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ENJOYING YOUR JEWISH HERITAGE THROUGH FOOD, FACTS AND FUN - SHABBAT SHALOM

 

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Week 13  

 

Moses performs some miracles but Pharaoh does not let the people go 

 

a.k.a Parshat Sh’mot 

 

The children of Israel in Egypt multiplied and grew strong. Now a new Pharaoh rose up who did not know Joseph and he worried that the Israelite nation was too strong. First he taxed them and then decreed that they were to be slaves. Next, Pharaoh ordered the Israelite midwives to kill all the baby boys born to Israelite women. But the midwives were God-fearing and told Pharaoh that Israelite women gave birth before they could arrive and kill the babies. Pharaoh then ordered the people to throw every Israelite baby boy into the river. 

 

An Israelite couple from the house of Levi gave birth to a son and kept him hidden for three months. When the mother could no longer keep him hidden, she wove a basket, laid the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the banks of the Nile. The child’s sister, Miriam, watched what happened. When Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river, she saw the basket with the crying child. She took pity on him so that when Miriam asked, “Shall I call an Israelite woman to nurse the baby for you?” she said yes. Miriam then fetched her mother. When the child had grown, the mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moses. 

  

When Moses grew older he became aware of his people’s suffering. One day, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Moses struck the Egyptian, killing him, and buried him in the sand. The next day, when Moses tried to stop two Israelite men fighting, one said, “Who made you a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” The story was out. Pharaoh too heard it and wanted to kill Moses, who fled to Midian. He married Zipporah, daughter of the local priest. She bore him a son, Gershom, which means, “I was a stranger in a foreign land.” 

 

Back in Egypt that Pharaoh died, but the children of Israel remained slaves. God heard the Israelite slaves’ cry of distress and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, near Mount Horeb, an angel of God appeared to Moses in a fire from the middle of a thorn bush. Moses saw that the thorn bush was burning but was not consumed. God called to Moses and told him to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground. When God identified Himself, Moses hid his face in fear. 

God said: “I have heard the people’s cries. Now I will rescue them and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

He instructed Moses to tell the new Pharaoh to release the children of Israel. 

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” objected Moses. 

God reassured Moses that He would be with him during this mission. When Moses asked God in whose name he was representing the people of Israel, God replied, mysteriously, “I Am Who I Am”.  

God said that Pharaoh would not agree to release the children of Israel, but he promised Moses that he would strike down Egypt. After that, Pharaoh would succumb. 

When Moses asked what would happen if the children of Israel did not believe him, God gave him some miracles to use. He showed him how to turn his staff into a snake and how to turn it back into a staff. He demonstrated to Moses how to turn his hand leprous then healthy again. Finally, God armed Moses with a third miracle – turning water into blood. 

Still trying to avoid his task, Moses pleaded that he was a poor orator. God said He would teach him what to say. When Moses pleaded for someone else to be sent, God became angry and told Moses that Aaron, his brother, could speak for him. 

Once Moses and Aaron had won the people’s trust, they went to Pharaoh and delivered an initial request that the people be allowed to celebrate a festival in the wilderness. 

Pharaoh, his heart hardened by God, refused. Instead, he set tougher conditions for the Hebrew slaves. The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for this. Moses complained to God, who promised that He would deal with Pharaoh. When the plan had run its course, Pharaoh would let the people go. 

Commentary on the 13th parsha (portion of the Torah) 

The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.

 

To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism and how we got where we are. He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.

 

SAS: I love this story, Methuselah! It’s one of the best in the whole collection. It’s more implausible than most, but what a good tale! Babes in baskets, burning bushes, sticks into serpents, good guys winning, bad guys punished, loyalty, getting your just desserts, the whole thing.  But, oh, your man, God, what a character!

MS: I’m getting used to your lack of respect, Sigmund. But what’s your problem here? Don’t you believe any of this?

SAS: No, not a word. But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, and pretend, for argument’s sake, that God exists and that he made all these miracles happen. What I don’t understand is why he deliberately hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh will refuse to let the children of Israel go and then punishes Pharaoh. What’s going on here? Is God bored? Is he playing games?

MS: It is necessary for Pharaoh to be given a chance to show some mercy. God gives him this opportunity.

SAS: No, he doesn’t. He tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. How does Pharaoh then get any opportunity to save himself at all? Is Pharaoh just a pawn in God’s game? I honestly don’t get this. If God’s plan was to rescue the children of Egypt from their affliction, he should simply have rescued them. He’s all-powerful, isn’t he? Your story’s got a really serious problem here: it’s the God problem again. He knows everything, he controls everything, but he doesn’t ever take the straightest path from A to B. Instead he causes trouble and suffering. What’s your message?

MS: My message is that God knows best, and even under the most intractable circumstances, he shows the children of Israel how he can and will save them. But they too have to work for it, and deserve it.

SAS: It’s crazy. Moses is allowed to kill someone and get away with it. Pharaoh has to have his heart hardened, as though it wasn’t hard enough. Surely the message is that if God likes you, you’re fine, otherwise it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do?

MS: As usual, you miss the point. God has promised to look after his people. His plan is to help Moses develop confidence and face adversity, no matter how difficult. He constantly tests the strength of Moses’ faith, and in so doing makes Moses stronger and more certain of himself and his purpose. The children of Israel too, are given many opportunities to liberate themselves, but they too have to learn to have faith and trust God.

SAS: Well, I’m still sorry for Pharaoh. His behaviour was manipulated: no opportunity to grow for him. Are you sure that you wouldn’t like to admit that there was probably some problem in putting this story together from its different versions, and the more partisan one made it into the official version? It really doesn’t speak well of God.

MS: You’re asking me to say that what’s in the bible isn’t true, and didn’t happen exactly as it is written?

SAS: Pretty much. I’ve already told you that I think it’s a great story. Why would it cost you so much to admit that whoever created the God character gave him a bit of a nasty streak?

MS: Sigmund, I really don’t think you approach these texts with the right attitude. You care too much about stories and not enough about faith and reverence. There’s a reason this body of holy words has lasted this long, and you need to respect that.

History 

 

The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the Parsha.

 

What we know about Jewish History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records. 

 

If you’d like to know more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.

 

The Jews in England 

 

England has a long history of anti-Semitism and the “blood libel” originated there. Massacres occurred in London and York in the Middle Ages, and Jews were sent packing in 1290. 

There were probably Jews in Britain in Roman times. The first documented proof of Jews in the kingdom dates to the Norman Conquest. These French Jews were mostly moneylenders who came across in 1070 at the request of William the Conqueror. 

During the reign of Henry I, a royal charter was given to Joseph, chief rabbi of London, and his congregants. Amongst other rights, this bestowed upon the Jews freedom of movement and freedom to trade. 

In 1144 in Norwich, during Passover, the first blood libel occurred. When a boy, William, a tanner’s apprentice, was found dead, the local Jews were accused of having abducted him, tortured him and hanged him in a religious ritual. The Sheriff of Norwich protected the Jews because there was no evidence against them. William, however, was viewed as a martyr, and a few years later local Jews were attacked by mobs and had to flee Norwich. 

In 1189 and 1190, during a time of crusading fervour, Jews were massacred in London following a rumour that this was what Richard I wanted. Then 57 Jews were killed during attacks at Bury St. Edmunds. Further attacks followed at Colchester, Thetford and Ospringe. 

Terrible events unfolded at York in March 1190, when local Jews took refuge in Clifford’s Tower, the stronghold of York Castle, after looting and murder had occurred at the home of a prominent Jewish family. Crusaders besieged the castle demanding that Jews convert to Christianity. They were aided and abetted by local noblemen in debt to the Jews. Rather than succumb to the mob, most of the Jewish men – led by Rabbi Yom Tov of Joigny, France – killed their families and then themselves, after a fire had broken out in the tower. Those that surrendered the next morning were promised they would be spared, but were killed too. 

Some 150 Jews died in the massacre. Their houses were ransacked for silver and gold and their collections of valuable books stolen before their homes were burnt. Documents recording financial transactions with the Jews were also burnt. 

The Ordinance of the Jewry followed in 1194. In terms of this legislation, all Jewish transactions were recorded and taxed by Richard 1. King John followed his older brother in taxing the Jews onerously. Persecution under Henry III (1216-1272) saw the Jews having to wear a badge of identification. Jews were thrown out of towns like Newcastle, Wycombe and Southampton, among others. 

In 1255 in Lincoln, a boy named Hugh disappeared and when his body was found in a well the local Jews were blamed. Under threat of torture, a local Jew confessed to killing the boy but was put to death anyway. Ninety other Jews were later accused of collusion in the unproven murder, and 18 of them were hanged. 

Edward I expelled all Jews from England in July 1290. The Jews did not return until 1655. 

 

Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by the Father, Chaya and Ben. 

 

CHAYA: I didn’t know that 150 Jews were killed at York. Do the local Jews commemorate this slaughter?

DAD: What local Jews? Our people have long given the place a wide berth. In fact, it was believed that the Jews had placed a curse on the city. Some say the curse was lifted in 1990 when Chief Rabbi Lord Jacobovits and the Archbishop of York, Dr Stuart Blanche, conducted a cleansing ceremony.

CHAYA: I don’t believe in curses, but I reckon that if ever a town was crying out to be cursed, it was York. I will never set foot there out of contempt for the rebuilt tower and its dark history.

BEN: I think Jews should go there to remember our dead ancestors and to honour their incredible courage when conversion was demanded of them.

DAD: Well, if people want to commemorate the massacre then they must have their reasons. Why not?

CHAYA: I don’t think we should give the place’s grotesque past too much attention or add to its infamy by telling and retelling what happened there. If contemporary Jews dwell on the horrors of York, they will be condemned to relive it endlessly in their imagination. That’s not healthy.

DAD: Perhaps, but not to commemorate the events at York would be worse. We must never forget what happened to our people through the centuries, and we should take the opportunity of sharing our grief about York with communities in the UK.

BEN: I’ve read that a few Jews live in York. Mostly, they’re students at the local university. And, by the way, there is an annual commemoration service at Clifford’s Tower run by a group of Chassidim.

DAD: I understand why they would want to do that and I respect them for it.

CHAYA: I understand it too – what I’m saying, though, is that it brings the horrors of this ancient catastrophe back into the present. Ceremonies of grief don’t help us to put the past behind us.

BEN: Such ceremonies look as much towards the present and the future as they do towards the past, Chaya. Anti-Semitism can raise its head at any time. In today’s England, a number of people are ready to fall back into the old prejudices. The Blood Libel myth originated in England and was perpetuated there. We must show that we have not forgotten York and demand and expect justice and fair treatment.

CHAYA: They know that already. Today there are laws that enforce justice and promote tolerance throughout the UK. I don’t think that looking at the past in all its grim details helps us. Maybe it’s better if we didn’t dwell on all the terrible things that happened in a place like York, and it’s certainly not fair to hold today’s citizens responsible. This all happened a long time ago.

DAD: And could happen again, for all we know. No, Chaya, I think Ben is right. Vigilance and a long memory will always serve us best.

CHAYA: But then it’s us that’s keeping the horrors of York alive. We should try to move on.

BEN: Yes, let’s move on to eat. I’m hungry. We can continue this later.

 

Sayings 

 

Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours. 

 

Here are tonight’s sayings:

·        The fees for circumcision, confirmation, wedding, burial – all come due too soon. 

·        Better ask the way ten times than get lost once

·        Life is a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that. (Sholom Aleichem)

·        He who lives in his mother-in-law’s house for thirty days deserves a flogging (Talmud)

·        Never mind the remorse; just don’t commit the sin.

Celebration of Great Lives 

 

Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around them.  

Mordecai Anielewicz (1919-1943) 

Mordecai Anielewicz was the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He was a member of the “Hashomer Hatzair” youth movement. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 he fled to Russia and returned to organise clandestine cells, hold seminars and aid the development of an underground press. From January to April 1943 he worked intensively to prepare the underground organisation in the Warsaw Ghetto. On April 19, on the eve of Pesach, the last deportation began, and the uprising broke out. At first the superiority of the resistance was clear, and the Nazis suffered many losses. Three long days of street battles took place. The Nazis greatly outnumbered the Resistance in soldiers and weapons, so that the hundreds of fighters, with only hand revolvers, had no chance. However, the Jewish fighters didn’t surrender, and even survivors in shelters did not leave them despite the calls and promises that were made. The Nazi forces were compelled to burn houses and go through every shelter in the Ghetto. When the street fight ended, Anielewicz moved to the headquarters’ shelter at 18 Mila Street. On May 8, Anielewicz was killed in the headquarters’ bunker together with a few colleagues. In May 16, 1943, after many casualties, General Jurgen Stroop reported that the Ghetto was defeated and declaimed, “There is no more Jewish suburb in Warsaw”. The resistance had shown that Jews were courageous fighters even in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Leo Baeck (1873-1956) 

Leo Baeck was a Liberal Rabbi in Germany. He was the leader of the Committee for German Jews in 1933 which was organised to represent the community in the coming struggle with the Nazis. He ended up in the ghetto at Theresienstadt and was destined to go to an extermination camp, but by luck escaped his fate. After the war he moved to Britain where he served as Chairman of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. His best-known work was, “Essence of Judaism” in which he claimed that the core of Judaism was morality and argued strongly for its superiority over Christianity. He made the distinction between Judaism as a “classic religion” which makes ethical demands, and Christianity as a “romantic religion” which induces passivity because it is based on emotion, as a result of which faith and revelation are seen as the fulfillment of the religion.

 

Song  

 

We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.

 

The song is sung  

 

Farewell and an Invitation 

 

Thank you for joining together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week with renewed strength, confidence and happiness. 

 

We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.  

     

 


HOW TO SING THE SONGS
ADON OLAM WORDS
Adon Olam David Solid Gould & The Temple Rockers
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS
ALLE BRUDER SONG
ALLE BRIDER SONG
AL KOL ELEH WORDS
AL KOL ELEH
BASHANA words
BASHANA SONG
BEI MIR BIST DU SHEYN
BEI MIR BIST DU SCHEYN SONG
BMBDS song
CHIRIBIM WORDS
CHIRIBIM Song
DAYENU WORDS
DAYENU SONG ENGLISH
DAYENU SONG
DONNA DONNA
DONNA DONNA SONG
HALLELUYA
HALELUJA KARAOKE
HATIKVA
HATIKVA SONG
HATIKVA SONG
DAYENU
HATIKVA WORDS
HATIKVA SONG 1
HAVA NAGILA WORDS
HAVA NAGILA SONG
HAVA NAGILA KARAOKE
HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM
HEVENU SHALOM ALEICHEM WORDS
HEVENU SHALOM ALECHEM SONG
HINEH MA TOV WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD KARAOKE IVRIT
JERUSALEM THE GOLD SONG
JERUSALEM THE GOLD JARAOKE
MAYIM MAYIM WORDS
MAYIM MAYIM DANCE
OIF'N PRIPITSCHOK song
OSE SHALOM
OSE SHALOM SONG
PAPI ROS'N
PAPIROS'N SONG
PARTISAN SONG 1
PARTISAN SONG
PARTISAN SONG MUSIC
RABBI ELIMELEKH
RABBI ELIMELEKH SONG
AS DER REBE SINGT
AS DER REBBE SINGT LEONARD COHEN
AS DER REBBE SINGT SONG
RAISINS WITH ALMONDS WORDS
SIMANTOV U MAZELTOV WORDS
SIMAN TOV MUSIC
MAZELTOV CLARINET
TUMBALALAIKA WORDS
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA 4
TZENA TZENA The Weavers
TZENA TZENA WORDS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
HATIKVA STREISAND
HATIKVA STREISAND
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
YO EN ESTANDO - SEPHARDIC
ELIYAHU SEPHARDIC
SEPHARDIC SONG
SEPHARDIC SONG 3
Sholem Aleichem Susan Allen
Shalom Aleichem Susan Allen
OTHER VERSIONS OF SONGS
DUVID CROCKET WORDS
DUVID CROCKET MICKEY KATZ
MODERN PASSOVER SONGS
This will help you find yourself]