A Perfect Moment
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
This Shabbat there will be a perfect moment.
What do I mean?
There are times when certain things happen that are totally in sync with what is occurring at the time, even though they, on the face of it, have nothing in common. Don’t google it, it is something I have given a name to!
Confused? Let me explain.
This Shabbat, I will be at a Shabbaton with our new yr 12 leaders for the launch of this year’s Yehudi programme.
For those of you who don’t know what Yehudi is, it is a new initiative of Mizrachi UK to give thousands of Jewish children across the UK role models who they can relate to and be inspired by. The hundred or so leaders over the next two Shabbatot, will be going this year into sixteen primary schools to connect with over 700 year 6 children and begin the process of creating ‘kesharim’ with the children and building on that year on year. Last years leadership group have already started working with the hundreds of year 7 children that they connected with last year.
So that is the event, what is the perfect moment?
That will occur at approximately 10:15am tomorrow, when we begin Kriat Ha Torah, Rishon specifically.
I will probably lain rishon, which is a very unique piece of laining for me. It is the only laining I have done that I have never learnt. For those of you who lain, you know how it works. First you read through the pesukim in the chumash with the notes, then gradually you learn it so well you can do it in the tikun (without vowels or notes) eventually, with that knowledge, you proceed to lain from the Torah – hopefully without any note or word mistakes.
That is how I have learnt every single piece of laining I have ever done, starting from my first piece at North West London Jewish Day School all the way through to today. Every single piece, except one – the one I will lain tomorrow – Rishon of Parshat Vayechi.
The question is why, and the answer will reveal the perfect moment!
It was 1980 and I was about eight years old and I received the exciting news that for my brother’s bar mitzvah we would be going for the first ever time to Israel. We worked out that the laining he would do at the Kotel on the Monday morning would be the same as the one he would lain in Kingsbury – Parshat Vayechi.
So, he began to learn his laining – especially Rishon, for his Barmitzvah at the Kotel.
I heard that laining so many many times over the next year or so, I never learnt it – I didn’t need to, it became part of me, acquiring the laining by osmosis.
It is the same with our Judaism. Of course, we can and should educate all our children about the various facts and figures about Judaism, our customs and traditions of Shabbat and the Chagim. However, you cannot compare the child who learns the facts about Shabbat to the one who lives it week in and week out. Their knowledge of Shabbat is acquired by the experience 52 weeks a year.
They don’t learn it, they acquire it.
Yehudi is attempting the same idea. Not quite on a ‘52 weeks a year’ level, but the idea is to connect thousands of children to role models who they can learn from, simply by being around them and partaking with their madrichim in powerful Jewish experiences that will live with them and their families for a long time.
Vayechi also details the blessings of Ephraim and Menashe who in many ways become the paradigm for Jewish children and is in fact the blessing that we give to our boys on Friday night. What was it about these two boys that Yaacov saw a uniqueness and bequeathed on them such honour and grace? It could well be that Ephraim and Menashe are who we wish our children to follow – brought up in an alien land, with alien culture all around them they identified as Jews and refuses to barter away their Jewishness. As Rabbi Hertz beautifully puts it, ‘Every Jewish parent may well pray that his children show the same loyalty to their father and God as did Ephraim and Menashe.’ Please God, our Madrichim in Yehudi can help create the next generation of Ephraim and Menashe!
So tomorrow, as the Torah will be opened, I will locate the opening word, Vayechi, I will then smile to myself and find myself in a ‘perfect moment’. The way I ‘learned’ to lain this piece of laining is exactly what we are trying to achieve with thousands of young Jews whose leaders will be all around me. A perfect moment indeed.
I will also find myself transported back to my home in Kingsbury where I first heard my brother recite that line ‘Vayechi Yaacov B Eretz Mitzraim’ – and will realise that that was the day where unwittingly I began to learn the lesson of true Jewish Continuity.
Don’t just learn it.
Live it and acquire it.
And pass it on to others.