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Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation
Weekly Musings October 2003

Friday, October 3, 2003

As the Neila service (ultimate prayer of Yom Kippur) draws to its conclusion, we engage in a group ritual simultaneously thought-provoking and inspiring.
We proclaim in unison the Shema (once), Boruch Shem (thrice) and then, as the dramatic finale, we cry out seven times Hashem Hu HoElokim Hashem, G-d who created all existence, is the L-rd who rules and watches over us.
As we pronounce these sentences we are asserting our readiness and willingness to lay down our lives for G-d and His Torah.
Yom Kippur a few years ago I caught myself wondering how ready am I really? Untold millions of martyrs for Judaism have graced our bloodstained history. Where did they find that supreme dedication which persuaded them to sacrifice all for an undefined and unprovable ideal?
The only possible source for such awe-shattering faith must be instinctive and not developed.  I dont believe that sacrifice can be practiced. Within every Jew wells a font of belief, which is drawn on only when the only available choice left is between commitment to Judaism or rejection of G-d (G-d forbid). With a choice so stark and the stakes so manifest, the innate nature of a Jew is truly revealed.
Perhaps our making this proclamation; at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, after a long day spent fasting and reaffirming our connection to Hashem, is the closest we get to exhibiting this faith out a choice and not necessity.
One final point;
The town miser was dying.  A blood disorder had left him with a dangerously high fever. The doctors diagnosis was that his last slim hope of survival would be if he could somehow manage to perspire and thus lower his temperature.
Hed tried steam baths, eating jalapeno peppers, nothing worked.  He was condemned to die.
He called in the Rabbi and gasped, Rabbi, all these years when youve approached me to contribute to various charitable causes, Ive always answered No.  Today, Rabbi, I say Yes.
Rabbi, take a pen and record my last will and testament.
To the town orphanage, I leave 25,000 rubles.  To the free-loan fund, I leave fifty thousand rubles.  To the yeshiva. to the yeshivaRABBI, GIVE ME BACK THAT PAPER, IM SHVITZING.
It may be true that everyone desires to die like a Jew, but what are we prepared to sacrifice in order to live as a Jew?

Friday, October 17, 2003


Shmini Atzeret Friday Oct 17: 6 pm (Simultaneous Children's Service)
                        Saturday Oct 18 9:15 am (YIZKOR 10:30 A.M.)
Simchas Torah Saturday 18th October: 7pm (Simultaneous Children's Service) Followed by drinkin', dancin' and lolly-baggin' for EVERONE - invite your Friends.
OUR ALL WEATHER GUARANTEE: come enjoy the new split-cycle heating/cooling we have just installed in the Shule hall...
My maternal grandfather arrived in Australia on board the infamous ship the Dunera. The brutal treatment by British sailors of this group of (mostly Jewish) German and Austrian refugees has been exhaustively studied and justly condemned. How ironic that people fleeing persecution and Hitler should be suspected of spying for the Nazis, shipped in a slave-galley to the colonies and incarcerated for years.
When the mini-series, THE DUNERA BOYS, was being filmed, the actor playing the young yeshiva student (no matter that the long ear locks and black cassock he sported were wildly atypical of German-Jewish dress style) spent a while in Yeshiva Gedola, observing and character-studying for his role.
He blew it.
On screen he spoke with a gemoro-style intonation, he looked suitably serious, but in the shot of him studying. hes sitting ramrod straight, without a sway in sight.
Swaying as one learns, or shuckling, to use the Yiddish, is probably the best known and least understood characteristic of Torah learning. The students of Rabbi Akiva, the great talmudic sage, once tried to prank his class by introducing an interloper, an educated non-Jew, and passing him off as a new student. Later, they asked the Rabbis opinion of the new guy; Extraordinarily knowledgeable for a gentile!
How did you realise?
He knew the subject matter, but he didnt shuckle as he learned
I love watching a newcomer to my Shiurim sit down at a gemoro or other sefer (holy book) and within minutes we have him rocking with the rest. Its clearly not put-on; its instinctive. Natural rather than choreographed.

In Kabalistic terminology the soul is compared to a dancing flame. The downward pull of the wick and candle mimic the resistance of our body, inhibiting the souls desire to abandon its mortal constraints and soar once again to reunite with Hashem.
The flickering flame of our soul engaged in an endless waltz of resistance/surrender, impulse towards G-d/retreat to physicality also plays out in the phenomena of swaying while learning. Torah study is no ivory-towered doctrine of intellectual posturing, nor some musty ritual of archaic cramming. When a Jew learns Torah, the soul dances; preening in delight with the connection to G-dliness. This interplay of spiritual satisfaction expresses itself in instinctive movement.
Similar phenomena are observed over the Succos and Simchat Torah festivals. We bless the Lulav and Esrog, hold them close to the heart and then wave them in all directions. This shaking, known as naanuim, expresses the interplay of soul with G-dliness. Likewise on Simchat Torah we hold the Torah scroll close and intuitively break into dance.
Mitzvot, Divine Commandment, are not empty rituals performed in conscientious but empty gestures. Fulfilling a Mitzvah demonstrates a living, joyful Judaism, ecstatic beyond words to be able to connect with Hashem, and leaving us instinctively dancing in tune to the music of our souls

Friday, October 24, 2003

History is bunk. Let bygones be bygones. If it didnt happen to me, why should I study about it?
Is it really true that those who dont learn from the past may be condemned to repeat it? Maybe so when discussing recent history; if the Pollies had learnt the follies of appeasement from Chamberlain 39 and Sinai 79 perhaps we wouldnt now be staring down at the wreckage of the Oslo disaster of 91-03. Ancient history, however, seemingly has no such similar insights to impart. When you study Genesis, (the first book of the Torah, - opens this week in a Synagogue near you) what life-lessons will you walk away with? Do you really think that youll be called on anytime soon to create a universe from scratch?
If the Torah is an operating manual to building a Jewish life, what is the Creation story; advertising filler till we get to the practical bits?

Rashi (greatest of commentators) posits this question (though in a slightly less irreverent style) and answers that without the preamble wed have no response to the never-ending accusations of the anti-Semites of history. When dragged before the U.N of the day and indicted for the crime of Occupation having dispossessed the peaceful prior inhabitants of the Land of Israel, we can defend ourselves (as indeed David Ben-Gurion did in 47) by flourishing a Bible and opening to Act 1, Scene 1 (or at least chapter 1, Verse 1):
We didnt create the world, G-d did. We didnt draw the borders, Hashem did. We didnt decide who lives where, He did that too, and He created Israel for the Jews, decided the borders and picked the time when the Canaanites were to leave and the Jews to arrive.
End of case, vindicated, (exit stage left)

My real question is why is the world so worked up. What exactly is their complaint? Rightly or wrongly, as violent invaders or benevolent liberators, countries change rulers all the time. (England: the Picts, Romans, Saxons, and Normans just to name a few in the wrong order. America: The Red Indians, Spanish, French, English, Hollywood to chart their cultural degeneration. France: why anyone else wanted to rule the French I will never understand.)
Why is this fight different from all other conquests?

The answer is in the attitude. Everyone accepts and expects countries to change hands. You ruled it today; well beat you up tomorrow and take adverse possession. Only the Jews have the Chutzpah to maintain that the land belongs to us even when NOT in physical control. Our ties to Eretz Yisrael are permanent. It was gifted to us by Hashem, and, by our creeds and deeds since then, we have changed the physical and spiritual fabric of the territory, forged a constant connection and rendered it ours eternally.

On the micro level we achieve the same. Whatever we take possession of, whoever we come in contact with, if we imbue spirituality into the encounter, well have effected permanent change. The transformation wrought will live and flourish beyond us, even after weve moved on, and be a constant substantiation of our existence.
Eretz Yisrael is ours, indivisible and eternally, by virtue of G-ds desire and our actions. We too can affect our surroundings permanently, rendering them holy, by bringing G-dliness into the mundane fabric of earthly everyday existence.

Friday, October 30, 2003
Post flood. The survivors: Noach (Noah), wife, sons, daughters-in-law and lots and lots of animals.
They left the ark and offered thanksgiving sacrifices. Noach plants a vineyard, gets sloshed and collapses in a heap inside his tent.
The reaction of his sons differ; Cham ... saw the nakedness of his father and told his brothers. Shem and Yefes walked backwards and covered their father their faces were turned away and they didnt see their fathers nakedness
One of the foundations of Chassidic philosophy is the belief that nothing happens by chance. Every act we may observe holds a lesson to be integrated. What lesson is there from seeing evil, observing another sin?
Answer; you arent seeing him, youre watching yourself. When presented with the specter of another doing wrong, search the dark crevasses of your past conduct and youll find the same transgression lurking.
The way you react, the verdict you pass when commenting on the behaviour of others, will be dredged up and used against you on your personal day of judgment.
Is this always true? Must I believe that all evil I observe is a self-commentary? What then the value of rebuke, surely sometimes we observe the peccadilloes of others for no other reason than to help them correct themselves.
The varied reactions of his sons to Noachs disgrace demonstrate the difference: Of course the opportunity to help another may present itself, and of course we must be on the lookout to guide miscreants back onto the straight and narrow, but to do so demands awareness, not self-righteousness. Weve all met moral crusaders who enjoy nothing better than discovering fresh sins of their neighbours. Cham was confronted with the exact same situation as his brothers, but whereas their reaction was to fix the problem but resolutely keep their backs turned, he saw his fathers disgrace and reveled in it.
When confronted with the failings of others, do we look to help or to gloat? Just remember, whichever way we react is to pass judgment on nobody but ourselves

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