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On being a good husband or just an average rabbi?

A few days ago Shelly travelled by herself to Jerusalem. A silver lining from our year in hospital is that we have a half-full box of medical masks in the cupboard at home. These are out of stock now in Israel. This may have had something to do with the fact that she was pretty much the only person on the train wearing a mask that morning.


Now travelling from Haifa to Jerusalem has improved immensely this past year. I have made the same journey several times, and for the past few months you have been able to take the new train from Tel Aviv Hagana station through Ben Gurion airport all the way through to Yitzhak Navon station, the shiny new terminus built to an incredible depth under Jerusalem.

We all know that Corona is having a big impact around the world, including at the UHC, and we wish our unwell members especially a refuah shlemah - a full and swift recovery. Here in Israel some of the strictest measures have been put in place. All travellers from anywhere arriving in the country must self-quarantine for 14 days. If they cannot - for example, they are tourists who plan to stay in a hotel - then they are sent back immediately. Those who manage to enter the country are given red or yellow cards - and only a yellow one permits you to get on the airport train and use public transport. Buses still operate but the Drivers have cordoned off the front row seating to prevent passengers from getting too close.


So my brave wife travelled alone from Haifa to Jerusalem to attend a meeting. When she got there, how was she was greeted by the Jerusalemite children outside the railway station? She emerged from the depths, masked, and what did they do, these pesky kids? You’ve got it: they coughed! They saw her mask and they coughed. And when the poor girl related that to her husband that night, what was my response - where was my sympathy? Missing. I didn’t laugh, of course, but all I said was: ah, that reminds me of a midrash in Lamentations Rabbah.

You can decide for yourselves whether that makes me a good husband or just an average rabbi.


The book of Lamentations (Eicha) in the Bible laments the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. The midrash Lamentations Rabbah uses the biblical text as a hook to focus on the destruction of the second temple by the Romans. It contains some of the bleakest, darkest stories imaginable: children eating their parents, horrible martyrdoms and the like. But it also has a lighter part which matches the well-known intelligence of the Athenians with the downright cleverness of the Jerusalemites, and in particular their children. For example:


“Once an Athenian came to Jerusalem where he met a child. He gave him some money and said “Go and bring me some eggs and cheese!” When the child returned, he said to him, “Tell me which cheese is from a white goat and which cheese is from a black goat?” The child replied: “You are the adult! You tell me: which egg is from a white chicken and which egg is from a black chicken?”

Or another:


“Once an Athenian came to Jerusalem where he met a child. He gave him some money and said, “Go and bring me something of which I can satiate myself and have something left over to take on the road.” The child went and brought him: salt. The Athenian said to him, “Did I tell you to bring me salt?” The child replied, “Did you not tell me to bring you something of which you could satiate yourself, and have something left over to take on the road? By your life, you now have something that fits this exact description.”


It’s good to know that Jerusalemite children, whether consciously or not, have not changed so much in two thousand years.

We wish the Nissim family and especially Mathys a hearty mazel tov on the occasion of his bar mitzvah this weekend. There is much going on in his Torah portion - Ki Tissa - including the episode of the golden calf which he will discuss on Saturday morning. It’s suffice for me to draw your attention to the last two verses from the beginning of the portion, Exodus 30.20-21:

“When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to the Lord... they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they may not die. It shall be a law for all time for them - for him and his offspring - throughout the ages.”


A timely reminder of the timeless importance of good hygiene, and unfortunately still all too relevant for these difficult times.

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