Living on the borders – Ukraine and Israel

The word “Ukraine” is probably derived from the old Slavic meaning “borderland”, and while its size cannot be compared to the diminutive territory of Israel, there are many resonances between the two countries. The deep spiritual attachment to their own land -from the flag depicting sunflowers and sky, to the testimony of Ukrainian people fighting to live peacefully in historically disputed territory, the echoes keep on coming.

Ukraine finds herself sandwiched between the global powers of “The West” and “The East”, an uncomfortable place to be. Israel has also historically found itself uncomfortably close to the political designs of powerful neighbours. From the empires of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Persians (again), Arabs and Islamic power, Crusaders and Christian supremacy, Mamelukes, Ottomans…

Just as in any nation state situated in spaces other countries claim as part of their borders, the diversity of population, language, ethnicity and narratives means that internal as well as external boundaries can be fraught, yet at the same time a strong identity and loving attachment to the place is created, and no amount of displacement or oppression can disrupt these deep roots of belonging.

I am struck by how powerful is the testimony of those who call Ukraine home, who initially fled the war yet often returned  to the homeland they love and yearn for. I am reminded of the psalmist sitting by the rivers of Babylon, who recorded the people’s weeping and longing, the remembering of Zion and Jerusalem from their captivity and exile. The strength of relationship that the people of Ukraine have with their land impels them to fight for it even when it seems that the odds are too heavily against them, this too echoes in the Jewish soul.

Judaism has thrived in Ukraine for over a thousand years. Byzantine Jews of Constantinople had familial, cultural, and theological ties with the Jews of Kyiv a millennium ago and one of the city gates was named the Jewish gate. Chasidism was born there, as were many of the founders of cultural Zionism – from Jabotinsky to Achad Ha’Am, Bialik and Shai Agnon. While also the home of pogroms and of Cossacks, a place of historic persecution of Jews, of our expulsion and emigration – so many of us can trace our family roots back to this place – it is notable that Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and a proud supporter of both Ukraine and Israel.

Holocaust Memorial Day – Helene Rothschild


My great aunt Helene Rothschild was born on the 6 May 1862 in Ottenstein, the daughter of Siegmund Rothschild. She never married. She stayed in the village and ran the grocery business among her other activities. Family lore recalls that she kept charge of the sefer torah from the synagogue built by the family, and that it was one of the possessions she tried to protect till the end – but while my grandmother saw much of her furniture and linens and silver and art work after the war in the houses of her erstwhile neighbours, the scroll disappeared.  We have one beautiful tablecloth of hers that one neighbour gave to my grandmother.

She had expected to die where she had been born and lived, where her family owned the Jewish cemetery and her father and mother were buried.  Indeed family lore speaks of the grave she had organised for…

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The Use and Care of  Public Money 

Every year around this time we read about the money given by the people to build the mishkan, the tent of meeting that will travel with them, and the work of creating it. At the end of book of Exodus we read P’kudei – “the accounts of the tabernacle….as they were rendered according to the commandment of Moses”. From here comes the imperative that public money has to be accounted for in detail, with complete transparency.

Centuries later King Jehoash expected Temple donations given to the priests would be used to keep the Temple in good repair. Discovering that money was given but the Temple was not maintained, he changed the system and installed a large chest with a small hole in it near the altar, where all monetary donations were safely deposited. Then  “the royal scribe and the high priest would come, put the money into bags, and count it. They would deliver the money to the overseers of the work. These, in turn, would pay the carpenters and the labourers …and pay for the wood and stone and .. every other expenditure needed to maintain God’s House. (2Kings12 10ff)

The imperative for transparency and proper use of public money may have been natural for Moses, but by the time of Jehoash  structures were needed to protect public funds. Notice the representative from monarchy as well as priesthood when the box was opened and the money counted. Talmud tells us “Money for the charity fund is collected by two people and distributed by three people. It is collected by two people because one does not appoint an authority over the community composed of fewer than two. And it is distributed by three people, like the number of judges needed in cases of monetary law, since the distributors determine who receives money and how much” (Baba Batra 8b)

There is a longstanding tradition in Judaism that those who collect or disburse public money must be provably honest and doing it “leshem shamayim” –  not for their own benefit but for the public good. They had to not only be honest but be seen to behave honestly – they were to stay together when collecting, not be seen putting even their own money into their pockets, be trusted to collect and distribute appropriately.  Money given in order to support the community is heavily regulated in Jewish law. No one can evade the communal responsibility to support the poor in their society and they do so through the regulated and trusted system.

As Maimonides writes “A city with a Jewish population must establish men who are known and reliable, who will go about among the people weekly, taking from each their fixed amount, and giving to each poor person enough food for seven days: this is called “kupah.”

Likewise they establish gabbaim who will take daily, from each courtyard, foodstuffs or money from whoever donates at that time, and distribute the collection in the evening among the poor, giving to each a day’s sustenance, and this is called “tam’hui.””

While Mishna Avot may tell us that “everything belongs to God”,  the reality has always been that some accrue wealth at the expense of others, misappropriating public funds – as Kohelet says, “there is nothing new under the sun”. So given our texts exhorting public service over private gain, never allowing the control of public money to fall to a small  unaccountable elite, legislating communal responsibility to feed, clothe, house and maintain the poorer in society (defined as not having enough for two good meals a day), what would Moses or Jehoash say about the homeless, the food banks, the benefit cuts, or the writing off of fraudulently misappropriated public funds?

(written for the Jewish News Progressive Judaism page February 2022)

Parashat Shemot – even the nameless must have their humanity recognised. Even the most ordinary of us contains a world within us.

וְלֹא־יָכְלָ֣ה עוֹד֮ הַצְּפִינוֹ֒ וַתִּֽקַּֽח־לוֹ֙ תֵּ֣בַת גֹּ֔מֶא וַתַּחְמְרָ֥ה בַחֵמָ֖ר וּבַזָּ֑פֶת וַתָּ֤שֶׂם בָּהּ֙ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד וַתָּ֥שֶׂם בַּסּ֖וּף עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיְאֹֽר׃

When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

The story of Moses’ mother who hid him in a floating box among the reeds of the Nile river with his sister keeping watch to see what will happen leaves us with so many questions. But reading it this year the description of the box as a tevat gomeh – a seemingly inadequate and vulnerable woven box which was waterproofed with bitumen, struck me anew.

The only other place in bible where this word “tevah” appears is in the story of Noah’s floating vessel, when God tells him that the earth is to be destroyed, and Noah must

“עֲשֵׂ֤ה לְךָ֙ תֵּבַ֣ת עֲצֵי־גֹ֔פֶר קִנִּ֖ים תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה אֶת־הַתֵּבָ֑ה וְכָֽפַרְתָּ֥ אֹתָ֛הּ מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ בַּכֹּֽפֶר׃

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” (Genesis 6:14)

My mind – as I am sure the minds of so many of us do – flies to the pictures all over the media of the small boats, often overfull with asylum seekers who are making dangerous journeys to safety. The reach Europe, or to reach the UK, they must cross the often treacherous waters, which in the case of the English Channel means both freezing seas, choppy waves and the busiest shipping lanes that they must avoid.

The connection between the tarred box that Moses’ mother makes, and the one made by Noah is not unnoticed among our traditional commentators. They notice that in both cases those within the tevah are saved from drowning; those who are not so lucky – the animals and people not chosen by Noah, or the baby boys of the Hebrews cast into the Nile at birth – will not survive. In both cases the tevah is the means of survival – in the story of Noah it is the whole of the animal kingdom which is given a chance of survival through the representatives protected on the Ark, and in the story of Moses it is the Jewish people who are given a chance of survival through the later actions of the tiny baby preserved within the basket.

At the point of the story where the birth and saving of the infant Moses is told, everyone is nameless. A certain man from the tribe of Levi marries a woman from that same tribe and she conceives and bears a son. She hid him for three months and then, when hiding was no longer an option, puts the child in the waterproofed basket amongst the reeds and sets his sister to watch. A female relative of the Pharaoh approaches and sees the basket, sends a slave to fetch it, opens it and realises this is a Hebrew child, at which point the watching sister shows herself and offers to provide a Hebrew wetnurse – the mother of the baby. The “wetnurse” takes the baby home under the protection of the daughter of Pharoah and nurtures him, bringing him back only when he is grown. And only then – only then in a sidra called “names” – do we get a name for anyone in the story. Pharaoh’s daughter says “His name is Moshe, because I drew him from the waters” (Exodus 2:10)  (the verbal root meaning to draw out)  שְׁמוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֥י מִן־הַמַּ֖יִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ׃

The namelessness of all the protagonists feels deliberate and important. These are not special people born to the task of saving an oppressed and vulnerable group, it is only the circumstances they find themselves in – and how they respond to those circumstances – that makes them of particular interest to us. They are, however, all of them representing a special quality that should give us pause – they are all, whether powerful or powerless, old or young, active or passive in the story – they are all human beings.

Reading this story in a world in which our politicians feel comfortable suggesting that the human beings seeking refuge and security in countries far from their own homes should be “turned around at sea”. People in dangerous small craft, often unseaworthy at the best of times of frequently overloaded and in poor conditions, become weaponised in an increasingly hostile environment as our politicians pander to the racism and xenophobia of a vocal minority of people.

In November a group of fisherman tried to block a RNLI lifeboat from rescuing a group of migrants in danger on the sea :

Once we know the names and the stories of those who take to these boats as the only way to reach safety we cannot be as indifferent or as hostile as we are encouraged to be by sections of the media and government.

Read the stories and weep – human beings merely seeking safety, risking everything because there was no alternative, read and think of Moses in his basket, his anxious mother, his watching sister, everyone just hoping that they would encounter kindness rather than hostility.

Read about those who died recently – read their stories and learn their names and the names of those who loved them. On parashat Shemot, the least we can do is to understand the humanity of even the nameless, and do our best to tell their stories and let their names not be erased.

picture of Khazal Ahmed, right, with her son Mubin Rezgar, older daughter Hadia Rezgar and younger daughter Hasti Rezgar, who all died in the Channel crossing November 2021

Kristallnacht. November 9th – 10th 1938

As we commemorate Kristallnacht this year, the words of Arthur Flehinger, my step-uncle and a member of the Baden Baden synagogue who witnessed it all, along with my grandfather, need to be heard again


The November Pogrom in Baden-Baden.’

 The events of 10.11.1938 in Baden-Baden were described by Arthur Flehinger, a teacher at the Hohenbaden Gymnasium, who subsequently came to Bradford, Yorkshire,  in a report he wrote in 1955: (In Stadtarchiv Baden-Baden 05-02/015). Translated by Rabbi Walter Rothschild.Image

“Until the infamous 10th November 1938 Baden-Baden remained largely sheltered from the worst excesses of the Nazis. This was not because anyone wanted to grant the Jews of the Spa town any especial privileges, but from purely egoistic reasons, because the Spa had strong international connections which had to be maintained; It was, as one said, Germany’s Visiting Card. Any major disruption of the inner peace would have had as an effect a reduction in the number of visitors from abroad and therefore a reduction in foreign currency takings, and the Nazis needed money and more money. Of course all the Nazi Orders (fingerprinting, Jewish…

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Parashat Noach: We will not be silent: renewing the work of creation

Parashat Noach

Ten generations from the Creation of the first human beings the earth is corrupted, violent and vile.

וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ לִפְנֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ חָמָֽס׃

וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְהִנֵּ֣ה נִשְׁחָ֑תָה כִּֽי־הִשְׁחִ֧ית כׇּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר אֶת־דַּרְכּ֖וֹ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ 

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְנֹ֗חַ קֵ֤ץ כׇּל־בָּשָׂר֙ בָּ֣א לְפָנַ֔י כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֥ה הָאָ֛רֶץ חָמָ֖ס מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהִנְנִ֥י מַשְׁחִיתָ֖ם אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃  {ס} 

The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.  When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.

In three verses (Genesis 6:11-13) the narrative drives home the problem – human beings have damaged their environment irredeemably. Ha’aretz “the earth” is mentioned six times, each time with the connection that it is corrupted  – from the root שָׁחַת  meaning spoiled, destroyed, corrupted, decayed….

God doesn’t directly reference the corruption of the people – it is the earth which is expressing the consequences of human action and inaction, the earth which is acting out the full horror of what humanity has become. And it is on the earth that the full punishment will be felt, as the floods rise and the rain falls, the waters that surround the land which were divided above and below at the time of creation return to their place, and no land will be seen for 150 days and nights.

The intertwining of people and land is complete. What one does affects the other, yet we also know that the land is used again and again in bible to be the metric against which ethical behaviour is measured – and should we not follow God’s requirements we will be unceremoniously evicted from the land for which we have stewardship.

When God decides to end the corruption on the earth God speaks to Noach. God tells him – all flesh will be ended because it is the action of humanity that has brought this unspeakable destruction about, and God is about to end creation – both people and land must be ended.

And Noach says – well, interesting Noach says nothing. Indeed, we have no record in any of the narrative of Noach speaking. Not to God, not to his family, not to humankind. His silence is a cold core at the heart of the story.  Noach doesn’t react, doesn’t warn, doesn’t plead or beg or educate or protest….

Instead Noach builds the boat, collects the animals and their food as God has commanded him, floats in a sea of destruction as everything around him drowns. And when eventually the dry land appears and they are all able to disembark, still Noach doesn’t speak. He builds and altar and sacrifices to God. He plants a vineyard and makes wine and gets drunk, and only then does Noach speak – he speaks to curse his son who had shamed him while he slept off his drunkenness. (Oddly while it was his son Ham who had seen him in this state, Noach actually curses Canaan, the son of Ham.)

He breaks this long long silence for what? To curse so that one group of society will be oppressed by another. He has essentially learned nothing.

We read the story every year. Every year Torah is reminding us – it just took ten generations to completely spoil the creation of our world. We read it and yet we don’t notice it. Instead we focus on the rainbow, the promise from God not to destroy us again by flood. We have turned it into a children’s story decorated with colourful pictures of rainbows and cheerful animals on an artfully dilapidated boat.

We don’t pay attention to the silence of Noach, which mirrors our own silence. We too don’t protest or change our behaviours or warn or educate, we too just doggedly get on with our lives. We don’t pay attention to the way that nature rises up to right itself, the planet ridding itself of the dirt and destruction humanity has visited upon it. We don’t pay attention to the drunkenness of the man who cannot cope with what he has seen, nor the warnings which echo when he finally speaks – to curse the future.

Noach is the quintessential antihero. There is nothing much we can see in him to learn from or to emulate. Yet his story can teach us a great deal. First and foremost it teaches us that abusing the earth will bring devastating consequences to all who live on this planet, and to the planet itself. We learn that the earth is fragile and complex interdependent system, that it does not take long – ten generations – to corrupt and seriously damage it. We learn that the way to avert this is not only to change our behaviour but also to engage with each other and support each other in changing how we treat our world, silence and focus only on self-preservation will not bring a good outcome for anyone. We learn that the trauma of survival in such circumstances will mark the generations to come.

Bible tells us that God repents having made human beings on the earth. (Genesis 6:6) and so brings about the flood. It tells us that God wearily understands that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21) after Noach has made his sacrifice having survived and returned to dry land. Much is made of God’s covenant not to bring total destruction by flood ever again – the symbol for the promise being the rainbow that appears in the sky – but this is not an open promise to the world that we will not bring about our own destruction, merely a divine understanding that perfection will never be part of the human project.

A perfect world is beyond our grasp, but that should not stop us grasping for a world which is healthy and healing, nurtured and nurturing, diverse and complex and continuing to evolve.

In the yotzer prayer, one of the two blessings before the shema in the shacharit (morning) service, is the phrase    “uvtuvo me’chadesh bechol yom tamid ma’aseh bereishit”

In [God’s] goodness God renews the work of creation every day.

Creation is not static, it is a constantly emerging phenomenon. Our tradition makes us partners with God in nurturing the environment we live in. If  God is said to give us a new possibility each day to make our world a better place, then unlike Noach we must grasp the challenge and work hard to clean up our world, and so avoid the inevitable consequences of just looking after ourselves and keeping silent.

22nd Elul

Yizkor: Instructions for Remembering


Remember the blessings of those who no longer walk this earth.

Remember each name, each life-story.

Remember on behalf of those whose memory fails.

Remember with love the sweet and the bittersweet.

Remember with forgiveness the hurt and misunderstanding.

Remember with insight so you might experience deeper meaning.

Remember through the pain until you can touch joy and find comfort.

Remember through dreams left unfulfilled and choose one to fulfill.

Remember through your heart.

Remember through your actions.

Remember through living with kindness, generosity and forgiveness.

Remember by planting memories and helping them take root in the living.

Remember by opening your heart even if you thought it was closed forever.

Remember to live your own life as a blessing.

Remember to do all this.

Remember and you will be remembered.


~Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi

Naso. Birkat Cohanim – we are commanded to bless God’s creation with love

Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua was once asked by his disciples: To what do you attribute your longevity? He said to them: In all my days, I never made a shortcut [kappendarya] through a synagogue. Nor did I ever stride over the heads of the sacred people, i.e., I never stepped over people sitting in the study hall in order to reach my place, so as not to appear scornful of them. And I never lifted my hands for the Priestly Benediction without first reciting a blessing. The Gemara asks: What blessing does the priests recite before the benediction? Rabbi Zeira says that Rav Ḥisda says: Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless Your people, Israel, with love.  (BT Sota 39a)

This blessing is unique in its formulation. The Cohanim (priesthood) are commanded to perform the blessing with intentional and conscious love. While there are three commandments to love in Torah To “love your neighbour as yourself”(Leviticus 19:18); To “love the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34); and “You shall love the Eternal your God for all your heart, soul and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4), there is no other blessing over a commandment that requires us to perform it “with love”

Rav Joseph B Soloveitchik  taught that this blessing, recited by the Kohanim prior to their delivering God’s Birkat Kohanim to God’s People, has much to teach us with its unique commandment to bless God’s people Israel with love. Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is not a blessing on the mitzvah per se “but it is a desire for the Priestly Blessing to be accompanied by love.”

He notes that the commandment of Birkat Cohanim has two separate parts – there is “the  transmission of a direct blessing from God” as the priests speak the words and God blesses the people and there is also  hashra’at ha-Shechinah (the manifestation of God’s presence).”

In effect, when the  Birkat Kohanim is recited, there “is a direct meeting with the Shechinah that presents us with an intimate encounter in which we come [so to speak] face to face with God.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Darosh Darash Yosef: Discourses of Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik on the Weekly Parashah)

Unlike any other prayer or any other benediction, this ancient text of threefold blessing, given in community yet addressed in the singular to each and every person,  has the power to eradicate the distance between the people and God. And so, says Rav Soloveitchik, we are reminded to enact it with intentional and deliberate love.

When Moses is told to tell Aaron about the giving of this blessing, the text is clear. The priests will say the words, but the blessing is to come directly from God. This is why the Cohanim uttering the words do not have to be deeply righteous or saintly people necessarily – they are only the vessels through which the blessings come.  On ascending the bimah to give the blessing they become faceless, their heads covered by their tallit they neither look directly at the people nor do the people look directly at them. Their role overrides any personal history at this moment.

And yet – this is more than those of Aaronic descent being the conduit for a divine blessing. As Rav Soloveitchik understands the event, they are not only conveying the divine blessing but they are re-enacting hashra’at ha-Shechinah – literally creating an immediate and intimate encounter between God and the Jewish people.

By doing this with intentional love, it seems to me that the Cohanim are taking on something of the role or characteristic of the Divine.  Unconditional love, deliberate and intentional love, is a pre-requisite of the ceremony. Regardless of who is saying the words of blessing, regardless of the actions and choices of each of the individuals receiving those words of blessing, the bond is formed through loving acceptance of the other.

The word for love used in the blessing “ahavah” is first used in the narrative the Akedah, when God speaks to Abraham of his son Isaac “the one you love” before testing that love to the limit. Ahavah seems to be used biblically across a full spectrum of loving feelings – from parental love to sensual love to loving friendship to spiritual love.  All use the verbal root alef hey beit.

The mystical tradition notes that the numerical value of ahavah (love) and echad (one) are the same – 13, and that the verse that precedes the command us to love God ends with the word “Echad” – describing the unity of God – a verse best known as the first line of the shema.

From this comes the idea that perceiving unity is the ultimate objective of love, and that love both brings the understanding that not only God is One, but creation too is connected and makes up one whole – even while we tend to note diversity and difference more frequently than we note unity and similarity.

So why are we commanded to love God? Because loving God – who is unified and whole – should cause us to love Creation – which is unified and whole. Loving God means we have to love people – all people, regardless of whether we might find them appealing or appalling, regardless of whether they are “of us” or are different from us.

The Talmud (Yoma 9b)  tells us that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel was a direct result of sinat chinam –  causeless hatred.  Rav Abraham Isaac Kook famously wrote that to rebuild Israel we would have to cultivate ahavat chinam – causeless love.

Causeless love is the requirement in the blessing before Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. It is the only time we say the blessing to fulfil a mitzvah with these words. We need to nurture and cultivate the ability to causeless love for the other, not because this makes us fit to be the conduit for God’s blessing in the world, but because this makes us able to bring God’s presence into the world.

As Rabbi Akiva said, “Love your neighbour as yourself is the foundational principle (klal gadol) of Torah”.   He was not talking about love as feelings, nor as something to be earned or deserved, but to treat other human being with respect, with justice, with awareness that they too are part of the Unity that God has created, that they are part of us as we are part of them.

In this time of increasing polarisation, of rising anxiety and tensions, of spewing hatred in social media and on our streets, it is time to remember the unique formulation of blessing before enacting hashra’at ha-Shechinah, trying to bring God into the world; time to remember and be intentional knowing that God commands us to treat God’s people with love.

Sermon for Neilah 2020

l’italiano segue l’inglese

The name of this final service of Yom Kippur Neilah, is more properly called “Neilat She’arim” the closing of the gates. (Ta’anit 26a).

The question that has exercised many commentators since the time of the Jerusalem Talmud is – which gates are closing? And what does their closing mean for us?

Is it simply a reference to the gates to the Temple, since the last service of the day is about to be complete and we know that the Temple gates were closed while there was still some daylight?; Or could they be the Sha’arei Shamayim – The Gates to Heaven (TJ Berachot 4:1). And if so, what are the Gates of Heaven and why would they close? Rav, a third century sage understands the phrase to mean the setting of the sun – when the Gates of Heaven close, darkness comes into the world. Night is coming with all its fears and uncertainties.

“Open the gates,” our liturgy says, “For day is nearly past.”   The fear that the gates will close before we can do what we must do, before we can complete the work of Yom Kippur, makes the Neilah service the most intense and climactic experience of the day. The gates of the Ark are traditionally open throughout the Neilah service –the longest time this happens in the year, a sort of symbol for our desire keep the pathway to God open. We yet again recite our confession, we urgently beg for God to hear us and grant our prayers – the need is pressing, the time is short, the task is critical. As Rabbi Tarfon taught (Pirkei Avot 2:16) “the day is short, and the work is plentiful, and the labourers are indolent, and the reward is great, and the master of the house is insistent.” At no time do we experience the force of this teaching so much as at Neilah.

Gates are important places in the biblical and rabbinic worlds. They are not simply the places by which one can enter or leave a city, but places of great significance. The judges and elders sit at the gates of the city to perform their civic duties; it is the place where the news is announced, the markets were by the gates, they were the centre of public and social life.  The vulnerable or poor who lived “within the gates” had a legal status and recourse to public support. The wells were usually nearby the gates, criminals were punished outside the gates, the ritually impure were made to stay outside the gates…. The gates provided protection from the outside world and its dangers, closed each night and reopened when the dawn came. The image of dawn opening is even used to describe the actions of God –in the blessing before the evening shema God is described (in the ma’ariv aravim prayer, the blessing before the evening shema) as “pote’ach she’arim” the one who opens the gates [(of dawn) with wisdom, and who arranges the times and the seasons]

Jerusalem had gates to the city (8 survive today), and gates to the Temple Mount – a surprising number of gates for such a small place. Some say there were 13 gates to the Temple Mount, one for each tribe to use, and one for those who don’t know their tribal affiliation; or maybe it is to reference the 13 attributes of God that we repeat throughout this solemn day.

We refer in our texts allegorically to so many gates. There are gates of righteousness, gates of repentance, gates of prayer and gates of tears. Job speaks of the gates of death; the psalms speak of the gates of deep darkness. We know the gateway to be important liminal space. There is a reason we place a mezuzah on the posts of the gateway to our homes. Gates are transformative and sometimes fearful places.

Our lives are made up of gateways – some we travel through, some we ignore. Sometimes we are able to change and move into a different space, other times fear or complacency keep us from exploring the where the gate might lead to. We wait, like the man in Kafka’s story “Before the Law”, afraid to go forward and afraid to go back, waiting for some fantasy permission, until, too late, the gate closes leaving us still outside, never to know what really lay on the other side.

At Neilah the gate stands open before us, but we are agonisingly certain it will soon close.  The gate indicates the choices we might make to change our lives, the directions we might decide to travel, the leaving behind of one life and the uncertain one we might enter.

Lea Goldberg, who emigrated to Tel Aviv from Europe in 1935 wrote

This is an hour of change.

Within it we stand uncertain on the border of light.

Shall we draw back or cross over?

Where shall our hearts turn?

Shall we draw back, my brother, my sister,

Or cross over?

This is the hour of change, and within it,

We stand quietly

On the border of light.

What lies before us?

Shall we draw back, my brother, my sister,

Or cross over?

Her questions are our questions – we stand uncertain at the border – should we draw back or cross over? What will we leave behind? What will we move towards?

We have the chance each yom Kippur to spend a full day examining and evaluating our lives. If we are committed to the process we have had a month and a half – from the beginning of Elul until now, to scrutinise our existence and to make decisions about what we want from our lives, what we want to leave behind for good, what we want to change and what we want to develop in the coming days and years. The symbolism of closing gates at Neilah is a wake-up call as strong as that of the shofar – reminding us that we do not have infinite time, nor infinite chances. We may have reflected and considered, but the time to make a decision is now.

What are the gates we face today? There are so many – each of us has our own gate just as the 12 tribes each had their own pathway to the holy of holies.

There are the gates we may keep closed in order to keep others away. Should we be opening these gates and welcoming all who want to come through them?

There are the gates of memory which allow us to revisit the past and reconcile with it.

There are the gates of opportunity – new ways of being in this world, and the gates of community – building relationship with others in order to add new layers of meaning to our lives.

There are the gates of prayer, of experienced emotion, of spiritual practises; the gates of hope where we place our stake in building the future and the gates of wisdom gained through reflecting on our experiences.

Each of us has a gate through which we can enter today in order to become our better selves. We stand on the threshold, the light is fading and the day nearly over. Tired and hungry we must find the energy for one last push – identify the values that speak to us, the experiences we know we need, the openness to changes in our lives.

It is said that there are 49 gates open for us at Neilah, 49 ways in which to come closer to God. Seven times seven, the most perfect of numbers in biblical arithmetic. And there is a fiftieth gate – the gate through which God comes closer to us.

As the prophet Malachi wrote – God says to us “return to Me and I shall return to You”

We stand on the threshold. It is time to leave our negative old habits behind us, and step through the closing gates.

Sermone per Neilà 5781 – 2020

Di rav Sylvia Rothschild

Il nome di questo servizio finale di Yom Kippur, Neilà, è più propriamente “Neilat She’arim” la chiusura delle porte. (Ta’anit 26a).

La domanda che ha fatto esercitare molti commentatori, sin dai tempi del Talmud di Gerusalemme, è: quali porte si stanno chiudendo? E cosa significa per noi la loro chiusura?

È semplicemente un riferimento alle porte del Tempio? Giacchè l’ultimo servizio della giornata sta per essere completato e sappiamo che le porte del Tempio venivano chiuse mentre c’era ancora un po’ di luce diurna. Potrebbero essere invece le Sha’arei Shamayim: Le porte del paradiso (TJ Berachot 4: 1). E se fosse così, cosa sono le porte del paradiso e perché dovrebbero chiudersi? Rav, un saggio del terzo secolo, interpreta la frase evocando il tramonto del sole, quando le porte del paradiso si chiudono e l’oscurità entra nel mondo. La notte sta arrivando con tutte le sue paure e incertezze.

“Aprite le porte”, dice la nostra liturgia, “perché il giorno è quasi passato”. La paura che le porte si chiudano prima che possiamo fare ciò che dobbiamo fare, prima che possiamo completare il lavoro di Yom Kippur, rende il servizio di Neilà l’esperienza più intensa e culminante della giornata. Le porte dell’Arca sono tradizionalmente aperte durante il servizio di Neilà, per il periodo più lungo di tutto l’anno, una sorta di simbolo per il nostro desiderio di tenere aperta la via verso Dio. Recitiamo ancora una volta la nostra confessione, chiediamo insistentemente a Dio di ascoltarci e esaudire le nostre preghiere: il bisogno è urgente, il tempo è breve, il compito è fondamentale. Come ha insegnato il rabbino Tarfon (Pirkei Avot 2:16) “la giornata è breve e il lavoro è abbondante, gli operai sono indolenti, la ricompensa è grande e il padrone di casa è insistente”. In nessun momento sperimentiamo tanto la forza di questo insegnamento come a Neilà.

Le porte erano luoghi importanti nel mondo biblico e rabbinico. Non erano semplicemente i luoghi da cui si può entrare o uscire da una città, ma luoghi di grande significato. I giudici e gli anziani sedevano alle porte della città per svolgere i loro doveri civici; era il luogo in cui si annunciavano le notizie, dove si tenevano i mercati, erano il centro della vita pubblica e sociale. Le persone fragili o i poveri che vivevano “entro le porte” avevano uno status legale e ricorrevano al sostegno pubblico. I pozzi erano solitamente vicini alle porte, i criminali venivano puniti fuori dalle porte, le persone ritualmente impure venivano fatte rimanere fuori dalle porte…. Le porte fornivano protezione dal mondo esterno e dai suoi pericoli, si chiudevano ogni notte e si riaprivano quando veniva l’alba. L’immagine dell’apertura all’alba è anche usata per descrivere le azioni di Dio: nella benedizione prima dello shemà serale (nella preghiera ma’ariv aravim, la benedizione prima dello shemà serale)  Dio è descritto come “pote’ach she’arim” colui che apre le porte [(dell’alba) con saggezza, e che organizza i tempi e le stagioni].

Gerusalemme aveva porte per la città (di cui otto sono sopravvissute fino ad oggi) e porte per il Monte del Tempio, un numero sorprendente di porte, per un luogo così piccolo. Alcuni dicono che ci fossero tredici porte al Monte del Tempio, una da usare per ciascuna tribù e una per coloro che non conoscevano la loro affiliazione tribale; o forse è per fare riferimento ai tredici attributi di Dio che ripetiamo durante questo giorno solenne.

Nei nostri testi ci riferiamo allegoricamente a tante porte. Ci sono porte di giustizia, porte di pentimento, porte di preghiera e porte di lacrime. Giobbe parla delle porte della morte; i salmi parlano delle porte delle tenebre profonde. Sappiamo che la porta è un importante spazio liminale. C’è una ragione per cui mettiamo una mezuzà sugli stipiti delle porte delle nostre case. Le soglie sono luoghi di trasformazione e talvolta incutono timore.

Le nostre vite sono costituite da passaggi: alcuni li attraversiamo, altri li ignoriamo. A volte siamo in grado di cambiare e muoverci in uno spazio diverso, altre volte la paura o il compiacimento ci impediscono di esplorare il punto in cui la porta potrebbe condurci. Attendiamo, come l’uomo del racconto di Kafka “Davanti alla legge”, con la paura di andare avanti e la paura di tornare indietro, aspettando un permesso di fantasia, finché, troppo tardi, la porta si chiude lasciandoci ancora fuori, senza mai sapere cosa ci sia veramente dall’altro lato.

A Neilà la porta è aperta davanti a noi, ma siamo terribilmente certi che presto si chiuderà. La porta indica le scelte che potremmo fare per cambiare le nostre vite, le direzioni in cui potremmo decidere di viaggiare, l’abbandono di una vita e la vita incerta in cui potremmo entrare.

Scrive Lea Goldberg, che emigrò a Tel Aviv dall’Europa nel 1935:

Questa è un’ora di cambiamento.

Vi stiamo incerti, sul confine della luce.

Dobbiamo ritrarci o attraversare?

Dove si volgeranno i nostri cuori?

Dovremmo ritrarci, fratello mio, sorella mia,

O attraversare?

Questa è l’ora del cambiamento, in cui

Restiamo in silenzio

Al confine della luce.

Cosa ci aspetta?

Dovremmo ritrarci, fratello mio, sorella mia,

O attraversare?

Le sue domande sono le nostre domande, siamo incerti sul confine: dovremmo ritrarci o attraversare? Cosa ci lasceremo alle spalle? Verso cosa ci muoveremo?

Abbiamo la possibilità ogni Yom Kippur di trascorrere un’intera giornata esaminando e valutando le nostre vite. Se siamo impegnati nel processo, abbiamo avuto un mese e mezzo, dall’inizio di Elul fino ad ora, per esaminare la nostra esistenza e prendere decisioni su ciò che vogliamo dalla nostra vita, cosa vogliamo lasciare per sempre, cosa vogliamo cambiare e cosa vogliamo sviluppare nei prossimi giorni e anni. Il simbolismo della chiusura delle porte a Neilà è un campanello d’allarme forte come quello dello shofar: ci ricorda che non abbiamo tempo infinito, né infinite possibilità. Potremmo aver riflettuto e considerato, ma il momento di prendere una decisione è adesso.

Quali sono le porte che dobbiamo affrontare oggi? Ce ne sono così tante: ognuno di noi ha la propria porta, proprio come le dodici tribù avevano ciascuna il proprio percorso verso il Sancta Sanctorum.

Ci sono le porte che possiamo tenere chiuse per tenere lontani gli altri. Dovremmo aprire queste porte e accogliere tutti coloro che vogliono attraversarle?

Ci sono le porte della memoria che ci permettono di rivisitare il passato e riconciliarci con esso.

Ci sono le porte delle opportunità, nuovi modi di essere in questo mondo, e le porte della comunità per costruire relazioni con gli altri al fine di aggiungere nuovi livelli di significato alle nostre vite.

Ci sono le porte della preghiera, dell’emozione sperimentata, delle pratiche spirituali; le porte della speranza dove poniamo il nostro interesse nella costruzione del futuro e le porte della saggezza ottenute riflettendo sulle nostre esperienze.

Ognuno di noi ha una porta attraverso la quale può entrare oggi per diventare il proprio sé migliore. Siamo sulla soglia, la luce sta svanendo e la giornata sta per finire. Stanchi e affamati dobbiamo trovare l’energia per un’ultima spinta: identificare i valori che ci parlano, le esperienze di cui sappiamo di aver bisogno, l’apertura ai cambiamenti nella nostra vita.

Si dice che ci siano quarantanove porte aperte per noi a Neilà, quarantanove modi in cui possiamo avvicinarci a Dio. Sette volte sette, il più perfetto dei numeri nell’aritmetica biblica. E c’è una cinquantesima porta, la porta attraverso la quale Dio si avvicina a noi.

Come ha scritto il profeta Malachia: Dio ci dice “ritorna a me e io tornerò a te”.

Siamo sulla soglia. È tempo di lasciarci alle spalle le nostre vecchie abitudini negative e varcare le porte che si chiudono.

Traduzione dall’inglese di Eva Mangialajo Rantzer

Sermon for Yom Kippur 2020

l’italiano segue l’inglese

There is a story told by Ethiopian Jews, about the King who loved all his children equally and could not decide who should be ruler after him. So he set a test for them. There was a small room in the palace that was unused and empty. He told them, whoever could fill the room most effectively in thirty days would take the throne after him. The eldest son was strong and powerful. He knew that there were many stones in the kingdom, so he set about gathering first the largest and then the smaller stones, arranging them carefully in the room so that – once the smallest pebbles were in place, there was barely any space left in the room. At the end of the thirtieth day the king came to inspect and was impressed at the effort and the ingenuity his son had shown, but noticed that he could still add several cupfuls of sand to the room. It was not completely full.

The second son saw how his brother had struggled to bring the stones in and thought to himself he would show himself to be more practical than his brother. He filled the empty room with feathers – from the bedding and the cushions of the palace and the homes of the courtiers, from the farms and from the slaughterers; he collected so many feathers that the room was stuffed full with them.  When the king came to visit at the end of thirty days, he was impressed by his son’s imagination and resourcefulness, but he found he could still push more soft feathers into the room. It was not completely full.

The third son now had his turn, but he neither went out to the far reaches of the kingdom nor around the local area to collect what he might put into the room. Everyone was agog. For thirty days they wondered – what is he going to collect? How is he going to fill the room?

At the end of the thirtieth day, the king came to see what his youngest son had achieved. The room was empty, only the king and his son were inside it. Then the son took a small box with a candlestick and candle from his pockets. He lit the candle and the room filled with light. Even the furthest corners were illuminated.

The king knew that this was his wisest son; this was the heir to his throne. And everyone rejoiced.

This is where the story ends, and different people take different meanings from it. Some say the empty room is metaphor for our life or for our time– and the choices we make to fill it. Others that it is a symbol of our souls – and the way we weigh ourselves down or suffocate ourselves with minute detail, rather than choosing the ways of enlightenment.

I read the story as being one of hope. The very first act of creation is that of light, and God sees that the light is good, and God separates the light from the darkness. Light is given to us as a gift – psalm 18 tells us   כִּי-אַתָּה, תָּאִיר נֵרִי;    יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי, יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי. “You God cause my lamp to be lit, the Eternal my God lightens my darkness” (ki ata t’ir neiri; Adonai elohai yagi’ya hosh’ki”). Proverbs (6:23) reminds us that   כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה, וְתוֹרָה אוֹר (ki neir mitzvah, v’torah or) Mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light. We have spent much of the past year in an atmosphere of some darkness. We have struggled with hard and unyielding problems much as the older son struggled with the rocks of many sizes, trying our best to fit the pieces of our social relationships into the space allowed to us, as our days now require us to physically distance from each other. We have attempted to protect ourselves and those we love, wrapping ourselves with layers of fortifications to shield ourselves and others. Both are valiant attempts to address the problems we are facing, but neither are enough on their own. We need the light of hope to help us learn to live our lives anew.

In Lurianic Kabbalah we find the twin concepts of shevirat ha’keilim and of tikkun. Put simply, God constricted the divine presence in order to make space for the world to come into being as a separate entity. The light of God was sent into the world in vessels that could not hold such presence, and so they shattered (shevirat ha’keilim means the shattering of the vessels), causing sparks of divinity to scatter everywhere. It became our human task to collect these sparks of light and sort them and free them from the broken vessels, creating peace and order in our world, and this is the act of Tikkun. As Luria said, “There was spoilage for the sake of fixing and destruction for the sake of rebuilding”

As Rabbi Nachman put it,

 אִם אַתָּה מֲאַמִין שֶיְכוֹלִין לְקַלְקֵל

תַּאַמִיןֹ שֶיְכוֹלִין לְתַּקֵן

(im attah ma’amin she-yekholin lekalkeil  ta’amin she-yekholim letakein)

If you believe it is possible to destroy, then you must believe it is also possible to repair.

The Hebrew bible is one of the great literatures of hope. It tells story after story of pain and fear, of exile and separation, of oppression and loss. Yet it never loses its focus on hope, and it reminds us too that part of our work in this world is to keep hope alive when hopelessness threatens to overcome us.

Hope is an extraordinary middah – value or quality. It is much more than optimism, a far greater concept than blind belief.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches “Judaism is a sustained struggle against the world that is in the name of the world that could be — but is not yet.”

Our great figures have stories that do not follow the normal narrative arc from hopeful birth to fulfilled life and peaceful death. The blessings given to Abraham of numerous descendants, of land, of influence in the world, not only do not happen in his lifetime, but are not completed to this day. Isaac and Jacob live lives that do not end as one might expect  – Isaac on his deathbed is betrayed by Rebecca and Jacob, leaving his own blessing unfilled. Jacob is finally reconciled and adopts the sons of Joseph, but dies in exile far from the homeland he expected to live out his days in. Moses sees the land his life has been spent travelling towards – but dies before crossing into it, having to hand his leadership over to Joshua.

 Always there is a future we cannot quite reach. A time to come which is close – so close that we can almost see it – yet which tantalising remains “to come”.

We continue to await a messiah who may come at some unspecified time  – until then we have to create our own world, and we have to hope for a better future.

Sacks writes that “Western civilization is the product of two cultures: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The Greeks believed in fate: the future is determined by the past “Jews believed in freedom: there is no ‘evil decree’ that cannot be averted. The Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy. Jews gave it the idea of hope….

Hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope is an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it does need courage to hope.”

The Hebrew word for hope – tikvah – comes from   קוה a root meaning to gather or to bind together. The mikveh, (the ritual bath) derives from the same root – the gathering or pooling of water. While the psalmist tells us that hope ultimately comes from God (Psalm 62:6-7 reads

6 Only for God wait in stillness, my soul; for from God comes my hope. 7 God alone is my rock and my salvation, my high tower, I shall not be moved.   אַךְ לֵאלֹהִים, דּוֹמִּי נַפְשִׁי:    כִּי-מִמֶּנּוּ, תִּקְוָתִי  אַךְ-הוּא צוּרִי, וִישׁוּעָתִי;    מִשְׂגַּבִּי, לֹא אֶמּוֹט

We know that hope is not something bestowed by God, but something God allows us to create. And how do we create this much needed quality? By working together.  The root קוה – pooling or gathering together, binding ourselves so that we become entwined with each other like a cord – this is what creates hope and keeps hope alive.

Sacks describes every mitzvah undertaken, every ritual followed as a small act of defiance against the lack of hope in the world. I would add that every act of learning, every act of social justice, every act of compassion towards another is a building block in the edifice of hope. But more – every act we can do that binds us together as a community, every moment where we consider not only our own needs but those of the wider world, every small repair we are able to achieve in the fabric of our society – all of this keeps hope alive and shines a light into our darkened world.  I would go further and say that every time we have created space to come together as the community of Lev Chadash  – be in in virtual space or in our building – we have created a little more hope. From shabbat candle lighting to havdalah, from services to study sessions, from reaching out to each other with phone calls or emails or other platforms – by pooling ourselves together, by binding ourselves to each other, we have kept hope alive. If I could ask one thing from the community now, it is to step up and step forward and actively be part of the creation of hope in our synagogue, not wait for others to keep it alive on our behalf.

We have been living in a time where hope can easily drain from us – if it is not about health it is about fear for economic security, or distanced social interactions, or losing trust in government or in the norms of our society. Just to follow the daily news broadcasts is to feel anxiety and depression for the present and for the future.

So it is all the more important that as we spend this time evaluating our actions in the past year and considering the trajectory and activities of our lives in the coming year, we remember the Jewish task and struggle that will allow us birth the world that is not yet but that could yet be.

In the story of the Ethiopian King, each son uses his understanding of the world to achieve their future. It is the son who brings hope, in the form of lighting up the world and chasing away the darkness who most closely emulates the Creator and who brings forth the future.

May we too bring light and hope into our worlds – kein y’hi ratzon, may this be God’s will in the year ahead.

Sermone per Shacharit Yom Kippur 5781 – 2020

Di rav Sylvia Rothschild

C’è una storia, raccontata dagli ebrei etiopi, su un re che amava tutti i suoi figli allo stesso modo e non riusciva a decidere chi dovesse essere il suo successore. Così organizzò per loro una prova. C’era una piccola stanza nel palazzo che era inutilizzata e vuota. Disse loro che chiunque fosse riuscito a riempire la stanza nel modo più efficace in trenta giorni, sarebbe salito al trono dopo di lui. Il figlio maggiore era forte e potente. Sapeva che c’erano molte pietre nel regno, quindi si accinse a raccogliere prima le pietre più grandi e poi quelle più piccole, disponendole con cura nella stanza in modo che, una volta che i ciottoli più piccoli fossero al loro posto, non rimanesse alcuno spazio nella stanza. Alla fine del trentesimo giorno il re venne a ispezionare e rimase impressionato dallo sforzo e dall’ingegnosità dimostrata da suo figlio, ma notò che poteva ancora aggiungere diverse tazze di sabbia nella stanza. Essa non era completamente piena.

Il secondo figlio vide come suo fratello aveva lottato per portare le pietre e pensò tra sé che si sarebbe dimostrato più pratico di suo fratello. Riempì la stanza vuota di piume, dalle coperte e dai cuscini del palazzo e dalle case dei cortigiani, dalle fattorie e dai macelli; raccolse così tante piume che la stanza ne fu riempita. Quando il re venne in visita alla fine dei trenta giorni, rimase impressionato dall’immaginazione e dall’intraprendenza di suo figlio, ma scoprì che poteva ancora pressare piume più morbide nella stanza. Non era completamente piena.

Ora era il turno del terzo figlio, ma egli non andò né nei lontani recessi del regno né negli immediati dintorni per raccogliere ciò che avrebbe potuto mettere nella stanza. Tutti erano elettrizzati. Per trenta giorni si chiesero: cosa raccoglierà? Come riempirà la stanza?

Alla fine del trentesimo giorno, il re andò a vedere cosa aveva ottenuto il suo figliolo più giovane. La stanza era vuota, c’erano solo il re e suo figlio. Poi il figlio prese dalle tasche una piccola scatola con un candeliere e una candela. Accese la candela e la stanza si riempì di luce. Anche gli angoli più remoti erano illuminati.

Il re sapeva che questo era il suo figlio più saggio; questo era l’erede al suo trono. E tutti si rallegrarono.

È qui che finisce la storia, e persone diverse ne traggono significati diversi. Alcuni dicono che la stanza vuota sia una metafora della nostra vita o del nostro tempo, e delle scelte che facciamo per riempirli. Altri che è un simbolo della nostra anima, e il modo in cui ci appesantiamo o ci soffochiamo con i minimi dettagli, piuttosto che scegliere le vie dell’illuminazione.

Ho letto la storia come una storia di speranza. Il primo vero atto della creazione è quello della luce, e Dio vede che la luce è buona e Dio separa la luce dalle tenebre. La luce ci è data in dono, il salmo 18 ci dice  כִּי-אַתָּה, תָּאִיר נֵרִי;   יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי, יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי  “Tu Dio dai luce al mio lume, Eterno, mio Dio, rischiara la mia tenebra” (ki ata t’ir neiri; Adonai elohai yagi’ya hosh’ki “). Proverbi (6:23) ci ricorda che כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה, וְתוֹרָה אוֹר (ki neir mitzvah, v’torà or) una Mitzvà è la lampada e la Torà è luce. Abbiamo trascorso gran parte dell’ultimo anno in un’atmosfera di oscurità. Abbiamo lottato con problemi duri e inflessibili così come il figlio maggiore ha lottato con rocce di molte dimensioni, facendo del nostro meglio per adattare i pezzi delle nostre relazioni sociali allo spazio che ci è stato concesso, poiché i nostri giorni ora ci richiedono di distanziarci fisicamente dagli altri. Abbiamo tentato di proteggere noi stessi e coloro che amiamo, avvolgendoci con strati difensivi. Entrambi sono valorosi tentativi di affrontare i problemi che stiamo vivendo, ma nessuno dei due da solo è sufficiente. Abbiamo bisogno della luce della speranza che ci aiuti a imparare a vivere di nuovo le nostre vite.

Nella Cabala lurianica troviamo i concetti gemelli di shevirat ha’keilim e di tikkun. In parole povere, Dio ha ristretto la presenza divina per fare spazio affinché il mondo pervenisse all’esistenza come entità separata. La luce di Dio è stata inviata nel mondo in vasi che non potevano contenere tale presenza, e così si sono frantumati (shevirat ha’keilim significa la frantumazione dei vasi), causando la dispersione di scintille di divinità ovunque. È diventato il nostro compito umano raccogliere queste scintille di luce, ordinarle e liberarle dai vasi rotti, creando pace e ordine nel nostro mondo, e questo è l’atto del Tikkun. Come ha detto Luria, “c’era il deterioramento per il bene della riparazione e la distruzione per il bene della ricostruzione”

Come ha detto il rabbino Nachman,

אִם אַתָּה מֲאַמִין שֶיְכוֹלִין לְקַלְקֵל

תַּאַמִיןֹ שֶיְכוֹלִין לְתַּקֵן

(im attah ma’amin she-yekholin lekalkeil ta’amin she-yekholin letakein)

Se credi che sia possibile distruggere, allora devi credere che sia anche possibile riparare.

La Bibbia ebraica è una delle grandi letterature della speranza. Racconta storie dopo storie di dolore e paura, di esilio e separazione, di oppressione e perdita. Eppure non perde mai la sua concentrazione sulla speranza e ci ricorda anche che parte del nostro lavoro in questo mondo è quello di mantenere viva la speranza quando la disperazione minaccia di sopraffarci.

La speranza è uno straordinario middà: valore o qualità. È molto più che ottimismo, un concetto molto più grande della cieca convinzione. Il rabbino Jonathan Sacks insegna che “l’ebraismo è una lotta sostenuta contro il mondo, in nome del mondo che potrebbe essere, ma ancora non è”.

Le nostre grandi figure hanno storie che non seguono il normale arco narrativo, da una nascita piena di speranza ad una vita appagata fino a una morte pacifica. Le benedizioni date ad Abramo, numerosi discendenti, la terra, l’influenza nel mondo, non solo non accadono durante la sua vita, ma non sono completate fino ad oggi. Isacco e Giacobbe vivono vite che non finiscono come ci si potrebbe aspettare: Isacco sul letto di morte viene tradito da Rebecca e Giacobbe, lasciando la sua benedizione non realizzata. Giacobbe è finalmente riconciliato e adotta i figli di Giuseppe, ma muore in esilio lontano dalla patria in cui si aspettava di vivere i suoi giorni. Mosè vede la terra verso la quale è stata rivolta la sua vita, ma muore prima di attraversarla, dovendo dare la sua guida in mano a Giosuè.

C’è sempre un futuro che non possiamo raggiungere del tutto. Un tempo a venire che è vicino, così vicino che possiamo quasi vederlo, ma rimane “a venire” in modo allettante. Continuiamo ad attendere un messia che potrebbe arrivare in un momento non specificato, fino ad allora dobbiamo creare il nostro mondo e dobbiamo sperare in un futuro migliore.

Sacks scrive che “la civiltà occidentale è il prodotto di due culture: l’antica Grecia e l’antico Israele. I greci credevano nel destino: il futuro è determinato dal passato. Gli ebrei credevano nella libertà: non c’è ‘decreto malvagio’ che non possa essere scongiurato. I greci hanno dato al mondo il concetto di tragedia. Gli ebrei gli hanno dato l’idea di speranza….La speranza non è la stessa cosa dell’ottimismo. L’ottimismo è la convinzione che le cose andranno meglio. La speranza è la convinzione che possiamo migliorare le cose. L’ottimismo è una virtù passiva, la speranza è attiva. Non ci vuole coraggio per essere ottimisti, ma ci vuole coraggio per sperare”.

Text Box: 6. Solo Dio aspetta nella calma, la mia anima; perché da Dio viene la mia speranza. 7. Dio solo è la mia roccia e la mia salvezza, la mia alta torre, non vacillerò.
אַךְ לֵאלֹהִים, דּוֹמִּי נַפְשִׁי:    כִּי-מִמֶּנּוּ, תִּקְוָתִי
אַךְ-הוּא צוּרִי, וִישׁוּעָתִי;    מִשְׂגַּבִּי, לֹא אֶמּוֹט
La parola ebraica per speranza, tikvà, deriva da קוה, una radice che significa raccogliere o legare insieme. Il mikvè, (il bagno rituale) deriva dalla stessa radice: la raccolta o la pozza d’acqua. Mentre il salmista ci dice che la speranza alla fine viene da Dio, il Salmo 62: 6-7 recita:

Sappiamo che la speranza non è qualcosa donato da Dio, ma qualcosa che Dio ci permette di creare. E come creiamo questa qualità tanto necessaria? Lavorando insieme. La radice קוה – riunirsi o riunirsi, legarsi in modo da intrecciarsi l’uno con l’altro come una corda: questo è ciò che crea speranza e mantiene viva la speranza.

Sacks descrive ogni mitzvà intrapresa, ogni rituale seguito, come un piccolo atto di sfida contro la mancanza di speranza nel mondo. Aggiungerei che ogni atto di apprendimento, ogni atto di giustizia sociale, ogni atto di compassione verso gli altri è un mattone nell’edificio della speranza. Ma c’è di più: ogni atto che possiamo fare ci lega insieme come comunità, ogni momento in cui consideriamo non solo i nostri bisogni ma quelli del resto del mondo, ogni piccola riparazione che siamo in grado di realizzare nel tessuto della nostra società, tutto questo mantiene viva la speranza e illumina il nostro mondo oscurato. Vorrei andare oltre e dire che ogni volta che abbiamo creato uno spazio per riunirci come comunità di Lev Chadash, nello spazio virtuale o nella nostra sede, abbiamo creato un po’ più di speranza. Dall’illuminazione delle candele di shabbat all’havdalà, dai servizi alle sessioni di studio, dal mettersi in contatto gli uni con gli altri con telefonate o e-mail o altre piattaforme: unendoci insieme, legandoci l’un l’altro, abbiamo mantenuto viva la speranza. Se potessi chiedere ora una cosa alla comunità, è di fare un salto di livello, fare un passo avanti e partecipare attivamente alla creazione della speranza nella nostra sinagoga, non aspettare che gli altri la mantengano viva per nostro conto.

Abbiamo vissuto in un tempo in cui la speranza può facilmente svanire da noi, se non si tratta di salute, si tratta di paura per la sicurezza economica, o interazioni sociali distanti, o di perdere la fiducia nel governo o nelle norme della nostra società. Anche solo seguire le trasmissioni di notizie quotidiane significa provare ansia e depressione per il presente e per il futuro.

Quindi è tanto più importante che mentre passiamo questo tempo valutando le nostre azioni nell’ultimo anno e considerando la traiettoria e le attività delle nostre vite nel prossimo anno, ricordiamo il compito e la lotta ebraica che ci consentiranno di far nascere il mondo che ancora non è, ma potrebbe essere.

Nella storia del re etiope, ogni figlio usa la sua comprensione del mondo per realizzare il proprio futuro. È il figlio che porta speranza, sotto forma di illuminazione del mondo e cacciata dell’oscurità, che emula più da vicino il Creatore e che realizza il futuro.

Possiamo anche noi portare luce e speranza nei nostri mondi: kein y’hi ratzon, possa questa essere la volontà di Dio nell’anno a venire.

Traduzione dall’inglese di Eva Mangialajo Rantzer