Friday, 23 September 2016

Parshat Ki Tavo - The Stuff You Can't See


Imagine, with me, a cartoon strip.

First frame
A bunch of Ultra-orthodox Jews standing beside the road,
Holding up a sign, ‘Turn Back Now Before it is Too Late’

Second frame:
Car after car screeching by with one pausing just long enough to open a window to castigate the religious nutters.

Third Frame
Car after car crashing off the end of a defective bridge, sending passengers crashing to their death.

In the last frame the Rabbis are shrugging their shoulders and suggesting, one to the other, that maybe they should change their sign to ‘Bridge Has Collapsed.’

The problem with the Rabbis’ first sign, of course, is that it doesn’t make everything explicit.
It relies on something hidden, elusive, undeclared.
We, in our contemporary society aren’t well trained in picking up on the truths taught by elusive claims.
Particularly when these elusive claims come dressed in religious garb.
We like our truths made most explicit, and preferably without any kind of religious overlay.

It’s not very fashionable, these days, to talk in religious language.
Particularly the stark language of a parasha like Ki Tavo.
Richard Dawkins and co. have captured the academic high ground with a claim that religion is a delusion and if a truth claim cannot be pinned down and measured exactly, with double blind tests, repeatable under scientific control, no weight should be given to its claims.

In a fascinating extract in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, John Cornwell, director of the Science and Human Dimension Project at Cambridge University tells a story of interviewing the author Graham Greene – a self-declared Christian.
Greene explained that reading scripture he was struck by the truth of the language he was encountering and it was this language that enabled him – and this is such an interesting turn of phrase – enabled him to doubt his doubt about religion.
‘Doubt his doubt’
I want to encourage us all to develop our own ‘doubt of doubt’ about the value of religion.
To doubt that religion really has no voice in this world, entranced as it seems to be by books about atheism and the sort of blinkered approach to science that denies the validity of that which can’t be pinned down and measured, like a butterfly under a microscope.

Because, much as I love science, and even much as I love many of Richard Dawkins earlier works on evolution, I don’t share with him, and the other evangelical atheists, the sense that we need to be able to see everything, to measure everything, pin it down and subject to scientific validation, before we can assent to its value.
I want to make the opposite claim.
I want to make the claim that it is precisely that which we can’t see, that we can’t understand, that we can’t reproduce under laboratory conditions that is truly important.
It’s the stuff that we can’t see that provides answers to the really important questions of our lives –

It’s a lesson I learn from reading the Bible precisely because the Bible is more than anything else a treasure trove of vital truths hidden from the worlds of scientific testing.

Let’s take the anathema, at the heart of this week’s parasha.
The people are arranged on two mountains and are asked to curse those who commit particular sins and assent to these curses with an ‘amen’.

Cursed be one who insults his father or mother and all the people shall say amen.
Cursed be one who moves his countryman’s landmark and all the people shall say amen.
Cursed be one who misdirects a blind person on their way and all the people shall say amen.
Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the orphan and the widow and all the people shall say amen.
Cursed be one who commits certain sexual infidelities and all the people shall say amen.
Cursed be the one who strikes down his fellow in secret and all the people shall say amen.

What fascinates me about this list of sins, is what unites them.
Ibn Ezra suggests that all the sins in this list are committed in private, hidden from public scrutiny.

The misdirected blindperson, the moved landmark, the bribe, the sexual infidelities, perhaps most obviously.
And then one needs to know a little about the Rabbinic understanding of honouring one’s father and mother – every story told by the Talmud about honouring one’s parents refers not to obnoxious teenagers and middle aged parents, but middle aged children and their ageing parents.
The examples given in the Talmud are of fathers who fall asleep on the pillow under which the Jeweler keeps the key to his safe and of aggressive slipper wielding mothers who whack their sons about the head demonstrating what contemporary psychiatrists would recognise immediately as gently psychotic dementia.
When the Bible talks about protecting parents the Rabbis understand this to be about protecting those who are hidden from public.
I don’t know who else caught the report, commissioned by Help the Aged that found 68% of nurses and carers working with the aged felt that a lack of training in how to deal with elder abuse was a barrier to them providing proper care. Sent a chill down my spine.
Insulting one’s parents is another hidden sin.

And of course, the widow, the orphan and the stranger are all classic examples of those without a voice in the public sphere.

All these sins, in this anathema, are hidden sins.
And this, maybe, is precisely why our attention is directed to them.

You don’t need religion to protect society from public sins - like striking a person in the street.
Civil society will handle these public sorts of failings precisely because they are committed against society in the full view of the society.
But private sins are much more difficult.
Arur hamakeh reayhu beseter – cursed be the one who strikes their fellow in secret – it feels to me like the Torah is talking domestic abuse – vanu khol ham vomru amen and all the people shall say amen.
And society isn’t nearly as expert at handling these ‘behind closed doors’ sins.
Because they can’t be seen.
The religious language of these verse – ‘cursed be the one’ ‘and all the people shall say amen’ is designed to remind us that, even if hidden from every human eye, there is One who knows about our private infidelities.
The religious language is to remind us that even if we escape public censure God knows, and God cares, and God counts.

Itturei Torah, the collection of Chassidic teachings suggests that the real danger with these hidden sins is not only that they are hidden from public, but they are also hidden from ourselves.
When we commit sins in private, and no-one sees, it becomes easy to kid ourselves that we have done nothing wrong.
And when we leave our private domains we walk out into the world with our head held high,
We suggest to the world that we have nothing to feel guilty for.
The teaching goes on to suggest that with this hypocrisy we kid ourselves.
Not only do we dishonestly broadcast our guiltlessness to the world.
We even tell ourselves we have nothing to feel guilty for and now, says the teaching, Teshuvah – repentance – is impossible.

How often have we seen it?
The perfectly respectable wife-beater who, in public, presents himself as a pillar of society.
The so-called pillars of society who make all sorts of contributions to good causes, but whose private culpability seeps out under the microscope of forensic accountancy or marital infidelity.

We kid ourselves, and we all do it, when we tell ourselves that our behaviour is good enough because our publicly visible behaviour is good enough.
While our private behaviour gives the lie to that claim.
We need to train ourselves to feel the tap tap tap on the shoulder of the hand that belongs to the One with an all seeing eye.
It’s a training in listening to the elusive and the hidden because this tap tap tap is not a measurable, scientifically observable phenomenon.
Rather it will come, if we feel it at all, in much the same way that the voice of God can be heard in the still small voice – the kol damma dakka we talk about during the most important moment of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers.
As we approach the High Holydays;
If we are to grow,
If we are to face our own hypocrisy
If we are to make our lives more valuable
We need to listen to the hidden voice that reminds us of our hidden failings.

Oh dear Professor Dawkins, you are quite wrong in your claim that only the publicly visible, testable is important.
And not because I am a goofy fundamentalist, bent on banning evolution from School curricula, but rather because I believe that the hidden, the internal is a better guide to the worth of an idea, a person, than the public and the visible.

The moon of Ellul is beginning to wane, soon it will disappear.
Soon it will be Rosh Hashanah, and then we all stand before a God who sees what is hidden.
Called upon to look just a little more closely at our own hidden failings, and acknowledge them as that and turn our efforts to elevating our private, our hidden failings, as well as our public behaviour in the year ahead.


Shabbat shalom,

Friday, 16 September 2016

Bruce Almighty and the Mother Bird Problem


We are two and a bit weeks away.
And this week’s jam packed parasha gives a great opportunity to loosen up those Rosh Hashanah muscles.

Here’s one of the dominant images of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur season, in the mind of the Rabbis.

Amar Rabbi Yohanan - said Rabbi Yohanan
Three books are opened on RH, one for the wholly righteous, one for the wholly wicked and one for the intermediates. The wholly righteous are at once inscribed and sealed for life the wholly wicked are at once inscribed and sealed for death and the intermediates are held suspended from RH until YK. If they are found worthy they are inscribed for life, if unworthy, they are inscribed for death.
I have, I suppose only two problems with this image. The first, for want of a better label I’ll call the Brue Almighty problem.
In the movie Bruce Almighty God decides to show Adam Sandler his book. It’s a filing cabinet.[1] Tentatively Sandler begins to tug on the cabinet handle and finds himself blasted back the length of some vast warehouse as the files detailing every action in his life pouring forward . It’s a funny scene. It’s not a bad movie. But it’s not my theology.
My Bruce Almighty problem with the image of these books is that I just believe there are books up there. I don’t believe in God as a sort of cosmic senior Accountant, monitoring a teams of auditors poring over a double entry book system for each and every one of us. I just don’t have that sort of literal theology and, frankly, I would be deeply sceptical of anyone who claimed they did. I certainly wouldn’t want them as my Rabbi.
But my Bruce Almighty problem with this image of the books pales in comparison with what I’m going to call my ‘mother bird’ problem. Here’s my mother bird problem with this image of books of life for the righteous and books of death for the wicked.
In our portion this week we read on of the verses that commands a Jew to do certain things and in return receive arichat yamim - long days. If you want to get an egg from a nest, and the mother-bird is sitting on the nest, we read, you have to shoo the mother-bird away before you take the egg. And if you do you get length of days.
There’s another verse that also promises length of days,
Honour your father and mother, and you will receive length of days.
The Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin[2] relates that a father once asked a child to shoo the mother bird away from the nest while a group of Rabbis looked on approvingly.
“That boy will live long, one of the sages muttered whimsically. “For observe, in one act he is fulfilling two commandments, the reward of which is expressly stated as length of days. He is obeying his father and he will send the mother bird away.”
I’m quoting from one of my all time favourite books, As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg,[3] an imagining of the life in Rabbinic times. I’ll leave it with Steinberg to dramatically take us through what the Talmud says happened next.
“A few moments later wings fluttered about a treetop and a bare, slender arm waved toward it from among the branches. Then a treble cry shattered the silence. A sprawling body plummeted downward. Simultaneously a deeper voice shouted, inarticulate with panic. Instantly the rabbis rushed headlong down the grassy slope. The peasant was already on his knees gathering the boy into his arms.
 “Tell me,” he said, lifting a distorted face to them, ‘”Does he still live?” One of the sages bent over the boy, then rose, shaking his head, [uttering the due and a rabbinically sanctioned phrase for announcing that a death has occured,] “Blessed be the Righteous Judge.”
“But masters,” the father moaned, “he was a good boy, a good pupil. Oh his mother ..” Tears streaming into his tangled beard he rose to his feet, warding off the hands that offered assistance. “I picked him up the moment he was born; I will carry him now.” He walked away bearing his burden with rough tenderness. Against their will, the rabbis stared after him and saw with fearful clarity the limp hanging limbs and dangling head of the dead child.”
So that’s the mother-bird problem. The problem of bad things happening to good people. It’s a deeper problem than the Bruce Almighty problem. Left untended the mother-bird problem can make a person feel there is no reason to be good. No reason behind anything at all.
I’ll come back to the mother-bird problem, but a word about Bruce and his filing cabinet.
The images - of books, auditing angels and the rest of them  - are not meant to be taken literally. To be a Jew you are not required to believe God has a white beard. In fact you are prohibited from believing God has a white beard, or any kind of beard, or any kind of form at all. If we think the images of the Divine in our prayer books and even in the Torah are meant to be understood literally we perform acts of idolatry, not perfect faith. The Torah and the Rabbis and the authors of the great prayers of the Rosh Hashanah period use images; God the shepherd, the potter, the accountant, not because God is literally any of these, but rather these images are used a sort of emotional short-hand, as poetic conceits, as a way to encounter - with a human mind - ideas that are beyond human fathom.
Sometimes you can even feel in the way ideas and images are worked and reworked over centuries, a far more sophisticated way of grasping after the ineffable emerge.
This, for example, is how the image of those books finds expression in one of the most powerful of our Rosh Hashnah prayers; the Unataneh Tokef, recited just before the Musaf Kedusha.
Here God is referred to as
זְכֹּר כָּל הַנִּשְׁכָּחות, וְתִפְתַּח אֶת סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרוֹנוֹת. וּמֵאֵלָיו יִקָּרֵא. וְחוֹתָם יַד כָּל אָדָם בּו.
The remembrance of all things forgotten, and God opens the Book of Memory, and the book reads itself for the seal of each of us is in it.
Feels a little different from the Bruce Almighty idea, no.
I think the Unataneh Tokef is trying to say this.
On this day - on that day in two and bit weeks time, everything we have done, even those things we have forgotten that we have done count. In some cosmic sense we are creating a narrative with our every action that leaves an imprint; our kindnesses, our cruelties and our moments of indifference. They don’t just disappear. And our lives are made up of the narrative of our actions and our inactions, our moments of success and our failures. And that no goodness fails to impact somehow, somewhere. And that no falling short is, cosmically speaking, irrelevant.
No wonder hamalachim yechafayzun - even the angels tremble.
Rosh Hashanah is a serious business. The Bruce Almighty problem is solvable.

But what about the motherbird problem - the problem articulated so perfectly in another Talmudic passage when Moses turns to God and asks, ‘Tzadik v’Ra lo, Rasha v’Tov lo’ - a bad happens to good people and good happens to the wicked.

It turns out I’m not the first person to have a mother-bird problem. I’m not even the first Rabbi.
This is the Rambam’s response to the notion, articulated by the Talmud’s Rabbi Yohanan, notion of a book of life for the good and a book of death for the wicked.

How could Rabbi Yohanan have said such a thing, Do all the righteous indeed live and all the wicked die [each year]? Is not the world and all its desirable things given over to the wicked. Biblical verses cry out against him [he cites them]. Has this sage [says the Rambam] never seen the book of Job?'
Only the pitifully naive think only good comes to good and vice versa. In fact, when the Talmud imagines God’s answer to Moses’s challenge, ‘Tzadik v’Ra lo, Rasha v’Tov lo” it imagines a response that almost isn’t a response at all, ‘I’ll be gracious who I want to be gracious to, and I will punish who I wish to punish.’
So what do we do with about the Mother-bird problem? Why bother telling us that good people get rewarded when we know, from bitter experience in too many cases, that life just doesn’t work like that.
Two thoughts.
One sociological, the other theological.
The practical thought is this.
It’s important for society to believe that there is a point to being good. It’s important for society for us to be complicit in the notion that its bad to cheat when using weights, and it’s good to develop a sense of compassion for animals, and respect for one’s parents.
Theology of Mordechai Kaplan. These things we say, about God, they are just reflection of what we feel is important. And you what, many of these things are important. And it’s worth giving these ideas an imprimatur of Divine assent as it’s more likely to make for a better society than a worse one.
It’s not that I think Kaplan is entirely wrong. But that’s not quite enough for me.
The other solution I have to the mother-bird problem is more delicate. I do believe that theologically, cosmically, karmically - choose term - it’s important to be good because I believe the amounts of goodness poured into the world make for a better world for us all. I don’t believe that the cause and effect mechanism is ever clear, and it might not ever be that I will receive the benefit of the goodly actions of my life (hopefully I won’t receive the punishments my poorer actions deserve). But I do believe that our actions count.
We are back with the language of the Unataneh Tokef prayer again. This I do believe. That there is a
סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרוֹנוֹת.
An accounting of our every deed and action.
 וּמֵאֵלָיו יִקָּרֵא. וְחוֹתָם יַד כָּל אָדָם בּו
And I do believe that actions count and the world and all of us who make our way in it, our shaped by the actions of human hands.
That makes each and every action and inaction so terrifying. That’s a idea that finds contemporary expression in writers like Franz Rosenzweig, but also in our Kabbalistic tradition steeped in a belief, in the language of Raphael Werblowsky  a ‘terrifying conviction of the potency and significance of every human act.'
We do need to act well, kindly and compassionately in our lives not on the basis that it’s the only way we will get length of days, but because we shorten length of days of all we care about, ourselves included, if we do not.
As a theology it is, I admit, less clear cut than the simplistic Bruce Almighty position, or the simplisitic literalist undertanding of the reward of length of days in response to shoing away the mother bird. But I see in that no weakness, rather the reverse. And in any event, I am a Masorti Jew. My faith is not the place where I come for simple answers to the most complicated of questions, for indeed the motherbird problem haunts us all.
Shabbat shalom

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Do you want to do anything about refugees?


It's a time of year to be thinking about these matters, as much as it has ever been possible to push them out of our mind in the last 18 months.

I've been touched to come across so much engagement with Jewish action on this issue in recent days. My colleague Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is featured in this article over the weekend and Rabbi Julia Neuberger was on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. The spur for this most recent coverage is the setting up of this attempt, founded by Kindertransport survivors and descendants, to provide legal routes to sanctuary in this country.

There are two calls for action that I am sharing with the community.

Volunteer at a drop-in centre for asylum seekers. 
We are seeking to develop a cadre of volunteers to staff a drop-in founded through New North London Synagogue. They are full to overflowing and have turned to us to support an over-flow provision in Finchley on the first Sundayof every month. No skills needed, just a warm smile and the willingness to pack, stuff and share. I am hosting an info evening at the Shul on 21st Sept, 8pm at the Shul. If you are interested, please let me know by e-mail at rabbi@newlondon.org.uk. We are also looking to find funds to give travel cards and shopping credit to those using this provision. If you can support this work financially, again, please let me know.

Raise these issues with our representatives
This Sunday evening at 7:30pm, we are welcoming a local MP and the CEO of the Board of Deputies to New London to talk about tolerance. If you feel our relationship with refugee seekers both within and without our borders need to be part of that conversation, please come and pose those questions. More information on our flagship pre-Rosh Hashanah Adult Education event here.

I'm also delighted to share news of a project started by a New London member, a psychotherapist, who, in association with recognised agencies, has set up a therapy group working with asylum seekers hosted at New London.

Finally it's always an honour to mention the tremendous work done by the Separated Child Foundation - www.separatedchild.org, founded in memory of our member Esther of blessed memory, providing packs, training and support for unaccompanied minors arriving in this country. We will be doing a collection supporting the work of the foundation over Succot. More info to follow.

Shannah Tovah,

Rabbi Jeremy 

Know Anyone in Need of an Annual Service? Pass It On.

I’m enormously proud to be part of the New London team.
I’m proud of our prayer services; soul-full and decourous. We offer both more formal and more participatory services with a range of more traditional and more egalitarian options. We are proud to have in Cantor Jason Green, a leader of prayer who is both a master of our liturgical tradition and a .
I’m proud of our intellectual and spiritual appetite. Our founder Rabbi, Louis Jacobs, hoped to preach, ‘a courageous Judaism. No shallow, spineless Judaism, demanding no challenge shall be preached here. But I hope that I shall also see to it that no harsh, unsympathetic, inhuman interpretation of Judaism is voiced here [either].’ That’s my hope too.
I’m proud of our terrific youth provision, led by David-Yehuda Stern; we’ve a vibrant and busy Cheder, fun Children’s Services and an excellent Bar/Bat Mitzvah programme.
I think we offer great adult education programmes, fun social programmes, excellent pastoral support and flagship programming that touches on the most important issues of our day. This Sunday, for example, we are hosting Tulip Siddiq MP and Board of Deputies CEO Gillian Merron to debate the question of tolerance in our society. I could go on about this sort of stuff for a while.
We are a very special community.
We are hungry to grow. It will allow us to offer more and better services, reach our own members ever more effectively and, more effectively, play our part in the broader society.
If you know of anyone who might be looking for a Shul for the High Holydays – or anything else. If you think they should come here, please pass this on. Really. I mean this. Stick a few names (no spamming now!) in the BCC copy the URL of this page and tell your friends why you think they should join you and all of us for Rosh Hashanah.
For more information about the Shul and tickets for the Chagim check out our website (guests and visitors will not be able to attend over Rosh Hashannah / Yom Kippur unless they have a ticket).
For more of the stuff I write and teach about, check out my blog. And if you – or anyone reading this – has any questions about anything going on, or possibly going on, at New London, please contact me.
 Shannah Tovah

Rabbi Jeremy

Friday, 2 September 2016

Parshat Re'eh - Journeys in Shmitta / Sabbatical

1.     Elements of Shmitta
Six years farm, seventh year let go, so the needy may eat. – Shmot 23
Six years farm, seventh year an ultimate Shabbat for the land and for God – Vayikra 25
Seventh year release all debts, don’t harden heart by not lending – Devarim 15
Seventh year assemble and read this Torah before all of Israel – Devarim 31

2.    TB Sanhedrin 39a
A student came and asked Rabbi Abbahu, ‘What is the reason for the Sabbatical year?’ Now, said Rabbi Abbahu, ‘Sow for six years and let go of the land in the seventh year in order that you know that the land is Mine[R1] .’

3.    Rashi Vayikra 25:6
The produce of the Shabbat of the land shall be yours to eat[R2] . Although I have prohibited the produce of the Shmita Year to you, I did not prohibit you from eating it or deriving benefit from it – only that you should not treat it as its owner. Rather all should have equal rights to the produce of the seventh year, you, your hired worker and those who reside with you.

4.    Rambam MT Hil Shmita v’Yovel 4:34
Anyone who locks his vineyard or fences off his agricultural field in the Sabbatical year has nullified a positive commandment. This also holds true if he gathered all of his produce into his home. Instead he should leave everything ownerless [hefker]. And the hand of all is equal in every place as it says and the poor of your people will eat. One may bring in a bit to their house as is the way of bringing from hefker property[R3] .

5.    Avot 5:10
There are four types of people. One who says, ‘mine is mine and yours is yours.’ This is neutral (beinoni), some say this is the way of Sodom[R4] .
One who says, ‘mine is yours and yours is mine.’ This is an idiot.
One who says, ‘mine is yours and yours is yours.’ This is pious.
One who says, ‘mine is mine and yours is mine.’ This is wicked.

6.      Kli Yakar
The year of Shmita promotes a sense of fellowship and peace. For one is not allowed to exercise over the seventh year produce the right of private ownership. And this is a primary factor in promoting peace since most dissension comes from the attitude of ‘mine is mine.’ One person claiming ‘it’s all mine’ and the other also claiming, ‘it’s all mine.’ But in the seventh year all are equal, and this is the real essence of peace[R5] .

7.     Rambam MT Hil Shmitah 6:3
When the produce of the Sabbatical year is sold, it should not be sold by measure, weight, nor number, so that it will not appear that one is selling produce in the Sabbatical year. Instead, one should sell a small amount by estimation to make it known that [the produce] is ownerless. And the proceeds of the sale should only be used to purchase other food.

8.    Arthur Waskow, Towards a Jubilee Economy and Ecology, from “God-Wresting”, 1996
Three intertwined social illnesses are eating at the heart of America and of the earth as a whole:
·       An extreme, and worsening, maldistribution of wealth and income;
·       An overwhelming, and worsening, threat to the environment;
·       A collapse of love, compassion, social solidarity at the levels of family, neighborhood, workplace, and society as a whole.
If we took seriously the Jubilee program of Leviticus 25, we would see these not as three separate ills but as one, to be dealt with precisely by applying the approach of Leviticus: The one illness of unceasing acquisition, exploitation, and mastery.


 [R1]Stewardship, responsibility vs rights
 [R2]But thought couldn’t have? Have to eat something. Actually eat much the same thing. The difference is how treat that which grows in own fields.
And others who need food.
 [R3]Does owning make us rich (who is rich?)
Does ownerlessness make us free?
 [R4]Ambivalence about sufficiency of libertarianism.
 [R5]Sheli sheli v’shelcha shelcha doesn’t tell you to whom a resource belongs.

Parashat Re'eh - Halachic Heavy Lifting - Prosbul / Prozbul


Deuteronomy 15
(1) At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. (2) And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he lent to his neighbour; he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother; because the LORD’S release hath been proclaimed. ... (3) your hand shall release whatever is yours which is with your brother.
(9) Beware that there be not a base thought in thy heart, saying: ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand’; and your eye be evil against your needy brother, and you give him nought; and he cry to the LORD against you, that will be your sin.

Mishnah Gittin 4:3
Witnesses sign on a bill of divorce, due to Tikkun HaOlam. Hillel instituted the pruzbul due to Tikkun HaOlam.

Mishnah Shviit 10:3
Any loan made with a Pruzbul is not cancelled. This is one of the matters that Hillel the elder instituted. When he observed that the nation withheld from lending to each other and were transgressing what is written in the Torah "Beware lest there be in your mind a base thought," he instituted the Pruzbul.
(4) This is the body of the Pruzbul: "I entrust to you, so-and-so and so-and-so, who judge in such-and-such place, that any loan that I have, I may collect it any time that I wish." And the judges affix their signatures below, or the witnesses.

Yerushalmi, Shevi'it 39c
"That debt matters which you have with your brother, your hand shall remit" (Deut 15:3) - and not someone who deposited his contracts at the court. This is the source that indicates that the prozbul is biblical. But is the prozbul Biblical? When Hillel established it, he did so on the basis of biblical law."
Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 36b
Shmuel Said: One cannot write a prozbul other than for the courts of Sura or Nehardea.
Paul Heger, The Pluralist Halachah p. 104n
The Sages, though they used hermeneutic rules, were not bound by a particular systematic method, but rather were guided by certain principles they deemed important.
The concept of hierarchy among halachic rules, allowing one precept to override another, provided to the Sages a far-reaching philosophical foundation on which to base various rules, even if these were not explicitly indicated. it is possible, for instance, that Hillel's promulgation of the prosbul received its impulse from [this] acknowledged principle... To prevent the Israelites from transgressing one biblical precept, Hillel in effect invalidated another precept.


Paul Heger, The Pluralist Halachah p. 104n
The Sages, though they used hermeneutic rules, were not bound by a particular systematic method, but rather were guided by certain principles they deemed important. The concept of hierarchy among halachic rules, allowing one precept to override another, provided to the Sages a far-reaching philosophical foundation on which to base various rules, even if these were not explicitly indicated. it is possible, for instance, that Hillel's promulgation of the prosbul received its impulse from [this] acknowledged principle... To prevent the Israelites from transgressing one biblical precept, Hillel in effect invalidated another precept.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Sefat Emet on Parshat Eikev

והיה עקב תשמעון
Usually translated - and it shall be because you listen to these ...
Literal translation - and you listen to the heel

Rashi
If you listen to even the lighter commands which a person usually treads on with their heel.

Midrash Tanhuma
The One of Blessed Name gave Torah to Israel with 613 Mitzvot. And some of them are light and some are heavy. For there are Mitzvot which are light, where a person doesn’t pay them much attention, rather goes along with them under their heel, which is to say, they are light. [And about these light Mitzvot it is said] by them your servant is warned, in keeping them there is great reward [eikev rav] (Psalm 19).

Sefat Emet 5631:1
God created the world to be conjoined to creation by means of Adam until everything comes close to the One of Blessed Name. So the explanation of ‘you listen’ is that you should sensitize and internalise [muragash v’nshma] yourself to the enlightenment [haha’arah] which is in every thing, for there is Divine enlightenment in every thing, and this is the inner point. So the Children of Israel need to see all their deeds as a cleaving to the lifeforce of this point. And by means of this, the light continues and the understanding of God is in every thing. And this is ‘light Mitzvot’ - to cleave also to the regular things for by means of doing them everything becomes purely a reflection of Divine will.

And ‘Eikev’ this is the lowest step, and this is the ‘Eikev Rav’ and this is the aim and will of the Blessed One - for all creation to be joined one to the other until even the end and the lowest shall be drawn towards the first/highest [hareishit]... And this is the aspect of the fear of heaven [yirat shamayim] - to be continually in awe of the Blessed One, in every act small or large. And in the Talmud (Brachot 33b) on the verse What does God your Lord ask of you? Only to fear God and love God... (Deuteronomy 10:12), when it asks, ‘fearing God, how is this a little thing?! It’s called a little thing because for Moses it was a little [obvious] thing.’ [But don’t underestimate the importance of yirat shamayim.] Know that fear of God is the essential thing, it is the basis and the first step [hareishit]. In any event it’s the precursor of everything else mentioned in the passage; cleaving to God and loving God. Fear comes before everything and through it one also comes to love. And from this comes the idea that everything is in the hands of heaven, apart from the fear of heaven (Brachot 33b) for this is the step which is closest to Adam. And so it is light.
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