September 18th, 2015
Honesty (on Vayyelech / Shabbat Shuva)
(to be published in this week’s Jewish News http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/category/judaism/sedra/)
Every day a Jew has the opportunity of repeating Maimonides’ thirteen principles of our faith. These include the divine origin of the Torah, and the exceptional nature of Moshe Rabbeinu as a prophet – that there has never been and shall never be a prophet like him. Our custom of reading the Torah is designed to keep his divinely-dictated words constantly in our ears and in our hearts. That is why we read the portions on Shabbat having already had a ‘taster’ on the previous Shabbat Mincha, Monday and Thursday. We are never more than three days from our next reminder of holy prophecy.
The parsha this week contains a custom which we do not practice today. The tradition of Hakhel gathered the whole Jewish People together to read the Torah through from one end to the other, on the Sukkot following the Sabbatical Year. That would be this coming Sukkot. It must have been a very moving and solemn occasion, and an opportunity to hear the whole Torah read in public in this manner would ensure that, in a society without printing and devices for standardization, the text of the Torah was kept faithful and pure, by instilling it as it were in peoples’ minds.
The clarity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy is compared by our Sages to the clarity of seeing through a transparent glass window, whilst the other prophets were compared to opaque glass. The great Chasssidishe Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev points out that this is expressed in the manner of delivery. The point at which this becomes obvious is at the end of this week’s parsha, where Moshe Rabbeinu is prepared for his death. This is traditionally the point at which his clarity of perception was taken from him and transferred to Yehoshua. It was at this point that he stopped speaking directly and clearly and started speaking in parables and metaphors, using the poetic imagery to be found in the next Parasha Haazinu.
The change in language from prose to poetry is the signal of the change in Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophetic level. This is why, says Rav Levi Yitzhak, the parasha begins with the words Vayyelech Moshe vayyedaber (And Moses went and spoke...). Moses did not dress up his prophecy in any way – until it left him in its fullness, and a portion of his wisdom was transferred to his successor Yehoshua, in preparation for his leaving. Thus this week we have him reaching the end of his full power of clarity as a prophet, and next week a partially obscured prophecy clothed in the beauty of high poetry.
(to be published in this week’s Jewish News http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/category/judaism/torah/)
There are three things which a Jew should rather be killed than transgress. These are idolatry, murder and adultery. In the 613 Commandments (we Jews don’t just keep 10) these are punishable by death. There are of course other transgressions which enter into the calculations when a person sins in one of these three ways, which would also have to be taken into account.
The recent case of Ashley Madison has brought several of these matters into sharp relief. The problem of adultery, something which shames and hurts the other person in a relationship, is obvious. One might say that the exposure of the people who committed such a nasty sin is prosaic justice, and an apposite retribution for what they have done. Yet there are other aspects of this which we would do well to examine.
For a start there is the issue of the exposure of those who signed up to the site. Cynics may laugh, but merely signing up and paying is not evidence of behaviour even though it is evidence of a certain callous level of intent. Were all these people really unfaithful? Did they commit adultery at all? Halacha has certain parameters which would have to be fulfilled.
Then there is the pain caused to the other party. One might argue that there is no benefit to society in this exposure – how might the innocent person feel once the humiliation of a public revelation has been forced onto him or her? Marital affairs are best dealt with between partners and not in such a public and easily researched manner. To put it onto the internet is an exacerbation of any humiliation caused, and makes it more widespread.
What of the children of these marriages? The other friendships and family members? What of their chances of the couple staying together? Now the whole world will be able to search them out! And it is not just there for a few days or a few weeks. It is there forever. Anyone will see it and it may well persist for a lifetime. This gives a new meaning to regret.
The lies and deceit are also severe and obvious problems, but they are minor compared to what else we can consider. How many people will hurt themselves because of this revelation? How many will suffer depression or kill themselves?
The repercussions are too many and too large to expand on in this column. However wicked the initial sin, a person should be allowed to repent, and should always have hope. Belonging to the site is not firm proof of sin (which amongst other matters requires two frum male witnesses over 13), but will cause untold pain and suffering to many innocent people.
Is that really what the hackers wanted?
This week’s article by Jeremy Rosen on Yom Kippur is available from
Last week’s article by Jeremy Rosen on repentance is available from
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Rabbi Zvi Solomons
The only Orthodox Rabbi in Berkshire