Sunday, 27 September 2020
Friday, 18 September 2020
Monday, 17 August 2020
I wrote this a long time ago, and I'm aware the current Mara D'Atra of the Shul for which it was written takes a different positions (as is entirely their privilege), but this is my take on this.
Policy on Bat Cohen
As a community that gives first aliyah to cohanim and (otherwise) gives aliyot equally to men and women, which aliyot should the daughters of cohanim receive?
Also, does the marriage of a daughter of a cohen to a non-cohen, or the marriage of a yisraelit to a cohen, change matters regarding the aliyot that she should receive?
Also, what appellation should be given to a woman who is the daughter/wife of a cohen?
Finally, is there any difference between the law as applies for the daughters of cohanim and those of leviim?
This is an untidy issue for Masorti jurisprudence. We are caught, as a movement, between one ancient tradition that gives special honour to a select few and the desire to honour all, a tradition that has ancient roots, but is also shaped particularly by a contemporary understanding of the role of women. Moreover, we are standing on thin ice in the search for Rabbinic authority on which to rely, the tradition not having dealt systematically with the issue of giving women aliyot until 1955.
The two leading
treatments are by Rabbi Joel Roth in a paper accepted by the American CJLS
(which suggests that women should receive first aliyot) and a paper by
The Cohen and the First Aliyah (As Applied to Males)
Mishnah Gittin 5:8 reads,
The cohen reads first, the levi after him and the yisrael after him, because of the ways of peace [mipnei darkei shalom].
By the time of the
Shulchan Arukh it is settled that, ‘even if the cohen is an ignoramus,
they still read first, even before the wisest scholar in
Where there is no levi in the Synagogue. Then the cohen who read first, blesses a second time in place of [bimkom] the levi. But you don’t call a different cohen, lest people say the first is flawed [pagum]. (SA OH 135:8)
This concern not to suggest that a cohen is flawed, or pagum, is an important feature in the laws relating to distribution of aliyot. The concern is so strong that the Mishnah Brurah even prohibits calling the son of the first cohen to read bimkom levi since one might think that the father married a divorcee or otherwise made profane the priestly standing of his own son (OH 135:29). There is, throughout the relevant material in the Shulchan Arukh and Mishneh Brurah, a concern not to embarrass anyone with genuine cohen lineage by giving them, or anyone else, an aliyah that might suggest otherwise.
The Rabbis use a number of verses to find scriptural authority for this claim. The most satisfactory claim is based on Leviticus 21:8, as understood by the Talmud Gittin 59b.
And you shall make [the Priest] kodesh.
Holiness, in a
post-Temple Jewish world, becomes ‘going first’. This explanation stresses the
connection between getting the first aliyah and avodat hakodesh – the
work of the Priest in the
The Status, Rights and Obligations of the Daughter of a Cohen
The child of any kosher marriage takes the status of the father, and this applies equally to sons and daughters. Mishnah Kiddushin 3:12 states:
Whenever there is kiddushin and there is no sin [in the coupling of father and mother], the child follows [the status] of the male [the father].
who is this? This is a female Cohen, Levite or Israelite to a male Cohen,
Therefore the daughters of a male cohen and a parent allowed to marry a cohen are considered cohanot (a Rabbinic term used, as we will see below, in the Mishnah).
But what does this mean in terms of the religious rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood? Rabbi Harris suggests there are no implications; that wherever the Rabbis discuss matters of cultic or ritual significance only the males are addressed. In doing so, he claims, they develop the androcentricity of verses regarding the Priesthood in the Bible. Numbers 3:15, for example, states:
Count the bnei Levi, according to their tribe and their family, count all the males from one month upwards.
It is clear that both sons and daughters of a male cohen are permitted to eat Terumah – special foods made available to the cohen and, as Leviticus 22:11 states, anyone born in his house. However, Rabbi Harris dismisses that this can teach us anything about aliyot since the right to eat terumah is entirely ‘relational’, i.e. dependent on her relation to her father and does not vest in the daughter in her own right. Certainly the way in which the Mishnah treats the daughter of a cohen’s right to eat other foods made available for the Priesthood doesn’t suggest her ability to eat them is in any way a special right that is her own.
The Thanksgiving offering and the Shlamim offering are light offerings … and they are eaten in any part of the city… The cuts which are raised up as a heave offering are eaten by Priests, their women, their children and their slaves. (Mishnayot Zevachim 5:5 & 6 conflated for ease of presentation)
Notice the classic Mishnaic triplet of women, kids and slaves. It leads one to consider that the religious idea driving the Mishnah is looking after those who cannot look after themselves (in the eyes of the Mishnah) rather than recognising any inherent holiness in the wife or daughter of a priest.
Mishnah Sotah 3.7 – while recognising the daughters of cohanim as ‘cohanot’ – nonetheless makes clear that daughters of cohanim have very different (and fewer) rights and obligations than their brothers.
What is the difference between a cohen and cohanot? …
Cohanot can profane their status [by marrying converts or divorcees], a cohen can not.
Cohanot is allowed to become unclean through attending the dead, a cohen can not.
Cohanot cannot eat kodshim [one category of foods given to the priestly class], a cohen can.
These texts and those like them leave Rabbi Harris inclining against upsetting the ancient primacy of the male-cohen in the context of receiving the first aliyah. Since, Rabbi Harris claims, the first aliyah is intimately related to Priestly service and since women didn’t do Priestly service, and especially since change might be perceived as controversial, he recommends shav v’al toseh – sit tight and don’t do anything.
How Close is
the Relationship Between
Rabbi Roth suggests
that if the contemporary rights and obligations of the Cohen were entirely
contingent on being able to do Priestly service in Temple times one would
expect that baalei mumin – those with certain physical blemishes who
were prohibited from Temple service – would also be prohibited from the rights,
and exempt from the obligations, of the contemporary cohen. But this is
not the case. Baalei mumin are allowed to eat of the holiest sacrifices,
they may officiate at the ceremony of the egel arufah, bless the people
and must not defile themselves by attending on the dead.
This opens the possibility of the cohen having rights and obligations
that are not contingent on their ability to do
Rabbi Roth has discovered a fascinating, and tragic, case which casts some light on this issue. A cohen, the victim of Nazi persecution, has been castrated. Can he get the first aliyah? Rav Oshri held that if there is no other cohen around, the man can since:
The elements of the priestly prerogative [including the right to receive the first aliyah] are not contingent on his serving at the altar at all, and even where a priest is not entitled to serve at the alter, as a baal mum, he nonetheless retains the sanctity of the priesthood and [he should be permitted to receive the first aliyah].
All of which suggests that the right to the first aliyah is not as closely connected to Priestly service (and therefore is not as androcentric) as we might have thought.
When the Daughter of a Priest Marries a Non-Priest
Leviticus 22:12 states:
The daughter of a Priest - when she [marries a non-Priest] - should no longer eat the holy trumah.
We see a similar sentiment in the Talmud, Yevamot 87a, commenting on Numbers 18:19:
I have given you all these holy trumot, to you, your sons and daughters while they are with you.
Rava stated ‘with you’ only when they are with you [i.e. not ‘with’ anyone else].
This is very significant authority for the notion that a significant part of priestly rights, gained by the daughter of a cohen on birth, is lost on her marriage to a non-cohen. But it is too much to say that all the rights of the daughter of a priest pass on marriage. Some quasi-priestly rights persist.
Firstly we should consider the case of pidiyon haben – redemption of the firstborn. The ‘opening of the womb’ of a yisraelit woman must be redeemed by a cohen. However, if the mother was herself a daughter of a cohen (or levi) the child is exempt, regardless of the status of the father. Even the Talmud professes surprise at this.
But doesn’t the Bible say [we should consider the child] according to their families, their father’s house [a very common phrase, especially at the beginning of Numbers]. However Mar, son of Rav Yosef says the matter depends on the [status of the woman with the] womb. (Bekorot 47a) 
Secondly, there is the case of eating trumah bshogeg. If a non-cohen mistakenly eats trumah they have to repay to the Priest what they have eaten with a 20% additional fine (see Leviticus 22:14). But if the accidental trumah nosher is a Priest’s daughter who has married a non-cohen, she is exempt from the surcharge (Mishnah Terumot 7:2).
Matanot Cehunah – gifts to the Priests of the shoulders, cheeks and stomach – can also be given to daughters of cohanim even when married to non-cohanim. Ulla, one of the great Rabbis of the Talmud, specifically understood the relevant verse he should give them to the priest (Deut 18:3) to include women married to non-cohamin.
The same is true of the first shearing of a sheep, also a priestly gift. As Rambam points out:
The first shearing is ordinary [hol] in every regard. Therefore I say that one gives it to the daughter of the cohen even though she is married to an Israelite, like animal gifts. It seems to me that one rule applies to both. (MT Bikurim 10:17)
When Rambam considers the first shearing ‘ordinary’ he makes a key point – namely that the right to these gifts is NOT connected to the ‘holy’ Priestly service (performed exclusively by males). This makes clear that there are some rights of the priest that can be considered ‘holy’ – i.e. intimately connected to Priestly service (and only open to men) while other rights can be considered ‘ordinary’, i.e. based on being born into a special family and, as such, a right that might apply equally to men and women. The question is whether the right of the first aliyah is a ‘holy’ or an ‘ordinary’ right accruing to the priestly line.
Rabbi Roth makes the claim that the right is ordinary; he claims that the collection of instances where the special treatment of a daughter of a cohen persists even post-marriage:
Makes it reasonable and proper for the Law Committee to decide that daughters of priests and levites be accorded the same aliyot that are normally accorded to priests and levites. This should be the case whether they are single or married. Their status regarding being called to the Torah should not be determined by the lineage of their husbands, but by their own paternal lineage.
The Teshuvot of Rabbis Roth and Harris
Rabbi Roth makes two claims: firstly that the right of first aliyah is ‘ordinary’ and not directly connected to temple service and secondly that there are enough priestly rights in the daughter of a Priest to allow us to consider that she should receive the first aliyah even after she has married a non-cohen.
With a certain amount of trepidation I am not entirely unconvinced by my teacher’s analysis, particularly as applied to a married woman.
On the connection
between Temple service and the first aliyah, while the case of a baal
mum is of interest, it does not, for me, trump the connection between Priestly
service in Temple times and the notion of ‘going first’. (See the statement of
Moreover, while some vestiges of priestly rights do remain with the daughter of a cohen after her marriage, the examples cited above should be read narrowly and not as a general case. It is no surprise to see the focus on the ‘womb’ (mother) in the case of pidiyon ha-ben, particularly given other applications of this rule. The case of the accidental trumah nosher can be explained simply in terms of a concession to a reality – she used to be able to eat terumah, so if she makes a mistake in her married state there ought to be some understanding here. This leaves the issue of Priestly gifts, which is hardly a crushing precedent, certainly when compared to the far more general notion that a daughter of a priest who marries a non-priest is considered to have left the house of her father to join that of her husband.
I also have serious misgivings with the approach of Rabbi Harris. His claim that, in matters relating to religious ritual, there is no kedushah applied to the daughter of the priest goes too far, particularly in the case of the unmarried daughter. Furthermore, Harris’s recommendation, shav v’al toseh – sit tight and don’t do anything – is not a workable principle for a community where you have to make some decision about what aliyot to give women. It is wrong to claim that these women are not cohanot (at least until marriage) and therefore giving her a later aliyah is an affront and suggests a p’gamah or flaw in her priestly lineage, which I am unwilling to do. One could duck the issue by only giving such women maftir or hosafot (rarely distributed) aliyot, but this seems cowardly and is frankly unfair (might one even say an affront to darkei shalom – the ways of peace). That said, I consider Harris correct in claiming that the wife of a cohen has only a relationship to the cehuna and should not be considered a cohen in her own right.
None of this has any impact on the name by which a woman is called to the Torah. The daughter of a cohen is to be called X bat Y Ha-Cohen, regardless of who she subsequently marries. The reason for retaining the marker ‘ha-cohen’ has nothing to do with the status of the woman; rather it is a reference to the father. We can learn this principle from laws relating to the writing of legal documents, such as bills of divorce.
In our lands [when putting the names of a husband into a get] we write X ben Y ha-cohen, or ha-levi. This is also the standard regarding the father of the woman, we write [X bat Y] ha-cohen, or ha-levi even if [the woman’s father] has become an apostate. (Kav Naki, Seder Ha-Get par. 24)
The fact that this statement appears in discussion of a woman who has been married makes it clear that the daughter of a cohen retains the honorific in her name regardless of who she marries. We can also learn, from this focus on the father of the person, that a yisraelit who marries a cohen does not pick up an honorific on marriage.
I would like to chart a middle path between Rabbis Roth and Harris. Daughters of a cohen do have some personal connection to the kedushah of their fathers and they should therefore receive the first aliyah while they are ‘with their fathers’, i.e. not married. However, if they marry a non-cohen they should be considered to have left the house of their father and entered that of their husband. The wife of a cohen has only a relationship to the priesthood and her marriage should not impact on the aliyot that she should receive. I should also state that I have seen nothing applicable to the matter at hand that suggests that the wives or daughters of leviim should be treated differently to cohanim.
Halachah L’Maseh – Practical Matters
- The unmarried daughter of a cohen should be eligible only for first aliyah (as cohen), maftir and hosafot.
- The daughter of a cohen who marries a non-cohen shall be eligible for the same aliyot as her husband,  though she shall still be called to the Torah X bat Y Ha-Cohen.
- The daughter of a yisrael who marries a cohen shall continue to be only eligible for shlishi and subsequent aliyot.
- The same rules shall apply to the daughter of a levi. With the exception that the daughter of a levi who marries a cohen does not become eligible for the first aliyah; rather she should continue to receive second aliyah, maftir and hosafot.
St Albans Masorti Synagogue
 The other attempts are based on Deut 31:9, 21:5 and I Chron 23:13, but they need not delay us at this time.
 This explains why the child of a female cohen and a yisrael is considered a yisrael
 See Zevahim 101b, Sifra Deut piska 208, Megillah 24b and Sifra to Lev 21:1 & 6 respectively.
 Responsa Mi ma-amikim 2:7, p.41. My emphasis.
 See Bekhorot 47a tosafot DHM Mar, MT Bikkurim , SA YD 301.18. My emphasis.
 See also Emor 6:2, 97d, which explains the reason being that the daughter of a Priest is not to be considered a ‘stranger’ to terumah even after her marriage to a stranger.
 Hulin 131b; see also Rashi.
 I am grateful to Rabbi Charles Kraus for providing me with this source.
 This would also apply in the case of daughter of a cohen who married a levi. She would be able to receive the second aliyah even though the daughter of a yisrael who marries a levi remains a yisrael. Cohanim should correctly be seen as a subset of leviim, not a different grouping. Therefore such a woman leaves the particular (the cehunah) and enters the general category of her husband (in this case the family of levi) in the same way that the daughter of a cohen who marries a yisrael leaves the particular (the cehunah) and enters the general category of her husband (the family of yisrael).
Wednesday, 5 August 2020
I saw a post about the Torah and bicycles on FB and remembered I once upon a time gave this sermon, now up on the blog.
I saw a post about the Torah and bicycles on FB and remembered I once upon a time gave this sermon, now up on the blog.
I am, as many of you know, a cyclist.
You learn many things on two wheels.
Most of all you learn how fragile a life is.
Every time I snap on my bicycle helmet my mind flashes back to an intensive care cubicle I visited as a Hospital Chaplain.
The patient was Jewish. As was his wife and two small kids. He had fallen off his bicycle, cracked his skull and was in a coma.
I think of that fragility when I click my helmet over my kippah.
It’s a good thing to remember on Yom Hazikaron – this day of memory.
Some time ago
I read an article on why people drive Hummers – Hummers are the massive half
tank/half-cars that you sometimes see, rarely it has to be said, in
‘I like my Hummer,’ this woman was saying, ‘because it makes me feel safe. I’m up high and protected.’
But she is fragile, that Hummer driver.
Just as fragile as I am, you are, we all are.
We are all cyclists here,
We are all cyclists, with our fragile souls protected by fragile bones and maintained by fragile systems.
Back to the bicycle.
Matt Seaton writes on cycling for the Guardian.
He’s been cycling all his life, but several months ago he took the cycling proficiency road test and wrote about what he learnt.
Mostly, it was what he expected, and knew.
But there was one thing.
“I learnt,” Seaton wrote, “how important it is to look over one’s shoulder when cycling.”
To look at the cars behind.
What was so interested Seaton about this instruction was not the notion that cyclists need to know if there are cars behind them.
For indeed us cyclists can hear the cars.
What was interested Seaton was that the reason given for looking behind, as one cycles along, is to make sure that the drives see you.
The idea being, of course, that when a car driver sees your face, they encounter your fragility, and then he or she can’t run you over.
They can’t forget you.
And all of a sudden they are obligated to give you just a little more space, between you and the gutter.
If a driver sees my face, sweaty and short of breath,
He, or she, starts to shift a little uneasily, even in their Hummer.
They are forced to recognise a fetter on their freedom, a call on their actions, an obligation, a Mitzvah.
I want to talk, today, about Mitzvah.
It’s a notion that we are in danger of forgetting, in these times.
Earlier this year I was invited to go class to class at Clore Shalom, a local Jewish school where a number of our members attend.
It was Purim time, I volunteered to speak about the mitzvot of Purim.
I started by asking, in class after class, for a definition of mitzvot.
Hands went up in the air and class after class
I was told mitzvah meant a nice thing to do for someone.
I was told mitzvah meant being kind.
It doesn’t, of course.
Mitzvah means obligation.
Two types of obligation – obligations between ourselves and our fellows – mitzvot ben adam lchavero
And obligations between ourselves and our world, between ourselves and our God – mitzvot ben adam lmakom.
The word threatens to make us stutter over its harshness, in our oh so modern age.
Who wants to be obligated?
I want to be free.
Or, to give it a more posh-term, ‘I want to be autonomous.’
I want to drive around in my Hummer, so high and so gently cushioned by expensive suspension, that I can forget what is crushed underneath my comfy tires.
By the way, I’m not specifically interested in people who drive big 4x4s today. We all like our metaphorical Hummers – our escape capsules from the world.
Our metaphorical Hummers might be i-pod headphones used to block out the noise of the street, or the selective deafness we all conveniently develop in order not to hear those voices that distract us from our own private self-interest.
We all want to drive around in Hummers – immune to everyone and everything.
And yet we are all cyclists – desperately hoping those who have the power to run us into the gutter will see our face, recognise our fragility and feel a sense of obligation towards us.
See my face,
Feel an obligation.
Be dragged out of your Hummer.
The great Jewish philosopher, Emanuel Levinas made a career out of writing about the impact of seeing another face, of engaging with the mortality of the soul in your line of sight.
‘The first word of the face’ says Levinas, ‘is the ‘Thou shall not Kill.’ It is an order. There is a commandment in the appearance of the face, as if a master spoke to me.’
But there is more than a mere obligation not to kill.
There is more than the mitzvah- lo tirtzach ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’
When one becomes aware of the other, it calls many things into question.
‘One has to respond to one’s right to be because of one’s fear for the Other. My being in the world, or my place in the sun, my being at home, have these not also been the [taking’ of spaces belonging to the other man whom I have already oppressed or starved or driven out into a third world; are they not acts of repulsing, excluding, exiling, stripping kidnapping?’
If that language is a little high-falutin’ how about this.
‘My entire philosophy,’ wrote Levinas, can be summed up in the phrase, après vous monsieur’
I put your needs before my own.
Everything we do in our life results in us picking up obligations.
Indeed in choosing to speak, today, about mitzvah, I am responding to a call, made by the new Chancellor of my Seminary in New York, Professor Arnie Eisen.
Chancellor Eisen has called on every ordained Rabbi of the Jewish Theological Seminary, to speak about this most important subject, on this most important day.
Everywhere we go, everyone we meet, imposes obligations upon us.
How about these obligations, from Robert Fulghum’s charming book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4 .Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
Mitzvot ben adam lchavero – obligations between a person and their fellow come in so many shapes and forms.
There are so many things to protect, so many people to take care of.
We live in a web of connections, all the different aspects on our existence jostling one another, making claims on our selective amnesia.
Every time we try to disappear in our metaphorical Hummers, all our history and biography and experience reminds us that there are cyclists on the road, fragilities and responsibilities that weigh upon us even as we go to sleep and certainly when we go on our way.
And the quality of a life can be measured by how we respond to these obligations.
To live well in this world means accepting these obligations with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.
And you shall repeat these words to your children and speak of them, when you lie down in your homes and when you go on your way.
For among the jostling identities we all share, in this very special community, on this very special day, is our identity as a Jew.
And this is what brings us to our obligations before God – the mitzvot ben adam lmakom
To live well, in this skin, with this soul granted to us, we need to respond to this call too.
We need to remember our identity; call it to mind and allow it to tug us out of our metaphorical Hummers.
We need to remember the day God promised Abraham that his offspring shall be as numerous as the stars of the heavens.
We need to remember the moment we were freed from Egypt.
We need to remember the day we stood on the foothills of Mount Sinai and heard the words ‘I am the Lord Your God.’
These are desperately important things to remember for two reasons,
Firstly because this chain of memory is stretched thin in this day and age, and for many of us, sat here today, it is in danger of snapping, of disappearing into nothing more than a vague appreciation of chicken soup and klezmer.
This keeps me awake at night, but, of course, it’s no reason, in itself for sticking with this 5000 year old tradition.
No the real reason it is important to give Mitzvot time and space in our lives is that they connect us to the deeper part of our selves. They connect us to our past and they allow us to find a way to stand in the face of the Universe.
Our Mitzvot give us a way to respond to the extraordinary gift of our own creation.
How does a Jew say thank you? When we wake in the morning we are obliged to say modeh ani lephanecha – and we claim that this works.
How does a Jew respond to the extraordinary contemporary abundance of food that means, radically, that starvation is simply an unknown in our community? We eat Kosher and when we have eaten and been sated we bless. As it says in the Torah – vachalta v’savata uverachta – and we claim that this works.
How does a Jew respond to simply being alive and being able to live free of the trials of slavery?
We eat Matzah and, and this is the greatest and most powerful insight in our glorious faith, we keep Shabbat – and we claim that this works.
As the Good Book says
Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
It is the Shabbat that is at the heart of everything, for us as Jews.
A response to the miracle of our freedom.
A response to the miracle of our creation.
Remember the Sabbath day; six days you shall do all your work, and the seventh day is a day of Sabbath and re-ensoulment.
Uva yom hashvii shavat vayniafash - the seventh day is a day of Sabbath and re-ensoulment
Six days you shall run, like a hamster on a wheel, putting food on our plates and earning the necessary crust with which to pay for the car, the new clothes, the mobile telephony and the broadband exchange router.
But on the seventh day you shall be re-ensouled.
You shall stop, breathe, and take in the company of your fellow human beings face-to-face.
On the seventh day you shall stop, and thank God.
And we claim that this works.
Don’t do it because you want to, or because you enjoy it, or because your parents or kids expect you to.
Do it because it is a Mitzvah, an obligation.
Do it because, as a Jew you are prepared to claim God demands this Mitzvah of you.
Do it because you are obliged, you owe it to your past and to your future, to your ancestors and your descendants and to God.
Do it because you are prepared to claim that this works.
And in so doing you will lift the Shabbat far far away from being a day off.
You will turn a normal day into a day of re-ensoulment.
You will turn it into a moment to stand before your creator with pride.
Many years ago, when I was just starting to think about my own Jewish journey I was davening with some friends on a Friday night, it was summer time.
We were all singing away,
Singing these wonderful tunes, rocking away.
And I realised that there was a twig that I was brushing again, it was catching my sleeve as I sung and rocked back and forward.
I went to break it
And then I remembered that there is a Halacha – a law – against breaking twigs on Shabbat.
And I paused.
And I remembered that on Shabbat I don’t get to boss the Universe around the same way I would the other six days of the week.
And I took a step away, and left the twig where it was.
It was a tiny moment.
But it has stayed with me as a moment when I let my ego - my desire for instant gratification – go a little.
And, as I did so, this moment of stepping back from breaking the twig, I felt myself folding into the tradition of my parents and my ancestors, back through my great grandparents in London’s East End, back through their ancestors in the Shtetls and cities of Eastern Europe and back still further, back to Sinai.
A little thing like not breaking a twig can have that power.
More power even than a Hummer.
That is the power of the Shabbat.
That is the power of a day of re-soulment.
Yes there is homework.
Two pieces of homework.
The first is about cycling. It is about mitzvot ben adam lchavero – obligations between people.
The first piece of homework is to look at someone and be moved by what happens when you see their fragility.
Allow yourself to be moved, to feel obliged.
It could be a photo of a bedraggled stranger in the papers, allow yourself to be obliged to send some money. For you shall not wrong the stranger for you were strangers in a strange land.
It could be a work colleague, a lover, a friend.
Anyone who needs a hand, a hug, a gesture of support.
As Robert Fulghum would put it; do something to meet the obligations we learnt in kindergarden
2. Put things back where you found them.
I’m not so serious about the ‘flush part’
But place another person’s needs before your own.
Know that they are fragile and you have the power and therefore the obligation to support them.
‘My entire philosophy,’ wrote our philosophe de jour Emmanuel Levinas, can be summed up in the phrase, après vous monsieur’
I put your needs before my own.
This is the first piece of homework.
The second piece of homework is about mitzvot ben adam lmakom – obligations between a person and cosmos.
Looking back over my sermons these past four years I have had the merit to serve this special community I see I have talked about Shabbat from this pulpit many times. But I have no greater message to offer than this.
Keep Shabbat and save your life.
Save it from being swallowed by the humdrum and the profane.
We all need saving.
Light a candle, light two.
Leave the wallet behind.
Don’t answer e-mail.
Anything to rescue this most special of days.
Anything to respond to the mitzvah, the obligation, to shomer et yom hashabbat – observe the Sabbath day.
First - Apres vous monsieur - I put your needs before my own.
Second - Shomer et yom hashabbat – observe the Sabbath day
Because this is how we respond to the obligations of our life.
Because this is what is means to acknowledge that we are bound, obliged, by our Mitzvot.
Because this is how we come to deserve and even how we earn the sweet, healthy and happy year for which we pray.
 ‘Ethics as First Philosophy,’ in The Levinas Reader, ed. Sean Hand pp75-88.