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Ha’azinu – Barry Hyman

So all the Al chet-ing, the self flagellation – if you still follow the custom of beating on your heart as we recite it, as I see our rabbis and a few congregants do [I haven’t since I left Egerton Road United 50 years ago] – is past. To paraphrase approximately from the end of Grace After Meals, Birchat Hamazon, ‘We have beaten and been satisfied.’

We move on to the jolly bit. Sukkot, Lulav, Etrog then Simchat Torah, song and dance a week later, as observed by Samuel Pepys whose only visit to a synagogue was on that very occasion, to observe the festivities. He wrote:

But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.”  

Oh, and by the way if its real jollity you’re after why not join in a Simchas Beis Hashoievah.  Anyone?? ‘Rejoicing at the place of water drawing.’And it refers back to a practice of biblical times.

This info comes from my Lubavitch calendar they send me every year.  In Jerusalem, there is a Simchas Beis HaShoevah at many Hasidic synagogues on most nights of Sukkot.  Mea Shearim is very busy, with large festivals being held. The largest of these is the one at Toldois Aharon. Or closer to home, the outdoor street party at Chabad Hendon on Monday at 7:00 at 112 Brent Street.  You are promised Live Band & guest singers! Drinks & refreshments, Lechayim, pizza, falafel, chips, popcorn, candy floss! Juggler, fireworks, Grand Succah video presentation! And get this: men, women!! & children all welcome!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’m first reminded, as we get this close to the end of the Chumash and the arrival in the Promised Land, of two songs. The World War One song ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail a’Winding’ and Harry Lauder, the famous Scots entertainer’s , ‘Keep Right on to the End of the Road.’ Cross my palm with silver and I promise not to sing them to you.

It had indeed been a long, long trail and probably pretty winding, as the Children of Israel trudged back and forth. We are led to assume that the original exiters from Egypt [did they vote 52% to 48% to leave?]  are mostly  now ex-exiters,  dead after 40 years of being condemned to wander for their constant grumbling. The next generation are now reaching the end of road.

‘Ha’azinu,’ title of this week’s Sedrah, ’ translates as ‘Give Ear.’ Not’ give it ‘ere,’ but Give Ear or, in modern parlance, ‘Listen Up.’ This week’s parasha, of which we read only a third as is our custom in our triennial cycle, is known as ‘the Song of Moses.’ It is his farewell address, a real pulpit thumper, giving the people both barrels, as dictated by God. It’s pretty meaty stuff and Moses tells the people that they’d better take note or else.  After that, having, done as he was told and, we might conjecture, perhaps expecting a pat on the head, Moses gets a kick in the tuchas.  ‘You’re not excluded,’ says God, ‘You don’t get to cross over! You’ve come to the end of your road’. Bit tough, no?

One can see why many adherents of the New Testament incline to see the Five Books as a strict, unyielding, non-stop list of punishments, compared to their later, perceived, gentle account of matters, forgetting that our Bible, their Old Testament, sets out a comprehensive list of moral and ethical behaviour that becomes the template for civilized society thereafter. You will frequently hear Clergy telling their congregants that Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour.’  No he didn’t say it. He was quoting it  – from Leviticus 19:18. ‘Love the Stranger’ appears even more often, over 30 times in the Chumash

What relevance is all this to us? Are we, and others for that matter, to unquestioningly accept the diktat of a higher presence? A God? A Monarch? A Thailand King of whom criticism can get you 15 years in prison? a Mugabe, freedom fighter turned President for life, bankrupting, oppressing and murdering his own people?  A Putin, an ex KGB thug turned Presidential Oligarch, invading neighbouring countries, locking up opponents, turning a blind eye to politically motived assassinations, controlling the media and daring the Western Democracies to challenge him?

No.  Moses argues with God frequently. Crikey Moses, as Boris Johnson would say, he didn’t want the ruddy job to start with. But reluctantly accepts it and does his best. You try shlepping up a mountain.. twice noch.. to hump two great stone tablets down.

No. This is not a message of unquestioning obedience; it is perhaps  It is perhaps a warning of the perils ahead if certain basic rules of society are not followed.

So while we reach the end of our Torah-reading road, the Israelites with their new boss, the old one having been dumped, we too are faced in today’s World with change. A 48%-er, or a 52%-er, we look, like it or not, to a new UK political leader, as the people of Israel were about to look to Joshua, to come up with the goods. Now, however we individually voted – and I can assure you I know colleagues who voted in different ways – I believe that whatever our political allegiances heretofore, as a community we face a dilemma and I offer no easy solutions or recommendations.

Save to say, in that time-honoured question, ‘Is it good for the Jews?’ And that is not being selfish or introspective. Hillel’s famous ‘If I am not for myself who will be for me’ is at the moment perhaps at least as important as, if not more than, the other part of the sentence – ‘If I am only for myself what am I?’

We have a voice in Hertfordshire.  Elstree, Borehamwood, Radlett and Bushey is over 30% Jewish. Our MP, Councillors, Christian Clergy are friendly and supportive. [They know which side their matzo is buttered.] As a minority community, however, we are less than one half of one percent; less than one half of one percent; of the population.  300,000 maybe out of 65 million.

People in Carlisle, Orkney and Shetland, or Land’s End don’t understand why we are so offended and outraged about mysoginist fringe fruitcakes and racists abusing Jewish women MPs. We, still, await, despite smooth words, a clear instruction from the Labour leadership to throw them of the Party. Not to mention Tory Crispin Blunt attending a meeting with a Hamas supporter.

So take comfort in the message of this sedrah and ‘Give Ear.’ Now, as no one has crossed my palm with Silver, I remind you that- in song! – ‘There’s a long, long trail a-winding,’ but you must ‘Keep right on to the end of the road.’ Your children and grandchildren depend on you if they are to reach their promised land.

Shabbat Shalom; Chag Sameach; Kein Yehi Ratson, venomar amein.


Barry Hyman

President, Radlett Reform

15th Oct 2016

Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781