This Week's Shabbat Times

January 8 - 9 Tevet 25
Begins: 15.44 Ends: 17.02
Fri pre-Kabbalat Shabbat Zoom 14.45
Earliest Candlelighting 15.44
Sedra Shemot
Shabbat morning None

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Bereishit (Genesis) 5781

Parshat Bereishit

In commenting on the narrative of creation the Rabbis in the Midrash tell two stories that at first sight may seem like fanciful myths but are in fact contain a deep philosophical understanding of the nature of the universe. They noted that while G-d commanded that fruit trees should bear fruit, the next verse merely states that the earth brought forth trees bearing fruit, omitting the word fruit. G-d, they postulated, commanded that the bark of the tree should also have the taste of its fruit, but the earth rebelled and only the fruit not the bark had the correct taste. Later on, they noted it states that G-d created the two great lights but then calls them a great light and a small light. They again posited that the sun and moon were meant to be the same size but the moon complained that this equality wouldn’t work, so G-d reduced the size of the moon. What are we to make of these stories? What message were our sages trying to convey to us? If we look at them carefully we see that they tell of an original plan for creation that went wrong. Ideally, a the body of a tree should faithfully reflect the fruit it bears, the two luminaries of day and night should be of equal size. Yet in reality this was not possible. The original Divine plan when it came into contact with physical reality had to adapt to the inherent imperfection of the material world. This is a process described in kabbalistic terminology as the ‘Breaking of the Vessels’. The world by its very nature is imperfect and couldn’t be otherwise. But there is also an important moral understanding behind this concept concerning the role of humanity. The world is created with imperfections in order for us to perfect it. We are deliberately placed in a flawed environment because it is our job to correct the flaws. That is part of the Divine wisdom behind the nature of the universe. Indeed, according to Jewish mystical thought, our ability and responsibility to repair the defects of creation extend beyond this world to the very structure of the universe. Thus what the Rabbis are telling us in these midrashim is that we should not be perturbed when we live in a world that seems to us to be not quite right, where we have to deal with epidemics and other such issues for example. That is the way the world is meant to be in order that we can have a role in healing it. So as we continue top face our current predicament the first chapter of the Torah teaches us not to be astounded at such occurrences, rather to understand that they exist precisely in order for us to overcome them.

Parshat Noach

Because of the wickedness of humanity G-d resolves to bring a flood to destroy the world and begin again with Noah. The Torah in describing the degenerate state of human affairs uses two different words hamas and hashchata. The first is generally translated as violence and the second as corruption, so ‘humanity corrupted their way on the earth and the earth was filled with violence because of them’. The Rabbis generally saw hamas as referring to robbery and hashchata to sexual promiscuity. But if we examine the root meaning of these two words we can discover an indictment of the generation of the flood that is relevant for our own. Hamas actually means an uncontrolled desire for the possessions of others and the belief that you have the right to acquire them by any means. It is summed up in the statement of the Mishna ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine’. In this world view I should have anything I want if I can obtain it, no matter what the price to others. Hashchata really means destruction or vandalism. It is the wanton destruction of the world around us as illustrated in the prohibition of the Torah to destroy fruit trees in war. Bal taschit then becomes a general prohibition on wantonly destroying anything. In this light we can see the true sin of the flood generation. They were consumed with an uncontrolled desire for acquisition and use of resources both material and human. This led to them totally disregarding the basic rights of others, whether animal or human. People’s possessions or their bodies were fair game if you were strong enough to use them to satisfy your desires. This in turn led to the destruction of society and nature inevitably leading to the complete destruction of the world in the environmental catastrophe of the flood. This may sound somewhat familiar. Our generation and those preceding have also had an unquenchable desire to use resources, both material and human, to create ever more wealth to satisfy our need for ever more possessions. We thus have depleted the natural world of its resources and led to the degradation of our own environment. Unregulated capitalistic exploitation has led to vast discrepancies of wealth, health and education, that threaten to tear about society and cause conflict between nations. All of this is inexorably leading to an environmental catastrophe from which no one will emerge the winner if anyone survives at all. The pursuit of hamas and hashchata in our generation threatens to lead to the same result as it did in the generation of the flood. The Rabbis say that Noah spent 120 years building the ark in order to warn his generation of the impending catastrophe, they did not listen and were swept into oblivion. We have far less than that time to change our ways before it is to late. Will we maybe, this time, take heed?

Parshat lech L’cha

When examining the story of Abraham, his mission seems to contain an internal contradiction. On the one hand, he is told that he ‘through you all the families of the earth will be blessed’. On the other hand his family story is one of exclusion and selection. Ishmael and Esau are not included in this blessing. Abraham is told that his posterity will be continued through Isaac, not Ishmael, and Isaac blesses Jacob, not Esau, with the ‘blessing of Abraham’. I believe that the key to solving this paradox lies in a comment of Rashi on the very phrase ‘all the families of the earth will be blessed’. He states that while there are other interpretations the plain meaning is that a father will say to his son ‘be like Abraham’. The simple meaning of this is that he should follow in the ways of Abraham. The blessing of Abraham to the world is that they should follow his example and ‘engage in justice and charity’ as G-d describes Abraham’s activity. Thus the universal inheritance of Abraham is not the specific promises of progeny and land, which are reserved for his descendants through Isaac and Jacob but his ethical inheritance that is available to all who follow his path. Unfortunately, Ishmael and Esau misunderstood this point and thought they also had a right to the other inheritance of Abraham. Christianity and Islam, also made the same mistake. Not content with the ethical inheritance of Abraham, they sought to also take on the mantle of G-d’s election of people and land and thus replace the Jews. Not only did this lead to the denigration of and the persecution of, G-d’s actual chosen people but the combination of a universalist outlook with the idea of particular election led to untold tragedy. This combination of universalism and particularism led to the idea of only one true religion, resulting in intolerance, persecution and genocide. In seeking to succeed to the particular inheritance of Abraham reserved for his actual descendants, Christianity and Islam actually forfeited in many ways the universalist inheritance of justice and charity and in the name of ‘Abraham’s’ religion, perpetuated injustice and cruelty. Thus the illegitimate attempt to supersede the Jews as the inheritors of Abraham, led to the practical abandonment of much of the his ethical inheritance. Only, when Christianity and Islam renounce their claims to the particularistic inheritance of Abraham can they truly embrace his universal heritage and themselves truly become a blessing to the world.

Parshat Haye Sarah

When negotiating with his his Hittite neighbours over a burial plot for Sarah, Abraham uses two different expressions to describe himself. He says that he is ‘ger v’toshav imachem’ ‘a stranger and settler among you’. These two terms seem to contradict each other. On the one hand a ger is a stranger or temporary resident. On the other toshav, coming from the root to sit or dwell, seems to imply permanency. Rashi picks up on this discrepancy and links it to the ambivalent status of Abraham. On the one hand he is a stranger among them but if they don’t want to sell then G-d has already promised him the Land, so it is his anyway. This comment brings out the complicated relationship Jews have with the non-Jewish inhabitants of the Land of Israel. The strictures found in the Torah regarding the Canaanites, don’t apply to other peoples, especially those who are monotheists and follow a moral code. On the one hand the Land of Israel is given by G-d to the Jewish people, on the other we have a moral obligation to treat others living there fairly. That is what we learn from Abraham’s words. Even though the Land is by rights ours we will still pay fairly for it and not just take it. This indeed was the opinion of Rabbi Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel who stated that even though the Land was really ours it was correct that the Zionist movement paid high prices for purchasing it. But if the other people in the Land reject our right to be there and seek to prevent us for living buying land there then we can state unequivocally that G-d has given the land to us and we do not need their permission to exist there. Thus, when the other inhabitants of the land seek to stop us living there and indeed attack us we have the right and duty to not only defend us but take land away from them. This indeed, is of course what occurred. Despite the fair purchase of land at often exorbitant prices the Arab inhabitants refused to accept any Jewish presence in the land and sought to drive us from it. In the course of the battle that followed much more land fell in to our hands. In such circumstances we have no obligation to return or pay for any of it, for the whole Land is ours by right. This is what, according to Rashi, Abraham is saying to his neighbours. If you treat fairly with me I will act as if the Land is yours and buy it from it. If, however, you treat me unjustly, then the Land is mine by right and I will act accordingly. Thus, we are neither thieves nor conquerors. Despite our right to the Land we should treat all its inhabitants fairly, if they do the same to us. If not, the Land is ours and we will know to act in the necessary fashion, so they should be warned.

Parshat Toldot

The main theme of our Parshah is the conflict between Esau and Jacob. This conflict is portrayed as beginning in the womb, as Rashi comments: ‘they were struggling over the inheritance of two worlds’ or as the Rabbis put it if one is up the other is down and visa versa. What is this fundamental struggle between the two brothers, which as we saw at the end of last week’s Parshah, does not apply to the relationship with Isaac and Ishmael. If we follow the traditional view that Ishmael stands for Arab and Islamic civilisation and Esau for Christian or Western civilisation, we can begin to understand this conflict. While Jews and Muslims have many differences, their basic approach to life and religion is similar. Through there religious practices they seek to sanctify this world and there is no or minimal, history of asceticism or monasticism in our traditions. Very different is the classic position of Greek thought and traditional Christianity that was, in many ways, its heir. Augustinian theology that formed the basis both for the Catholic church and the Protestant revolt against it, had a very different view of the world. This world is essentially evil and the way to the ‘City of G-d’ (as his most famous work was titled) was to reject the world and concentrate on things of the spirit. This attitude indeed went back to Paul who made a distinction between the ‘covenant of the flesh’ and that of the spirit. Jews were rejected precisely because they clung to the covenant of flesh, namely the practical mitzvot while Christians had progressed to a more spiritual religious dispensation. Thus while Judaism believes in sanctifying the world through the practice of commandments that elevate physical activities, Christianity regarded such an approach as mistaken and even evil. Thus the practices of circumcision, keeping Shabbat or eating kosher were regarded as illegitimate and in converted Jews or other Christians punished harshly by the church. This basic dispute between two irreconcilable world views is foreshadowed in the struggle between Esau and Jacob narrated in the Parshah. It is still alive and well today even in those regarded as friends of the Jewish community. At a civic reception once when I was looking for the kosher food, this person said to me that ‘of course we Christians have gone beyond that’. This also plays out in attitudes to Israel. We cannot understand nor combat some Christian positions on Israel without understanding the spiritualisation of concepts such as the biblical promise of the Land. This does mean we cannot and should not seek to have good relations with the Christian churches. But as we do so we must understand, especially in areas were there are disputes, the diametrically opposed world views we are starting from.

Parshat Vayetze

The relationship between Jacob and his uncle Laban is a complicated and ultimately unhappy one. Indeed in the Haggadah we state the Laban was worse for us than Pharaoh. This relationship reaches its climaxes near the end of the Parshah when Jacob finally confronts Laban with his grievances. After listing how Laban had cheated him several times and acted contrary to the established fair working practices of the time, he ends by stating that G-d himself had rebuked Laban the previous night. Laban’s answer is interesting. He doesn’t refute any of Jacob’s accusation which are substantially true. He rather contends that everything that Jacob has achieved is due to him and jacob would be nothing if Laban hadn’t taken him in and given him a start in life. Besides the fact that this ignores several salient facts, such as the fact that, for example, it was Laban that begged Jacob to continue working for him and agreed to the terms that Jacob employed to increase his wealth, the fact that someone gives you a job or even their daughter doesn’t mean that you can therefore cheat and exploit them. Yet Laban’s answer reveals an interesting mental state that is unfortunately extremely common. Jacob had been at first dependant on Laban and so under his control. Later, as Jacob struck out on his own, his success grated on Laban. He could no longer continue to exercise any power over him. This was especially true that he now had the audacity to leave without his permission. We see in the agreement the two reach that all the conditions are on behalf of Laban. Jacob doesn’t ask for anything. Laban is still trying to exercise control remotely. He simply can’t let go. This phenomena is unfortunately not unusual. It can be very difficult for someone or a group of people who have had power over another individual or group to let go or accept that they can now exercise their own power or autonomy. This is of course one of the greatest challenges of parents, to allow their growing children the independence to make their own decisions. But is is also common in the area of politics and international relations. Some of the anti-Israel sentiment in world politics and discourse comes from a reluctance to accept that Jews now have power. Many people, especially on the left, loved Jews as an oppressed minority they could, sometimes, stand up for. The fact that Jews decided to stand up for themselves and wielded real power on their own behalf is something they find hard to swallow. This syndrome doesn’t, of course, exist only in regards to Jews or Israel. It seems also to be alive and well in London. However, in the end, following this path eventually leads to failure. Just as in the case of Jacob and Laban, these attempts at perpetual control will not in the end succeed.

Parshat Vayishlach

The Parshah begins with the meeting between Jacob and Esau. Twenty years earlier Jacob fled from his brother but now he will be forced to confront him. However, the connections between the two brothers go deeper than these two incidents. The midrashic tradition paints Esau in the background, even when he is physically absent. So Esau is connected to both Leah and Rachel. Leah has weak eyes because of her weeping at the general assumption that as the eldest daughter she will marry Isaac’s oldest son. Rachel apparently fears that because of her lack of children Jacob will divorce her and she will be married off to Easu. This theme continues with the midrash commenting on the absence of mention of Jacob’s daughter during the meeting with Esau. This is because he his her in a trunk, lest Esau see her and want to marry her. Because of this, the midrash continues, Dinah was later raped by Shechem, Esau’s influence continuing into the future. How are we to understand this midrashic ghost at the feast haunting Jacob’s life and seemingly haunting his relationships. Is it simply a guilty conscience concerning taken his father’s blessings or something even deeper. The midrash declares that in hiding Dinah from Esau Jacob showed a lack of empathy or kindness towards his brother, as she could have changed his behaviour for the better. To put it another way, Jacob lacked a sense of imagination concerning his brother. He doesn’t believe that responsibilities of the firstborn or his father’s blessing will change Esau, so he takes them for himself. He again corners the family heritage by marrying both possible prospective suitable women, leaving nothing for Esau. Finally, he goes to great lengths to prevent even the possibility of his brother having anything to do with his own family. This could be seen, given Esau’s apparent character, simple common sense. Yet the Sages hold him responsible for not having the imagination to envision other possibilities. By closing off options with regards to his brother he denies the possibility of a different type of future for both of them. For this he is held accountable. This understanding serves to teach us an important lesson. When dealing with difficult people or groups, whether on an individual or collective plane, we should always leave open the possibility of change. If we simply take a risk free defensive approach, being afraid to engage lest we suffer, we close off the possibility of dialogue and a different type of relationship. We condemn both parties to a similarly negative future relationship. However, if we are prepared to take the risk of engaging, however difficult, we open up the possibility of a more positive future. Dealing with the Esau’s of the world is never easy. Yet if we are prepared to hazard it, engagement rather than aloofness may yield unforeseen rewards.

Parshat Vayeshev

The end of the book of Genesis concentrates on two main characters Joseph and Judah and often the interaction between them. These two very different personalities form the leadership of the Jewish people until the end of biblical times. Judah is the progenitor of the Davidic line of monarchs leading eventually to the messiah. Joseph is the ancestor, through his son Ephraim, of both Joshua but also Jerobam the founder of the northern kingdom of Israel. Both Judah and Joseph were successful leaders their descendants became efficient rulers. Yet there is a characteristic of Judah that is not found in Joseph and not in his descendants. Judah, when faced with the challenge of his pregnant daughter in law, acknowledges his responsibility for what has occurred, even though doing so must have resulted in embarrassment and some loss of face. He was prepared to admit that he made a mistake. This is something that we find also in his descendants, notably David, who when confronted with his sins of adultery and murder, readily confessed and accepted responsibility. This is in stark contrast to the behaviour of the monarchy established by Jerobam. Despite, clearly realising that the original establishment by Jerobam of alternative cult centres to Jerusalem had led to the degeneration of the people, they did not abolish them. Even kings such as Jehu, who eradicated Baal worship in Israel, refused to also abolish the cult centres in Beit El and Dan, that were the root of the problem. To admit that this policy was wrong was a step to far. The Sages relates that even when Jerobam was offered the World to Come in partnership with David, he refused to go back on his original action. We can also see this refusal to admit a mistake in the actions of Saul, the first king and also a descendant of Rachel. Even when confronted by Samuel he never really admits that he is wrong but instead blames the people. This indeed seems to be the natural, maybe understandable, instinct of most political leaders. It is, therefore, the uncharacteristic ability of the descendants of Judah to take personal responsibility for their failings, which qualifies them for Jewish leadership. We can therefore maybe understand while the Hasmoneans, like the kings of the northern kingdom, were not in the end successful rulers and why Nachmanidies, for example, criticises them for taking the kingship. However brave and resourceful they were, as priests, they didn’t have the Judean genetic code of self-criticism crucial for a successful Jewish leader.

Parshat Vayigash

The story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax this week with Judah begging for the release of Benjamin and offering himself as a replacement. This, however, is the fourth proposed punishment for the theft of Joseph’s goblet, and the third proposal by Judah himself. As Avivah Zornberg points out Judah’s offers increase in their absurdity. Firstly, he proposes that the person in whose possession the goblet is found should die and the rest should be slaves. In response to Joseph’s officials reply that only the guilty person should be a slave. Judah then offers to Joseph himself that all the brothers should be slaves. Joseph again replies that only the guilty should be punished and the rest should go free. Judah then makes his impassioned speech offering himself in place of Benjamin, meaning the guilty person should go free while the innocent should be punished. How are we to interpret this behaviour? We can understand that Judah, who has taken responsibility for Benjamin’s welfare, is prepared to offer himself in his stead. What is perplexing, however, is the constant proposal that all the brothers should be punished even when this is not what is required. This could be understood as the brothers, seeing in their predicament, punishment for the sale of Joseph, seeking to this time all stand up for Benjamin. Yet I believe their could be another factor at play. The midrashic tradition sees in Judah’s speech to Joseph a tone of accusation. The brothers believe part of plot by Joseph to entrap them, which is of course true, and Judah is in his speech subtly letting Joseph know that they know. The various offer of collective punishment can possibly be seen in this light. The law is that only the guilty person should be punished. That is the constant position taken by the authorities, in the person of Joseph and his officials. By insisting on an unjust outcome, however, Judah is perchance seeking to unmask the injustice of Joseph’s behaviour itself. Judah is in effect saying, both to Joseph himself and his retinue, that their behaviour from the beginning to the end has been unconscionable. From the improbable accusation of spying, through the mysterious appearance of their money in their sacks until the appearance of Joseph’s goblet in the sack of the very person most important to the family, the whole affair stinks. If that is the case, Judah challenges Joseph, then why even pretend to be just. Simply imprison all of us while you are at it. This scheme, however, doesn’t work and Judah is forced to finally offer himself in Benjamin’s stead. Yet this strategy is in fact valid when faced with injustice masquerading as justice. When faced with an oppressive system or idea that tries to present itself as upright one way of fighting it is to refuse to play along with pretence. You may not win in the end but what you can do is unmask the masquerade, leading more people to question the system and making it more likely that cause of justice will eventually triumph.

Parshat Vayehi

A blind man approaches death and wishes to bless his descendants. He stretches out his hands and gives his blessing. Against all expectation, however, he blesses the younger son before the elder. This scenario occurs not only once but twice in the book of Genesis and both in the life of Jacob. In the first instance, it is Jacob who is the younger son, at the instigation of his mother, ‘tricking’ his father into giving him the primary blessing. In the other it is Jacob who is the blind patriarch, blessing his younger grandson above the elder against the wishes of their father. It is fascinating to think of these two stories in parallel. What was Jacob thinking as he short-sightedly but purposefully placed his right hand on Ephraim not Manasseh’s head? Did he flashback to standing before his own father in Esau’s clothes receiving his brother’s blessing? Standing in his father’s place, does he now understand, as Aviva Zornberg speculates, that his own father was never really deceived? Or is it his own history that drives his determination to bless the younger before the elder? What is also similar in both instances is a clash of wills. On the one hand we have Isaac and Joseph who stand for the rule of primogeniture. The orderly rule of society is that the elder comes first. This is not surprising. Isaac is seen as the embodiment of the principle of justice and Joseph, as well, is the great organiser, the authority that orders whole nations according to a fixed plan. Opposing them are Rebecca and Jacob both more spontaneous and willing to break convention. Rebecca goes above and beyond in her kindness to Eliezer and Jacob throws aside the shepherd’s normal practice in his eagerness to help Rachel. Yet what is interesting in these two scenarios is that the character of who his blind and the nature of that sightlessness changes. Isaac, the symbol of order, is blind and therefore lacks knowledge; Jacob the original rebel is blind and nevertheless or possibly therefore, has greater insight. I would suggest that a new paradigm has been created. Isaac was preferred over Ishmael but he was not the son of Sarah. Esau was the son of Rebecca, like Jacob, but nevertheless was rejected. Ephraim was favoured over Manasseh but unlike Ishmael and Esau, he was not rejected but continues to be part of the family. In each case it was the father who resisted this change yet were in the end overruled. The pattern therefore is now set. When it comes to the leadership of the Jewish people, being eldest is no longer an advantage. In fact the opposite, as seen in the careers of Moses, David and Solomon. What we learn from this is that change, upsetting the old order, can often take time and may evolve in several steps. Change can also be institutionalised, the expectation of non-order becoming a normal pattern. Thus, in blessing the younger before the elder, Jacob was completing the process in which he himself was crucial and thus completing the circle of his own life.

Parshat Shemot

At the beginning of the book of Exodus the Torah repeats the names of the sons of Jacob that descended to Egypt, relates their passing and tells us that the Israelites increased greatly in number. This is followed by the description of a new Pharaoh ‘who did not know Joseph’, who begins to persecute them. The Rabbis in their midrash on these verses link the increase of the Israelites to this new situation, Various midrashim describe how the Israelites were to be found everywhere in Egypt, going to all the best theatres and entertainments and generally taking an active part in the life of the country. This behaviour, they postulate, directly caused the ensuing persecution. Considering this idea, we could question if we are meant therefore to learn that Jews should not integrate into the society in which they live. Should Jews always separate themselves and not take an active role in the life of their host country? The Rabbis of the Talmud, themselves, did not live in ghettos and many of them had positive interaction with the surrounding culture. I believe that the key to this idea lies in the seemingly superfluous statement that Joseph and his brothers passed way. This statement seems unnecessary unless it is seen as an explanation for what follows. Not only the later persecution by a new Pharaoh ignorant of Joseph but the increase and prosperity of the Israelites is therefore commented on by these midrashim. The Torah is thus informing us of the passing away of the original generation of immigrants because their physical demise also led to a lessening of Jewish identity. It was not only Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph and what he stood for but the Israelites. Their integration into Egyptian society was accompanied by a loss of values and identity. This increasing assimilation led directly to Pharaoh’s actions. It was this process that the Rabbis were highlighting. This phenomenon was not unique to Egypt. In both medieval Spain and 19th century Germany, integration at the price of Jewish identity led to persecution and catastrophe. As the great Orthodox leader of German Jewry, Samson Raphael Hirsch, put it when replying to a community in southern Germany some of whose members wanted to cease circumcising their sons in order to integrate better. Did they really think that abandoning circumcision would make the non-Jews like them better? We know the tragic answer. What the Parshah and Jewish history tells us is that seeking to assimilate to the surrounding society increases rather than decreases hostility to Jews. We should certainly seek to be part of the societies in which we live. But not at the cost of losing our Jewish values and identity. That path leads to tragedy.

Parshat Va’era

This week’s Parshah begins with a resounding assurance of redemption after the despair that engulfed both the people and their leader at the end of last week’s reading. The main part of the Parshah deals with the plagues that hit Egypt while Pharaoh refuses to let the people leave. Yet in between these two sections that naturally follow each other we have the genealogy of Moses’ family. Why is it necessary for us to know in detail about Moses’ family and why is this section inserted precisely here? Interestingly this genealogical insertion is neatly bracketed by almost identical paragraphs. These tell of G-d’s command to Moses to go to Pharaoh and Moses’ retort that the Israelites will not listen to him so why should Pharaoh. Moses has just been reassured by G-d in glowing terms of the ultimate success of his mission. What he doubts, however, is not G-d’s ability to redeem Israel but his own part in the plot. He feels a failure and probably believes that G-d can manage without him. Future generations may also think that Moses was not integral to the story; after he gets no mention at the Seder. Yet the Torah inserts Moses’ genealogy before the beginning of the story of the redemption as if to say that without him there would have been no Exodus. Without his leadership nothing would have happened and G-d’s plan might not have come to fruition. Moses’ human participation was necessary for Divine action. This is an important lesson indeed and one we have seen play out over the last year. The success of various countries responses to this crisis has been in large measure due to the nature of the leadership in those nations. We have seen this both in the different experiences of the nations of the UK and in the contrast between Israel’s early success and later relative failure in dealing with the crisis. The key factor in these cases was the committent and personality of those at the top. The same is being seen to be true with the roll out of the vaccine. The lesson is, as in the case of the Exodus, that individual leadership matters. To a lesser extend this is true not only of leaders but of each one of us. We may at times feel overwhelmed by historical or natural forces. We may feel helpless to change the course of history or even of our own lives. We can seem to be trapped in a fate over which we have no control. The Torah tells us it is not so. Our actions are essential for the unfolding of the Divine plan for the world. Indeed we may even shape it. It is true that we cannot achieve everything. Yet courageous, moral and resolute action by ordinary people can transform the world and change the course of history. In the end, the truth is that each one of us can make a difference.

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