I hope that you are having a wonderful week and are looking forward to the best day of the week ahead – Shabbat!
My 2 minute Parsha for Mattot-Masei is called “Wisdom and Illusion” and you can find it here. In it, I explore why Moshe’s final mission on earth was to make war on Midian, and what that teaches us about the purpose of wisdom in our lives.
We are now deeply within the Three Weeks of National Mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and I have put together a set of Torah messages for these three weeks that I’m sending out in the daily Torah WhatsApp message. I have found within myself that each year these three weeks feel a little sadder. I think that’s a good thing – Rav Soloveitchik and others make the point that it takes time and effort to feel the loss of the Beit HaMikdash; it’s not like (God forbid) losing a loved-one in which one’s sadness is spontaneous and felt, the sorrow for a tragedy that occurred before we were born requires a process of identification with that tragedy that requires years. I am glad (if that is the correct word) that each year I do feel the sadness more keenly, as I view this as a sign that I am becoming more aligned with Hashem’s pain over the Temple. Part of it also probably has to do with growing older and experiencing loss generally. The Mishna Brura tells us that the reason that we prefer a Chazan for the Yamim Noraim to be 30 years old or more is because such a person will surely have experienced a broken heart. The Kotzker Rebbe once said “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart” and although we are not a sorrowful people, there is no denying that we have had a sorrowful history, and for these three weeks we live with the enormity of that loss.
In a not-entirely-unrelated note, Neill Snape sent me this outstanding article by Dr David Hazony. He and his brother Yoram have fascinating insights and ideas and I recommend just about anything written or said by the Hazony brothers if you are interested in fresh perspectives and quality thinking. The thrust of the article is that, outside of Orthodox and Israeli Jews, Jewish identity is in trouble. In David’s words: This next generation is no longer moored to Jewish peoplehood through guilt, or habit, or peer pressure. Jewish identity, if it is to reside in them at all, will have to compete for their allegiance in a brutally efficient market of identification. So far, “Jewish” is failing to compete. Whilst these sad sentiments are nothing new, his observation about the “market of identification” is right on the button. In families in which being Jewish is a basic part of everyday life – from the food to the prayers to Shabbat – have a different experience of Jewish identity to those for whom it is simply another part of the collage that is their identity. After sharing the sad (and by now fairly well-known) statistics on the skyrocketing rate of assimilation around the world and plummeting rate of identification, he says: Oblivion knocks. The two obvious alternatives—aliya and Orthodoxy—require so radical a change in one’s lifestyle that they’re non-starters for most American Jews. If those were the only options, most would choose oblivion. What’s the solution? He proposes that “Israeli identity” as a national marker takes the place of “Jewish identity” as a religious label. It speaks to the idea that I have mentioned from Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, that it is not correct to think today of being in the golah, the exile. Although the Temple is still not rebuilt, and we are still longing for redemption, we should rather see ourselves as the tfutza, the diaspora – the communities outside of, but connected to, the Jewish national enterprise in the Land of Israel. It’s a long article, but a powerful one, and I highly recommend it. The one point I would say, however, is that his comments about Orthodoxy being a non-option are less relevant to South Africa, where today every member of the community has a brother, uncle or cousin who keeps Shabbat, and it is not in fact such a foreign experience – especially if we realise that this is a key to saving our families and communities.
I am delighted to report that our Mechitza Working Group has made significant progress on the Mechitza project. We have clarity on how it will be built, the transition between having it up and down (for Yamim Noraim, December and big smachot), and are working on three different designs – one with a lot of text, one with a little, and one with none. For the two text options, I ask you to please vote on which texts you think would be most appropriate in the form I made here. It should only take you a minute or two.
In just under two weeks, I am delighted to announce that we will be beginning Hebrew Nights! Join Bev Coblentz for Hebrew Reading or Martin Chesno for Conversational Hebrew for seven 90 minute classes that will change your relationship with the language! Spaces are limited, so please contact Wendy right away.
One of the weekly shiurim from which I learn the most is the Dirshu Mishna Brura shiur. 5 days a week, we learn one page of Shulchan Aruch with the Mishna Brura by ourselves, and then on Sunday nights we get together to review the week’s work. After consistently learning for about 18 months, we have, thank God, finished the first two volumes of Mishna Brura and are beginning the third! This one is the laws of Shabbat – and I highly recommend that you join us. We will once again be offering self-study packs (in Hebrew and English), daily WhatsApp summaries from Rabbi Ari Taback in Joburg, weekly learning, and monthly tests to keep you on your toes (optional!). You will discover that after learning the laws of Shabbat consistently and regularly, your Shabbat experience will be very different and enriched. It is also great to be learning together with people from all over Cape Town – and indeed, all over the world. We will be celebrating the completion of Volume 2 and the start of Volume 3 with a special dinner next Wednesday night 26 July. We will be joined by Chief Rabbi Goldstein who is celebrating his own siyum hashas, completion of the entire Babylonian Talmud (wow!). Please reply to Rabbi Dani Brett on 0824913375 if you’re interested, and more details will be out soon. I look forward to seeing you there!
Aviva, Shalva and I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Sam Thurgood