June 26th 2015
Mazal tov to Karen Ross who received her MBE for services to children and families in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Mazal tov to Karen and Adrian Ross on becoming grandparents yet again. Mazal tov as well to parents Adam and Anna Ross on the birth of a son Hillel Nechamia.
Rabbi Zvi would like to express his thanks to all those who have offered support since his accident. Unfortunately, he is unable to offer his leining services to RHC at Goldsmid Rd at present, but he welcomes those in the community who wish to hear leining with a sefer Torah to join him at the Rabbi’s house for services on Saturday morning 27 June and 18 July. Goldsmid Rd is welcome to join in these services to bring the community together. If you wish to stay for lunch, please contact Shira. Donation £5. We can always accommodate a few last minute people but please book ahead of time if you can.
Rebbetzin Shira’s next Friday Night Dinner will be held on Friday 10 July. Service at the Rabbi’s house 7:15pm followed by dinner. Please book your place directly with Rebbetzin Shira.
Adults £15 Students/low income £7.50. Children free. Space is limited so book early.
Please note that the payment instructions used for previous dinners no longer apply as Rebbetzin Shira no longer works for RHC.
Limmud In The Woods 27th -31st August
Indulge and surround yourself in Jewish culture, religion, music and learning this summer at Limmud in the Woods! Take your friends and family on a journey of enlightenment over the August bank holiday. Ponder life under the stars, learn amongst some of the world’s greatest teachers then dance the night away at the silent disco.
Eager to make a difference? Volunticipate as a kitchen manager or Madrich at a reduced attendance price of £85!
Intrigued by what you read? Keen to find out more?
Check out our website for more information: http://limmud.org/woods/
Kaytana –Oxford Summer Scheme Monday 3rd August to Friday 7th August
Oxford Kaytana 2015 is a summer scheme for children aged 5-14 years, organised by the community and led by youth leaders, experienced staff and junior assistants. The Oxford Kaytana is specifically designed to cater for young people from Jewish families in the greater Oxford area, for both those connected with the Oxford Jewish Community and friends. Our goal is to strengthen the Jewish roots and Jewish experience of youngsters from age 5 upwards, both as participants and as young leaders in the summer scheme. Oxford Kaytana offers a week of excitement, Jewish learning, pride and fun in a warm, friendly, caring environment.
For further details, contact: Hila on 07525 785 200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
KOSHER FOOD NEWS
· The next Just Kosher delivery is Sunday 5 July. Small orders can be arranged through Rebbetzin Shira - contact Shira
Power and responsibility (on Chukkat)
This week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, talks about several themes. The best-known of these is the ritual of the Red Heifer, which purified those who were impure whilst at the same time making the purifier impure. It is a curious law. The paradox of the cleansing making impure echoes throughout the portion.
For example, Moses and Aaron are told to bring water from a rock. They disobey God by using the opportunity to prove themselves to be in the right in the face of the people’s moaning and complaining. Similarly the People speak evil of Moses and are punished with fiery serpents.
This is a complicated portion but is perhaps the portion where we learn something important about the nature of leadership and power. We all have the potential for greatness, but in everything which raises us above the normal we can be lowered and damaged. The seeds of our destruction are there in our greatest achievements. Moses at the peak of his powers, still strong and cogent after 40 years in the Wilderness, is still fallible, and it is the power of leadership and its responsibilities which lay him low and prevent him from entering the promised land. Just as the purifier is defiled by his act of purification so the great leader is brought low by the temptations of leadership, and the People, just beginning to learn how to do things on their own, are taught not to be so arrogant as to speak ill of their leadership despite their flaws.
These are salutary lessons for all who would have power and influence.
The sin of silence (on Chukkat)
One of the great puzzles of the Torah is why Aaron, who seemed to get away scot-free after making the golden calf, is punished so severely in this week’s parsha. There they were, Moses and Aaron with a rabble of complaining people. God tells Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses loses his cool and strikes the rock, twice, with his rod. God punishes Moses and Aaron by forbidding them both from entering the promised land. The harshness on Moses can be understood, as of course, Moses was a great leader and God had high standards for him. But what did Aaron do? He just stood there and watched. He did nothing at all.
This, of course was his sin. He did nothing. He said nothing. When Moses hit the rock once, nothing happened. Aaron could have intervened and told Moses ‘Stop!’. If he had spoken up, then Moses could have calmed down and remembered his true instructions. Aaron is punished so harshly for allowing a great leader to be brought down by anger at a time of weakness. This is deemed by God as worse than making the golden calf.
Aaron’s experience is unfortunately one that few of us can avoid in our lives. We all deal with challenge of seeing our friends make mistakes in front of us, and who of us is brave enough to speak up and say ‘Stop!’? Too often we keep our mouths shut and explain afterwards ‘I didn’t want to get involved’. The lesson of this week’s parsha is that if Aaron was expected to have the courage to rebuke the greatest prophet who ever lived, we can not avoid the responsibility to rebuke our friends and leaders when their emotional failings lead them towards disaster.
In the wake of the general election, as we watch the election of a new Liberal Democrat and a new Labour leader, it is good to contemplate the nature of leadership. What is the purpose of a leader?
This week, being the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, has seen much made of the two leaders of the armies in that final, deciding, battle of the Napoleonic wars. The press is full of profiles of Napoleon, That epic yet flawed figure, embodying both the revolution and a vulgar selfishness in the same individual. The Duke of Wellington does not come out of this very well either, particularly from our own communal standpoint: he opposed the full emancipation of the Jewish people, keeping us out of Parliament.
The problem which every organisation has is perhaps amplified by the nature of the nation state. By creating a single leadership position, you vest the fate of the organisation in the hands of one individual. This is a very risky proposition, particularly since one can never be entirely sure how suited that individual is to the particular confidence you place in them.
Most individuals try to do the very best for the organisation. However, divorcing one's own particular interests from what one is doing for a company, a charity, or even a state, is very difficult. Unfortunately, sometimes when the person comes into such a position, this releases undesirable character traits. Because of the perceived importance of their own position, they feel that they are way more capable than they in fact are. This leads to a false impression of an importance, and can lead to disaster for the organisation of which they are in charge.
This week's Torah portion, Korach, is a very good example of two diametrically opposed approaches to leadership. Korach himself, a demagogue, aims to secure a power for himself, and his cronies. He pretends to be interested in the whole People, yet he does not propose any improvement of the situation, but merely a change of power, so that he can concentrate it into his own hands.
By contrast, Moses is a truly modest individual. He clearly does not grudge anyone the opportunity to share power with him. Yet he is aware of his own superior abilities, and constantly acts in the best interests of the people, regardless of how this may appear, or how it might affect him and his family.
This is what the rabbis refer to in Pirkei Avot, as a dispute which is for the sake of heaven. An argument for the sake of heaven involves making decisions which are for the benefit of the people, not for any individual. Korach, who merely wished to change the power structure, advanced an argument which was not for the sake of heaven.
Maybe always be blessed with leaders who act for the sake of heaven.
We wish Ari, Orli and Calaniet Moyal and all their family long life on the death of Avril on Thursday night.
Shiv'a will be held at the family home. Please contact Rabbi Zvi or Rebbetzen Shira for details.
June 12th, 2015
Thanks to everyone who made last Shabbat morning such a wonderful occasion with a strong minyan, and to Lionel and Melanie Dean for the lovely kiddush. We wish all our Reading JSoc friends good luck on their exams and mazal tov if they are graduating.
To clarify the current confusion, the Berkshire Community Cheder is continuing classes without interruption or change in personnel. All classes have relocated to the Rabbi’s house. If you would like your child to join the cheder this Autumn, please contact the head teacher, Rebbetzin Shira.
KOSHER FOOD NEWS
· We are delighted to announce that Kosher Deli and Carmelli Bakery will be delivering food to Reading on Monday 15 June. This will hopefully be a regular event (every month or so). To have your order included, please email or phone Rebbetzin Shira. Pickup will be from the Rabbi’s house.
· As always, you can book your biweekly justkosher.co.uk order directly with them. The next Just Kosher delivery is Sunday 21 June.
We wish Avril Moyal and her family strength at this difficult time.
Please keep us informed so that we can keep this list up to date.
Berkshire Jewish Women: Celebrate Rosh Chodesh Tammuz together. Wednesday 16 June, 8pm at the home of Judi Lyons. ‘Which gods do you believe in?’ Contact Shira for more information.
Rebbetzin Shira’s Friday Night Dinners will resume on Friday 19 June. Service at the Rabbi’s house 7:15pm followed by dinner.
Please book your place directly with Rebbetzin Shira by contacting Shira or ringing or texting 07931 747 316.
Adults £15 Students/low income £7.50. Children free.
Space is limited so book early and by 12 June.
Please note that the payment instructions used for previous dinners no longer apply as Rebbetzin Shira no longer works for RHC.
Truth Twisters (on Shelach Lecha)
There are several instances in the Torah which refer to lashon hara or the evil tongue. The whole parasha of Metzorah deals with the issue. Last week we saw an instance of Miriam speaking ill of Moses “because he had taken a dark-skinned lady”. She is struck with leprosy, and Moses prays for her recovery in a five-word prayer which is perhaps the shortest yet most poignant there is.
This week we see the spies who are sent into the land of Israel laid before us. They are sent to spy out the land, its features agriculture economy and inhabitants. Yet although there are many reasons why they should not be scared to enter the land at this stage, they bring back what the Torah calls a malignant account. Yehoshua bin Nun and Kaleb ben Yefune are the only ones who say that the nation should proceed according to plan.
What was the malignant account? At first sight the words of the ten spies appear reasonable. There are indeed very strong and tall people. We would appear tiny next to them. The land is full of good things but there are strong warriors there. They live in great walled cities. This is a factual account.
It is remarkable that most people who wish to destroy a person’s reputation seek to do it by using facts. They twist the facts to suit their own case. As Kipling says in his poem If,
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken; Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Misusing facts is the best way to destroy a good case. Twisting facts to serve your own purpose is the easiest way to ensure that the discussion is not on the facts but on the interpretation.
The ten spies are asked to see how confident the inhabitants of Canaan are. If they live in walled cities then they must be scared. If they live in open habitations then they must be secure. But the account given by the ten uses the walls to say that these people are strong and a hard nut to crack. They use the facts to scare their audience.
It is a sad fact that when a group of leaders such as the ten spies put out a particular line, most of us will be happy to accept what they present as authoritative. Never mind analysing the faults, the problems with the argument. If it’s good enough for the ten spies, say the Children of Israel, then it’s good enough for us. After all we chose them and set them above us. The Jewish people abdicate their responsibility to investigate and choose in an informed way. They have already made up their mind to accept the decision of the majority even if that is wrong.
This is why the Jewish People were condemned to wander for another thirty-eight years in the wilderness. The servile nature of people who refused to analyse the decisions of leadership, however good that leadership may be, meant that they still had too much Egypt in them. Because of this God decided to let that generation die out so that there would be no more herd mentality when it came to analysing the serious decisions which would be necessary once they entered the promised land.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe won the Triple Crown at Belmont last Saturday when American Pharoah romped home in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont, New York, by five lengths, becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years. The owner is one Ahmed Zayat, once known in Cairo as an Egyptian Muslim, but now in the USA he is an Orthodox Jew. He and his family spent Shabbat in a mobile home nearby so as not to have to travel to the event.
He made his fortune in beer, quickly realizing that in the Muslim world it makes sense to market the non-alcoholic kind! He himself is a good Sephardi Jew, not a Chasid. But the jockey of his winning horse was taken to the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by some enterprising young Chabad Rabbis (as ever, with a nose for publicity), where he dropped in a piece of paper asking for a blessing before the race. <http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/06/04/american-pharoah-jockey-spiritual-journey/> That, of course, is why his horse won. I would not recommend doing this if you are a serious gambler, but then most gamblers, like those who put pieces of paper in walls and suchlike, are very superstitious.
In the United Kingdom, where I was born, horse racing was and is “the sport of kings”. The Queen is its most fervent patron and horse breeder. Her horses have won at Ascot 22 times. The fabulously ruling royal family of Dubai, the Maktoums, are the dominant force nowadays. Here in America horse racing is the sport of whoever wants to have a go. It is under a lot of pressure, but it still attracts attention and money.
And the unthinkable, a nice Jewish boy, has just won its Triple Crown. Its true in England there were wealthy and successful Jewish breeders (the Rothschilds, the Sassoons and the Tabors come to mind), but not one of them was Sabbath- or kosher-observant. And you had to be or hobnob with the aristocrats to get anywhere. In the USA, any Tom Dick and or Ahmed can make it.
As a child I spent several years living at Greenham Common in Berkshire overlooking the Newbury racecourse. I would sneak down the hill, through the fields, and climb up onto a haystack to watch the races. On television you get no sense of the thunderous pounding of the hooves, the snorting of the horses, the shouting and whipping of the jockeys as the peloton of sweating horse meat, the rolling of white horse eyes swishing past you in a second, and then heading towards the grandstands, where the crowd is roaring and cheering and screaming and stamping their feet until the post-climactic sigh that means the bookies have made a lot of money and the punters have lost again.
In the Britain of my youth, the poor would bet on greyhounds, the middle classes and the rich on horses. But in truth horses attracted all classes. There were stands and boxes where the rich could go and plain open, unprotected mounds for the peasants. The rich would bet in secluded areas, while the poor stood amongst the shouting gesticulating bookmakers in garish clothes and hats screaming to get attention and pick up the small, the leftovers, and the last-minute hunch bets.
There was an art to deciding the odds, and usually the bookmakers knew they had to cover their bets or they might lose everything. Then off-course betting and now the internet have changed all that. Aficionados studied form, looked at statistics, knew the jockeys, examined the mounts, asked all kinds of shady insiders which horse would get nobbled, which jockey told to rein in his mount or let a favored stablemate win. As with all gambling, it was often gangster-controlled and rigged against the ordinary sucker. But the atmosphere, the excitement, and vain hopes of winning a fortune always won out.
I remember going to Royal Ascot 40 years ago. It was something special (but not so special that I ever wanted to go back). The Queen and members of the Royal Family would be driven in horse-drawn carriages from nearby Windsor Castle, accompanied by red jacketed riders, down the straight to the cheering crowds and the military band, and into the Royal Enclosure. Only the elite could get in there, and you had to be wearing morning suits and toppers or elegant dresses and outrageous hats. <http://royal-ascot-bets.com/royal-ascot-tickets/>
The ordinary wealthy or the middle classes could make use of the Grand Stand enclosure, where companies and families had their private boxes and entertained lavishly. Dress was “cocktail.” Or you could stand on the grass mounds to the side.
Ascot dates back to Queen Anne. It was an essential part of the great annual summer Royal social calendar that divides Brits into those who aspire to be close to the monarchy and those who despise it. To me it was more about the setting than the betting. No, I did not win anything.
Beyond Royal Ascot it is a lot less glamorous and horse racing is a tough, expensive hobby, although it has its business side. Unless you have more cash than you need, it is not to be recommended. But then neither is betting in general. Just study the odds. And of course the rabbis of the Talmud had no sympathy for betting and banned gamblers from giving evidence in courts or standing for positions of honesty and responsibility. To the best of my knowledge, no Chasidic rebbes are in the business, unless of course you include the Lubavitcher Rebbe of sainted memory but then he no longer has a say in it.
For all my cynicism, I am delighted that a Shomer Shabbat Jew has won this great prize. There is such a constant flow of news about Jews being attacked, boycotted, and reviled and rejected (often, sadly, because they deserve it), that to see a happy, smiling, victorious religious face is a real tonic. I hope we don't have to wait another 37 years for a repeat. But then we did have to wait 2000 years to come home!
PS—The horse racing business is hardly the preserve of the educated. Those who registered the name of the horse couldn’t spell Pharaoh properly!!!!
Rabbi Zvi Solomons
The only Orthodox Rabbi in Berkshire