Vayeshev – The Exile Within

Vayeshev - The Exile Within The wisdom of Gematria - that Hebrew letters and words are also numerical codes that contain profound meaning and depth -  is rather misunderstood . Many think that the the numerical equivalences between words are mere coincidence, or made up, or at best a cute way to play with Hebrew words but not a true part of our Jewish tradition. The truth is that Gematria is a serious science with a complex set of rules that have been passed down the ages for thousands of years. For example Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher (1269 Germany - 1343 Spain) known as the Baal Haturim after his famous  Halachic treatise - the precursor to the Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the 16th Cent- wrote a commentary on the Torah specifically focussed on uncovering the hidden messages found in the Torah through Gematria. This includes acrostics, formation of letters, word patterns and so on. Sometimes entire sentences form a Gematria.  It is...
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Vayetzeh

Vayetzeh This week we read of a mob of student protestors that attempted to storm the Israeli ambassador, TZIPI HOTOVELY, who was giving a talk at  LSE university (also dubbed by some as the London School of extremism recall that in 2010 this University took £1.5 million from the son of the infamous disgraced Colonel Gaddafi). The only positive that we can take from this story is the courage displayed by the ambassador who managed to attend and give her talk. On so many other occasions the 'mob rules' and speakers are cancelled or de-platformed. Universities are supposedly bastions of rational enquiry, the free exchange of ideas, of pursuit of knowledge going wherever the evidence takes us. However more and more evidence shows that the very contrary is the case. Universities are increasingly riddled with antisemitism and the shut down of debate. This is now the case not only regarding Israel and antisemitism but on broader identity politics where to take a counter view to...
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Toldot – Short term vs long term

Toldot - Short term vs long term  "And Esau said to Jacob, "Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint"; he was therefore named Edom. And Jacob said, "Sell me as of this day your birthright." Esau replied, "Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?" Esav represents the rejection of the soul and the afterlife which are so crucial a belief in Judaism as without a soul, without consequences to our actions - life is rendered meaningless. According to Rashi the birthright was the priesthood with all its spiritual responsibilities. To Esav this was a burden that took away from his hedonistic pursuit of pleasure and power. Esav would be seen today as a materialistic nihilist. His modus operandi was in the great phrase of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche "the will to power". Whilst the Torah narrative does reserve some sympathy even empathy for Esav's plight - we read of his bitter tears to his father when he...
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Vayera- The Divine presence in the stranger

Vayera- The Divine presence in the stranger In today's modern world (some say post modern) it is hard to strive to be a Godly person. Surrounded by so much technology, so much 'stuff' our minds are so easily cluttered and distracted from the Godly and holy. In a way we can say we are so much  closer to space travel,exploring outer space then discovering the inner space within our own souls. So when we open up our Torah and read of the patriarchs and matriarchs and other biblical figures conversing with God our skepticism and hesitance to accept prophecy on the face of it is somewhat understandable. However whilst the gift of prophecy is reserved for the elite individuals who dedicate their lives to walk in Gods ways, Judaism provides a myriad of practical pathways to connect us to God. In Vayera we read of Abraham recovering from his circumcision. It is the heat of the day. God had arranged a particular scorching day so as to deter visitors as...
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Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha   This week 90 year old  William Shatner fulfilled his life long dream to blast into space (for approximately 10 mins) and described it as the most profound experience he had ever had. This could well be the beginning of more private journeys to space and exploration as private companies develop technologies and the know how. I thought it was apt that this journey to space took place on the week of Lech Lecha when teh founder of Judaism Abraham together with his wife Sarah began their journey that has changed the world ever since. Whilst their journey was epic in terms of the physical distance and the environmental challenges, it was as even greater spiritual journey as I will note. In terms for the geography Abraham leaves Ur Kasdim (most scholars agree this is located approximately 200 miles south of Bagdad) with his father and family -as recorded in Noach -and journeys a few hundred miles North west to Charan (Turkey). The journey pauses and Terach...
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Noach- Building an Ark for protection from the outside.

(Sunset at St Annes Beach!) Noach- Building an Ark for protection from the outside. This week the three social media online platforms- WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram 'went down' for a number of hours due to an outage causing mayhem for many people and business's across the UK. Initially when I realised there was a problem with my WhatsApp I became frustrated as I had numerous messages I wished to read and send on the numerous groups I belong too. But as the hours passed I realised just how less cluttered life is without all the incessant digital communications. Psychologists have collated evidence that shows that the frequency and intensity of use of social media are connected to lower self esteem and depressive symptoms. It is no exaggeration to say that the neural networks in our brains are being transformed by our use of digital technology. On an inner more spiritual level the threat today of being swept away by a deluge of materialism (as an end in...
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Bereishit – Back to the beginning.

Bereishit - Back to the beginning. Our sages observed/taught "Kol Hatchalot Kashot" - "All beginnings are hard" Starting a new project is challenging as one has to overcome the natural "psychological inertia" that we tend to feel. This is because as humans we are innately conflicted by the movement to change/be inspired/transform/build vs the emotional comfort of the status quo. On Shabbat Bereishit we are not only starting a new cycle of reading the Torah. We are also starting a new cycle and chapter in our lives which ideally is supposed to reflect true Torah values. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we come up with new year resolutions. The days of awe inject us with renewed enthusiasm encapsulated in the verse "Return us O God and we will return, renew our days as of old". On Sukkot through the joyous festival and its Mitvzot we began the process of expressing our new found love of Hashem into practical life - building a sukkah and dwelling...
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Simchas Torah

Simchas Torah Simchas Torah is a day that celebrates ends and beginnings. As soon as we finish one cycle of the Torah  we begin a new cycle. Beginnings and Endings are an important theme in Judaism. The week begins afresh and culminates on Shabbat. The same can be said of the Sabbatical cycles. The beauty of Judaism is that it creates structure to our lives which otherwise could descend into a seamless flow of days. Structure imbues meaning and depth. Some people have a hard time starting things, projects, work and so on. Others have difficulty finishing things. But if we don't start something we will get nowhere and if we don't finish we will not have achieved! On Simchat Torah how many of us can truly say we completed the cycle of the Torah. The truth is that none of us can as the spiritual wisdom of the Torah is of infinite depth and therefore in essence unfinishable. But the structure of start and end is extremely important as it...
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Haazinu

Haazinu -  On the last day of Moses's life he shares with his people a 70 line song that begins with the word Haazinu. The song contains numerous themes including: 1) Jewish memory- the obligation of the Jew to remember the great miracles God wrought for the Jewish people. This memory is passed from generation to generation. Earlier in Deuteronomy the obligation to pass down our tradition was couched in terms of a parental obligation- as we recite in the Shema "and you shall teach your children to speak in 'them'" But now in Haazinu Moses empowers the new generation to ask the parents. In other words Judaism is conveyed through an intergenerational conversation. The parental generation may hold the knowledge and wisdom of the past but it is only through engagement by the younger generation that they can receive this wisdom and translate it into the new frame of reference. "Remember the days of old / Consider the years of many generations / Ask your father, and he will...
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