Parshas Haazinu: Trials, Tribulations and Trust

This week’s Parsha, Haazinu, which we read directly before Rosh Hashono, comes in the form of a song, delivered from Moshe Rabbenu to the Israelites, shortly before his death. Although the Parsha concludes in the usual written format, it is strikingly unique and beautiful in the way it is written, as Moshe Rabbenu conveys his instructions to the Jewish people through a musical covenant, reminding them of their past, and telling them of their future. But why is Moshe delivering these powerful words in the form of a song- right before he is about to die?

One of the most well known figures in Jewish history is Dovid HaMelech- the King David. Dovid is remembered for his remarkable eloquence- an eloquence he showcased in the book of Tehillim (Psalms), written almost entirely by him, a book found in Jewish homes across the world to this day. Many read Tehillim daily, as part of studying Chitas (Chumash, Tanya and Tehillim), while others read them on behalf of the sick, or in times of distress. No matter when or why we read them, there is no doubt that Dovid wrote a great many Tehillim in difficult times. His songs and dedications never stop praising Hashem- even though he, personally, was going through all the trials and tribulations imaginable.

Dovid HaMelech was a man of great faith, and it was this faith which inspired him to thank and praise Hashem at every moment, no matter how terrible his life appeared to be. Similarly, this remarkable faith in Hashem is the reason why Moshe Rabbenu sang in this week’s Parsha, even right before his death, when he realised that he would never live to enter the land of Israel. Still, he sang out to G-d and thanked Him, and admonished those who would rebel against Him; even referring to his own sin, when he spoke harshly to the Israelites before striking the rock to provide water, and calling G-d ‘the Rock, perfect is His work’, in reference to this difficult topic.

So what do we learn from the song in this week’s Sedra? What does it teach us about the upcoming year- a subject which is surely on our minds right now, with Rosh Hashono around the corner?

There is no guarantee that 5778 will be a brilliant year. There will, almost undoubtably, be trials and tribulations. There will be revealed blessings, and moments of joy, but there will probably also be hidden blessings; moments which are not so joyful or easy to understand. And throughout it all, we must keep singing. We must keep praising G-d. We must keep trusting in Him, because it was this trust which sustained Dovid HaMelech and Moshe Rabbenu throughout the most difficult times of their lives, and because it is this trust which forms the basis for this week’s Parsha.

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This Past Year

As this year draws to a close,
And I count the days, the hours, the minutes,
Til we enter 5778,
I’m reminded of this past year;
The laughter shared,
The memories made,
The tears which fell,
And the smiles which lasted,
Gracing our faces as we enjoyed the summer,
Days which have now become memories,
Bittersweet and tinged with longing.
And I think of you:
You who I have wronged,
You who I have hurt,
You who I have ignored.
You, the one who has shed tears because of me,
You, the one who has hurt because of me,
You, the one who has put up with me.
And I think of he who has left,
He who couldn’t face me,
He who I haven’t spoken to,
He who I didn’t treasure enough.
He who has steppped out into the autumn night,
Out of my life,
Out of my reach,
All because of my sharp tongue.
And I think of she who has loved me,
She who has cared for me,
She who has made me laugh,
She who has made me rejoice.
She who I will always remember,
For she was there when I needed her most,
And we shared an umbrella,
In the storm we call Life.
And I reach out and embrace all three of you,
And I apologise.
For all the times I hurt you.
For all the times I turned away.
For all the times I was indifferent.
For all the times I took you for granted.
And I beg you,
Please forgive me,
Please love me,
Please let’s make amends.
Let’s share 5778 in good health,
In happiness,
In wealth,
In success,
Together.

~A gut gebencht yohr~

The Candlesticks

Many people will be surprised to hear that, throughout my Jewish journey, I have never owned a pair of Shabbes candlesticks. In the beginning, I had to use an electric “candle” in place of kindling Shabbes lights, and later, I began to light candles at relatives’ houses, never really considering buying candlesticks for myself. I never needed to light at home, and candlesticks were expensive.

But today, my arms full of groceries, laden down with tins and packets and even crockery, I set my eyes upon a pair of gold candlesticks and I knew they were mine.

I always imagined that buying my first pair of Shabbes candlesticks would be a beautiful, romantic experience, not one that took place in a crowded little shop, carrying matzah balls and packets of biscuits. But as I paid for them and left, I realised that much of my Jewish journey has been this way. Unexpected. Unromantic. And all the more beautiful for it.

As time passes, I begin to realise that many of us have lost sight of the big picture- myself more than some. We get caught up in fleeting beauty and charm, the trappings of an ‘ideal life’ and forget to cherish the memories and experiences; the moments shared and the laughter spread.

When I make a shehecheyanu on the candlesticks this Rosh Hashono, I’m not going to be thinking about how they could be brighter, or shinier, or more like the candlesticks I see photos of in magazines. Instead, I’m going to think about the beautiful opportunity lying within my hands: the opportunity to spread light.

Gut Shabbes! (Nitzovim-Vayelech)

So, this is it. The last Shabbes of 5777. In just a few days we’re going to be entering a brand new year, and please G-d, we shall all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and be blessed with a year of happiness, good health, success, and wealth. It’s on occasions like this that I start to feel emotional, thinking back through all the Friday nights and Shabbes mornings I’ve enjoyed this year…

Believe it or not, thinking back is actually a good idea, as Elul draws to a close, and especially when, later on, we prepare to be judged by G-d. So tonight, as we prepare to welcome the Shabbes Queen for the last time of the year, let’s think about how our Shabbes experiences have been, and how we can do better. Have we kept Shabbes, and have we kept it in a way that is meaningful to us? Have we extended our hospitality to others? Have we treasured the day in the way we should? It’s between you and G-d, at the end of the day, but I know that I will be reflecting on these things over the next few hours.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 6:57 PM, and Shabbes ends at 8:02 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna, Chaya bas Perel, Chana bas Mushka and Rivka Miriam bas Tsivia Bina for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, gut Shabbes, and Shana Tova!

My Strive For Perfection During Rosh Hashanah

I am very happy to announce that my article on Rosh Hashono has been published by Jewess magazine, a brand new online publication for Jewish women, created by an amazing writer named Kylie Ora Lobell. Seeing my articles published always thrills me, and I am exceedingly grateful to Kylie, for her talent, as well as my friends and rabbi for their ongoing support.

I hope that you find my article inspiring. If you can, take a minute to check out the other articles on this fantastic website, and take the time to let us know what you think.

Please check out my article by following this link!

Tefillah Request

Sometimes we receive news which physically hurts. Today, I learned that my good friend’s father has been diagnosed with cancer. This particular friend has been my rock through hard times, and no amount of distance has stopped us sharing our lives together. She is an exceptional young woman with amazing middos, a beautiful neshomo, and the kindest heart imaginable.

So on her behalf, I am asking all of you to daven for Shmuel Yossef ben Soroh Malka. If this man is anything like his daughter, he is a tzaddik. May our tefillos ascend from our lips to Hashem’s ears, and may Shmuel Yossef have a refuah shleimah!

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: Unity and Freedom of Choice

This week we read a double parsha, Nitzavim-Vayelech, which relates the final days of Moshe Rabbenu’s life, and tells us about some of the fundamental principles of Judaism. The moral guidelines which are set out for us in Nitzavim-Vayelech are easy to understand, and not perceptible to change: like everything in the Torah, they remain the same throughout the trends of time, but are especially applicable during Elul, as we reflect on the year behind us, and think about the things we have done and said, while preparing for the year that lies ahead of us.

Rosh Hashono does not occur on the first day of the first month, and nor does it occur on the day that the World was created. Instead, it commemorates the creation of man. And the reason for this also ties in directly to this week’s Parsha: it is because man, unlike the angels, and- to a certain extent- the animals of the field, has free will. We are reminded of this when we read the following; “I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil: in that I command you this day to love G‑d, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments . . . Life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life”.

This free will, we are reminded, can be used for the purpose of goodness, or for evil. And although we are advised to choose the former, G-d acknowledges that we will make mistakes- huge mistakes, and mistakes made with evil intent- and that He cannot prevent us from choosing evil. And yet, as we head towards Rosh Hashono, when we are inscribed in the book of life, we are reminded that we can- and in fact shall- choose life. We can repent. We can turn back to G-d, and be welcomed with open arms, and enjoy an even closer, more loving relationship than before.

But truly loving G-d means that we must love each and every one of His creations, also. It’s no good davening and studying Torah if we refuse to visit the sick, spread kind words, give to charity, or simply do a good deed. Klal Yisroel is one family, and we cannot be truly close to G-d if we aren’t close to one another. This, too, we are reminded of at the beginning of the Parsha, where we read, “You stand today, all of you, before the L‑rd your G‑d”.

On Rosh Hashono, we will all stand before G-d together; and it doesn’t matter how poor or rich we are, or how important or intelligent we are: we are one big family, and G-d views us as such. This year, when we do teshuva and apologise to G-d, we must remember to also apologise to those in our lives whom we have hurt or wronged- because to love your fellow Jew is to love G-d and His Torah.