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Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation
Weekly Musings August 2003
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Weekly Musings August 2003

Friday, August 1, 2003
 
 
Ever reiterate something, in a tautological manner, by repeating the same thing, twice?
Tautologies in Judaism are common. I heard once that two of the most tautological are 1)Good Yom Tov (as Yom Tov means good day) and 2) Opinionated Jew.
Obviously the person who originated this quote was not Jewish, and I beg the indulgence of any of my subscribers who may be.

This week we begin the fifth (and final) book of the Torah, Devorim. The colloquial name for the volume, Mishna Torah, is a reflection of the fact that is mostly repetition of the previous 4 parts. 

They are about to enter Israel. Moshe is being left behind to die in the desert, and he devotes his last weeks to recapping the truths discovered over the last 40 years.

Obviously there is some new material taught and a number of passages clarified, but can it really be that 20% of the all-time best seller and the greatest tale ever told is just filler?

 A small town Jew, plagued by an infected foot obtains a referral to the famous Podiatrist of Warsaw. Doc walks in and is confronted by a grime-encrusted leg in a filthy sock. You fool, why dont you wash your foot?

You know Doctor, the physician in our town recommended the same thing, but I waited to hear the advice of a specialist.

 We received the Torah through the agency of the all time greatest Specialist, Moshe. He was the medium through which the Words of G-d were filtered. The first four books of the Torah were by direct transmission, Hashem Speaking through Moshe. Devorim is Moshes words. The concepts are G-ds but the terminology is Moshes.

Mishna Torah is being delivered to the crossover generation preparing to leave the desert and enter Israel. Going from the intellectualism of the desert (with all expenses paid and manna laid on) to the tedium of farming life.

This is true purposeful existence. Holding down a job, punching a time clock and supporting our Politicians in style. Hashem wants us to get our hands dirty cultivating daily life. Not for us a sham nirvana sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop smelling the roses and contemplating our (hopefully, fluff free) navels.

Moshe, by redacting the Torah, was accessing the Torah to his and all future eras. Once viewed through the prism of human thought, Torah has been made available to every Jew, under all conditions, for all times.

Friday, August 15, 2003

When I was seven my father took me outside to the back garden one day.
"Son", he said in that deep-chested rumble of his, "It's time I taught you the most important lesson in life. climb that tree, jump off & I'll catch you".
I basked in my father's attention. I was honoured that he considered me ready to learn 'the most important lesson in life', whatever it was, but no way was I going to launch myself from a tree branch just on his say so.
According to Douglas Adams, the trick to flying is to throw yourself at the ground from a great height and miss. He does warn, however, that failure to miss the ground is potentially injurious. I wasn't keen on my chances of failing to miss.
"Son, trust me, I'll catch you".
I trusted him. I climbed the conifer, adjusted my stance, nodded to the scorers and sailed into a perfect backward somersault with pike aiming for a point of impact directly at my dad's midriff. He watched. He waited. He positioned himself for the catch. And then, instants before contact, he skipped out of the way and watched me pile-drive head first into the ground.
"Son", I remember hearing from my newly planted position, "you have just learned the most important lesson in life: NEVER TRUST NOBODY".

It never happened. He never tried. He told me the story once but never demonstrated it in practice. My scars and flattened countenance come from years of chasing parked cars, don't blame me on my father.

No normal man would ever dream of playing such a trick on any child let alone their own.
Really? Please explain Devarim chap. 8 verse 5 (while describing all the gifts and goodness we received from G-d) "You should also know. that as a man punishes his son, so the L-rd your G-d punishes you". Gee, Boruch Hashem for that huh?
The Mezritcher Maggid, the 2nd leader of Chassidim and successor to the Baal
Shem Tov explained this verse as portraying a father teaching his son to
walk. Daddy lets go and kid stumbles towards him. Dad moves back a bit, kid
tries to catch up. No matter how fast those little feet flail he never quite can reach Pop.
To the toddler, his father is enjoying a cruel joke, irrationally punishing him. In reality the parent is training his child to motor on his own. It may be tough but it is for the child ultimate benefit.

Whatever rotten hand G-d deals us in the great card game of life, no matter the misfortune or sorrow we meet, we know that Hashem is there, within arms-reach of us. Like a compassionate parent, willing us on, helping us to develop and ready at any time to comfort us if we stumble

August, 22 2003
 
A Rabbi once placed an order with the town tailor for a new pair of
trousers. Time schlepped, the tailor missed deadline after promised
deadline. Finally, months after due delivery date, the pants were ready.
True they were a great fit, but the Rabbi piqued by the delay decided to
gently point out his displeasure. "Explain something please, G-d took just 6
days to create the world, and you've taken nearly 3 months just on one pair
of pant"?
"Achh, how can you compare, just look at what a mess G-d made of his job,
and look at this gorgeous pair of pants"!

To be Jewish is to complain about G-d and to be secretly convinced that,
given the chance, you could have done a better job.

Here's my question on G-d. This week we start off with the immortal choice
"Behold I place before you today the choice, Blessing or Curse" i.e. Good
vs. Evil, Life vs. Death. My Question, don't give me the choice, don't
create evil. You relax, let us relax and we're all happy.

R' Levi Yitzchak MiBerdichev, chief Rabbi of the Ukraine, had a similar
complaint; "G-d, it's not fair. For a Jew to be confronted by evil all he
has to do is walk down Main St. and he'll discover temptations by the
wagonload, decked out in all their attractive permutations. Try to scare him
onto the straight and narrow and you have to direct him to some musty old
book which details harrowing descriptions of the punishments of hell. I
promise you, G-d, if you shoved the sights and sounds of Gehennom in plain
view, and buried earthly temptations in some dusty old tome, nobody would
ever be enticed to sin. It's YOUR fault"!

Don't panic. Sacrilegious as I may be, I'm willing to go in to bat for
Hashem on this one.

A few years ago, some of those bright sparks we employ to sit at the
Education Department and issue amusing directives came out with a beauty;
from now on no scores were to be kept when umpiring kids sports. Losing,
competing and all those other nasty vices went against the latest Political
Correctness manifesto.
(I remember arguing at the time that if they were serious about the
initiative they should abandon the goal posts (encourages short-term,
selfish-oriented behaviour) and, to develop it to it's logical conclusion,
surely they've got to get rid of the ball altogether & put all the kids on
the one team.)
Only trouble was that the kids couldn't stand it.
Sports, by definition are competitive. Without a method of keeping score,
with no winner or loser the exercise becomes pointless.

It's the same with life.
G-d could have created all the angels he wanted, behaving in an exemplary
fashion and generally 'Do The Right Thing'ing all over the place. Instead he
made us. We strive, we try. We win some, we lose some.
When we get it right, we get advanced up the board a few spaces. Get it
wrong and you'll find yourself at the foot of the snake looking for a ladder
to climb back up again.
Our right to reward is predicated on our defeating evil. For us to change,
to grow, we need an opponent to wrestle and ultimately defeat.
In the great Game called Life, evil represents the black pawns coming at
you. Vanquish them, reach the end of the board and be crowned a Queen.

Friday, August 29 2003
 
Russian winter. All-night queue outside the butcher shop responding to rumour of impending shipment of meat for sale.
12am: Window flung open. Not enough meat for everyone. Jews go home!
2am: Window repeat performance. All non Communist, rack off!
4am: Anyone not a member of the party since 1917, go home.
Everyone leaves except for a few hoary old Commies.
Finally at 6am the announcement; No meat today.
As the last old-time revolutionaries depart, one grumbles Those bloody Jews always have it best.
 
Similar process in this weeks Torah reading.
Army is preparing for war. Pep talk by the Priest. Hear, O Israel! You draw near today to wage war upon your enemies; let not your hearts soften, fear not, and do not panic nor break ranks before them. For it is G-d your G-d who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to deliver you.
Then he issues the demobbing orders If youve just finished building, go home to your house. Just planted? Go home to your vineyard. If youve just married, go home to your wife.
Last excuse for exemption Is there a man who is afraid and faint of heart? Let him go and return to his home, so that he not melt the hearts of his brothers as his own.
 
Afraid of what?
In the Talmud they argue about this fear. One interpretation is that theyre getting rid of any cowards in the ranks. When fighting for your G-d and country, killing or, G-d forbid, getting killed, we dont need any gutless, lily-livered, tutu-wearing, yellow-bellied, spineless twerps fleeing the fight and leading the flight.
Another explanation given is that the coward is really frightened of sin and worried that he doesnt rate for G-ds protection. The Priest just told them that G-d is with you, the only one with anything to fear is a sinner who is worried that maybe G-d isnt so with me after all.
 
Today is the first day of Elul- month of preparation and practice for Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. Every so often, every single one of us, at least for a few seconds, has some momentary regrets and resolve to better oneself. Does it count? Whats it worth? Well what were your wedding vows worth?
If a guy proposes marriage on condition that I am a perfectly righteous person hes married.
What happens if he isnt righteous? What if hes the Devil incarnate in a Collingwood jumper?
Doesnt matter, teshuva- the regret of the sins of ones past, causes an instantaneous transformation. During those few seconds when he made the pact to be perfect he rendered himself a Tzaddik- blameless, and at that time fulfilled his marriage vows.
 
This redemptive power of teshuva is the reason why we prefer the first explanation for discharge, that fear means an old-fashioned coward, and not the far more poetic sounding fear of sin. Worrying about past misdeeds, recognising that youve done wrong, is to have instantaneously changed and thus become totally deserving of G-ds protection.

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