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Machshavot | Parashat Matot – Masei

July 13, 2018 Andrew Shaw
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Mishenichas Av Mimatin B’Simcha – when Av comes in we lessen our joy (Taanit 4:6)

As a joke one could point to England’s exit from the World Cup – but football is just a game – what is happening in the Jewish world and wider world is not a game and needs fixing. 

The Gemara in Yoma, famously tells us that Bayit Rishon was destroyed due to; bloodshed, immorality and idol worship. However for Bayit Sheni, it simply gives the cause as ‘Sinat Chinam’– baseless hatred.

What is interesting is that we seem to quote this Gemara as the sole reason for the destruction. However, the Gemara in several other places gives further reasons for the destruction.

What is painful to me, is so many of these issues are still so prevalent in the Jewish world. I am in Manchester for Shabbat Chazon and Tisha B’Av next week where I will be examining these ideas in more detail – this is just a taste.

In Bava Metzia 30b it states:  Rav Yochanan said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled in accordance with the strict letter of the law, as opposed to ruling beyond the letter of the law.” One of the many things I learnt from the Torah giants that have taught me is that halacha is sensitive, dependant on multiple factors. Our Piskei Halacha must have heart as well as mind, being Maikil (lenient) is not something to be ashamed about.

In Shabbat 119b it states: Abaye said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the Sabbath was desecrated”;…Rav Abbahu said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the reading of the Shema, morning and evening, was neglected”. These are our personal relationship with Hashem, the core mitzvot that make up the daily and weekly life of a Jew. How tragic that today the vast majority of Jews globally do not keep Shabbat or engage in regular tefillah. The reason is not rebellion or anger – but simply a lack of knowledge or inspiration. The lack of knowledge or inspiration can lead to a complete warping of what Torah and Judaism are – and that is a tragedy in itself.

Rav Hamnuna said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected the [education of] school children”; We know children are our future, but we must make sure the education they are getting is relevant to their lives and authentic to our traditions – a challenging combination, but one we must strive to get right if we want Jewish grandchildren.

Ulla said “Jerusalem was destroyed only because people had no shame before each other” This is the curse of the 21stcentury, social media and a permissive society have lessened the moral fortitude of a generation. Torah stresses the ideas of modesty, privacy and dignity – values no longer prioritized by a society obsessed with reality TV and the like. The mainstream Jewish world is very much exposed to this Weltanschauung.

Rav Isaac said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal….” We don’t expect an average person to be able to answer question on neuro science or complex tax calculations. Yet in the realm of Jewish law and Jewish thought we seem to give credibility to people who have very little training, knowledge or grasp of the huge corpus of Jewish texts, laws and philosophy. We would not accept it in any other field – yet anyone can be an expert on Judaism – tragic.

Rabbi Hanina said “Jerusalem was destroyed only because people did not rebuke each other” To me this goes to the heart of our problems today. In our PC and pluralist society, you are not allowed to rebuke anyone, tell them they are wrong. The debacle still rolling on with Kaddish for Gaza, demonstrates the desperate need to rebuke and express alarm but at the same time we must remember that the concept of rebuke in Torah comes from a position of love and distress that a fellow Jew could be acting in such a way. There is no room for violence and hatred.

Rabbi Yehuda said “Jerusalem was destroyed only because they disparaged Torah scholars” Following on from the comment above. We may not agree with some of our Rabbis and questioning and inquiring are all part of the communal discourse. However once healthy inquiry moves into belittling and denigrating our leaders, then a line has been crossed. That line can be crossed by lay leaders and fellow Rabbinic leaders.

Rava said “Jerusalem was destroyed only because there were no more people of integrity” The final statement of the Gemara speaks volumes about what we need to achieve. Without integrity, without people who we can look up to and admire, we have no chance to build our people and build Bayit Shelishi. I was blessed this week to attend the Chief Rabbis conference where we heard from ‘people of integrity’ who are doing wonderful work in the USA, the UK and in Israel. People who have a mesiratnefeshfor our people, who are willing to listen to people who do not agree with them, who are not even the same religion as them. Each of them striving to be a Kiddush Hashem.

So, the solution according to the Gemara is that we must:

   Keep Shabbat,

   Say Shema,

   Inspire our kids,

   Value our leaders,

   Rebuke with love,

   Live lives of modesty, dignity and privacy

   And be people of integrity

Something to think about during these 9 days.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Andrew Shaw

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