Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Temporary voluntary Homelessness


As you move into your Succah, the Mishnah instructs, ‘make your permanent temporary, and your temporary permanent.’ This is the season when we open ourselves up to the elements, voluntarily, and move into temporary dwellings, voluntarily.

As an exercise in realising what it is to have no permanent roof over one’s head it strikes me a little like those terrible stunts where ‘normal’ people live on a pittance for a week to prove that it can be done. The stunts are terrible because when the stunt comes to an end, or before then, if we run out of enjoyment, or if the weather isn’t rosy enough we voluntarily retreat to our cosy homes.


There are terrible floods in Bolder, Colorado. A colleague of mine, Rabbi Marc Soloway has four feet of water in his basement.

And then there is the news from Syria, 2,000,000 people are living in refugee camps, with levels of shelter less impressive than our pre-fab, wind-proof Succah.


Spending some time in a Succah is a wonderful thing to do, it opens up the soul a bit – especially for the more urban among us, and allows us to feel profoundly grateful for the ability to retreat indoors into cosier spaces. That’s all good.

It’s also worth being able to demonstrate some of that gratitude by supporting those for whom the destruction visited on their ‘permanent’ homes is neither voluntary nor temporary.


The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado has set up a flood disaster response fund. You can link  to it from http://www.jewishcolorado.org/

And, I make no apologies for mentioning this for the second e-mail in a row, World Jewish Relief have a Syria Crisis Appeal. http://www.wjr.org.uk/


Chag Sameach,

May our experiences of homelessness always be temporary and voluntary.


Rabbi Jeremy


Rabbi Jeremy Gordon

New London Synagogue

0207 328 1026




Succot is coming - Wed night 18th Sept.

Services evening and morning at New London


Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur Sermons on the blog


A 'warm-up' to the prayers and music of Yom Kippur with Cantor Jason Green



Monday, 16 September 2013

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-State of Israel, has a problem with Yom Kippur and Teshuvah and the confessionals and everything else we have just been through. Yom Kipupr is good, he taught, but it weakens us. The solution is Succot, ‘days of holy joy, of gladness of the soul.’ The Rabbis callit ‘Zman Simchateinu,’ ‘Time of our Happiness.’ We sit in the Succah, shake stuff and season culminates in Simchat Torah.


A plea - the Shul Succah needs your Schach – anything that once grew from the ground is gratefully appreciated. You can drop Schach around during the morning when the office is open, otherwise just leave it by the front of the building.


A request – lots of services this time of year. Wednesday evening, Thursday morning and evening and then straight into Shabbat. If you can help us celebrate well during the day that would be wonderful. If you can’t, please consider coming for a Maariv service – especially if this would be your one chance to be in a Succah.


The following week we go once more, but before Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, comes  Hoshanah Rabba. Anyone able to join us for a 7:15am whack of the willows on Wednesday 25th September, you are very welcome.


A couple of reflections on the week just past. My thanks to everyone who helped make these services very special, it was a huge effort at every level of the congregation. Thank you. We are already collecting reflections and opportunities for improvement for next year. I did, for example, make an error in not including a public the Memorial Prayer for Rabbi and Shula Jacobs during Yizkor. We will get that right next year. If you have any reflections or observations, please do let me know.


And finally, there was an important question asked about Syria, during the Q&A on Yom Kippur. It, and the suggestion of a member, prompts me to wave a flag for World Jewish Relief’s Syria Crisis Appeal. WJR is partnering with the Jewish Colation for Disaster Relief and Save the Children to provide nutrition for refugee children in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. More information, and the opportunity to make a donation, can be found at www.wjr.org.uk


Friday, 13 September 2013

Kol Nidrei 5774 - The Confrontation with our Mortal Condition - Rothko Style and Otherwise

I’ve been thinking about the Mark Rothko’s murals at the Tate gallery. I went, again, to see them earlier this week.

You might know them, they look like this, but vast. They hog entire walls of a room built precisely to fit them. Their story is one of the great tales of twentieth century modern art. Rothko, the Jewish abstract artist, was commissioned in the 1950s to paint murals to hang in the fanciest restaurant in New York, but he had no interest in pretty interior design. He wanted to confront us, his audience, with the realities of our mortal condition. He knew he was up against diners’ gossip and the architect’s glitter and he accepted the commission with what his biographer calls ‘malice.’ He tells a stranger he wanted to paint something to ‘ruin the appetite of every[one] who ever eats in that room.’ With work nearing completion he goes to the restaurant, The Four Seasons, for dinner and …  gives up. Sat amongst the fancy linen and cut-glass chandeliers Rothko can’t imagine ‘anyone who will eat that kind of food for that kind of money [looking] at a painting of mine.’ The paintings are fabulous, but he hasn’t a chance of breaking in on the tittle-tattle, and he knows it. He returns the advance and refuses to allow the restaurant to have the works. Instead – still trying to confront us with our mortal condition – he gives seven of the canvases to the Tate. It’s a gift that comes with extensive instructions; how the paintings are to be hung – no other work in the room, light arrayed just so. Rothko said he didn’t want the canvases so much to occupy their walls, as defeat them – defeat us, break in on us. And at last, in the Tate, they work, at least they work on me, at least sometimes.

Rothko’s desire to break in on tittle-tattle is an old Yom Kippur concern, as old as Isaiah who railed against the Four Seasons’ diners of his day. This is from the Haftarah we read tomorrow, ‘Is this the fast I desire? You call this a fast! It’s your fast day and you see to your business. You fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist.’ There goes the prophet, desperately trying to break in on the tittle-tattle.

Rothko’s sentiments are ones any congregational Rabbi will recognise. Here we are fighting for more attention to be paid to our version of what it means to stand before the realities of the human condition and it’s hard work. It can feel a little like standing up at the Four Seasons to make the case for God and Torah in a restaurant where everyone is more interested in amuses bouche and petites fours. Still tonight, Kol Nidrei, is as good as it gets for a congregational Rabbi, this is our room at the Tate – so here we go. Here’s my confrontation with the realities of our existence; two things about the realities of our mortal condition, and two things to do about each of them.

The first thing to know is that we are not the defining creative force in our life. We are the product of forces beyond understanding and we live lives beyond our ability to control. I call the true creative force governing my existence God, you can call it what you wish. The point is to acknowledge we are subject to forces beyond our measure. We should acknowledge our lives depend, not so much on our personal achievements, puny as they are when stacked up against a scale the size of the Universe, but on a mystery the wiles and mechanics of which we cannot know.

And there are two ways to deal with this existential reality.

The first response is ‘gratitude.’ Being in a state of gratitude stops us from taking life for granted. It reminds us of our gifts. It’s good to get up in the morning and make a blessing for - and this is the run of blessings in the morning service - the ability to see, for clothing to cover our nakedness, for physical possibility, for the strength to go through the day. There’s a line in the Talmud that suggests that a person who fails to say a blessing before or after they eat is like a thief. From where do you think the gift of food comes? The more we show gratitude the less we take the extraordinary gift of our lives as obvious – the more we become worthy of the gifts we do indeed possess. We should be more grateful, say thank you more often, make more blessings.

The other response is ‘limits.’ It’s good to demonstrate restraint. Stopping ourselves treating everyone and everything as if their only purpose is to meet our needs is perhaps the greatest challenge of our contemporary existence; though, certainly in the Jewish mind, we’ve been advocating the importance of restraint since God first commanded us to keep the Sabbath over 3000 years ago. I believe in borders and protections; days on which I don’t shop, or surf. Days on which I stop the pretence that my acquisition of yet more and more stuff actually helps me be a better person. When we stop pursuing what we don’t need, we realise what we have. We realise the true gift of our creation. We develop an ethical humility that stops us trampling over everyone and everything else.

So that’s the first reality of our mortal condition – there is something beyond our ability to control – and the way to respond to this reality is with gratitude and limits.

The second aspect of our mortal condition is that connection helps. It’s a big ol’ universe. Without connection we become lonely –that’s bad enough – but also pointless. Isolated from the world around us we cast no more than a single pin-prick of light in a massive dark expanse. Connecting allows us to, in Dylan Thomas’ glorious words, ‘blaze like meteors and be gay. Rage, rage against the dying of the night.’ It is through connection, not relentless graceless acquisition, that we burn bright and give meaning to our lives.

And there are two ways we should be trying to connect as Jews.

One is to our past and our heritage. There is a tendril that connects us all, those of us here as Jews on this holy night. It connects us through millennia; past the rise of Zionism and the horrors of the Holocaust, past the pogroms and ghettos, back past the Golden Age of Spain and the genius of Rambam, back into the Study Halls from which the Talmud emerged and back to the time we stood in the Temple courtyard and the time we all stood at Sinai, and left Egypt and back to the time we first set off in response to God’s call to Abraham. When we engage Jewishly we connect to our story and it’s a great story. It’s a story that points beyond the mortal realm and up to the heavens. When we connect Jewishly we become links in a chain that connects us to something beyond ourselves. And we connect not only back in time, but across space also. As the sun set across the world all Klal Yisrael – the community of Israel – prepared for Kol Nidrei and we are all in this together, all aiming at meaning something more than our own mortal existence. We stand with the sinners and the saints, the woodchoppers and the water-carriers, all of us arrayed and aiming beyond our own private possibility.  We become a whole greater than the sum of our parts, raging gaily against the dying of the night.

The second way to connect is to love more. If you’ve found a life partner, great, you’ve a fine place to start, but I’m not talking about romantic love. Love means investing more in a relationship – any relationship - than you expect to get out of it. Love is putting someone or something ahead of your own immediate self-interest. You can share love with a stranger, a colleague, a family member. You can share love walking down the road, by coming to Shul any time you volunteer your heart. And this is the miraculous thing about caring so much about someone else that you actually forgo some of your own needs – it makes a difference. It lifts up two isolated individuals and creates a bond greater than either. The Hebrew term I have in mind is Gemilut Hesed, best translated as wanton acts of kindness. The Rabbis suggest, in a phrase that seems only half a joke – that a single act of Gemilut Hesed has equivalent significance to the greatest miracles of our Torah.[1] Connection through love, connection through doing things for other people, casts more light than our own personal endeavours can illumine.

This is how I understand the confrontation with our mortal human condition.

We should acknowledge we are not in charge. And we should respond to that reality with gratitude and live our lives with a sense of limits.

We should acknowledge that our lives become capable of meaning as we connect; as we connect to our Jewish heritage and as we perform acts of Gemilut Hasadim for our fellows.

I’m talking about the very core of what it is to be Jewish; make blessings, keep Shabbat, get to Shul, be a Mentsch. Things we have opportunities to do daily – and especially on the day in the week that is so perfectly attuned to gifting opportunities to be grateful, and stop, and love and connect.

It’s not that Kol Nidrei is the moment we can finally confront our mortal condition, rather the entire apparatus of Jewish law and ethics draw us moment after moment, day after day and week after week into not only the awareness of our mortal condition, but also the way in which to respond to this reality. I’m describing something almost diametrically opposed to Rothko’s confrontational approach. For me the existential endeavour that requires so much conquering; vast canvases displayed with nothing to distract us from their vastness, the right light levels, the right ratio of wall height to canvas size, the very perfect kind of red … it’s all trying to foist something onto us, when we have all the answers inside. ‘It’s not in the heavens … This thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it,’ says the Torah. Maybe rather than going to the Tate in search of being confronted by the realities of the human condition, we should concentrate on making our day-to-day lives the response to the reality of what it means to be human, and Jewish.

We shouldn’t worry so much about the massive grand gestures and concentrate instead on creating a myriad of tiny works of art that give truth to how we see ourselves in this Universe. ‘Remember,’ said my most revered teacher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, ‘you must build your life as if it were a work of art.’ He meant the very same things I mean tonight; have a sense of something beyond our selves; be grateful, live with a sense of border. And connect; connect to our heritage and connect in love.

Each demonstration of gratitude, each upholding of a border, each point of connection, to our Yiddishkeit and our fellow human beings creates the work of art of our life. The books are still open, as we’ll say tomorrow – v’hotem yad kol adam bo  - each of us seal them with our own hand. Seal the books of this coming year with gratitude and limit, in connection to who we are and our fellow human beings, and we will seal them well.

That’s the big picture, I’ll be returning to my theme at Neilah, but also next day and next Shabbat and the next Shabbat and the one after that as well. If you have been at all tempted by what I have had to say do just this one thing – don’t treat this Synagogue, and the truths of this glorious tradition, and even this far less glorious Rabbi as a room at the Tate, to be visited on special occasions only. Because these truths, and our responses to them, are not for special occasions, they are not in heaven. They are here for us week in, week out if only we allow them in. These truths and these responses will illuminate the books of our life in this year to come.

May is come to us all for good,


[1] Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim 8:64


Yizkor 5774 - Remembering Wihtout the Physical


It’s the year 70 of the Common Era. Titus, the great Roman general, and his massed forces are at the gates of the Temple itself. They break into the Temple compound. Titus himself rushes toward the Holy of Holies. Sword drawn, he pierces the curtain, penetrates into the greatest secret of the Jewish people and finds …. well he finds nothing.


One interpretation suggests he was quite sure he would find an idol in there. How would it be possible, thought Titus, for this Israelite army to defend a God who had no physical presence? Titus could be inspired by Mars, god of war. He was, after all, right there in this idol or that. And instead these Israelites, we, have no thing at the heart of our faith. I imagine Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz, pulling back the curtain, to find no gnomic lever-pulling coward. For there is no incarnation of the Israelite God in the Holy of Holies. We avow an ‘invisible’ deity.


Actually invisible is already too much to say about God. For Maimonides, greatest of all Jewish theologians, God has no form at all – there is no physical place in which God is, such as there is another physical place in which God is not. Our theology is not based around the physical.


And this is possibly the single most radical secret of Jewish existence, for here we still are almost 2000 years after the destruction of the physical centre of Jewish life – the Temple – still doing our thing. Despite the destruction of the Temple, the Romans destroyed neither our soul nor our future. It turns out, with the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, that building our soul and our sense of a future out of the non-physically-present, was part of why we, as Jews, are still here today. Because neither our soul nor our future are carried in physical objects, we are somehow invulnerable to physical attack. Instead we carry our soul and our future in the ritual and memory  and that no Roman can destroy.


A second story.

This time set at a Bet Din – a court – the European Masorti Bet Din where two of my colleagues and I sat listening to a Portuguese man explain how he traced his Jewish ancestry back the times of the Inquisition – 1496 and all that. “We’ve always known we have Jewish roots,” the man explained in halting English. “We never eat pig, we bury our own dead and we always sweep the dust into the centre of the room – never through the door.” He looks at us expecting the warm smiles of recognition that had, until this point, been the marker of our meeting. And we are looking confused.


Avoiding pork, we get. Burying our own dead we also get. But sweeping dust into the centre of the room, as opposed to sweeping straight out of the door …? It’s not a Jewish practice we have ever heard of. And we are the Rabbis.


Two things are however obvious. Firstly sweeping dust into the centre of the room is, somehow, Jewish – and secondly this is something to do with a 500+ year old story of crypto-Jewish existence.


We worked out the solution to the dusty mystery. At some point it was considered a Gnai – an affront – to the Mezuzah – to sweep dust right past scrolls containing no less than the Shema. Instead the Portuguese tradition was to sweep the dust into the centre of the room, and carry it through the door. And then came the Inquisition. All forms of physical Jewish identity become punishable on pain of death. So the Mezuzah comes down and all that is left is the tradition about sweeping the dust. And this is the remarkable piece – this tradition survives – 500 years. It’s a tradition built around the thing that is not there. It’s a marker of Jewish identity and meaning that honours the absence of the physical. These are Jews making meaning in the absence of the thing itself.


And a third story.

This one from our Seder Night. Right before the egg and salt water we do ‘Korech’ – the Hillel sandwich. We take Matzah, charoset and bitter herbs and eat them together. ‘Yocheluhu,’ my family chorus as one. But pay attention, this is another of those rituals based on the thing that is no longer. The Hillel sandwich was the way the Paschal sacrifice was eaten –with Matzah and bitter herbs. The verse is all about how to eat the sacrifice, but there is no sacrifice left to eat. We eat the subsidiary bits and pieces – a bit like a spoon of noodles and kneidlach devoid of chicken soup – but the essence isn’t there. We eat to remember what is no longer. It’s Jewish memory based around the absence of the physical, memory as a ritual shadow.


I’ve been making a list of these stories for some time. If you have all day – and I suppose we do have all day – I could continue to plot the way Jews demarcate the border around what is absent in a way that makes the absent present.

This extraordinary relationship with the non-physical goes to the heart of who we are, as remembering and ritualising Jews, it goes to the heart of how we have carried meaning these past millennia.


We are the people of the Rubin Vase – that optical illusion where the vase only exists as the space between the contours of two faces turned toward each other in profile.


But I have shared enough examples. Let me instead make explicit the connection I’m sure you have made already.

This is what we are doing here, now, at Yizkor – making present what is physically absent. This is why, and this is how, Jewish memorial works.

Lives leave outlines in those left behind. Loving memorial makes present what is no longer physically present. Zichronam L’vrachah we intone – may their memories be a blessing. The very phrase captures part of the power the non-physically present, part of what it is to live beyond death in the imprints made in those who have loved and lost.

I want to share two Jewish insights, for those of us interested in the way this particularly Jewish form of memory and meaning works. They apply equally towards our memory of others and the related quest of leaving memories behind for others to remember us by.

The first connects to a Hebrew word – Kavanah – literally, direction, figuratively, intention. Within more Kabbalisitically inclined Jewish communities there is a tradition to announce the intention to fulfil a Mitzvah before performing the deed. ‘Hineini Muchan uMezuman L’Kayam Mitzvat Aseh’ – ‘Behold I am ready and bidden to fulfil the sacred obligation to …’ whatever it may be; shake a lulav, light candles, hear the shofar. It’s an attempt to bring one’s focus to the thing one is about to do. Of course we should be present in the things we do. Sounds obvious. But it’s quite contrary to how we mostly live our lives.

We run so fast we overtake ourselves. We are thinking about our day ahead as we have breakfast. We are thinking about our commute as we say goodbye to our loved ones. We are fortunate to squeeze out a Kavvanah to consider our loved ones at all. We need to pause and establish our Kavvanot – take moments to be present in the present. The Jewish marking of memory is powerful – powerful to last millennia – but it can’t survive an absence of Kavvanah, a lack of attention paid to the marking of memory.

We light candles, we take a day out from the cacophony of the world out there, we stand during Yizkor and make a space to remember. That’s what all these rituals are about; creating enough space in our lives for intentionality to mean something, creating Kavvanot. Or maybe the memories come flooding in of their own timing, ‘when we lie down, when we get up.’ So be it. Have a Kavvanah to remember, to hold them present, to allow these memories to be blessings in our lives. Bring the attention to make our memories the sorts of memories that survive physical absence.

There is all the difference in the world between sweeping up to get rid of dust and sweeping up to connect to our sacred heritage. There is tremendous difference between lighting a candle coz it looks nice and focussing on marking the onset of Shabbat, a holy day, or a Yartzheit. The difference becomes manifest in the moment it takes to bring our Kavvanah to bear on what we are doing.

And a second observation.

You never know what will stick. I’m sure all of us would like to be remembered as kind, warm, humorous, insightful and dependable. And indeed many of us will be remembered in such general terms. But my experience, as I talk with families about their memories of lost loved ones, is that the generalities are the least crystalline parts of the memories they have of those who have gone. The clear memories will be a jumble of snapshots, half moments – that time when we were on the rowboat and, that time when we thought we were getting the bus to and … these scraps survive clearly. But you never know what will stick. Who would have thought that the sweeping of the dust would last 500 years? What survived was not a generality of being kind or charitable or pious. What survived was a specific ritual moment. So this is the message. Engage with specifics.

A few years ago there was an advert for Virgin Airlines - a man sits on a bench only to see the Angel of Death next to him, the Angel nods up and the man sees a block of concrete hurtling towards him. Everything pauses as the man’s life flashes before his, and our, eyes. There’s a lot to go through, memory after memory of life lived to its fullest. The angel looks bored. More images, and more. The angel dozes off. The man gets up and leaves as the concrete block crushes the space left vacated. I loved that advert. But here’s the challenge, I’m less interested in what we remember about ourselves, when our time comes to find the Angel of Death sat next to us on a park bench. What will those we leave behind remember of us when we have gone? If our loved ones were asked for three things we had done in the past month, what would they say of us – specifics now; individual moments, things said, things done. It’s a good test. The Talmud demands that we perform Teshuvah as if today was the last day of our life. What specifics of our life would survive if this was, God forbid, the case. If nothing comes to mind, I’ll give you another day – do three things tomorrow that are worthy of surviving your absence.

Two ideas about the memory of no physical things.

We need to bring Kavvanah – intentionality to our relationship with memory. We need to be deliberate and to create the spaces and the quiet in which to make the memories of those we have loved and lost survive their absence as a blessing.

We need to live our lives with specific commitments to make our own lives blessings when we are gone. We need to live to create an imprint in the lives of those around us that makes our life worth its living.

And if we can do these two things then, truly, the memories of those we have lost shall be a blessing, and – and may it be many, many years from now – we may deserve to be called a blessing also.

Hatimah Tovah – a good sealing to all



Thursday, 12 September 2013

Surf your way through Yom Kippur

I once managed to stand up for half a second on a surf board. Splosh. I can’t surf. But I adore the metaphor; riding the wave, being carried by forces beyond our reach, feeling a power that comes from the belly of the earth ...


It feels like that moment when, having paddled slowly out to sea, we are turning the board round and preparing to catch the momentum of the swelling water. It’s already been a very special High Holyday season, particularly as we have been so lifted by Cantor Jason in his first year with us. The warm-up session he and I led last night was glorious (if you are interested in a sneak peek into what to expect on Friday evening, you can listen to a recording of the class at https://soundcloud.com/jeremy-gordon-6/music-of-yom-kippur-at-the-new). The message is jump aboard and catch the wave. The good news is that this kind of Jewish surfing it doesn’t require balance, strength or even a surfboard (wetsuits are also not required as shul attire). Allow yourself to be carried by the liturgy, allow yourself to be transported away from the normal rules of how a day unfolds, allow yourself to open to forces greater than human reach.


It is a privilege to serve New London, at this time of year most especially, and I look forward to a special day to come.


Shabbat shalom and Gemar Hatimah Tovah to all,



Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Other and the Self - A First Day Rosh Hashanah Sermon


Of Self and Other


Here’s a tale.

There is an outsider, schlepped into a tightly knit group of insiders to do the dirty work no insider can do. They get on with things, always on the edge, never fully embraced.

It’s unpleasant. They are oppressed, even as they do exactly what is demanded of them.

They consider fleeing, but ultimately stay; fulfilling the role they were brought in to perform.

Then, just as their services are no longer needed, they’re expelled, exiled and gone.


Sounds like a Jewish story, no?

Sounds like the oldest Jewish story there is;

·         From Joseph, right hand man in the court of Pharaoh, genocidally oppressed a generation later,

·         To the Jews of this green and pleasant land, used and then expelled in 1290

·         To, Spain, Germany, ah the list is long.

This sounds like our story.


But try this reading of the Torah tale we read this morning. It’s a reading I first encountered in Tikva Frymer-Kensky’s extraordinary work, Reading the Women of the Bible.

Hagar the Egyptian is schlepped into the marriage of Abraham and Sarai, to bear a child, not for herself, but for Abraham and his ‘proper’ wife.

She conceives and is despised for it. Sarai complains to Abraham, Abraham tells his wife to ‘do with her whatever is good in your eyes.’

Vteaneha Sarai – Sarai oppresses Hagar who flees, only to return, to give birth to this child-cum-contractual arrangement, at which point she is expelled - .

Vay’shalechecha – and Abraham sent her away.


It’s easy to find this a difficult story. It takes no great empathetic leap to struggle with the actions of Abraham Avinu – our patriarch Abraham, and Sarah Imeinu – Sarah our matriarch.

But here’s the insight that literally took my breath away when I first read it – Hagar the Egyptian is ‘the type of Israel.’[1] The Egyptian is the Jew.


Ah, the biting irony of it.

How dare the Egyptian claim my Jewish narrative?

How dare the outsider appropriate MY story?

How come I, at this most precious of Jewish days, have to see myself on the wrong side of the comfortable division between the hard-done-by and the bully.


So many times the Torah tells us to take care of the stranger, the powerless and the outsider, since we were slaves in Egypt.

But here we are, deep in the midst of the Genesis narratives, and we are the ones oppressing and sending away.

On this most holy of days we expose a deeply twisted paradox about ourselves.

We are very good at considering ourselves powerless, oppressed, hard done by.

And yet we are powerful, all of us, and the more we insist on our own powerlessness, the more dangerous we become.

The more we insist on our own powerlessness the more dangerous we become.


Resist the tug into focussing on blame, “he said she said,” isn’t going to cut through this Gordian knot.

The dynamic power of this paradox is not solved by focussing on fault.

The Torah tale we read today fires barbs at all its protagonists.

Sarah oppresses

Hagar gloats

Abraham abdicates responsibility for his own actions.

The point of the Torah tale is NOT that we should focus on who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Life is too complex for parcelling out gift-wrapped boxes of guilt and innocence.

The point is that the over-simple bifurcation of other and self, powerless and powerful collapses; it will always collapse, in any relationship, especially over time.

“The story of Sarai and Hagar,” writes Frymer-Kensky, is not the story of the conflict between ‘us’ and ‘other,’ but between ‘us’ and ‘another us.’”

The story is a test of our ability to see beyond our own sense of being hard done by.

The story is a test of our ability to see the other as the key which unlocks our own sense of self.


Let me start with two political examples and I’ll move closer to home before I’m done.


These are gut wrenching times for those of us care about even the most basic of human rights. The tales of Syrian citizens gassed by their own ruler sickens us to the core. And there is a little voice that chirps up and tells us that this doesn’t matter – they are other to us. And as much as we don’t like Assad, we are not entirely sure what welcome awaits, especially for Israel, an opposition whose connections to Islamist groups is unclear.

But that’s all irrelevant – if we have are being challenged to consider, and indeed love, the other as part of us. If we wish, and goodness we certainly did wish, that someone would protect Jews from being gassed. We have to be prepared to engage with our others today. Frankly even if we don’t feel drawn to engage with the horror of Syria out of our own experience of mass murder, we still have obligations to care and engage because they are our other – and there is, on this holy day, very little space between our other and ourselves.


A second story, one that hasn’t made it to the front pages here, but one that challenges us in an even more complex manner, to empathise and create a space for the consideration of what it means to be the other. About 40,000 Bedouins, citizens of the Israeli state, among them thousands of soldiers in the Israeli army, are being relocated by the Israeli Government - expelled from ancestral villages and relocated into what the Bedouins protest are ghettos – there they go appropriating our language of dispossession.

It’s a complex story, but ultimately I can’t get beyond a gnawing sense that this is a tale of the dispossession of the powerless by the powerful.

I signed a Rabbinic letter about the expulsion together with a slew of British Rabbis; Orthodox, Reform, Liberal and Masorti. We went to meet the Israeli Ambassador to ask him to relay our concerns to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It was the first time I’ve been to lobby the Israeli Ambassador, and he wanted to know was it about this issue that brought my Rabbinic colleagues and I out in this way?

The truth is I empathise with Israel because I identify as a Jew – and also because it is genuinely a complicated issue – and I empathise with the Bedouin because, religiously I identify with the stranger.

Vger lo tilchatz vatem yadatem et nefesh ha ger

You shall not oppress the stranger for you know the soul of the stranger.


I’m both myself and my other in this story, both Hagar and Sarah, both Arab and Jew, both Bedouin and Israeli Jew.


There’s a touching moment in a classic commentary on a Torah verse we read tomorrow.

The command to bind up Isaac as a sacrifice begins with God telling Abraham, ‘take your son, your only son, the one you loves, Isaac.’

The Rabbis are puzzled by the stuttered repetitive language. They interpolate a conversation into the verse;

Take your son, says God – I have two sons says Abraham

Your only son, says God – they are both the only sons of their mothers, says Abraham

The one you love, says God – and Abraham responds - Traivahu rachmina lehu[2]I love them both, says Abraham. The Aramaic is even more interesting, rachmina, comes from the same root as the word for a womb, they are both part of me, says Abraham, the son who is to bear my name, and the other son who will become founder of another nation.


So Abraham, even as he casts out his son Ishmael, finds the space in his one heart to care about two alterities – that which will become his own future, and that which will become the other of his future.

That’s holy.

Here’s the test - can we find space in our heart to love the self and other at the same time.

Can we love that which we don’t know, don’t understand, can we love that which we even distrust?

Can we care for the other even in its otherness?


This is the test of the great C20th Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas.

When we allow the other to break in on ourselves, when we allow the other to make demands of us and call us to better action - that is, says Levinas, ethical.

Looking after ourselves, or even other people who are close to us, isn’t ethically significant. The challenge is how we handle that which is different.


The challenge of the other is twofold.


On the one hand, we are tempted to exculpate otherness – they are so terrible, they pick on me, how could they? We turn so quickly to the language of blame. If I am right and you are different to me you must be wrong.


On the other hand we are tempted, in Levinas’ language, to efface the otherness of the other. He’s French, he can’t help writing like that – effacing the otherness of the other means say, ‘they’re just the same as me, they’ll only want what I want. I can do whatever I want and they’ll be fine with it.’ We blur away that other people want other things; things that get in the way of my getting the things I want for myself.


It only counts as doing something for the other when you have to give up something of yourself. I’m continually struck by the Hebrew word usually translated as ‘patience’ – sovlanut – it comes from the root sovel – pain. In other words, if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not being patient. If you are not forgoing your own place in the sun, you are not responding to the call of the other.


Frankly, we don’t need to look to Israel, and heart-breaking failure of two cousins – the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac – to find a way to care about each other’s otherness.


We can find our others as we walk the streets of London, past the poor and the destitute.

We can find our others in arguments about politics or tax or the treatment of women in the public sphere or even football teams or X-Factor contestants.

We can find our others in our sibling rivalries – I don’t mean the childish behaviours of little boys and little girls, I mean the adult manipulations and effacements.

We can find our others in our work colleagues, parents, our partners, our children.

Is there room in our heart to love traivahu - both self and other?

Do we have the ethical reach to distance ourselves from the blame game which never has an end?

Do we have the ethical power to allow the other to be different from uscan I love you even as I can’t understand quite why you don’t see the world exactly as I do.


So this is the homework, on this first day of Rosh Hashanah, while the books are open and the opportunity to reframe our year to come still lies, at least in part, in our own hands.

Do we dare stand before God based on the way we treat our others?

Can we avoid the blame game which has no victor and no end?

Can we allow them to be different, even as their difference jars and even as it threatens up?

Can we find a way to love both?


Can we invert, even if it just for this one sacred day in the year, the selfishness that draws us to love our selves and NOT the other.

Try it, try it for these 10 days of Teshuvah.

Try it and see if any of the intractable patterns of intransigence and ossification can be cracked open to let the light in.

Try it, it just might make us worthy of the year of health, happiness and sweetness we all seek,

May it come to us all,


Shannah Tovah Tikateivu


[1] T. Frymer Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, p.236

[2] Sanhedrin 89a

Reasons to Believe - Second Day Rosh Hashanah Sermon

This is an endangered species warning. The three times a year Synagogue Jew is, in that term you see on cages in London Zoo, vulnerable.

Not gone entirely, there are some of you here today. You’re very welcome, God forbid I scare you away, but you are an endangered species.

There are plenty of two times a year Jews – Jews who came yesterday and will come again for Yom Kippur.

And there are, and this is the good news, a growing number of ‘more-than-three-times a year’ Jews, certainly attending New London Synagogue. My sense is that if you are here today, you come to shul, let’s say, at least five or ten times a year. My sense is there aren’t many of you here who will come for Yom Kippur and next turn up in a year’s time. There have been Shabbatot during the year when we have been busier than we are today, and that’s unimaginable by the standards of Anglo-Jewry, and certainly New London Synagogue Jewry, a generation ago. If that seems a touch-and-go claim here, in the main service, it’s undoubtedly the case amongst our younger families with kids in the Children’s Service. There are many Shabbatot in the year when we have many more kids in the Children’s Service than we do today – on one of the High Holydays.

So why are WE here, and why are the three-times-a-year-Jews of previous generations not? What are the reasons?

I grew up at a time when there were, basically, three priorities underpinning most of our Jewish engagement, and they are all in flux and then there is one other issue that I think can explain the good news, the growth in the more than three times a year Synagogue Jew.

The first building block of Jewish engagement a generation ago was a sort of stickiness that meant people more or less stuck with what they knew, in matters Jewish and otherwise. When I was thirteen the bank at the top of my road made an effort to woo my pocket money with gifts of a pocket dictionary and a Griffin Saver hold-all with a gold logo. The expectation was that if I joined that bank as a teen I would stick with that bank for life. It sounds almost laughable by today’s standards. Not only have I moved banks – and several times – but the very bank I once joined, along with its griffin – is no more. We are a whole lot less sticky than we once were. We change jobs, careers, utility providers even life-partners a whole lot more than was the case a generation ago. Jewishly this stickiness used to mean that I was expected to do more or less the same Jewish thing as my parents, or maybe a little less. But that stickiness has largely gone, taking scores of three times a year Jews with it.

For communities dependent on stickiness the increased volatility of contemporary life is bad news, but actually I’m not sure it’s such a problem for New London. The vast, vast proportion of New London Synagogue members aren’t here doing the sticky thing. Instead our members choose to be here, usually instead of sticking with what they knew. Indeed the foundation of this community, some 49 years ago, was a refusal to be stuck. It was about reasons to do something new as the attraction of the old waned. The clue is in the name, New London Synagogue was never going to be based on the stickiness of the old. That’s as it should be. As Rabbi I never want to take commitment for granted, I’m delighted you’ve found your own way here – even if this happens to be the place your parents brought you to Shul as a child. I don’t want New London to be about stickiness, I want it to be a place where we carve out and create in each generation our own relationship with the community.

The second plank of Jewish identity, in times past, was antisemitism. Of course there is still antisemitism, but if you want to know what it means to be ‘other’ in Britain today you don’t ask a Jew. Jews don’t come to Shul today to escape the stares and the hostility that used to greet us walking the streets. Some 50 years ago the philosopher Emil Fackenheim articulated a ‘614th Commandment’ – don’t grant Hitler a posthumous victory – he demanded we retain our Jewishness as a response to Nazism. And a generation ago a number of Jews would come to shul three times a year for that reason but, as important as Holocaust commemoration is, I don’t know anyone whose Jewish identity is built in that way today.

And how do I feel about the decline of the kind of antisemitism that kept Jewish communities strong? It has to be good news. As true as it was that antisemitism boosted the numbers of three times a year Jews I don’t want it. As I mourn and abhor what the Nazis did to our people, I can’t build my Jewish identity on that foundation, nor would I attempt to foist such a thing on us as a community – even if you would pay any attention to such an encouragement. I’ll oppose antisemitism at every opportunity, but I’ll wave that particular reason for Jewish engagement goodbye and good riddance.

The third plank of Jewish life a generation ago, under great threat in this generation, is what academics call the decline in ‘social capital.’ The masterwork is Robert Puttnam’s book Bowling Alone, a title which refers to the impressive 10% rise in the numbers of Americans who would go bowling in the 20 years from 1980 until 2000, but more importantly to the staggering 40% drop in those who bowled as part of leagues or teams in the same period. His point was that we are affiliating less, and increasingly pursuing our interests individually, not communally. Puttnam’s decade-old analysis holds even more true today as instead of going out to bowl alone we now bowl on Nintendo Wiis in our own front rooms and download an on-demand social life rather than actually, you know, go out and meet real people. Increasingly we want what we want on our own terms and if we can’t find instant satisfaction in some kind of social communal space, we retreat on-line. Perhaps we don’t even bother looking in social spaces at all, so clear are we that the private electronic pursuit of gratification is so much more suitable for us. The sense, a generation ago, that it was worth being part of some kind of social group, is based on a sort of delayed gratification – I’m better off giving up a bit of my own selfishness to be part of a larger group where everyone gives up a bit of what they personally want in search of something bigger and better. Religions in general and shuls such as ours rely on that and the decline of social capital has cost us a number of three times-a-year-synagogue Jews.

It’s not good news, but all is not yet lost. I think we, as a society, increasingly realise we have to rebuild social capital. We can’t just take on our own terms, across our own private internet connection. None of us wants to live in that kind of atomised society. So our job, as a Jewish community, is to be articulate about what we offer here. This is a Bet Kenesset, a house of meeting people face to face, with no phones, no Facebook updates and no Skype. It’s a place to find real life nonagenarians and tiny babies and if you instinctively feel you would rather be in a place a bit younger, or a bit more adult the message has to be; appreciate the diversity, celebrate what you give up to be part of an adventure in the creation of social capital. Being part of a Synagogue community, regularly, is part of how we can save contemporary society from sliding into dystopic isolation and hollow emptiness.

So stickiness is going, I’m not too worried. I believe we don’t need it; we’ve always had our own reasons to believe.

And antisemitism as a reason for Jewish commitment has more or less gone and so we need other reasons to care about our Judaism. Thank goodness for that.

And social capital is declining, but we have a case to make and a flag to fly. The importance of being part of a community needs to be defended and celebrated, and I’m up for the fight.

But there is one more thing, one more thing that explains the decline in the three times a year Jew, and the simultaneous rise in those more committed. And it’s something I haven’t mentioned at all, because, ironically, I don’t think it had much to do with Jewish engagement a generation ago – religion. There were all sorts of reasons to come to Shul three times a year, a generation ago, but religion wasn’t one of them. We weren’t – even with our illustrious founder Rabbi – a community that knew its way around a blat of gemarah. We weren’t a community known for its observance of Shabbat. We weren’t a community – again, even with the theological leadership of Rabbi Jacobs – that actually spent much time considering what it means to stand before God. In many ways we are not that different today, but Judaism Britain, and I think also at New London, is getting more religious; more serious about learning, observance and, God help us, even becoming more spiritual.

On every demographic scale Judaism across the world is fracturing into the groups of those who know more, care more and commit more, whose numbers are growing, certainly as a % of the whole, and those whose connection to Jewish life is vestigial; based on stickiness, an opposition to antisemitism and the love of Woody Allen, and that group of Jews are disappearing fast.

It’s certainly true that those of us whose Jewish education halted at 13, whose theology is shaped more by Richard Dawkins than Louis Jacobs and who, after Yom Kippur will next be in Shul in a year’s time find Judaism less compelling. But the reverse is equally true; those who are involved in an adult engagement with an extraordinary repository of ancient wisdom, those who allow their own relationship with the Universe and everything in it to be shaped by a Jewish consideration of what it means to stand before God, and those who regularly join us at the Synagogue, find Judaism compelling, challenging and affirming.

We are back to the same dynamic; those of us who seek out and spend time nurturing our own reasons to believe are here today and will be here throughout the year.

So that’s my take on who we are and where we are going. It’s also my own story. I grew up with some stickiness and some opposition to antisemitism and I found religion, and actually it was religion that persuaded me of the value of affiliation, being part of a religious community. But I want to know more, more about the reasons we, as a community, have to be here today, particularly as we embark on our fiftieth year as a community. So I have this ask for those of you who are here today.

In discussion with Stephen, our Chairman, we want to have a number of parlour meetings in our members’ homes; fifteen or so of us at a time. It will be a chance to meet one another, and also myself and Cantor Jason. The topic up for discussion is Reasons to Believe in New London Synagogue, why are you here, why are you part of the this family. What more could we, should we be doing? Can you help us become stronger, more committed into our future?

Two requests;

Can you host an evening, at a time to suit you? We’ll handle the invitations, you just need to be willing to open your home and pour the coffee. Please let me know, drop me an email or call the office if you can help. We are looking for 20 volunteers.

And when the invitations come, can you come, we want to bring people together locally, there won’t be far to go, but you will be helping us become what we can be in our next 50 years. Because this, I believe is the biggest question facing us in our next 50 years. What reasons do we have to believe in this community. I believe the more we understand our own reasons, the better the lay and professional leadership of this community understand these reasons, the stronger we will become.

With every blessing for a year of sweetness, health and happiness,

L’Shannah Tovah Tikateivu


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

On the spirituality of the Eruv Tavshilin


There is an unusual technicality associated with Rosh Hashanah this year, connected with the way the two days of Rosh Hashanah lead straight into Shabbat. Cooking is permitted on Yom Tov, but only for food eaten on Yom Tov. In order to cook on Yom Tov for the Shabbat that comes directly after it, you should make an ‘Eruv Tashilin’ – two items of food – one cooked, one baked – are put aside on the eve of Yom Tov and a declaration is made over them. There’s a link with some more information below.


The point is this. On the cusp of the New Year, the Halachic system is already looking forward, beyond Yom Tov – how’s the rest of your year going to work out? There’s a similar idea in the tradition of coming home from Neilah services to bang in the first nail of the Succah before breaking the fast. The problem with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur dominating the religious landscape at this time of year is that these special days cannot be ends in themselves. They are means to other ends – how’s the rest of your year going to work out?


It’s a good question to ponder, alongside all the reflections of the year past. And it also allows me to wave this flag; the Jewish year doesn’t come to an end with First Day Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services. Even if you just can’t make more time to celebrate with us during the working week, come to Maariv services, Thursday and Friday night, and the evenings of Succot in a couple of weeks’ time. If you are not tied to office timetables, please make an extra effort to celebrate with us on the weekday Yom Tov services both this week and, again, over Succot. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a journey that on one count ends with Simhat Torah, but really only ends this time next year. It’s only now that I can understand how my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur last year really worked out. It’s now that I should be asking the question, how is the rest of my year to come – and may it come in peace, healthy and sweetness for us all – going to work out.


Shannah Tovah Tikateivu,

A sweet year to all the New London family, from my family and I,


Rabbi Jeremy


For more on Eruv Tashilin, please see



Sunday, 1 September 2013

Rambam on Teshuvah

Hilchot Teshuvah: Mishnah Torah

Rambam – Reb Moshe Ben Maimon (1135-1204)



And what is Teshuvah? It is that a person leaves the errors they erred by and turns from those thoughts, and determines in their heart that they will no longer do such things. As it says let the wicked give up their ways, let them turn back to GOD and God will pardon them, for God freely forgives (Isaiah 56:1)

And a person must confess with their lips and say the things they have determined in their heart.




How does one confess? They say, 'Oh God, I have sinned and erred and transgressed before You, (אנא השם חטאתי עויתי  פשעתי לפניך ) and done this and that. And I regret it and am shamed by my deeds, and forevermore I will not return to that thing. And this is the essence of confession.



Anyone who confesses with words, but does not determine in their heart to let go – this is like one who dunks [in a mikvah] with a creepy-crawly in their hand. Dunking does nothing until they let go of the creepycrawly.


Complete Teshuvah


What is complete teshuvah (תשובה גמורה)?

That is when something that they sinned by comes again to a person, and the possibility exists to do it, and they separate and do not do it because of teshuvah. Not from fear and not from lack of power.

What is this?

Let's say, he came to a woman in sin, and after some time was alone with her, and he still loved her, and his body was energized, and they were in the same setting where they sinned in the past. And he separated, and didn't sin. That is teshuvah gemorah. That is what Solomon was speaking of when he said, remember your energy in the days of your youth (Kohelet 12:1).

If they only turn in their old age, at a time when they no longer are able to do what they did in the days of their youth, even though it is not the finest teshuvah gemorah, it still works, and they are a baal teshuvah.

Even someone who sinned all the days of their life, and does teshuvah on the day of their death and dies in mid-teshuvah, all their sins are forgiven them as it says, until the sun sets and light and moon and stars grow dark (Kohelet 12:2) which is the day of death.

The general principle is that if they remember their creator and turn before they die, they are forgiven.


Sins Between People


Neither teshuvah nor Yom Kippur work for anything other than sins committed between a person and God (עבירות שבין אדם למקום); for example someone who ate something forbidden, or slept with someone forbidden or the like.

For sins between a person and their fellow (עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו); for example beating their fellow or cursing their fellow or stealing or the like, they will never be forgiven until they give to their fellow what they owe them and it is accepted.

Even if they return the money that they owe, it needs to be accepted and they need to ask from them that they forgive him.



A person is forbidden to be cruel and not let [a penitent] off. Rather they should be ready to forgive and slow to anger, and at the time of being asked forgiveness, they should forgive with a full heart and a free spirit.


Free will


Every person is given free will. If they want to turn to the good path and be righteous, they have that ability. And if they want to turn to the wicked path and be wicked, they have that ability. That is what is written behold the human has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. (Bereshit 3:22). That is to say that that species – human – has become unique in the world, and there is nothing like them… and no-one can prevent them from doing good or evil, and therefore lest they stretch out their hand (Bereshit 3:22)

רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ב

  הלכה ב  

ומה היא התשובה הוא שיעזוב החוטא חטאו ויסירו ממחשבתו ויגמור בלבו שלא יעשהו עוד שנאמר יעזוב רשע דרכו וגו', וכן יתנחם על  שעבר שנאמר כי אחרי שובי נחמתי, ויעיד עליו יודע תעלומות שלא ישוב לזה החטא לעולם שנאמר ולא נאמר עוד אלהינו למעשה ידינו  וגו', וצריך להתודות בשפתיו ולומר עניינות אלו שגמר בלבו. 


רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק א

  הלכה א  

כיצד מתודין אומר אנא השם חטאתי עויתי  פשעתי לפניך ועשיתי כך וכך והרי נחמתי ובושתי במעשי ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה, וזהו עיקרו של וידוי,  


 הלכה ג  

בזמן הזה שאין בית המקדש קיים ואין לנו מזבח כפרה אין שם אלא תשובה, התשובה מכפרת על כל העבירות,


רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ב

  הלכה א  

אי זו היא תשובה גמורה, זה שבא לידו דבר שעבר בו ואפשר בידו לעשותו ופירש ולא עשה מפני התשובה, לא מיראה ולא מכשלון כח,  כיצד הרי שבא על אשה בעבירה ולאחר זמן נתייחד עמה והוא עומד באהבתו בה ובכח גופו ובמדינה שעבר בה ופירש ולא עבר זהו בעל  תשובה גמורה, הוא ששלמה אמר וזכור את בוראיך בימי בחורותיך, ואם לא שב אלא בימי זקנותו ובעת שאי אפשר לו לעשות מה שהיה  עושה אף על פי שאינה תשובה מעולה מועלת היא לו ובעל תשובה הוא, אפילו עבר כל ימיו ועשה תשובה ביום מיתתו ומת בתשובתו כל  עונותיו נמחלין שנאמר עד אשר לא תחשך השמש והאור והירח והכוכבים ושבו העבים אחר הגשם שהוא יום המיתה, מכלל שאם זכר  בוראו ושב קודם שימות נסלח לו.


 הלכה ג  

כל המתודה בדברים ולא גמר בלבו לעזוב הרי זה דומה לטובל ושרץ בידו שאין הטבילה מועלת לו עד שישליך השרץ


   הלכה ו  

 אע"פ שהתשובה והצעקה יפה לעולם, בעשרה הימים שבין ראש השנה ויום הכפורים היא יפה ביותר ומתקבלת היא מיד שנאמר דרשו ה'  בהמצאו, במה דברים אמורים ביחיד אבל צבור כל זמן שעושים תשובה וצועקין בלב שלם הם נענין שנאמר כה' אלהינו בכל קראנו אליו. 


 הלכה ט  

אין התשובה ולא יום הכפורים מכפרין אלא על עבירות שבין אדם למקום כגון מי שאכל דבר אסור או בעל בעילה אסורה וכיוצא בהן,  אבל עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו כגון החובל את חבירו או המקלל חבירו או גוזלו וכיוצא בהן אינו נמחל לו לעולם עד שיתן לחבירו מה  שהוא חייב לו וירצהו, אע"פ שהחזיר לו ממון שהוא חייב לו צריך לרצותו ולשאול ממנו שימחול לו

    הלכה יא  

החוטא לחבירו ומת חבירו קודם שיבקש מחילה מביא עשרה בני אדם ומעמידן על קברו ויאמר בפניהם חטאתי לה' אלהי ישראל ולפלוני  זה שכך וכך עשיתי לו, ואם היה חייב לו ממון יחזירו ליורשים, לא היה יודע לו יורשין יניחנו בבית דין ויתודה. 


רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ה

  הלכה א  

רשות לכל אדם נתונה אם רצה להטות עצמו לדרך טובה ולהיות צדיק הרשות בידו, ואם רצה להטות עצמו לדרך רעה ולהיות רשע הרשות  בידו, הוא שכתוב בתורה הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב ורע, כלומר הן מין זה של אדם היה יחיד בעולם ואין מין שני דומה לו בזה  הענין שיהא הוא מעצמו בדעתו ובמחשבתו יודע הטוב והרע ועושה כל מה שהוא חפץ ואין מי שיעכב בידו מלעשות הטוב או הרע וכיון  שכן הוא פן ישלח ידו. 


 הלכה ה  

שמא תאמר והלא הקב"ה יודע כל מה שיהיה וקודם שיהיה ידע שזה יהיה צדיק או רשע או לא ידע, אם ידע שהוא יהיה צדיק אי אפשר  שלא יהיה צדיק ואם תאמר שידע שיהיה צדיק ואפשר שיהיה רשע הרי לא ידע הדבר על בוריו, דע שתשובת שאלה זו ארוכה מארץ מדה  ורחבה מני ים וכמה עיקרים גדולים והררים רמים תלויים בה אבל צריך אתה לידע ולהבין בדבר זה שאני אומר, כבר בארנו בפ' שני  מהלכות יסודי התורה שהקב"ה אינו יודע מדיעה שהיא חוץ ממנו כבני אדם שהם ודעתם שנים, אלא הוא יתעלה שמו ודעתו אחד ואין דעתו  של אדם יכולה להשיג דבר זה על בוריו וכשם שאין כח באדם להשיג ולמצוא אמתת הבורא שנאמר כי לא יראני האדם וחי אין כח באדם  להשיג ולמצוא דעתו של בורא, הוא שהנביא אמר כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם ולא דרכיכם דרכי, וכיון שכן הוא אין בנו כח לידע היאך  ידע הקב"ה כל הברואים והמעשים אבל נדע בלא ספק שמעשה האדם ביד האדם ואין הקב"ה מושכו ולא גוזר עליו לעשות כך, ולא מפני  קבלת הדת בלבד נודע דבר זה אלא בראיות ברורות מדברי החכמה, ומפני זה נאמר בנבואה שדנין את האדם על מעשיו כפי מעשיו אם טוב  ואם רע וזה הוא העיקר שכל דברי הנבואה תלויין בו 




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