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Showing posts from December, 2011

Let It Shine

(This article was first published in the Sinai Chronicle, publication of Sinai Reform Synagogue, Leeds)
Jewish holidays are strange, really – topsy turvy if you will. During the bright heat of summer, usually a happy and relaxing time, we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the many ills that have befallen the Jewish people during Tisha b’Av. During the autumn when the wheel of the year spins towards sleepy endings, Rosh haShanah celebrates new beginnings. During Sukkot, we subject our vulnerable selves to the fickle elements of autumn. During the verdant abundance of spring with plenty of fresh foods to enjoy, we honour Pesach with dietary restrictions and contemplations on the meaning of freedom. And now, after a welcome repose offered by the quiet month of Cheshvan, we will find that Chanukkah is not all that different.
In the darkest months, Chanukkah is all about light. On a practical and psychological level, this makes sense. Like other winter festivals such as Christmas and D…

Parashat Vayeshev

Sermon Glasgow Reform Synagogue
Passion and Restraint
Like every good story, B’reishit is assembling the stage for a final drama: the settling of the B’nei Yisrael in Egypt. When the book of Shemot opens, we all know what happens next. ‘A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph’ (Gen. 1:8) and soon the Israelites are enslaved and embittered by hard labour. The Joseph Story is a bridge, where adventures of individuals become the fate of nations. Joseph forms the fulcrum between B’reishit and Shemot.
But there is more to Joseph than that. He, like his father Jacob, is a passionate and proud man. But unlike his ancestors, Joseph knows restraint.
Restraint, especially when pertaining to matters of intimacy, is a recurring theme in this part of the Torah. The examples of this are many. Jacob is forced to work another seven years for his beloved Rachel. Reuben fails to restrain himself when he sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). Chamor, the son of Shechem fails to…

Parashat Vayishlach

Sermon Sinai Synagogue Parashat Vayishlach Esther Hugenholtz
Overcoming Our Fears
Like many of the Torah’s characters, Jacob invites feelings of ambivalence on part of the reader. On the one hand, we feel a certain warmth and reference towards him – he is one of our patriarchs, after all. On the other hand, Jacob elicits a less charitable response as well. He is a perennial trickster, a conman, a thief of birthrights and a breaker of women’s hearts. Does he do justly, we are left to wonder. He dupes his ‘all brawn-but-very-little brain’ brother Esau out of his birthright. Then his uncle Laban tricks Jacob in return. Swapping Leah for his beloved Rachel at his wedding, demanding an extra seven years’ hard labour. Jacob does gets his own back. He in turn swindles Laban. Meanwhile, his wives vie for his attention and clamour for his love. Just as Jacob and Laban have a stand-off through the amount of livestock they can produce, Leah and Rachel, with the help of mandrakes and handmaids engage…