Remember; Do Not Forget

“Five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz; the luchos were smashed, the korban tamid was no longer brought, the walls of Yerusholayim were pierced, Apustomus burnt a sefer Torah and he brought a graven image into the Heichal of the Beis Hamikdash.” (Taanis 26a). As we know, Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the luchos when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf. And Hashem congratulated him on this, saying Yeyasher Kochacho sheshibarto.” (Devarim34:12, Rashi).

We are told to remember the sin of the golden calf every day. “Remember; do not forget how you angered Hashem in the wilderness.”(Devarim 9:7). The sin of the golden calf was very serious. However is still difficult to understand why we have to remember it every day. And why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” Also, we are told that with every punishment we receive, a bit more will be added because of the golden calf (Shemos 32:34)). Why? Are all succeeding generations responsible for the sin of that generation? Surely the pasuk says, “The fathers shall not die for the sins of the sons, nor the sons for the sins of the fathers; each man shall die for his own sin.” (Devarim 24:16), unless the children continue the sins of the fathers (Brachos 47:1). Do we continue to build golden calves? Besides, only three thousand people were actively involved in the sin, that is, a half a percent of the people. And why did it “anger” Hashem so much more than other sins?

Our question will become even stronger when we consider the mitzvah of the para aduma and its deeper significance. If a person touches a corpse or even goes into a room where a corpse is lying, he becomes ritually impure. He becomes an av hatuma who can even pass on tuma to another person. The only way he can purify himself is through a complicated procedure involving a para aduma, the details of which were beyond even the mind of Shlomo Hamelech to understand. Why is there such a consequence for touching a corpse or being in the same room? Death happens every day. “A generation comes and a generation goes.” (Koheles 1:4) It is the way of the world. “A man’s life is three score years and ten and if he merits it, eighty years.” (Tehilim 90:10) He was a great man? There will be other great men. The cemeteries are full of ‘indispensable’ people[1] and the world continues. Why does proximity to a corpse have such major implications?

“I said that you were gods and sons of the Most High. But you will die like men; like one of the princes you will fall.” (Tehilim 82:6-7). When they received the Torah, the Jews regained the level of Odom Horishon before his sin and no-one would have died. But because they sinned with the golden calf they will die like men.” (Avoda Zara 5a) Every death is a reminder of the sin of the golden calf. Without it, there would have been no death. Therefore coming into close contact with death has to be a major event so that a person considers why this happened. The Torah commands a complex procedure with a para aduma to cancel out the effect of the tuma. We cannot treat death as just “the way of the world.” We must remember the cause of death – the sin of the golden calf.

But this only reinforces our original question. What was so ultra-significant about the sin of the golden calf that we have to constantly remember it. Why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” What has to do with us? And why did it “annoy” Hashem so much?

A person has a chronic illness which needs constant medical care. He has a very conscientious doctor who has followed his illness for many years and prescribes a certain medication in amounts which vary according to the patient’s precise condition. But then he hears the tragic news; the doctor has passed away following a sudden heart attack. The patient is besides himself. “Who is going to treat me now? Which other doctor could possibly be knowledgeable enough about my condition to prescribe the right dose of medication? Oy veh.”

Another person never did well to earn a parnasa. He was always getting into debt. Fortunately he had a rich uncle who always came to his rescue. Then, again, tragic news. The uncle was suddenly niftar. At the funeral he wept copiously. In truth, he didn’t love his uncle so much. He loved himself. How on earth is going to manage from now on?

In another example, a certain politician was very sympathetic to the needs of his Jewish constituents. He always seemed to know who to speak to when the Jews had a problem. Then, catastrophe. He lost his seat in Parliament and was now unable to help. “Sounds of fasting, crying and lament filled the street.” The Jews had lost their saviour; their sister in the king’s palace was no longer. Who will help them now?”

How would we respond to these situations? Like the Jews in each moshol or differently?

When Moshe Rabbeinu failed to appear after forty days there was panic. “Moshe, the one who took us out of Egypt, who brought us across the Yam Suf, who went to receive the Torah on our behalf, had disappeared, presumed dead. They looked at each other in desperation. Who was going to provide for them now? When a person is in a state of panic, he does not follow his sechel but his base instincts and they made a golden calf or at least supported the idea of a golden calf. Hashem was extremely “annoyed.” A king might see one of his subjects transgressing his law and punish him. But if a king saw that this subject has forgotten about him and thought that a servant had been providing for them and not the king, the king would be very annoyed. This is a treasonable offence.  The king will never cease reminding his subjects from then on that he and only he provides for them.

Everything Moshe had done was only as a messenger of Hashem. Without Moshe, will everything stop? Is Hashem short of messengers; short of doctors, rich uncles, politicians, Jewish leaders? “Harbe sheluchim L’Makom” ‘On the day that one tzaddik dies, another one is born.”(Kiddushin 72b). “Lo almon Yisroel – Hashem will never desert Israel.” (Yirmiyahu 51:5). Moshe Rabbeinu is not even mentioned the Hagada; only “I and not an angel; I and not a seraph; I and not a messenger; I am He and no-one else.” Moshe was the archetype servant of Hashem. Not only was he horrified that the people had apparently put their trust in him rather than Hashem but he realized that it was unconscionable that, under these circumstances, they should receive the luchos which was fashioned by Hashem. So he smashed them; an act that Hashem agreed with and congratulated him for. “Yeyasher koach sheshibarto

Now we can understand the Jews’ grievous error when they made the golden calf.  We have to remember it constantly and some of the punishment for building the golden calf is given to us because we are not immune to it ourselves. Yes, we sometimes repeat the same sin in different forms, putting our faith in Hashem’s messengers rather than in Him. The mitzvah of Para Aduma which we cannot understand with our sechel because its details are, to us, inexplicable, reminds of the sin of the golden calf which we did because we panicked and didn’t use our sechel. And finally we can understand the double expression. “Remember” the actual sin of the golden calf and “Don’t forget” that we can also transgress the same sin, just in different way.

[1] A favourite saying of my late friend Mr Hymy Gillis of Glasgow ע”ה

A Heart Full of Joy

“And the people saw that Aharon had died and they cried about Aharon for thirty days, the whole House of Israel.”(Bamidbar 20:29). Rashi says that both the men and women mourned Aharon because he pursued peace between those involved in argument and between man and wife. This is how the Torah describes, in this week’s parsha, the end of an era. Aharon Hakohen, the older brother of Moshe Rabeinu, the Kohen Godol for forty years, was no longer.

The juxtaposition of Parshas Korach which detailed Korach’s rebellion against Moshe and Aharon and Parshas Chukas which reports the death of Aharon who happily served as his younger brother’s second in command for forty years without a murmur suggests to us the following question; why was Korach jealous but Aharon not? Korach was no spiritual lightweight but couldn’t overcome his unhappiness at being overlooked; Aharon seemed to be quite happy at taking second place to his younger brother. What caused the different attitudes between Korach and Aharon and what can we learn from it?

After Korach’s demise, Hashem wanted to prevent similar mistakes in the future. The people needed a permanent reminder that it was His choice that Aharon should be the Kohen Godol. He told Moshe Rabeinu to take a staff from the prince of each tribe, with his name on it and on the staff representing the tribe of Levi, the name of Aharon was written. The staffs were all put in the Ohel Moed and left there overnight. As we know, by the morning, Aharon’s staff out of all the staffs had miraculously blossomed, proving that he was Hashem’s choice. Everybody saw and accepted it. But we would also like to know why Aharon had been chosen. Which special characteristic made him worthy of being chosen. Does anything in this episode give us a clue to Aharon’s special quality? . Does the choice of almond blossom give any hint?

In Hallel we read,”Let all the nations praise Hashem…because of His kindness to us…Praise Hashem that He is good, His kindness is forever. Let Israel say, His kindness is forever. Let the House of Aharon say, His kindness is forever, Let those who fear Hashem say, His kindness is forever.” (Tehillim 117-118) The order is meaningful. The more we have benefited from Hashem’s kindness, the more we are obligated to thank Hashem. Firstly all the nations, every human being who benefits from Hashem’s kindness — Hashem provides him with food and so on, have to praise Hashem. Then Israel, to whom Hashem, in addition to the basic requirements for life, has given the Torah and mitzvos, must thank Hashem more deeply. Even greater is the obligation of the Beis Aharon who have a special role in the Beis Hamikdash, to thank Hashem for their special gift. But what does the final line refer to? Who are the yirei Hashem? How does this final line fit into the order of the pesukim? In what sense do those who fear Hashem have the greatest obligation to thank Him?

One of the most inspiring non-Jewish speakers of the twentieth century was the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King. In one of his greatest speeches, he said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep the streets even as Michaelangelo painted, as Beethoven composed music or as Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Why am I bringing the words of a non-Jew into this Torah article?

There are a number of reasons not to be jealous of somebody else even though that person seems to be more successful financially, has a more senior job or just seems to have more blessings. The simplest reason is that we often don’t know about his challenges, his difficulties or his worries. If we knew them we would never want to be in his or her situation. Moshe Rabeinu’s position was far from being “a bed of roses.” Medrashim tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu came out of his tent early, some people said that he must have problems in sholom bayis. When he came out late, some people said that he was busy making plans against the people. When he walked along, people looked at his healthy body and said that his physical health is as a result of all the money which we’re paying him. (Rashi Kiddushin 33b). Moshe Rabeinu himself said, “Soon they are going to stone me.”(Shemos 17:4 ). Who could be jealous of his job? Aharon’s position was also fraught with danger. One mistake in the Kodesh Hakodoshim could be fatal.

A second possible reason not to be jealous of another is humility. “I haven’t got the qualities necessary for that more important job.” This may have been what Aharon was thinking when he accepted Moshe Rabeinu’s appointment as leader with such equanimity.

But there is a third possible reason for Aharon’s lack of jealousy. When the posuk (Bamidbar 17:23) tells us that Aharon’s staff blossomed, the phrase is introduced by the word hinei. Rashi (Ibid 18:8) says that hinei implies simcha. As the pasuk says, “Behold he (Aharon) is coming out to greet you (Moshe) and he will see you and there is simcha in his heart. We usually interpret the pasuk to mean simply that Aharon will be very happy that you have been appointed leader of Klal Yisroel. But there is another possible interpretation, a deeper reason for a person to avoid jealousy. If a person is completely satisfied, fulfilled and b’simcha with his present role, there is no room in his mind for jealousy. Aharon had that simcha in his present role so he was not jealous of Moshe. The almond is a symbol of speed. It represents simcha because someone who is happy with what he is doing will do it with alacrity. (Kli Yakar). Aharon had plenty to do making peace between married couples and other quarrellers. He was already doing a great service to Klal Yisroel. Nothing was missing from his life. In these circumstances he could not be jealous.

Korach was the richest man in Klal Yisroel (Pesachim 119a). He could have opened a charity organisation to provide all Jews with basic needs; to lend to rich and poor; to provide donkeys to help with transporting the physically challenged. The list is endless. He should have been overjoyed to be fulfilling this vital communal need. But he looked outside of himself and yearned to take on another person’s job instead., He saw only the pluses and not the minuses and he was jealous; a bitter jealousy which caused his downfall.

Every one of us is unique. Every one of us has a vital role to play in Hashem’s world. Even if we are not from the Beis Aharon we can be among the Yirei Hashem who do our unique job to the best of our ability. In Hashem’s orchestra the violins, the trumpets, the cymbals – even the triangle – are all needed. Even a street cleaner can rejoice with fulfilling his vital role, as Martin Luther King eloquently proclaimed. Hashem’s front- line troops, those who serve Hashem despite their personal challenges, and lower-ranked soldiers without special difficulties can all rejoice if they fulfill their divinely appointed role successfully. Like Aharon we can all have simcha in our heart; not only for ourselves but when we see others succeed.

Reverend Gabriel Brodie ז”ל

One of the most respected and influential members of Manchester’s wider Jewish community was niftar last week. Humble to the end, he never learnt for semicha so that people would call him rabbi; he remained a Reverend, the title of most of the previous generation of ministers in Anglo- Jewry. I am sure that obituaries will be written about his life and achievements by others. But I was one of his early talmidim and feel an obligation to write a few words about him from my perspective.

I went to his shul, officially a branch of the Great Synagogue, later the Great and New Synagogue, which was and is known by the name Stenecourt, as a young boy. At that time I don’t remember much about the spiritual side of the shul but I do remember that I got a tick on the chart for coming. The aggregate of ticks for all the children was added up and on Chanuka, after the annual youth service, the ones with the most ticks received a prize.  I treasured what I had earned, providing me with a fresh impetus for continuing my regular attendance at the shul.

My barmitzvah was in another shul, The Higher Broughton Shul in Duncan St because that is where my parents belonged, but it closed down shortly after, leaving the way open for our family to move to Stenecourt (How amazing it is that the Higher Broughton shul closed down fifty years ago because no Jews lived in that area any more but now it is the centre of renewed Jewish life with the highly respected Rav Yehuda Leib Wittler as the local mora d’asra).

Keeping teenage boys interested was a new challenge for Reverend Brodie, but without any major gimmicks he managed to maintain our loyalty. I remember speaking to university students who seemed to gravitate to Stenecourt and they said that they came because they all regarded Reverend Brodie as a very genuine person, welcoming everybody to the shul and being everybody’s “friend.” I remember shalosh seudos in the winter. The problem was that shalosh seudos was just at the time the results of the football matches were coming in and whether we were “United” or “City” supporters, we were all very tense. How can one enjoy a shalosh seudos if you don’t know how your team has done? So why did we pile in to enjoy matza and herring and a dvar Torah given first to the boys and then to the men? The answer is that somehow the results of the matches were written out by the caretaker and stuck to the door of the shalosh seudos room. I don’t know whether Reverend Brodie had arranged that and no halachic conclusions can be drawn from it but, bottom line, we were in the shul, not the street.

Mincha and Maariv are not usually overflowing with people in the typical Anglo- Jewish shuls but Stenecourt’s minyanim were constant. But one night presented a particular challenge. It was the final of the European Cup between Manchester United and Benfica televised live. Clearly no self-respecting schoolboy would leave the television screen to go to shul. The idea was too preposterous. However Reverend Brodie found a solution. Mincha and Maariv was scheduled at the exact time of half time. We raced to shul for a quick Mincha (heiche kedusha) and even quicker Maariv and amazingly we were home to see almost the whole of the second half. Again no halachic conclusions can be drawn from this but Reverend Brodie had found a way to teach us our real priorities while understanding that we weren’t really holding there. Maybe he had charisma, maybe special siyatta dishmaya but he just kept us all on the straight and narrow. When I was seventeen, he heard I was going to Yeshiva and he was overjoyed. He organized a gift from the shul of a set of Mishna Berura wishing me success in my Yeshiva studies, a set which I still use to this day.

On my holidays from Yeshiva he always asked me to give shiurim and drashos, which gave me the confidence to pursue a rabbinical career rather than a legal one, despite having a place to study law at London University. When the time came for me to marry, he was again our main support, saying to my new bride as we came out of the yichud room, “So Mrs Fletcher, how do you like married life?” No doubt he brought a smile to hundreds of young brides with this little joke. I still remember his drasha at our chasuna even though it was over forty years ago and of course we still have the picture as he presented us with a becher, (Chazon Ish size by special request), on behalf of the shul. After our chasuna, my wife and I went to Amsterdam where I joined the Kollel but whenever we came back to Manchester, Reverend Brodie always invited me to speak in the shul. He wrote a beautiful letter of recommendation to help me find a rabbinic position which was important in my being appointed rabbi of Queen’s Park Shul in Glasgow. My ability to leyn, which was vital there, was much enhanced because of him encouraging me to continue lehning from time to time, after my barmitzvah. And my megila reading which I started in Amsterdam, continued in Glasgow and continue to this day in Ramat Beit Shemesh is based almost entirely on the way I heard it from him in Stenecourt.

For about fifty years Reverend Brodie was centrally involved in all my family events officiating at my late father’s funeral in 2010 and being a rock of support to my mother thereafter. He also was a power of support to my late parents-in-law after they joined Stenecourt from another shul in their later years.

Of course, this is mostly about myself and his vital role in my life. But the boys I went to Stenecourt with in the 1960s all set up beautiful frum Jewish homes and have all been successful, each one in a different way. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people came under his good influence over the decades he was involved in his avodas hakodesh. What wonderful merits he will have taken with him to the olom ho’emes. In later years, the Reverend Gabriel Brodie Beis Hamedresh in Stenecourt is always full with people davening or learning or having meetings in the side rooms. He himself continued to give shiurim inthe shul well after his official retirement. How wonderful of the shul not to wait until after his death to honour him but to rebuild the shul and Beis Hamedresh in his name to allow him to see and enjoy the fruits of his labours of close on seventy years. A light has gone out of Anglo-Jewry. Yehi zichro boruch.

Letter by a Poshete Yid

It is reported that the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Yoel, Rav Aaron Teitelbaum shlita was said to have recently bemoaned that some of his chassidim were celebrating the “Zionists’” success. “They will not be among those who will receive the Moshiach when he comes,” he said, adding that “If the chareidi representatives in the Knesset do not succeed in bringing in a new law, fifty thousand talmidei yeshivos will be drafted into the army.”

I am not a Rebbe, nor the son of a Rebbe, not even the grandson of a Rebbe. I am a poshete yid, a simple Jew, who would like to explain why, although I am not a Zionist, I do celebrate Israel’s success. And I find his words very surprising, as I hope to explain.

When the concept of a secular Jewish state was first considered in the late nineteenth century it was opposed by nearly all the Gedolim . Many opposed it even if the state would be run according to halacha, but since there was no chance of that, the idea was an anathema. Then, in the years before the Second World War, some Gedolim looked at the looming threat from Germany and changed their view.  But still, a majority were opposed, particularly Reb Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d.

After the Holocaust, however, the situation had changed again, dramatically. Six million Jews had died, huge numbers of frum communities with their Rebbes and their Rabbonim had been wiped out. Half a million survivors waited in Displaced Persons’ in Europe camps for some kind of future, but no country was prepared to admit them. The Zionists were determined to create a state, come what may, leaving the spiritual survival of those who were already living in Palestine at their mercy. In this most forlorn of situations, the surviving Gedolim had to decide what to do. Then the Zionists, for their own reasons, asked the Agudas Yisroel to join them in pushing their case for a State. The Aguda insisted on certain conditions — independent religious education, Shabbos should be a rest day (so that religious Jews would be able to get jobs) and kashrus would be observed in public places. The secularists reluctantly agreed. The Gedolim of Aguda decided, that in this situation, supporting the concept of a State, even a secular State was the best option. In 1948, Israel was established, and the half a million survivors including many religious people were allowed in. Most of the religious community followed the decision of the Aguda to work within the system. They sent representatives to the Knesset and began fighting, if not to win over the majority, at least to maintain their own rights and be able to live as religious Jews. The early years of the State were grim; as the secular leadership was determined to create “the new Jew” devoid of religion or any connection with the past. Sadly they had many “successes.”

Now let’s turn the clock forward seventy years. The old Zionists leaders are no longer and a vast majority of the so-called secular public are observant to some extent, for instance fasting on Yom Kippur. From tiny beginnings, the religious community has grown enormously with tens of thousands of boys and men studying Torah full-time. The secular President of Israel recently said that the idea of the early secular leadership to create “a new Jew” was a mistake. To be called a Zionist today is regarded  by secular people as an insult. Yes, they are happy that they have a State to live in and enjoy, for the most part, normal lives, without being hounded by anti-semites, but they have no ideological ambitions. Their goal is to earn a living and bring up a family like most people in all countries do. And they are increasingly drawn towards the lifestyle of the religious people whom they see wherever they go.

Miraculously, despite continuing security threats, from an economic and political point of view, Israel is an outstanding success. The country is smaller than New Jersey or Wales but is a world leader in many areas including agriculture, water purification and cyber-technology. The Jewish population has grown to over six million and political leaders from all over the world queue up to meet the Prime Minister.

Now I can come back to my first point. I am fervently against the Zionist philosophy as espoused by the secular leaders of seventy years ago. We went along with the creation of a State not out of love for it. It was with trepidation, and only because of the catastrophic situation we found ourselves in after the Holocaust. But we followed the leadership of the Chazon Ish, the Steipler Rov, Rav Shach, Rav Eliyashiv, Rav Steinman etc who put all their efforts into promoting Torah learning for all those who can, supporting the ever-increasing religious communities, guiding kiruv organisations and instructing their representatives in the Knesset to safeguard Jewish values as much as they could. Miraculously, Hashem has helped Israel survive numerous wars and continues to send amazing blessings of prosperity and success. We are happy with these successes, mainly because they have given us the security and wherewithal to live in peace, leading full Jewish lives.

Why does Hashem give so much success to those who publicly profane the Torah? I believe the answer can be found in Kiddushin 36a. “Instead of saying they are not My people, tell them that they are the children of the living G-d.” (Hoshea 2:1). Say Chazal, “Even if they serve avoda zara, they are still My children as it says, “Bonim atem L’Hashem Elokeichem” (Devarim 32:1). And a Father loves His children.

Does the Satmar Rebbe want Israel and all the Jews who live here to be defeated militarily, with the resultant second Holocaust that this would bring about? Does he want us to be economic failures with our children going to bed hungry? Strangely, he forbids his chassidim to vote but looks to the religious representatives to fight against their secular opponents. If it were not for our Gedolim, there would be no-one to fight the secularists. If the Satmar chassidim would vote, especially in local elections, we would have more strength to fight and likely enjoy more successes. Why did they vote for Hilary Clinton when she had already pocketed the bribes of the Arab nations who want to destroy us? And why do they deride President Trump when he supports us?

The Rebbe may believe that for the Moshiach to come, the Jewish People have to be scattered around the world with no State, as the late Rebbe, Reb Yoel, wrote in his sefer Sholosh Shevuos. This obviously requires the dismemberment of Israel and apparently he is working to this end. However I do not believe that most Gedolim are of that opinion. On the contrary, even Reb Moshe Sternbuch shlita, a renowned anti-Zionist, has written recently how imminent the coming of the Moshiach is. We are waiting for him, here, ready for him to come at any moment.

A Poshete Yid