Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The Israeli National Lottery (Mifal Hapayis) provides a tremendous number of services to the wider community. From Community centres to health clinics; from hospitals to special grants to soldiers, from school programs to funding day care centres for the elderly. Every city has many buildings that are dedicated by the Lottery. (Little Alon Shevut has at least three!)

All well and good. Many Thanks!

And yet, the media is swamped by advertising for the Lottery. Today my six-year-old was singing along: "Lotto, Lotto, Lotto, Mi Haba BaLotto!" as I listened to the enticing radio commercial telling me just how easily one can become a millionaire. (My 3 yr old sings it too!) The orange Payis booths are in every mall and every shopping street. The ads are on the radio and even on National TV which legally has no commercials will broadcast ads for the Lotto.

So where is my point? I think that in a country in which many people are rather impoverished, where gambling and casinos are illegal, I simply do not understand why I am being battered at all times by a slick advertising campaign aimed at getting me to gamble! Is gambling just fine when it goes to charity? No! gambling is a problem because poor people with a miserable present and dreams of a better future squander the money that they do not have and get into debt by risking their money on a whim. That is precisely what happens with Lotto, Totto, Chish-Gad and all the other products. I was in a taxi recently whose driver told me that he spends over 500 shekel weekly on the payis. i have educated friends who are subscribers to the weekly draw of lottto! I simply cannot fathom why we turn a blind eye to this legalised gambling?

And if you say: well it is a mild form, and it does so much public good, then, at least don't advertise it so regularly and so attractively. This hits precisely the poor sectors of the population. I resent the advertsising greatly and I think it should be seriously limited.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nehama Leibowitz Gilyonot Online

Nehama Leibowitz was a remarkable person. When I think of her, two traits come to mind. Her humility and modesty, and her dedication and skill as a teacher. Even her death exemplified these traits. She requested that when she die, no Hespedim (eulogies) be delivered at her funeral, and that the only praise on her metzeva (tombstone) be that she was "המורה" - The Teacher.

I sat in class with her only once. I own her books. But if you truly wish to get to know Nechama, then study her Gilyonot - her parasha sheets. They are now online here. Please understand that these Gilyonot are truly a treasure trove on the Internet.

Why is it in her Gilyonot that Nechama comes to life? Because there are no answers to her Gilyonot, only questions. Nechama presents a text and asks insightful, thought provoking questions. She makes us think, and think hard, to read and re-read the text and to dig deep in order to discover and reveal the answers.

Many accolades have been given to Nechama. She opened Chumash to serious study. She popularised study of Rishonim and the comparisons between them. She read Midrash in innovative ways. She was an expert in Peirush Rashi. But none of these describe her true power.

You see, Nechama was THE master teacher. There are some people who have creative minds emerging with new insights and fresh commentaries. Nechama did not write commentaries. But she had an unbelieveable teaching ability. She loved to teach people to read carefully, to ask questions, to ask the right questions, to probe the text, to understand the differences between one parshan and the next.

In the single class I sat with her, she was teaching Sefer Yona. She read some pesukim, made a few observations, and then gave the class a 2 minute assignment. I was busy writing my notes on her comments and welcomed the extra two minutes to finish those lines. Suddenly I sensed someone standing over my left shoulder. It was Nechama standing behind me, like an old time school-teacher. She prompted me: "Why aren't you doing the assignment? Come on! Get to work!" And she wouldn't leave until she saw me writing her work. You see, she didn't want people to simply record her observations. She insisted that a student be an active learner, discovering the text anew. She was unrelenting in her demand that students not take the easy way out, not wait for the "chiddush" but engage in the process of learning.

For next Shabbat download one of the gilyonot and study it bechavruta. You will see her unique power; the power of questions.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Parashat Teruma. Shechina-Shechuna-Mishkan

When parents reach Parashat Teruma they take a deep breath. After looking at the pictures in the "Mishkan Book" many parents are at a loss as to what to discuss with their children around the Shabbat table.

Some years ago, searching for inspiration I opened this children's Torah book by Joel Grishaver, a California based Torah educator, and really one of the most creative family educators in the Jewish world. He is not Orthodox but his education seeks to teach Torah and truth. (see This is from a book called "A Child's Garden of Torah"

Grishaver writes here:

"Most people writing a children's Bible would skip the Tabernacle. We couldn't for two reasons: (1) Kids think that the Tabernacle is neat. (2) The idea that we can build places where God is our neighbour is too important to skip..."

What I love about the text here is the chiddush that I had never though of until I saw this page. The connection between the word Shechina, and the Hebrew שכן as in neighbours and שכונה meaning neighbourhood.

The word schechina is always translated as "God's Presence" giving one the imagination of a dense white cloud or the like ... something with real space, gravitas and "presence."

But when the Torah says ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם God is saying quite simply that He wishes to dwell amongst us. And this is incredible. When we think of a new neighbour moving in next door, God is moving in next door! The childlike simple language brought home the idea that God wants to be our neighbour! He is moving into the neighbourhood! and that is huge! Why? Because no earthquakes are happening. God is simply establishing a residence in teh centre of teh Camp of Israel.

Of course this is a great privilege but also an enormous responsibility for everyone living in the shechuna. But, once again, I had never quite appreciated that God's Shekhina is not a "thing." It is essentially God's closeness ... his residence in and around us. And this very simple text brought it home in a very deep way.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Snow in the Gush ... and the Livin' is Easy

So, last week, we had our heaviest snowfall in years. The Gush is 100 metres above Jerusalem and is open countryside and hence much colder than J-lem. The snow fell on Tuesday night and continued pretty much until Thursday morning. But the amazing thing for anyone who doesn't live here, is that when it snows, everything stops. They don't plow the roads (except main roads), no-one goes to work, school is cancelled, and everyone just hangs out at home!

It is really quite the most calm and relaxed feeling knowing that one has nowhere to go. shul starts at 8:00 and the last minyan is at 10:00 or so. Everyone is calm. The kids were so happy - and relaxed - just reading, playing in the snow, watching some TV and just - relaxing. In Israel, where we don't get a Sunday, it was really a welcome holiday.

But on the other hand, I have never quite understood why everyone simply accepts the fact that we are well and truly stuck. We are only 15 minutes from Jerusalem! I recall in 1992 going to Jerusalem for the evening and being unable to return for 3 days due to the snow. (Luckily I had my tefillin with me that time... but I didn't have a change of clothes. Don't ask!) Well to be fair - while the snow is coming down, it is treacherous to drive. It is pretty impossible to keep 10 km of road clear of ice and snow. But it stopped snowing on Thursday at 9 a.m. They didn't plow our street until 5 p.m.! It always seems that nobody is in any particular hurry for the snow to be over. Now, I know that we are a small village of 700 families, but doesn't anyone have work to do?

A couple of years back, after it had snowed, I really wanted to get somewhere and they were really taking their time with the snow plow. I called the local Moetza (town council/municipality) to complain and request that my street be cleared. I got through to the main man in charge, and gave him a well rehearsed speech. To which he replied in a calm, relaxed tone:

"What's your problem? You don't love your family? You have one day in the year to spend with your wife and kids! What's the hurry!"

On the one hand, this is just typical Israeli Chutzpa. But, he had a point. It would appear that this is the annual excuse for staying in bed late and relaxing with the family over a cup of hot chocolate. It is one of the fringe benefits of living in Gush Etzion. This year I really enjoyed it.