A taxi to light the way
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
This week has been a wonderful one for Mizrachi UK.
Our team of six has now become eight with two new members of staff joining to help us deal with the expansion of our programmes nationwide.
One of those is Rabbi Benjy Rickman, who has been appointed our Mizrachi Rav in Manchester and the North. I spent yesterday with him and am very excited to see what he and the team will do in Manchester.
So, I arrived in Manchester and got an Uber to King David School, to meet Rabbi Rickman for lunch.
I got into the Uber, said hello to the driver and settled into the ride. I was rather tired from the journey and relaxed into the back seat, ready to just zone out for the next twenty minutes.
My driver, Rehmat had other ideas.
‘Can I ask you a question?’ he said.
I looked up, Rehmat was obviously a Muslim, and I was wondering if I was going to have to spend the next twenty minutes defending Israel.
‘Sure’ I hesitantly replied.
‘Driving around I see many Jewish children with very long sideburns, what is that about?
I smiled, a Muslim/ Jewish conversation – I like those!
I explained the idea of not cutting above a certain level of the side burn and how for some communities they don’t cut it at all.
‘And the strings?’
I pulled back my Jacket ‘These?’
‘Yes!’ he exclaimed, but you don’t have a beard!
This was certainly the first time I had heard a link from Tzizit to beards, but I got the idea. I then explained how we cannot shave with a razor but permitted with electric shavers. He was amazed.
‘Is that all from the prophet Musa, peace be upon him.’
‘Musa?’ I enquired.
Rehmat seemed disappointed ‘You know Musa and Harun his brother’.
I worked it out. ‘Moshe and Aron?’
‘Yes, Musa and Harun.’
I explained to him the idea of Torah and Halacha and how that is how we live our lives. How Moshe was our greatest prophet, (he is probably number 2 in Islam, and is the most frequently mentioned individual in the Quran, with his name being mentioned 136 times and his life being narrated and recounted more than that of any other prophet.) but we answer only to God.
Rehmat then proceeded to tell me most of the first half of Sefer Shemot as well as some midrashim about Moshe and the hot coals and the fact that when the Red Sea split, it split into 12 channels. When I asked him where he knows this from, he told me it is all in the Quran, and how most Muslims know this! Which is why he said, he has so much respect and love for the Jewish people.
He then said, ‘I am sure all Jewish people also know all the stories of Ibrahim, Ishak, Yakub, Yousuf, Musa and Harun’ (He later completed the Ushpizin with Dawud (David Ha Melech).
I informed him, that unfortunately, not all Jewish people know the stories of their history and certainly not the midrashim.
Rehmat was astounded. ‘Everyone Jewish that I see, is with beards, strings and hats, they do not know?’
I explained that yes, they know, but there are other Jewish people who are not as knowledgeable.
He shared with me is that he was involved in Islamic outreach, to remind young people about their faith.
‘What do you do?’
‘Similar’ I replied.
What do you mean?
‘I am a Rabbi’ I told him.
‘A Rabbi, with no beard and hat!’ he exclaimed.
I then explained about Rav Hirsch and Rabbi Sacks and the ideas of Modern Orthodoxy. I think he understood.
Our last topic of conversation was about the collapse of values in Western society and the erosion of morality.
As I got out at King David School, I marvelled at what had just transpired.
First, that I was unaware of how Torah is reported in the Quran, I certainly learnt from Rehmat.
Second, how much we have in common with Islam, not just down to the connection of the names of the Ushpizin, but also to a similar way of life, devoted to Divine service.
However mainly how we are struggling with the same issues. The challenges of living in a society that is in many ways antithetical to the Torah and the Quran and how we reach out to those who are distant to inspire and uplift them with the beauty and values of their traditions.
Parsha begins with a place to start in addressing the problem.
We read of Aron being commanded to light the Menorah.
Rashi asks what is the link between the gifts of the princes of the tribes at the end of Naso and the lighting here? He asks:
Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the princes? For when Aron saw the dedication [offerings] of the chieftains, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication-neither he nor his tribe. So God said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.” – [Tanchuma Beha’alothecha 3] Rashi, Bamidbar 8:2
Aron wanted to be a part of it, he was visibly upset to have had no role.
I have met many people over the years who lamented that Judaism had seemingly passed them by, that they too had no role. Whether through lack of Jewish education, or negative experiences, they felt hopeless in terms of connecting to a meaningful Jewish identity. My answer to them, it is never too late to start, to begin acquiring Judaism.
I have been so inspired by those people, some who couldn’t even read Hebrew but worked and battled to become familiar with shul services, halachic observance, and the cycle of Shabbatot and Chagim.
Hashems answer to Aron, according to Rashi, when applied to our baalei teshuva ‘By your life, yours is greater than theirs’ can be seen in the Gemara which states Makom she’baalei teshuva omdim ein tzadikim gemurim yecholim la’amod bo. In the place where a baal teshuva, a returnee to Judaism, stands, a completely righteous person cannot stand. (Brachot 34b)
Our challenge today, is that most people don’t feel that lack, they are unaware of any spiritual deficiencies. The problem is most acute with our young people, who are so immersed in the confusing world that seems to be unravelling in so many ways.
We need to teach them the beauty, meaning and depth of Judaism, allow them to light their lights, not of the menorah in the mishkan, but of their own growing Jewish identity, to allow them to forge ahead as proud and knowledgeable Jews.
Or as Rehmat would say – Yahudi.
Now there is an idea for a programme for inspiring young Jews!
I certainly gave him 5 stars.