  • Shir Shel Yom (שִׁיר שֶׁל יוֹם), meaning “‘song’ [i.e. Psalm] of [the] day [of the week]” consists of one psalm recited daily at the end of the Jewish morning prayer services known as shacharit.
  • Each day of the week possesses a distinct psalm that is referred to by its Hebrew name as the shir shel yom and each day’s shir shel yom is a different paragraph of Psalms.[1]
  • Although fundamentally similar to the Levite’s song that was sung at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times, there are some differences between the two

Continue reading “Davening Directed: Shir Shel Yom”

Davening Directed: Shir Shel Yom

Source Sheet for @The Taylors’

 

The Case of the Poisoned Sandwich

THE CONTROVERSY:

Some time ago an incident occurred involving a socially inept American student who became the butt of his classmates’ derisive behavior.   Matters reached a point at which one of the tormentors regularly invaded the oppressed student’s knapsack, stole the sandwich the latter had prepared for lunch and proceeded to eat it himself.

Endeavours to enlist the aid of fellow classmates in order to identify the thief or to prevail upon him to put an end to the practice were of no avail.  Finally, the victim, who excelled academically as a chemistry student, took matters into his own hands and proceeded one day to lace his sandwich with a poison.  In the midst of an afternoon lecture one of the members of the class became violently ill.

In the course of the ensuing tumult the victimized student revealed what he had done explaining that he had resorted to poisoning the sandwich in order to establish the identity of the thief.

Thereupon the rightful owner of the sandwich administrated an already prepared antidote to counter the effect of what otherwise would have been a lethal poison. Continue reading “Source Sheet for @The Taylors’”

Source Sheet for @The Taylors’