Being united was and has always been the Jewish strength
SUZANNE AND MICHAEL BELLING
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SUZANNE AND MICHAEL BELLING
The Saturday night opening was jam packed at Sandton’s massive main conference venue, with standing room only, to hear six of the speakers and enjoy entertainment by Jonathan Razel and Alex Clare.
Opening the event, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein discussed the conference theme: “Today We Can”, an exercise in Torah optimism, “the belief that the circumstances we face have been carefully designed for us by Hashem”.
Sinai Indaba, he noted, is about the “immediate and burning relevance of Torah today”. We have everything we need to maximise our circumstances, said Rabbi Goldstein, pointing to the fact that the world has tremendous opportunities and possibilities.
This was shown by the original Jewish settlers in this country, who found nothing Jewish here and built shuls, welfare institutions and schools, so we could live full Jewish lives with optimism.
The same spirit led to the rebuilding of the State of Israel and the religious institutions there.
Chief Rabbi David Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel – the youngest person ever to hold that office and the son of former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, also speaking on opening night, told the story of Rabbi Chaim Berlin, a rabbi and mohel in Moscow early in the last century.
Rabbi Berlin was asked to perform a bris on the child of an army officer and his wife, who did not admit to being Jewish, although they both had Jewish parents. He related this to the words in the Siddur: eyes like a bird. Those words, he said, move him to tears every time he has heard them subsequently.
“Everyone is like a bird, looking to see where her home is and checking how to go there.”
The people of Israel are like the bird, knowing their heritage and looking for ways to keep contact with their tradition.
Author, scholar and educator, Rebbetzen Tziporah Heller, who lives in Israel, pointed to three truisms today:
- Technology has opened doors nobody could have imagined even 15 years ago. More discoveries had been made over the past 50 years than throughout history. The wellsprings are open.
- The darker the concealment, the greater the light if you take the trouble to find a match. Ours has also been a period of the concealment of G-d’s presence. The greatest darkness is apathy. But we have seen miracles in our time as well, to dissipate the darkness.
- We have to make choices, such as those Israel had to make last year with Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
It is up to us to hear more, know more, regain our identity and share it – a candle in the darkness is more valuable than anything else.
Rabbi Dr Tzvi Weinreb, psychotherapist and scholar and editor-in-chief of the Koren Talmud Bavli Steinmetz edition, told of a telephone call he made to the Lubavitcher Rebbe from his home in Maryland, US, about certain problems he was encountering. He did not give his name. The Rebbe referred him to “a Jew in Maryland”.
Rabbi Weinreb then revealed his identity. The Rebbe’s response was that sometimes one must talk to oneself.
“I understood. This means it starts with you. Do not look to someone else. You can do it.”
A sense of false modesty, feeling unable to do things for yourself, frustrates the mission of every Jew to be a light unto the nations, mastering Torah and caring for every sick person.
“Decide, be courageous, but never be arrogant. You can do it and do it today.”
Rabbi Mordechai Becher, senior lecturer at the prestigious Gateways Institute in England and professor of Jewish history and thought at Yeshiva University, opened by quoting German poet Heinrich Heine, who said the Torah is the portable homeland of the Jewish people.
In other societies, professionals and clergymen study. In Judaism, all study.
On Shavuot, we are passive recipients of the Torah, but on Simchat Torah we are active participants. That is why Simchat Torah is such a joyous festival, expressing love for Torah.
That love relationship with the Torah is also expressed in studying.
Former award-winning Australian filmmaker and theatre director, Rabbi Doniel Katz, translates Kabbalistic wisdom into “the language of experience”. Today he holds “elevation seminars” teaching Torah models of consciousness and psychology and meditation.
“You have within you something more than you think you are,” he said – kedushah, holiness, “not to separate us from the outer world but to stop us separating ourselves from our inner world”.
A famous Torah sage said G-d is wherever you let him in. That is the power of holiness – the more holy you become, the more unique you become. We are all different.
Being united is our strength, where our differences transcend themselves.
“The journey is as important as the goal. We must validate each other’s journey.”
Rabbi Yitzchak David Grosman, whose talk (in Cape Town) was covered in Jewish Report last week, also spoke.