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Hi from Rav Johnny!

I hope you've had a great week! In this newsletter you will find
a Dvar Torah, a book review, a reflection on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, and an inspiring quote. Enjoy!

Parshat Vayera - פרשת וירא

Parshat Vayera begins with Avraham sitting outside his tent having recently undergone his brit milah. As Avraham lifted his eyes, he saw three strangers passing by and he exclaimed “My Lord, if now I have found favour in Your eyes, please do not pass from Your servant” (Bereishit 18:3). While it would appear that Avraham was pleading that the strangers come to his home, the Gemara (Shabbat 127a) explains that these words were, in fact, directed to God.
According to the Gemara, when Avraham saw the strangers he was actually in communion with God, but when he noticed the strangers, Avraham asked God if He could be put ‘on hold’ so that Avraham could provide hospitality to the strangers. It is this explanation which led Rav to remark that:  גדולה הכנסת אורחין מהקבלת פני שכינה, providing hospitality to guests is greater than welcoming the Shechina (the Divine Presence).
In seeking to explain this statement, the Maharal (Netivot HaOlam, Netiv Gemilut Chasadim Ch. 4) writes that while we should endeavour to connect with God, this process is limited by the fact that we cannot see the Shechina itself (as we are told, ‘no human can see My face and live’ - Shemot 33:20). However, when we encounter a stranger and seek to provide them with hospitality, we connect with them by the fact that we see the divine image in them. Consequently, the act of showing hospitality to strangers is, in fact, a more tangible expression of connecting to the Shechina than communing with God directly!
A beautiful story which shows how to put this lesson into practice describes the time when Rabbi Leib Chasman joined the Chafetz Chaim for a Friday night meal in Radin. Rather than starting their meal with the ‘Shalom Aleichem’ as was his custom, the Chafetz Chaim immediately started reciting Kiddush, after which he provided his guests with some appetizers, and only then started singing ‘Shalom Aleichem’. Rabbi Chasman could not contain his curiosity and asked the Chafetz Chaim why he had changed his practice, to which the Chafetz Chaim answered by saying: ‘Having travelled so far today you must certainly be very hungry and I wanted to serve you first; the angels – to whom we recite the Shalom Aleichem – aren’t hungry and can wait a little’.
From here we learn that while we are encouraged to connect with the Shechina through prayer and Torah study, true greatness is achieved when are also able to see the Shechina in each other.

Shabbat Shalom!

(Urim Publications, 2015)
Just over twenty years ago, Rabbi Nachum Amsel wrote his brilliant The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues (Aronson, 1994) which contained seventy one essays that addressed a wide variety of topics such as ‘Hate and Revenge’, ‘Inciting Others to Sin’ and ‘Triage: Priorities in Allocating Resources’.  As someone who has consulted this work on countless occasions, I can say little else than it is a brilliant work by a brilliant author who has a unique blend of depth of understanding, human sensitivity and clarity of expression.
This year saw the publication of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values (Urim, 2015) which contains 39 essays on a wide range of issues (nb. according to Rabbi Amsel, it is hoped that The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values will be the first of a 4 volume series which, together, will cover ‘the entire gamut of Jewish values’).  While some of essays in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values are revised versions of previous essays, many are new to this volume, and like its predecessor, this work includes an appendix with all the hebrew sources cited in each of the essays.
In The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values you will find essays addressing topics such as ‘Judging Favourably in Judaism’, ‘Self-Esteem in Judaism’ and ‘Tolerance and Intolerance in Judaism’. However, what is particularly noteworthy are the new topics that Rabbi Amsel addresses in this volume which point to a variety of changes in the world in general, and the Jewish community in particular. For example, in response to the technological advances over the past twenty years, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values contains essays on the ‘Cloning of Human Beings’, ‘Conceiving to Abort for Stem Cells and Other Stem Cell Issues’ and ‘Downloading Films and Songs, Copying Software: Copyright in Judaism’. In response to the many shootings in schools in the US, Rabbi Amsel has included an essay on ‘Gun Control  - The Jewish View’. Perhaps due to the increased interest in alternative medicine, the first essay in this volume explores ‘Alternative Medicine in Judaism’, and while having previously addressed aspects of homosexuality in his earlier volume, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values includes an essay on ‘Homosexuality and Homosexuals in Traditional Judaism’. However, what is particularly valuable is the fact that Rabbi Amsel addresses topics which still remain taboo in some parts of the community. These include an essay discussing the response to sexual abuse of children in the community, an examination of whether respect should be shown to a leader that has sinned, and a further essay which reflects on scandals in the Jewish community with specific reference to the Madoff scandal.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values is beautifully crafted and succinctly written work which will be taking pride of place on my bookshelves, and I cannot wait to read the next volume in the series!
Just over twenty years ago, I spent a year studying in Israel. While it was a tense time in the country, it was also a profoundly fractured time in the country. People of different political persuasions spoke with hatred towards one another, and religion was invoked by many to defend such pronouncements. Not long afterwards, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated. This shameful, disgraceful and morally reprehensible act changed the face of the country, and led many – especially (although not exclusively) within the Religious Zionist community – to talk about the importance of undertaking a חשבון הנפש – a serious soul searching process. Some did, and some didn’t, and while certain aspects of the Modern State have improved, others have not. Though many great projects have been initiated over the last 20 years to bring more unity in the country, many other events have taken place that clearly show how there is much more work to be done. In her address commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assassination of her father, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof spoke with tremendous sadness not only of what took place 20 years ago, but also, of what should have taken place over the last 20 years. “I thought the darkness that had fallen on the family would bring unity of purpose … [but] since then, I've witnessed rivers of deep, dark hatred spreading throughout public discourse.” Whatever one’s political persuasion, it is never too late to improve the way we speak to each other, and especially, the way we speak towards people with whom we disagree.


 If you believe that your soul is a part of God, then it is a logical corollary that all Israel are one.
(Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, quoted in ‘A Path For Life’ p. 82)

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