Showing posts with label Torah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torah. Show all posts

Monday, 14 November 2011

Know not the Tribune their Scriptures?

shchem2 - Copy

We’ve always known the Jewish Tribune to fill its pages with buffoonery, fundamentalism, propaganda, selective facts, myopia, amnesia and even to suffer from the occasional bout of racism if Geoffrey Alderman is to be believed. But at least we read it secure in the knowledge that whatever else they may be, heathens who know not their Scriptures they are not and from the Tribune shall go forth the Torah.

Until last week that is when under the photo of the visit of some C-class celebrity to the tomb of the matriarch Rachel the Tribune placed the tomb in Shchem. Although there is some debate over the correct location no one but the Tribune has to date placed it in Shchem.

I find it most humbling that it has come to this but let me teach the Tribune a posuk in the chumesh that many a child has shed many a tear over for not knowing anything from the context of the posuk in the chapter to the context of the tomb on the way to Bethlehem and not to mention Rashi’s multiple translations of kivrath eretz.

וַאֲנִי בְּבֹאִי מִפַּדָּן מֵתָה עָלַי רָחֵל בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּעוֹד כִּבְרַת-אֶרֶץ לָבֹא אֶפְרָתָה וָאֶקְבְּרֶהָ שָּׁם בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָת הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם

And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some way to come unto Ephrath; and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath--the same is Beth-lehem. (From the JPS 1917 edition)

Friday, 4 November 2011

In The Beginning…

We may well be reading the third portion of the Torah this coming Shabbos but since it's the third out of 50 odd sidros it's fair to say we've barely started. We Jews are fortunate for many reasons. Like Paddington Bear we get two birthdays and even two new years: one for getting blasted, the other for getting plastered. In fact it often feels as if we get a third new year when after the celebrations of the first weeks of the new year we roll back the Torah to the beginning at the opening chapter of Genesis and start again In The Beginning…

That was two weeks ago yet in that time a world's been created and destroyed, humans have come and gone with alarming frequency, man got his woman and together they sinned (what else?), were cursed and expelled. Naturally enough man 'knew' his woman, for if you're not in the Eden you were given you might as well create one for yourself, and they begot offspring. And this is basically what has been happening ever since.

There's also been fratricide, a deluge, inebriation followed by indecent exposure (some things never change), attempts at building a skyscraper, attempted rape, a battle, abductions, celestial visions, bitching wives, men falling out over money and yet we're only up to the 3rd portion. Some book Bereishis is and though unfortunately I'm not always the most decorously behaved in shul when it comes to the reading during these weeks I sit enraptured and devour every word.

We wouldn't be Jews if we weren't always seeking the 'deeper meaning' and God knows how the verses of His books often pass through so many hoops that I'm sure there are times He blushes when He sees the meanings attributed to His words. And yet it is difficult to read these chapters without seeing in them a universal message. Both Darwin and the Bible agree that we began in complete ignorance and without clothes on and the argument appears to be whether we evolved to Gucci via Primark or whether it was a fig leaf from Victoria's Secrets at the outset and we've been going downhill ever since.

Moving on to tomorrow's portion which begins Lech Lecho, meaning 'Go for your sake' (Rashi), or, 'Get thee out' (JPS following KJV), when God told Avram to leave his 'land, birthplace and father's home to the land I will show you.' There is a mystery at the heart of it as to why God chose this particular chap and told him to abandon everything in return for untold richness and greatness. The rabbis came up with tales of how Avram came to know his creator, his zealotry, what we now call 'outreach' and attempted martyrdom. They all seek to answer the central question, why him?, and by extension, why us?

When in Jewish-centric mode I see in the story of Avram the story of the Jewish people wandering from pillar to post to a land they have yet to be shown. We left the land and birthplace of the father of our nation to go to a land we were then driven from and we're basically back to where we started. It also makes us somewhat homeless: always on one place looking from and to elsewhere.

However, since I prefer to spend my time in a universal state of mind I like to see the story of Avram as as a metaphor for the human condition. To acquire greatness and riches, be they intellectual, spiritual or material, or to improve the human condition one must shed dogmas and baggage of the past. You must leave your intellectual 'birthplace and father's home' and go to a land that will be shown to you. The journey may start simply by leaving the past behind despite not knowing whence it is heading. For greatness lies not in certainties and absolutes but in the confidence to admit that what has been cannot continue and a burning desire to find something brighter and better.

And now let me bring in the protestors round the world dwelling in tents like Avram and calling for change. Many have criticised them for not having a solution to the problems they complain about. But that appears to say that what is must remain until there is a viable alternative. That may sound practical but is not how real and fundamental change is brought about. The Torah teaches us that one may leave behind a corrupt past even if the route ahead is unmarked and the destiny unknown. In the beginning shed the past for abandoning what has been is the first step of the journey and like all first steps it is often the bravest.

Good Shabbos!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Celebrating the Torah

Walking the street enjoying the sights of the flowers and the smell of dairy delicacies it occurs to me that while the other festivals are offshoots and commandments of the Torah, only Shavouth is the festival of the Torah itself. It is when we celebrate the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai though the Torah does not make the link and, like most things, comes to us by rabbinic deduction perpetuated by culture and custom. Perhaps like a birthday boy or girl who do not organise their own party, the Torah kept silent on the issue and left it to others to throw the bash. And what a bash it is!

Other Holidays go on for what seems a lifetime and come with truck loads of rules restricting what we can eat, when we can eat, where we can eat and sometimes whether we can eat at all. Pesach supposedly celebrates freedom but enslaves us weeks in advance in preparation and weeks after in paying the bills. Succoth celebrates the shade in the wilderness so we Jews decided to commemorate it by erecting booths during rainy and cool Autumn.

Shavuoth however is different. It's short lasting only 2 days; it's tasty with an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy savouries; and it's colourful with beautiful flowers and foliage adorning homes and shules. So much so that the Talmud tells us that unlike other Holidays there is no dispute that Shavuoth must be enjoyed materially as well as spiritually.

For this reason Shavuoth has hardly any rules or special prayers and we're home early for lunch. Those prayers that there are like Akdomuth come with a special chant. The Akdomuth itself is one half glorification of God and his celestial creations and one half a recitation of the delights to expect when our time comes. A feast of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, assuming they’re not endangered species, washed down with wine from the days of Genesis and held in halls of splendour. Unfortunately there is no debauchery to go with it and while others get 70 virgins all we get is a waltz with the righteous who as we know can't dance.

To top the beauty of the Festival is the reading of the book of Ruth, surely the most exquisite and beautiful story of the entire Bible both in content and style.

Since I seem to be giving a sermon there must be a moral at the end and here it is: Shavuoth is celebrated in the manner that the Torah ought to be before the killjoys decided to ruin it: short, simple, colourful and palatable. Leave the 'deeper meanings' to your slumber during the Rabbi's speech for Shavuoth needs no rabbis. The Torah has simple and pleasant meaning and that is just how we celebrate the Festival commemorating its presentation to us.

Good Yom Tov!