Fast Days

National fast days are always a time to pause and reflect, to internalise some of the historical wisdom that such days impart. It was on the 17th of Tammuz that the Roman army, on their way to destroying the second Beit Hamikdash, managed to breach the wall of the holy city of Jerusalem. Breaching the wall was the beginning of the fall of the city - the moment where hostile strangers would storm in and violate the peace and sanctity of God’s home. Thousands of years later, we still mourn the breach of these walls. 

Walls are important. To be human is to put up walls, to define yourself and decide which elements of your life are to be open to the public and which elements are to remain private and intimate. These walls exist to guarantee the safety and the individuality of each person, to remind us that no matter how well we think we know another person, there are always deeper, more personal layers to this sacred human being, boundaries that we cannot and should not cross. We must think carefully when erecting boundaries around ourselves, as this will define us and our relationship with other individuals. 

Over the past few years, scandal after scandal has crossed our newsfeed, as the #Metoo movement has successfully exposed the crimes of individuals who did not respect boundaries, who selfishly tore down other people’s walls and imposed themselves on the inner lives of their victims. Truly, such behaviour is a tragedy worthy of a fast. If we wish to make our communities (both real and virtual) a safe place for us and our children, the first thing we must insist on is that walls are put in place, and that everyone respects the red lines that people place around themselves. Only when we respect everyone’s individual self-creation, when we understand that personal walls musn’t be breached, can we come together to create a holy community.

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Judging the Donkey

A donkey doesn’t have the grace of a horse, the height of a camel, or the personality of a dog, but has a well-earned reputation as a short, graceless, dull beast of burden, only useful for the simple task of carrying heavy loads. Yet in this week’s Parsha we learn that even this lowliest of creatures could see the angel of God where Bilam, one of the greatest prophets could not! This simple beast had maintained a basic moral clarity and could identify an angel when it stood in front of him. His master, despite all his fame, wealth and glory, had been eager to use his Divine talents for the worst possible means. Bilam had lost his moral compass, his ‘vision’. All his amazing prophetic abilities became useless the moment he chose to utilise them for evil. Having sold his values, Bilam could no longer see the angels guiding his path.

The story of Bilam’s donkey has never been more relevant. It serves as an annual reminder of how we should go about choosing our leaders and role models. We must never be blinded by ‘celebrity’ status. Rather, we must judge each person by their character, their moral standards, and their efforts to make the world a better place. Because any human being who chooses to violate basic standards of moral decency, (even if they have reached a level of prophecy comparable to Moses himself) is inferior to a donkey.

As parashat Balak is approaching this Shabbat, may we all be able to maintain our moral clarity, and perceive the angels along the way!

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Time

Nothing ever happens in the past or future. Time is merely a succession of each moment. Whether you feel annoyed, happy or sad, you experience that emotion in the present. Similarly, when you anticipate or fear the future, you’re only capable of imagining that future in the now.

This is why presence matters. It doesn’t help to be swamped by the illusion of having to deal with the entirety of a future challenge all at once. As Mary Schmich said, ‘worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.’

It’s great to plan for the future, but the place to live and feel is in the now!

Announcement

It is with great excitement and humility that I will be heading Mosaic United, a historic initiative that allows the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry together to galvanize participation in Jewish life and strengthen ties to Israel by fueling, scaling and connecting the most impactful innovators, programs and philanthropists. I will be sad to transition out of my role at Moriah College in 2018, but will take time to do so properly as I bring some of the best of what I have learned down under and continue to learn from other communities, together taking on the opportunity that is Diaspora Jewry in the 21st century!

Disappointment

While I wish none of these things that Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said at the commencement speech of his son’s 9th grade graduation upon anyone, I think they contain a profound message for students that age and beyond:

"Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes."