‘Because this country is a Union. Not just a family of four nations. But a union of people – all of us. Whatever our background, the colour of our skin, or who we love. We stand together. And together we have a great future.’
A few hours ago this was said by Theresa May as she gave notice of her resignation as Prime Minister of the UK. I think if we rewrite the paragraph slightly we can speak about the Jewish nation
‘Because the Jewish nation is a Union. Not just a family living in many nations. But a union of people – all of us. Whatever our background, the colour of our skin, or who we love. We stand together. And together we have a great future.’
Some would argue that with the current increase in anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel – our future doesn’t look too great, but I disagree – we have always had our haters and our enemies. The great future is being fuelled by our return to Israel and the remarkable transformation that it has given to the Jewish people both in Israel and the diaspora.
Last weekend was proof of that transformation – twenty-eight inspirational people, all from different backgrounds yet united in their love of Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. They inspired thousands of people in the four days they were in the UK. It was a phenomenal success and thank you to all of you who attended over Thursday night, Shabbat and Sunday.
I can still remember the phone call I got in early 2016, just after I had begun at Mizrachi from Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence who had an idea to have a Day of Inspiration held around Yom Haatzmaut to showcase Torat Yisrael and he wanted Mizrachi to be a partner with him.
That first year had two scholars from Israel and another three on video link, UK speakers made up the rest of the line-up. The idea of having 13 hours of non-stop learning was ambitious I thought – would people come and support?
Rabbi Lawrence and I have both watched in awe as the programme has grown from humble beginnings to a day that is held in both London and Manchester with almost 1000 participants and a Shabbat programme that engages thousands more. Please God it will continue to grow. However, the fuel that has allowed it to expand is the remarkable speakers whose Torah is so real and relevant.
One of the strange things for our speakers this year was that they had to go back in time, so to speak. Due to 8th day Pesach being a Shabbat, we were one week behind them – which means they got to hear Parshat Emor twice and will miss out on Parshat Behar which we read this Shabbat. In fact, we will be one week behind Israel until 10th August when we reunite on Parshat Devarim, we achieve that by the week previously laining Mattot and Maasei.
However, there is an obvious questions. Why do we wait till then? There are plenty of other ‘double’ sidrot we could have chosen – Achrei/ Kedoshim, Behar/Bechokotai, Chukat/Balak – why wait till erev Tisha B Av?
The answer to this question, from Rabbi Silverberg from the Gush is as follows. The Maharit (2:4) says that it lies in the time-honored practice, rooted in the Talmud, to read Parashat Bamidbar on the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot.
The Gemara in Megilla (31a) tells of Ezra’s enactment that Parashat Bechukotai should be read before Shavuot. Tosafot explain that the custom is to read Parashat Bechukotai not the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot, but rather one week earlier, in order not to juxtapose the klalot (“curses”) found in Parashat Bechukotai with Shavuot. This is, indeed, the accepted practice, and thus Parashat Bechukotai is generally read two Shabbatot before Shavuot, and Parashat Bamidbar on the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot.
The exception to this rule is situations such as this year, in Israel, when Parashat Naso will be read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. The schedule of Torah readings in Israel this year leave no alternative to reading Parashat Bamidbar two Shabbatot before Shavuot. In the Diaspora, however, the lag created by the eighth day of Pesach allows communities to maintain the custom of reading Parashat Bamidbar right before Shavuot even this year. As such, they do not combine Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, or Behar and Bechukotai, which would have the effect of distancing Parashat Bamidbar from Shavuot.
This does not, however, answer the question of why Diaspora communities wait until Matot and Masei to combine two parashiyot, rather than combine Chukat and Balak. Addressing this question, the Maharit explains, quite simply, that Parashiyot Matot and Masei are almost always read together, and thus communities preferred to read them together in our case rather than read them separately. Although in Israel these parashiyot must be read separately (because of the leap year,) the Diaspora communities are able to follow the normal practice of reading them together, and this is preferable to reading Mattot and Masei separately and instead combining Chukat and Balak.
However, I would like to give another idea which links back to our weekend of Inspiration
This time of year there is division amongst Torah Jewry – not in a serious way – with those of us who view Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim as days of Hallel and Hodaah in contrast to those religious Jews who ascribe very little, if any significance to the events of 1948 and 1967 – thus during this time we are ‘divided.’
In years where it is possible with the Parshiot, we do unite around Shavout time – Matan Torah, that is something that all Torah Jewry can agree on, but unfortunately there are Jews who are very distant from Torah – this is not unifying for them.
And therefore, in some years, like this one, where that is not possible we carry on until we unite just before Tisha B Av – Parshat Devarim. Unfortunately, that is one time we are all united, we come together in grief and mourning. Anti-Semitism has a way of bringing us together.
What the Weekend of Inspiration showed is that we can combine a love of Torah with a love of Israel and bring the two groups together – the group that appreciates and loves Torah, but not Medinat Yisrael and the group that appreciates the Medina but not Torah. We need to strive to be unified by the positive aspects of our identity – Torah and Israel, and not just the negative.
I heard from both sides of the community over the weekend– the more secular and the more Chareidi who would not count themselves as part of the Mizrachi ideology but after the weekend both came to me to say they felt connected to a relevant, contemporary Torah and a religious, dynamic Zionism.
Twenty-Eight people brought a taste of unity and a taste of geulah – redemption to the UK
It is a unity and a geulah that we desperately need and one we hope will continue to grow