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Weekly Portion

  |   Judaism

Parshat

A Gracious God – Welcome to Life!

Once upon a time – when I was in college – I had a friend who was the classic renegade. It was the late 1960’s and he was full of passionate disdain for the political leaders of the day and for the War in Vietnam.

Mort (that was his name) was, by the way, a Jew and gladly shared his anger against Judaism too. As he once told me, “Judaism is useless. All you get in a Jewish worship service is prayer after prayer about death.”

Of course, Mort was wrong. True, the traditional service does contain multiple versions of the Kaddish, but none of them really focuses on death itself. The Kaddish in all its forms is rather an affirmation of life.

In retrospect, I realize Mort had just enough Jewish knowledge to identify an issue, but not enough Jewish knowledge to understand how beautifully and wisely Judaism embraces life.

This week’s Torah portion presents a challenge along the same lines.

On the one hand, the words of Deuteronomy Chapter 32 are disturbing. Moses recites a lengthy poem in which the Israelites stray from the covenant, God becomes enraged and only “saves” the people after they have been allowed to suffer severe punishments.

God is tough and demanding. God is largely unforgiving. This is not a user-friendly version of Judaism. As Mort would probably conclude, “If this is what the Torah offers, I’m not interested.”

Except reading the Torah potion in this way misses the point.

It requires forgetting what has actually happened in the preceding 40 years. God has liberated the Israelites from slavery. God has given them commandments for living in freedom. God has insisted that the Israelites need to “choose life” as they build their future.

In fact, the most important image of God may be what comes first in Deuteronomy Chapter 32. There God announces God’s intentions. Only a few days after Yom Kippur in our modern calendar, God declares,

Give ear, o heavens, that I may speak.
And let the earth hear My mouth’s utterances.
Let My teaching drop like rain, My saying flow like the dew.
Like showers on the green and like cloudbursts on the grass.
(Deuteronomy 32:2, translated by Robert Alter)

That is not vengeful. That is not angry.

Centuries later Shakespeare would capture the essence of these Torah words in a soliloquy by Portia from The Merchant of Venice.

The quality of mercy is not strained.  It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.
(Act 4, Scene 1)

So, who is God in Jewish tradition? A God of justice or a God of mercy? A God of demands or a God of forgiveness?

Although this week’s Torah portion does present a God of severity, that image of God is softened by the opening verses of the portion. There we learn that God’s preferred mode is mercy. God wants to be compassionate and forgiving.

Think back to Yom Kippur where the tension about God also resides. According to the Machzor/Holiday prayer book, God has the power. God is Melech/Ruler and God can see how inadequate we humans often are. We sin.

And yet the final word on Yom Kippur emerges as we draw closer to the end of the day. There we are assured that God yearns for our repentance and warmly welcomes it. You might say God “smiles” when we make the slightest move towards decency. God welcomes us into the New Year and wants to see us at our best.

And how do we know this is so beyond Yom Kippur?

First, because this week’s Torah reading highlights God’s urge to mercy.

Second, because this coming weekend will bring us Shabbat plus a new holiday on Sunday evening. Sukkot will arrive when we are commanded nothing less than to rejoice. (Deuteronomy 16:14) Sukkot involves a commandment to enjoy the fruits of the earth.

My old friend Mort might find a scowl in the Torah. (If you search for it, you too can find that grimace.) But I have a broader sense of the Torah and Judaism. It allows me to discern a smile from God and from our tradition. At its core, Judaism give all of us a broad open path toward life.

Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

(Rabbi Emeritus Sinai Temple, Springfield, Massachusetts)

Source wupj

Weekly Torah Portion:
Start:
End:
Tel aviv
17:47
18:54
Jerusalem
17:23
18:52
Haifa
17:45
18:52
Beer sheva
17:48
18:55
Daily Zmanim
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Rosh Hashanah 5780

  |   Holidays, Institutional, Judaism

Rosh haShana, Jewish new year, is different from popular new year celebrations known in different cultures and religions around the world as it is not a overjoys carnival like festival of expectations for the new beginnings, merrymaking and fun. Rosh haShana combines joyous celebration and anticipation for new beginnings with anxiety and trembling before God who judges our deeds through the past year on this day. We trust our God is merciful and forgiving, but we also know that God can see and know all, nothing could be hidden from God.

Rosh haShana has a mixed character, it is a mirror of our existence where all is mixed. Very seldom we have moments of pure joy or sorrow, most of our lives we experience mixed emotions. And thus, Rosh haShana is true and accurate representation of life, no idealizations nor exaggerations. Joy and fear, celebrating and trembling mixed together.

On Rosh haShana God will judge us in accordance with our deeds. It is frightening to stand before the Judge of the Universe, but it is also optimistic as we are judged *only* for our actions. It gives us control and ability to influence our destiny: everything depends on us. There is no random and whimsical deity who does as it pleases. But rather the Righteous merciful Judge who won’t miss any good deed. It is our responsibility to make our best to make sure there are enough good deeds to prevail our shortcomings.

God does not judge us for our feelings nor for thoughts but for our words and deeds. It is natural and human to have all kinds of fleeting thoughts that are not all good and pure. Many times, we have feelings that makes us feel embarrassed afterwards. But all the time we don’t surrender to talk and act according to our unfortunate thoughts and angry feelings, we may hope for a favorable judgement. It is all in our hands. We need to try to translate our trembling before the Judge into the actions of good will in God’s world.

Let it be God’s will that we’ll merit to be inscribed into the Book of Life, and in the new year we increase our merits through good deeds.

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Rabbi Alona Lisitsa of the Reform Judaism Movement

  |   Institutional, Judaism

In this past 29th and 30th of Av (30th and 31st August), the Ohel Jacob Synagogue had the privilege of welcoming Rabbi Alona Lisitsa who officiated the Cabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit ceremonies of Rosh Chodesh for the month of Ellul. Our house was full at the Shabbat dinner! During her time with us Rabbi Alona also participated in several follow up meetings and mentorship with our community and promoted stimulating reflections on the theme of the weekly Parasha (Re’eh). At the end of the day our Rabbi clarified several practical and doctrinal points regarding Selichot for Ellul. Rabbi Alona brought from Israel a set of Rimonim that are now decorating one of our Siphrei Torah. It was a short visit, but the support and the the guidance provided has been more than valuable for the next steps of the development of our growing community that is establishing itself as the home of Reform Judaism in Portugal. The Hehaver Association thanks the EUPJ for their support in bringing Rabbi Alona Lisitsa to our community. It was certainly one of the most rewarding moments of this year in our Synagogue.

Rabbi Alona Lisitsa, Leonor Gama and Adriana Souza

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Thanks to Rabbi Danny Freenlander and World Union Jewish Music Cruise Delegates

  |   Institutional, Judaism

Dear Rabi Danny Freenlander and World Union Jewish Music Cruise Delegates,

The Juventude Israelita Hehaver Association/ Ohel Jacob Sinagogue would like to thank you for your generous gift our community, we are very touched for your support. Through your donation we are able to consider on the restoration of all our Sefer Torot and continue working towards to strengthen the values of the Judaism within the framework of Progressive Movement in Portugal. We would to give a special thanks to:

Phyllis Dorey,
Arnold and Elizabeth Beman,
George Starkschall,
Jacquiline Getreu,
Ann and Manuel Martin,
Barbara and Larry Shuman,
Ethel and Robert Singer,

and all the anonymous contributors to this project.

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Rabbi Alona Lisitsa Visit, 30 e 31 of August

  |   Institutional, Judaism

On the 30 e 31 we will have the presence of Rabi Alona Lisitsa who will spend Shabat Ree with us.

“Eight and a half years ago my husband and I came to Portugal for the first time. May is a beautiful time for vacation. We spent some days in Lisbon before starting north. As we stayed for shabbat, I started looking for a non-orthodox synagogue to join for Kabbalat Shabbat and found Ohel Jacob. And the rest is history. Three years after that we have started a conversion class. And after two years Ohel Jacob joint officially the EUPJ. Since my first visit, I have been a rabbinic reference for Ohel Jacob’s members and board. I came to interview the candidates and marry a couple, and we celebrated Rosh Hashanah together. Lately I’ve not been able to come and much of our contact was online. We met in person in the beit din in London or on other international occasions. This year I was able to come, unfortunately could not stay for the High Holidays. But we can plan for the future. I would like to invite you all to use this opportunity provided by the generosity of the EUPJ and study, pray and plan for the future together.”

Rabbi Alona Lisitsa

Her presence is possible due to the generosity of the EUPJ that provides her visit to Lisbon, which we thank you very much.

The services that will take place during her stay will be:

August 30

  • 20:00 Shabbat Cabalat Service

August 31

  • 10:00 Shacharit of Shabbat and Rosh Kodesh
  • 07:30 Since it is Rosh Kodesh Elul there will be a study on slihot
  • 08:07 Havdalah and mini slihot, and Motzei Shabbat

For more info, contact us!

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Ohel Jacob Synagogue Visit

  |   Guided Visits, Judaism

In the context of the Portuguese Jewish Heritage Guide project that I am developing, to be launched in the middle of next year, I have visited the Synagogue Ohel Jacob yesterday. In addition to the courtesy with which I was welcomed and the enthusiasm of my guides (the nice Adriana and Leonor) in reviling and showing of their “treasures”, I became more aware about the history of the presence in Portugal and the principles of this movement in Judaism. Among these “treasures”, for some of which he was prepared, due to readings prior to the visit, I was surprised by an Ashkenazi Torah, visibly damaged by the fire, which was caused by the infamous “Crystal Night” in Germany in 1938 and brought to Lisbon by Jews who would later be linked to this asquenaze based community. I had visited it a few years ago, but that experience had not been as enriching as this one. No doubt it’s worth it visit the Ohel Jacob Synagogue, which is possible through contact with the responsible.

Jorge Martins
July 23, 2019

Visita Jorge Martins
Visita Jorge Martins
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