ABOUT OUR RABBI
Rabbi Chaim Koncepolski was born in Sydney and moved to Israel with his family when he was 8 years old. After returning to Sydney for a short time around age 12, he completed his education at a Yeshiva in Israel, where his two older brothers were studying. When he was 20 he travelled to Brazil, where his brother was located, to be a shaliach at the Yeshiva. In his second year there he completed his Rabbinic ordination, and the following year he assisted with strengthening smaller Jewish communities in Brazil. With a strong passion for music, he was hired as cantor for a number of synagogues around the world for high holidays including Brazil, Florida, Russia and Central Synagogue Sydney. He is competent in Hebrew, Yiddish, Portuguese and English.
Rabbi Koncepolski’s wife Dina, the daughter of a rabbi, was born in Manchester, England, where she studied in an orthodox primary and high school. She then spent two years in Montreal studying at a seminary, while also volunteering in the local community and high school. This was followed by two years as a shaliach, one in Liverpool, England, working on community programs, the other in Israel, where she was a madricha. Dina was in New York for three years, working for one year with a friendship circle, which provided support for children with special needs. Rabbi Koncepolski went to New York to study where he met Dina and they married in January 2009.
Following further study, Rabbi Koncepolski and Dina took up a position in Jerusalem, where Chaim’s role was to inspire and support young Jewish men from English-speaking countries around the world, who felt alienated and had turned away from Judaism. Chaim supported them and encouraged them to regain trust in teachers, authority and Judaism, and to regain a positive self-image.
Rabbi Koncepolski and Dina have six children, Yitzchak, Zalman, Chava, Toba, Mendy and Levi.
10 Basic Facts about the High Holidays
10 September 2022
Here are ten basic facts about the High Holidays:
- The Holidays that make up the ‘High Holidays’ are Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. By extension it applies to the days in-between as well.
- In Hebrew these two Chagim are called Yamim Nora’im – The days of Awe.
- The days in-between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur together with RH and YK are called ‘Aseret Yemei Teshuva’ – the Ten Days of Repentance.
- The High Holidays are observed in the Hebrew Month of Tishrei. The word Tishrei came from Babylon and it means ‘Beginning’, or immersion in water – ‘purification’.
- The first day of Rosh Hashana can only fall on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbat.
- The first day of Rosh Hashana is the day the first human being, Adam, was created. This is why it is the day Hashem judges us, to assess whether we are fulfilling our life’s purpose.
- The central observance of Rosh Hashana is hearing the Shofar, and the central observance of Yom Kippur is afflicting yourself, which includes fasting, no bathing, no anointing with oil or creams, no leather shoes and no physical intimacy.
- The prayer of Yizkor – remembering close relatives is said on Yom Kippur and on Shmini Atzeret – the eighth day of Sukkot during the service.
- The white robe worn on Yom Kippur is called ‘Kittel’. The white represents purity and the cleansing of our sins. It also represents that we are like angels on this day, abstaining from eating and focusing on the spiritual experience of Yom Kippur.
- Rosh Hashana is the only festival of the year that is observed for two days world wide, including in Israel.
Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!
Chaim and Dina
Am I open to growing? Am I open to change?
27 August 2022
We had a Q&A session recently with Bat Mitzvah girls and their parents. One of the girls asked a question that I thought would be hard to answer without being controversial or making people uncomfortable, but I decided that the truth is the best way forward, so I answered, albeit with sensitivity.
To my surprise there were no issues. I made it clear that understanding something doesn’t mean agreeing to it or instantly adjusting your behaviour.
It is common for people to shy away from sharing or thinking about uncomfortable truths. But if we don’t do it, we don’t learn and we don’t grow.
This Sunday we begin blowing the Shofar daily. It is a beautiful time of the year that leads into Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
Every person wants to be stronger, wiser, and deeper. We want to feel like we are achieving and making the most of our life.
It all begins with the question; what can I do differently to what I’m doing right now?
Am I open to growing? Am I open to change? I want to keep the good, and strengthen it, but also to add more good.
Let us allow this special time to lift us up to greater heights.
Ketivah Vachatima Tova!
It's the small things that make the big difference
20 August 2022
This week I visited a young couple’s new home to assist with putting up their Mezuzahs.
I’m no Mezuzah expert, but after a brief look at the Mezuzah parchment I noticed that something was off.
The letters were not the traditional artistic letters, they were a) scribbled and b) written with a pen (not the traditional quill). Many of the letters were not recognisable.
It was a very poor scam and furthermore, not Kosher.
I learned that unfortunately this is not uncommon. Innocent buyers purchase Mezuzahs online not knowing that they are being sold a Mezuzah that is not kosher – sometimes even written by non Jews (Israel Arabs). Scammers are trying to make an easy dollar off unsuspecting buyers.
Make sure you buy yours from a reliable source and have it checked.
Does it really matter what kind of Mezuzah you have on your door?
Why does it matter if the letters aren’t perfect, it’s just a small detail? As long as you are keeping the tradition…
I would argue that little details are what make all the difference.
The extra touch of love in producing a dish or baking a cake, or the extra thought invested in a compliment can change the entire experience.
And so can the little details of a birthday gift. That little extra investment of thought, feeling or action that can turn an experience into something extra special.
When something matters to you it matters down to the finest details.
Music - the power to bring joy
13 August 2022
Ever since I was a child I had a strong attachment to music. Even though I felt that I wouldn’t be fully satisfied just having a career in music, I knew that I wanted to incorporate singing and instruments into whichever occupation I chose.
Music and singing dominates almost every paragraph in the prayers. The psalms keep talking about singing and playing instruments for God, and when we Daven, we sing the prayers, we don’t just read them. We also don’t just read the Torah or the Haftorah, we sing it.
In the temple in Jerusalem there was a musical symphony that accompanied every single service, even on Shabbat, and the Levites would go to a musical academy for five years of training in order to qualify for the job.
Music is not the purpose of life but it has a tremendous power to bring joy and life to an otherwise dry and lifeless experience.
Even a verse like ‘In the beginning God created heaven and the earth’ or the verse; ‘Write this parchment on your doorpost’ is not just read, it is sung.
It seems strange to sing something that is a technical detail of creation or to sing a law about a Mezuzah or some other instruction.
The reason is that nothing from Jewish literature should ever remain academic and abstract.
All of it is information that is alive and vibrant. The Torah and the Psalms of the prayers are pulsating with divine energy. Singing them helps us ‘feel’ it.
This past Friday night, the Shul was buzzing with a great attendance and communal singing. We are a singing community and it brings life and energy into the entire week.
See you there,
Looking back in order to move forward
6 August 2022
When people sit with a therapist, the therapist will spend some time bringing up past experiences.
People have often told me they don’t like it. They don’t like bringing up the past. They want to talk about the future, how to get better, how to feel better. Bringing up the past is a drag and it’s depressing.
There is some truth to that. Delving too much into the past is a negative thing and can make you feel stuck, but at the same time it is not possible to change a negative emotion or a behaviour without understanding where it went wrong in the first place.
The way to keep the right balance is by dedicating a specific time to think back and not do it outside that time frame.
On Tisha B’Av we look back into our history.
Some people feel like they have no connection to ancient Jerusalem or to the temple, it doesn’t mean anything to them, definitely not to the extent that they want to mourn over it and fast, so Tisha B’Av is just another day.
If you feel that way, think of it as a day that we look back to see where people went wrong, how people ended up destroying their own country or even destroying their community or family.
Here are some of the things that caused the destruction of Jerusalem: intolerance of other people and their opinions, making bad choices during a time of stress and instability, not listening to the leaders with a voice of reason and a balanced approach, political bigotry, and radical nationalism.
Fasting is a way of connecting these ideas to an action so it moves us. Whether you fast the entire day or part of it or not at all, spend some time appreciating looking backwards so you don’t keep doing the same things expecting a different result.
‘The world will be filled with the knowledge of God like the water fills the seabed’. (Isaiah 11, 9)
30 July 2022
|It seems ironic that the month associated with tragedy and sadness is called Av, meaning father or parent.
What kind of parent wants their child to suffer or experience tragedy?!
A parent is a symbol of compassion, not hurt and pain.
Parents who hurt their children are going against their parental instinct, and it is usually due to stress or trauma of their own.
Hashem allows for suffering to occur all the time but he hates it, it is extremely painful for him, he is a parent. In fact he is the inventor of parenthood and compassion!
We should never judge people who are angry at God because of personal tragedy or suffering.
Our job is not to justify or makes sense of it, but simply to give love and empathy, to help people still see the good and the positive.
Calling this month Av means that we believe Hashem is good, loving and compassionate and the suffering is a divine secret that will only be known when ‘The world will be filled with the knowledge of God like the water fills the seabed’. (Isaiah 11, 9).
Until then, we need to keep looking outwards, to do acts of kindness and selflessness and alleviate the burden when we see someone having a hard time.
Tonight begins the period of the Nine days of mourning, culminating with Tisha B’av. During this time, we avoid wine and meat, except on Shabbos.
Integrating life with work and work with life
16 July 2022
During previous holiday trips, disconnecting from work-related matters felt important. If I didn’t it felt like I hadn’t taken a break and wasn’t able to recharge.
This time I didn’t feel that way. I was happy to give a few lessons on Zoom, assist with Shul matters, and to give sermons and classes at my father-in-law’s community in Manchester.
It didn’t disturb the calm and rest, and I felt happy that Shul and holiday life were integrated. They were not two worlds that I had to keep completely apart.
Needless to say, our ‘job’ is not a typical job. It is a calling and a mission which is very satisfying and meaningful, so integrating it is different to other things.
Integrating your job with your holiday is not necessarily a good idea for everyone. However, in general, feeling the need to run away emotionally from one aspect of your life while you engage in another, can be quite stressful, but integrating them with a balance is healthy and satisfying.
We look forward to seeing you this Shabbat at Shul!
Shabbat Shalom 💙
Chaim, Dina and family
We have to sort our own 'garbage'
2 July 2022
The garbage system in England is very complicated. The council provides people with 4 different bins: brown, blue, pink and black. A bin for plastic, glass and foil, a bin for paper and cardboard, a bin for food waste and greenery and an everything bin which is only collected once every three weeks.
People have 4 or 5 different garbage bins in their kitchen to separate the stuff.
It was stressful trying to remember what to put where every time I had some garbage in my hand, with the occasional shout from my in-laws when I was heading towards the wrong bin!
(They have a food bin on the milky side and one on the meaty side 🙃).
Upon reflection, living life in a meaningful way can be similar to this bin system. In order to grow we need to filter out the good from the bad. It’s much easier in the short term to cruise through life without organising our emotions, our relationships, and our spirituality and just keep everything in one big basket.
If you stop to reflect and sort things out it can be stressful at first, and things may even get worse before they get better, but ultimately it leads to a better life.
I would rather the council sort out my garbage just like in Sydney, but only we can sort out our own ‘garbage’.
Chaim and Dina
How we see things
25 June 2022
When you read a Jewish text and think you understand it, it is likely that you have taken it in a subjective and non-accurate way, because we often project our emotional state onto what we read or see or do.
A happy person will understand the text in a positive way, whilst an unhappy or negative person will see it in a negative way.
This is why we need guidance, mentorship and a second opinion for everything important that we do.
When the spies entered the land of Israel, they were looking to see the land in a certain light and so they did.
They didn’t want to live in the land, so it appeared to them like a bad idea.
Let’s learn from them how NOT to allow our weaknesses and fears blur our judgement.
Shabbat Shalom and warm regards from Manchester!
Teach your children well
14 May 2022
Some people think that education means telling kids what to do, or what not to do. We are the older ones and they the younger ones, so we know better, they need to listen.
This attitude leads to constant telling off, issuing instructions with a commanding tone in our voice. It creates tension in the home and antagonism, a feeling of ‘us vs them’, and in the words of the Talmud ‘כל דאלים גבר’, ‘whoever is more forceful wins’.
When they are younger, you win. When they get older and legal, they win. Your control ceases at some point and they get their way (after a long wait…)
Real education is more like ‘shining’ the way for someone. Giving them clarity and confidence to do the right thing. It’s not about you getting your way, it is about you leading the way.
It must be done with an upbeatness and positive energy. The student or child should feel that you are in it for them and not for your own ego.
Even when you need to be forceful, you shouldn’t be demeaning.
Then there are all those other times when we lose it because we are human, but that should be the exception and should decrease over time.
Someone asked the Rebbe for advice on how to stop hitting his children. The Rebbe asked him: If the neighbour left their children with you, would you hit them? He said “of course not, they’re not mine.” “Well,” the Rebbe said, “your children are not yours either. They belong to God. He put them in your care to nurture them and bring them to their potential.”
In the name of Israel
7 May 2022
The name Israel originated from a battle that Jacob had with an angel. It means to wrestle and be victorious. Even though his name was changed to Israel, his name at birth, Jacob, remained. The Torah kept calling him by both names, because the name Yaakov applies to the physical part of Jacob’s personality, matters connected to his lower/terrestrial existence, whereas the name Israel refers to spiritual aspects of his personality, matters connected to his eternal existence. (R’ Bachaya).
Israel is simultaneously soaring high and achieving (Israel) while also battling with terrorism, hatred and stubborn opposition to a Jewish presence in the land (Jacob).
It is difficult to fight in two different and opposing worlds, one lofty and the other lowly, but broadly speaking that is our mission, to elevate our bodies and grow our soul.
Israel will endure and be victorious. It’s in the name.
Intimacy is Sacred
30 April 2022
This week’s short but loaded portion gives us the laws of Kosher intimacy. The underlying message is that intimacy is sacred – it can bring people together or tear them apart.
If it’s with the wrong person, at the wrong time, or if it is purely transactional without the long term commitment of marriage, it is bad news. Controlling our biology can be very challenging, but living a purely biological life leads to unhappiness and meaninglessness. More pleasure does not lead to long term joy. During the second week of the Omer, as you reflect on the character trait of Gevurah – strength, bare in mind the teaching in Pirkei Avot ‘who is truly strong, one who conquers his desires’.
The 7th & 8th day of Pesach
23 April 2022
When the Jewish nation stood by the sea, they faced tremendous anxiety, sandwiched from all sides. They prayed, but Hashem said now is not the time to pray just keep moving forward. They did, and that’s when the sea split. Fear and anxiety makes you feel stuck, unable to keep going. There are times when we need to stop, dissect and understand what we’re going through, but most of the time we need to keep moving forward. Analysing it further or even praying will not bring us to a better place.
When it seems like there is no way out, there is. We need to find the positive way forward and enter into our metaphorical ocean. The water may rise to our noses but it will split.
'Vehigadta Levincha', Teach your Child
16 April 2022
The main Mitzvah of the Seder evening is ‘Vehigadta Levincha’, teach your child, or the child within, the story of the Exodus. Whether your child is the wise child, the wicked child, the simple one or the one who doesn’t know how to ask, you are obligated to teach them and to ignite their spark. You cannot say, my child is wise, he will figure it out on his own, or my child is wicked, he won’t listen anyway. You are obligated to excite and challenge them. Every person must grow according to their level and capacity, and to find personal relevance.
After a few years of ongoing isolation it will be very special to celebrate Pesach with your families. Let us also bring the joy of Pesach to Shul. Come and bring your children if you can. We love the vibrancy of Children within the walls of our community.
Dina and I, together with Yitzchak, Zalman, Chava, Toba, Mendy, and Levi wish you all Pesach Kasher Vesame’ach, a happy and meaningful Pesach!
Your body is on loan to you. Use it wisely.
2 April 2022
According to Jewish law, hitting someone else is forbidden, but hitting yourself or allowing someone to hit you is also forbidden. Our body is on loan to us to use in a constructive way and we don’t have the authority to permit someone to harm it.
Likewise, it is forbidden to gossip about someone else but it is also forbidden to gossip about yourself, like sharing your sins or sharing private or intimate information about your relationships. It is common nowadays to externalize things and to share a lot. The logic is, it is my info and I can do with it whatever I want, so I want to share it with the world. A lot of it seems like self gossip and consequently self harm. Holding back interesting information requires a certain strength of character. A vulnerable or weak person will struggle to hold back a good story or scandalous info and sharing cheap information further degrades us as well as the person who’s information we share, including ourselves.
We are now entering the month of Nissan, the month of Liberation. Let’s liberate ourselves and live in a higher way.
Happy and Kosher Pesach and Shabbat Shalom!
Why is the pig so despised?
26 March 2022
The ‘token’ non-kosher food that most Jewish people recoil from is the pig.
Somehow it feels so not Kosher that even people who don’t keep kosher won’t eat it.
According to Torah law, eating bugs or a cheeseburger is worse than eating pig. While we are permitted to derive benefit from the pig we cannot have any benefit from a mixture of meat and milk.
Why then is the pig so despised?
The two signs that make an animal Kosher are split hooves and chewing its cud.
The pig has split hooves but doesn’t chew it’s cud, and when it sits, it puts its feet forward with its hooves showing.
Our sages saw the pig as a symbol of duplicity and dishonesty. From the outside it looks like it is kosher because of its split hooves, but it isn’t.
Being a Kosher Jew means that your inside and outside match, in a good way. It means to be honest, kind and patient in private as you would when people are looking. It means to be aware of Hashem and his calling to you when you are alone as you would in front of a Rabbi or any other person.
There is ALWAYS hope.
19 March 2022
There is an important lesson from the Purim story in relation to stressful moments, when things seem gloomy and all we see is a negative outcome, but to always maintain hope. A genocide was decreed against the Jewish nation but things turned around in an unbelievable way.
The Talmud shares that King Hezekiah of Judea was lying sick and the prophet Isaiah told him he was going to die. Hezekiah responded to him, ‘cease your prophecy and leave, I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father,’ Even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy. There is always hope. Hezekiah prayed from the depth of his heart and went on to live for another 15 years.
Every human being experiences moments when things seem dark, without a way out. We must always maintain hope. Always.
Happy Purim and Good Shabbos!
Look at the world with a good eye
12 March 2022
This week we fulfill the Mitzvah of remembering Amalek and their hateful and unprovoked attack on the Jewish people.
We do this by reading the portion ‘Zachor’ during the Shabbat service.
Not all past experiences are good for us to remember. Some nations remain stuck in the past because of grievances over negative historical events.
Remembering Amalek doesn’t mean holding a grudge, feeling resentful, or living in constant paranoia. It means being aware of the exact manifestation of hatred of Amalek so we look out for it and make sure it is not repeated.
It is important to look at the world with a good eye, but that doesn’t mean being naive and pretending human nature is all roses. We need to keep our guard for when baseless hatred appears, to call it out and eradicate it.
Wishing everyone a happy month of Adar and we look forward to the fun Purim celebrations next Wednesday and Thursday. Don’t forget to register for the party on Thursday before the early bird expires on Sunday.
To live a truthful life
5 March 2022
This week has been a week of national and international turmoil.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the devastating floods in NSW and QLD.
We continue to pray for the Communities in Ukraine (and for the innocent people in Russia) who are in deep distress and can use our financial help and our prayers.
Until recently, of the 183 Chabad Rabbis and their families in Ukraine, not a single one left. They all stayed to give physical assistance and moral support to their communities.
How can they leave the orphans in the orphanages they run, the holocaust survivors and many other vulnerable community members who can’t leave and who receive their help and guidance.
The local Jewish Community and even the non Jewish Community has been deeply appreciative of this.
Self evaluation, introspection and acknowledging that we may be wrong is the only way to live a truthful life.
It is a blessing to be able to receive constructive criticism and grow from it. Our knee-jerk reaction is to get defensive but if we think we are always right we put ourselves at the centre at other people’s expense and peril. And sometimes the only way to be corrected is by hearing it from someone else. This is especially true for a leader of any sort.
When Moses finished collecting the Donations for the Temple, he provided a detailed account of every single donation and it is recorded in the Torah because transparency and consideration for other people and/or their money is extremely important. Even someone selected to lead by God himself shared the accounts with the nation. Let’s all take a leaf from Moses’ book.
Chaim & Dina
Shabbat Shekalim - The Shabbat of the Shekel coins
26 February 2022
This week begins the first of the four special Shabbatot. This Shabbat is called ‘Shabbat Shekalim’ – The Shabbat of the Shekel coins. It is a reference to reading from the Torah about the annual donation given by every Jewish person towards the services in the Temple in Jerusalem.
We read it in order to remember this practice and to appreciate the value of contributing to our communities and synagogues.
For some, paying membership to a Shul is their way of supporting a community even if they don’t physically benefit from it by showing up on a regular basis.
In general we are encouraged to prioritize our donations towards our immediate circle because that is what shapes us the most. First family, then our community, then our country and finally the world at large.
The half Shekel donation was a small amount given equally by rich and poor to create a sense of equality.
Community is part of our identity and everyone should feel welcome and able to be part of it regardless of financial status or level of observance.
No Prayer goes Unanswered
19 February 2022
In this week’s Parsha we get a powerful insight into the power we possess through personal prayer. Hashem wanted to react to the sin of the golden calf but beforehand he told Moses “Allow for my anger to be kindled against them.” At that moment Moses realised that he has the power to ‘not allow’ God and prevent a negative response. He prayed and it was averted.
When we are in distress or in need of something (who isn’t) we should always verbalise a prayer. It may not always appear that we get what we asked for, but are promised that no prayer goes unanswered.
Command the children of Israel
12 February 2022
“Command the children of Israel to take (bring) to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting [the Menorah]” – First verse of portion Tetzaveh.
The simple meaning of “Crushed for lighting” means that the olives should be pressed in a mortar but not ground, to prevent sediment in the oil.
The mystics share an insight on this verse, that when we are pressed and ‘kvetched’ and we persevere, we produce a light. Our lives are illuminated and so are our surroundings.
Being crushed is not good, it can leave us with emotional sediment, sadness, and resentment. But being pressed can bring out so much light and depth that would not come out otherwise.
Next time you feel pressed or inconvenienced, embrace it and allow a new light to shine and brighten up your life.
Out with the old, in with the new!
5 February 2022
This week I received a beautiful gift, a new Tallit & Tefillin bag. Even though it is a gorgeous bag, when I removed my tefillin from the old bag to the new one I felt a certain sadness letting go of the Tefillin bag I have used daily for 13 years. I felt connected to it. I even tried to bequeath it to one of my two nephews who have the same name.
The next morning however, when I used the new bag for the first time I loved it and it brought a nice freshness to my daily Tefillin experience.
I realised that this experience is a nice metaphor for life. We get emotionally attached to things because we have been doing them for a while and we are reluctant to try something new.
It may be old or outdated knowledge, old habits, old practices or traditions that are stale and need refreshing. If we let go of the old we can experience something new and invigorating.
Shabbat Shalom and a happy month Adar!
Chaim and Dina
Vale Paul Conway
29 January 2022
In memory of Paul Conway OBM – an expression of gratitude on behalf of our community to Paul and Zina
Paul Conway z”l was a most sincere and dedicated member of our community. He would attend regularly, particularly on Friday nights, and entertain us with his intellectual conversation and dry wit. But he was also extraordinarily generous.
Not only did he make generous donations to the Synagogue on behalf of himself and Zina, and gave us a beautiful Sefer Torah, but he fashioned a way of raising money for the Shul by doing pro-bono legal work and then telling his grateful clients to make donations to Cremorne Synagogue.
This was particularly important at the time that we were refurbishing the building back in 2000, when we received many substantial donations from people with no connection to the Shul who were doing so on Paul’s behest.
We shall miss him as a loyal congregant and a true friend.
We wish Zina and family long life and no more sorrow.
Harold Marshbaum and the Board of Management
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
Do you believe in G-d?
22 January 2022
If you ask people whether they believe in God, you will get different answers. Some say they do, some say they think they do, some say they don’t believe in God at all, but often their idea of God is something I don’t believe in either. This doesn’t mean God is a flexible concept that can be adjusted to suit our beliefs, and sometimes people get the wrong idea.
Some look at Hashem like a strict, demanding parent, or as a force that allows cruelty to happen. Why would anyone want to get involved with that?
Hashem is the vibrant life force within everything that exists, including ourselves. He’s not something ‘out there’ in the distance, but within. He makes everything exist every second and he invited us at Sinai to probe into that and bring it out. We can live a purely biological life or make ourselves sensitive to a deeper truth.
You can live a purely physical life but it will be a shallower one. Just as you can live without music, art, love, friendships and commitments, but those things bring so much depth and enjoyment to our lives.
Every person has a different journey that brings them to living in a deeper way.
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law eventually came to the realization; ‘Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the other Gods’, after experimenting with every idol out there!
If you are a truth seeker and are willing to do what is right, you may pass many stations along the way but will eventually reach your goal.
Chaim & Dina
Why the obsession?
15 January 2022
It seems like Judaism has an obsession with the exodus from Egypt. It appears about ten times in the daily morning prayers, including in the Shema.
There is even a biblical Mitzvah every single day and night to remember the exodus. We also mention it in the Shabbat Kiddush – Zecher Litziyat Mitzraim. And the list goes on. But why the fixation?
Living freely is a daily battle. Pharaoh was addicted to the Jewish people. He couldn’t rest. ‘What if they grow? What if they succeed? We have to keep them under control’.
His desire for control developed into a full scale obsession which cost him his country.
The Jewish people were addicted to Egypt too. Most didn’t want to leave and those who did, wanted to go back when things got difficult.
In the past 10-15 years, addiction to smartphones has become an immense battle for children and adults alike. We turn to it all day. It is our companion, our comfort, our friend, our pain numbing agent, even our Dr, and our Rabbi. It is not making us better people. It is making us dependent, less sociable. It chips away at our coping skills, and prevents us from growing and becoming more resilient.
We need daily reminders for what true freedom is. The ability to just be me, without emotional training wheels.
Recently, Dina pioneered a program among school parents called MUST, to collaborate on delaying smartphone use among our children. Thank G-d it has picked up momentum and parents are seeing the value in their children being present and living their childhood. Ask her about it.
Physical & Spiritual - We need them both
1 January 2022
A few days ago two Jewish children, a 14 and 12 year old brother and sister, went missing while taking a walk in bushland about 4 hours out of Sydney. Their parents frantically reached out to the Sydney Jewish community to help them find their children.
Within minutes hundreds (!) of people got into their cars to travel 4 hours to help with the search. Simultaneously, hundreds of others organized Tehilim (psalms) to be recited as a prayer for their safe return. Baruch Hashem, even before the volunteers reached the location the children were found safe and well.
The spontaneous response from the Sydney community is exactly what being Jewish is all about.
To help someone physically and also pray for their well being. You can’t have one without the other. Hashem doesn’t want us to just pray for things to work out. He wants us to put in every reasonable effort whilst at the same time recognising our powerlessness and ask for his blessing.
Wishing everyone a happy and safe New Year!
Chaim and Dina
Every descent is for the purpose of a later ascent.
25 December 2021
Dina and I wish all our friends a happy new year and a happy holiday period.
We continue to struggle with the virus that keeps coming back in waves and keeps us unsure of it’s impact.
However, every descent is for the purpose of a later ascent. We are sure that the period of uncertainty that we have experienced over the past year or two is only for the purpose of a greater period once it settles.
May the calendar year ahead be a year of good health and prosperity for everyone.
May we emerge stronger than ever, with stronger relationships, stronger community and stronger inspiration to focus on what matters, namely our relationship with ourselves, with others and with Hashem.
At Shul we are keeping to safe Covid protocols so please join a service or two over the holidays to support the community. Your presence will make a huge difference!
Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul!
Does impatience have a place in our lives?
11 December 2021
“Judah approached Joseph, the de-facto ruler of Egypt, and told him, “if you provoke me, I will kill you and your master Pharaoh.”
– portion Vayigash + Medrash.
Judah was unwilling to tolerate his baby brother Benjamin being imprisoned by Joseph for no apparent reason, so he amassed courage and Chutzpah and made his appeal. His Chutzpah worked and Joseph softened up and revealed that he is their brother, and said it’s time for the family to reunite again. (See portion Mikeitz for more details).
This episode provides some wisdom on the role of impatience in our lives in general.
Impatience that is motivated by ego is very destructive. An impatient teacher can’t teach, an impatient parent prevents his or her children from feeling safe. An impatient spouse won’t give love, and an impatient employee won’t develop a satisfactory career. But impatience for injustice, or for personal stagnation, that is not motivated by ego but by a sincere desire to break out of an ongoing negative pattern can sometimes be the only way out.
Judah showed courage for his younger brother and even did something with little chance to succeed, but his sincerity came through and it made a positive impact.
Be patient for all good things and direct your intolerance towards negativity and stagnation.
A candle that is never lit is not a candle
3 December 2021
A candle that is never lit is not a candle, it is a lump of wax with a string. When you light it, it serves its purpose, to illuminate, and can be called a candle. A flame without a wick doesn’t last for more than a second, it needs something to hold onto.
A human being that is not lit is not serving their purpose either. The body is like a candle, bones and flesh, and without the fire of inspiration, of spiritual uplift and direction, the body is just a lump of physical matter. People who are not inspired, drag themselves around feeling heavy and unsure of what to do next.
Every flame constantly pulls upwards, but it is tethered to the wick & candle. Every person needs something to lift them upwards like the flame, and then some physical activity that will tether their inspiration so it lasts. Yiddishkeit provides that balance with many inspiring ideas that are tethered with Mitzvahs.
“A candle is a Mitzvah and Torah is torch” (Proverbs, 6, 23)
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!
Spiritual teachings are the soul that helps breath life into the body
27 November 2021
This past week on the 19th day of Kislev the Chassidic world marked what is termed the ‘Rosh Hashana of the Chassidic teachings’.
In Israel and in the USA there are book fairs, concerts and other events celebrating this date and the participants are from all walks of life. From Charedi to secular and everything in between.
What is the basic premise of the spiritual teachings of Chassidism?
It was born out of people’s struggle to maintain an ongoing wilful connection to spirituality and Yiddishkeit. You can study Jewish teachings and do Mitzvahs and not feel the spirituality inherent in these activities. Everyone has internal struggles. One day you’re in a spiritual mood and another day you’re not. One day you believe and one day not.
When it comes to human nature we often wonder whether people are inherently good, or bad or both.
The Torah encourages every Jewish person to live up to a high standard that doesn’t seem realistic to many. How to reconcile these and many other challenges is the bread and butter of Chassidic spirituality. If the Talmud is the body of Jewish law the spiritual teachings are the soul that helps breath life into the body.
Spiritual teachings are necessary now more than ever. Get a taste of these teachings and you won’t regret it.
Learn to ride the emotional waves of human emotion.
19 November 2021
The weekly portion of Vayishlach teaches an unexpected lesson on how to respond to rage directed against you. Should you fight back, or should you concede?
When Jacob met his raging brother Esav, he referred to Esav as his master – Adoni, and to himself as his servant – Avdecha.
Why would Jacob do this when he knows too well that Esav was an evil man, and he himself was righteous? It sounds like unnecessary flattery and fawning.
He did so because of the following teaching: “a person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar.” (Talmud Ta’anit, 20a)
In this analogy, when strong winds blow, the reed moves around, but when the wind stops the reed returns to its original position. A cedar tree doesn’t move with ordinary winds because it is inflexible, but a strong wind will completely uproot it from the ground.
There are times when a person should be flexible in order NOT to be uprooted and destroyed. Let things slide and don’t always fight for what is right. When someone is raging with anger it will likely pass, so by Jacob calling Esav his master he chose not to be confrontational at that moment, but to be temporarily subservient and allow Esav to feel superior and express his frustration.
There is a similar teaching in Pirkei Avot. “Don’t comfort a mourner when their deceased is lying before them”.
When someone is experiencing an intense emotion, don’t try to change it, let them cope with it until they are ready or interested in your positive input.
On the positive side, if someone is overly joyous, don’t burst their bubble. Learn to ride the emotional waves of human emotion.
The Chanukah candle: One flame can light a thousand candles and not lose of its own light.
12 November 2021
Today we marked the Yahrzeit of Ohad Nachmias with a memorial service together with his beautiful family as we do every year.
Ohad paid the ultimate price in the IDF and is a hero of the Jewish people.
One of the things we discussed at the memorial was that at the root of all fears is the fear of loss. There is the fear of death but also the fear of losing friendships, losing validation from other people, fear of losing money, losing our health etc.
The reason we fear loss is because everything physical is limited, so more for you equals less for me. If I share my money, I have less for myself. If I share my space, there is less space for me and so on. That’s why ‘increased possessions equals increased anxiety’. (Pirkei Avot)
Spiritual things are not limited, so when you share it you don’t have less for yourself. When you share your knowledge you don’t become less intelligent, and when you give love you don’t have less love in you.
This is one of the messages of the Chanukah candle, one flame can light a thousand candles and not lose of its own light.
The more you connect to material things the more likely you are to be fearful. The more you connect to spiritual things the calmer you become.
Good Shabbos and only Simchas!
Did you know this about the Talmud?
29 October 2021
This past Sunday I participated in a very unique celebration called ‘Siyum Hashas’ which literally means a completion of the entire Talmud – 2711 double sided pages! A local friend, Yisroel Vogel, spent an average of an hour and a quarter per day over the past seven and a half years, studying one double sided page of Talmud per day (without missing a single day..!) until he completed the entire Talmud. An incredible feat! It was very inspiring for me personally, and a great example of commitment to Jewish learning.
Here are some interesting facts about the Talmud:
- The Talmud is a link between the Bible and Jewish practice. The Talmud clarifies and expands the details of the Torah based on an oral tradition.
- The Talmud was preceded by the Mishna, and many of its pages explain the meaning of the Mishna.
- There are two Talmuds. The Jerusalem Talmud recorded in Israel, and later the Babylonian Talmud recorded in Babylon, modern day Iraq.
- The Talmud has two other names, Gemara and Shas.
- The Talmud is written in two languages, Hebrew and Aramaic.
- There are two kinds of Rabbis in the Talmud. A sage from the Mishna period is known as a ‘Tana’, and from the Talmudic period, known as an ‘Amora’.
- The Talmud is a series of conversations that span centuries and much of it is written as a conversation. A statement will be made, questions will be asked, answers will be suggested and rebutted, and more answers will be proffered, often going on for pages until a conclusion is reached. The discussions are often interspersed with everything from medical advice to stories, from folk sayings to fabric dying tips.
- The Talmud is translated into many languages with an easy to read commentary making it accessible to laypeople and scholars alike. The popular English version is called the Schottenstein Artscroll edition.
If you have any questions or would like to know more just ask your Rabbi!
Why did Hashem love Abraham?
22 October 2021
Why did Hashem love Abraham?
Was it because he was extremely kind and hospitable? Because he searched relentlessly for The real G-d when everyone else prayed to idols?
Surprisingly, these and other special qualities Abraham possessed are not mentioned as the reason Hashem cherished him.
The reason given in portion Vayeira is: “(I cherish him) Because he commands his children and his household after him, to keep the ways of Hashem, doing charity and justice” (Vayeira, 18,19). In other words, he, together with Sarah, imbued his values in his children. That is his greatest virtue.
How is this done? How do we fulfil this special virtue of ‘commanding our children after us?’ By giving them a Jewish education? By teaching them to do Mitzvahs? By taking them to Shul?
I believe that while all the above is true, it only touches the tip of the iceberg of “commanding your children after you”. The most important responsibility of a parent, and something that only a parent can do, is to make your children feel special. To make them believe that every virtue they practice is of infinite value, just because they are of infinite value. Of course we have to be an example and lead the way, of course we have to practise it ourselves, but more importantly, we must communicate to our children why it matters that they practise our values, why it adds personal value to them. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that Hashem loves every Jew like an only child born to their parents at an old age. This is a G-d people want to associate with. Values that are built on a foundation of love are likely to have a lasting impact.
Abraham ‘failed’ with his son Yishmael who didn’t follow Abraham’s ways (till the end of his life when he returned), so how is he credited with educating his children? Maybe the answer is because Abraham kept loving him and standing up for him and seeing the good in him. Let us be there for our family to cheer them on, to validate them and make it clear to them at all times that they are always precious.
There is no replacement for real human energy
15 October 2021
Throughout the lockdown, I received the question repeatedly about making a minyan or saying Kaddish over Zoom. Why can’t a Zoom gathering count for a Minyan? I explained that a digital gathering is not at all the same as a physical gathering and Hashem’s presence is heightened specifically when people gather together in person. After three and a half months of lockdown we know and feel this personally. Technology is good, but not a replacement for real human energy, generated by physical presence.
Our kids told me this week; ‘even if we could watch Netflix and play computer games all day, we still prefer to go back to school’. Mission accomplished!
In 2011 a British medical charity – Macmillan Nurses – did a survey of young Brits between the age of 18 and 30 and asked “How many Facebook friends do you have?” and the average answer was 237.
When asked “how many of those can you rely on in an emergency?” The average answer was “two”. A quarter said “one”. An eighth said “none”. That is the difference between a Facebook friend and a real friend, the guy you sit next to in Shul, or even better, the guy you don’t speak to in Shul.
Real gatherings create empathy and community.
Now that Shuls are open once again, let’s all put in the effort to come to Shul and meet people face to face and get some inspiration along the way.
'Emerge' back into the world to rebuild friendships and community
8 October 2021
Next Monday, NSW will be acting out the Torah portion of the preceding week by leaving the ark of lockdown and isolation and gradually emerging back into the world to rebuild friendships and community just like Noach did when he was instructed to leave the Ark after being isolated therein for 40 days, and rebuild the world after the flood.
Before the flood began, Hashem urged Noach to enter into the Ark to protect himself, his family and the living creatures from extinction.
The Ba’al Shem Tov comments on the word ‘(Bo El Ha) teiva‘ which means ‘(enter the) ark’, and points out that Teiva also means ‘word’. So the instruction ‘Bo El Hateiva’ can also mean “enter into the word,” referring to the words of prayer. Accordingly, this is an instruction to protect ourselves from drowning in various floods that cause us stress by going deeply into the words of prayer, which are healing and can bring a sense of relief and calm.
We are doing this by returning to Shul, but it is still incumbent upon every person to find a way to deepen their personal appreciation of the words of prayer through better understanding and a more immersed experience. Prayer requires work but ultimately it shouldn’t be a stressful experience. On the contrary, it should help bring a sense of calm and connection to something beyond the day to day pressures of life.
Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat in what is hopefully our final Shabbat in lockdown.
Bereishit - The story of Temptation
1 October 2021
The opening portion of the Torah – Bereishit, this week’s torah portion, tells the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. Through this story the Torah reveals an important truth that everyone wants to know about their life. There are a lot of good things to do, but what is my individual purpose?
Adam and Eve only had to refrain from eating the fruit for three hours, until Shabbat came in, and yet they didn’t resist the temptation for this short period of time. Considering that Adam and Eve were handmade by God and they heard the command from God himself, it is amazing that they weren’t able to control themselves!
The answer is that the more far reaching something is, the more the bad inclination within the person works hard to persuade them and increase the desire to do it.
When something is important for your life’s purpose, even though it may be an easy thing to do, you will find it difficult because the force of resistance will be strong, and the resistance may be cunning too. It may persuade you with all sorts of reasons why it’s not for you.
That is not a sign to let go and try something else but on the contrary, that very thing may lead you to actualise your life’s meaning.
Laws about the Sukkah
24 September 2021
The Talmud teaches us that, in certain instances, studying about something is equal to performing the action. Being that some people didn’t have a chance to build a Sukkah, I will share a few interesting laws about the Sukkah.
When we sit in the Sukkah we must have in mind the reason for doing so. We are doing it because Hashem provided shade and protection for the Jewish nation from the hot desert winds. This was after their exodus from Egypt, through the ‘clouds of glory’. The Sukkah thus represents those clouds of protection.
- The criteria for Kosher Schach is: a) it grows from the ground, b) it is detached from the ground and c) it has not been turned into a vessel with a receptacle.
- If the Sukkah has a mixture of Kosher Schach and non Kosher Schach i.e. branches that are still connected to the ground, if the different branches are mixed together, the Sukkah is Kosher provided that the Kosher branches are the majority. They must also provide more shade than sunlight in the Sukkah. Lastly, the non Kosher branches cannot create more shade than sunlight in the Sukkah.
The non-kosher branches are considered nullified by the Kosher ones, even if they are identifiable.
- One may fulfil the Mitzvah of Sukkah with a borrowed Sukkah or a Sukkah with joint ownership. However, one cannot fulfil the Mitzvah with a stolen Sukkah or stolen Schach.
Shabbat Shuva - The Shabbat of Repentance
10 September 2021
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuva, ‘the Shabbat of Repentance’.
One of the requirements of repentance is called ‘Vidui’, to verbally confess our wrongdoing. If the sin was between people, then the confession is said to the person harmed, and if the sin is to God then the confession is said directly to Him. This is the reason behind the ‘Al Chet’ confessions on Yom Kippur.
Confessions may seem trivial, but they force us to be honest. Try it with your children. When they wrong their sibling and you make them apologise, instead of just saying ‘sorry’, make them say ‘sorry for teasing you’. It will be hard for them to say it. They will probably push back on it because it makes them recognise what they did. It makes their sin crystal clear.
Honesty is the prerequisite for being a better person. It is the clarity that allows us to take responsibility and truly change our behaviour. If our perception is foggy we can always explain away what we did.
Challenge yourself this Yom Kippur to be more honest about where you are standing, socially and spiritually, so you can keep growing and become a bigger Mensch.
Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova,
Chaim and Dina
What can we wish for ourselves that's appropriate for this occasion?
3 September 2021
This Shabbat is the final Shabbat of the year. What can we wish for ourselves that’s appropriate for this occasion?
Happiness is a balance between order and chaos, stability and flexibility. Order gives us a sense of security but too much order makes life static and boring.
Rosh Hashanah this year is sandwiched between this Shabbat’s portion of Nitzavim – standing firm, and Vayelech – moving forward.
May we have a year of stability with good physical health, abundant livelihood, good mental health, happy friendships, and a thriving community.
And a year of flexibility with openness to personal growth, exploration, trying new things, tolerance towards people’s behaviour and/or their views especially when it is different to our own.
May we have the courage to stand firm on our principles where we need to, but open to relax our point of view in order to experience more depth and meaning.
Take advantage of the last few days before Rosh Hashanah to prepare and deepen your connection to the Chag.
Wishing you a Ketivah Vachatima Tova, L’Shana Tova Umetukah.
What can we do to acknowledge our imperfections and grow in the New Year?
27 August 2021
The community Shofar blower at the The Ba’al Shem Tov’s Synagogue in Ukraine, prepared himself rigorously by studying the deeper meaning behind the blowing.
He took notes and carried the paper with him to remind himself what to focus on during the blowing. The big moment came, all eyes were on him as he ascended the Bima and he was feeling the pressure and the great responsibility. He reached into his pocket but the paper with his notes wasn’t there. He searched frantically in his other pockets but there was nothing. He forgot what he had studied, and proceeded to blow feeling disappointed and upset. After the Blowing, the Ba’al Shemtov approached him and told him that this year’s Shofar blowing was extra special and it had a big impact in heaven, because more important than having the right knowledge and creating the perfect focus (Kavannah), is the sincerity and the feeling that we are not perfect and we don’t have everything worked out. This opens us up to feelings of humility and enables personal growth.
What practical move can we make to acknowledge our imperfections for this new year so it can be a year of growth?
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!
Who doesn't fear new things and change?
20 August 2021
I got my first jab this morning.
Most people take the vaccine, some don’t, for differing reasons. I won’t talk about the ideological reasons, I’m not qualified to argue on that. I want to talk about two other reasons among commoners like myself: fear and denial.
Who doesn’t fear new things and change? It’s part of being human. But those who keep their eyes on what is right and push away their fears, soar high and achieve success in everything they do.
The other thing is denial. 99% of the medical establishment advice to take the vaccine, and yet some people with no medical knowledge or training know better. Denying medical science is not the Jewish way. Doctors can make mistakes, but so can everyone else. Doctors’ chance of making a mistake on something medical is obviously far less than anyone else, and we generally accept their advise and treatment whenever we are not well, so why is this any different?
In the portion of Ki Tetze the Torah talks about a form of denial:
“You shall not see the ox of your brother or his lamb go astray, and hide yourself from them, you shall surely return them to your brother […] so you shall do for any lost article of your brother that you have found, you cannot hide yourself. You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road whilst you hide from them, you shall surely raise it with him” (Deuteronomy 22:1, 3, 4).
In other words, don’t pretend you didn’t see it, don’t pretend you can’t do something to help someone. That’s an interesting way of teaching the Mitzvah of returning a lost object. It addresses human nature of sometimes pretending something doesn’t exist in order to avoid having to take responsibility or make a difficult decision.
We don’t live in a vacuum. Everything we do or don’t do affects us, and other people.
Let’s do the right thing.
Confusing the Satan around the High Holiday period
13 August 2021
There is an angel called Satan who’s job as a prosecutor of mankind is to raise liabilities when we are judged in the heavenly court on Rosh Hashana.
Various customs are practised around the High Holiday period in order to ‘Confuse the Satan’, to throw him off and weaken his negative arguments.
One of these customs is to blow the shofar every day for the month of Elul, even though the Mitzvah to hear the Shofar is only on Rosh Hashana itself.
It is even suggested that by doing so the Satan is not sure when Rosh Hashana is, and therefore not sure when to level his arguments.
One wonders, if Satan is an angel with heavenly powers, how can we confuse him?
Furthermore, we do many other things to make it clear when we are celebrating Rosh Hashanah.
One answer is that, by blowing Shofar for this entire month, not only on Rosh Hashana itself when it’s an obligation, we are showing our desire to connect and be woken up spiritually beyond what is asked of us. That shows that our shortfalls are not always deliberate. Our heart is in it and we want to grow.
The Satan not knowing when Hashana is, means that the exact timing our fate is sealed is not clear. We didn’t leave it all for one day and one moment, we have been reflective and introspective for an entire month, so we may have already received a positive judgement.
Our yearly judgement can be sealed positively by the preparation we do before Rosh Hashana, not only on Rosh Hashana itself,
Wishing everyone a Ketivah Vachatimah Tova. May you be written and inscribed in the book of life.
The power of Community
6 August 2021
Which platform is better for broadcasting live? Zoom, or Youtube live?
Youtube live has HD quality video and audio, so it is very good for a musical show or presentation. Zoom’s video and audio are of lower quality, but has the advantage of allowing those who log on to see and hear each other and interact. Connecting through Zoom also allows for accountability. People can see you have connected.
Youtube Live is only one screen, which is why the quality is so good. Zoom on the other hand has many screens on the same bandwidth which compromises the quality.
This is a good metaphor for community life – for being at home versus being with community.
Praying and/or meditating at home is like YouTube live. At home, you are in your own space, it is peaceful, and you don’t have to present yourself to others. You can be yourself without any judgment. It feels smooth.
With community there is a program, a service, something you have to ‘fit into’, show up for, and possibly be with people you don’t want to put up with. But there is the power of the group, the power of connection, and the power of a joint spiritual force. Like Zoom, it may feel like you’re compromising yourself and the quality of your pastime, but ultimately, you are gaining connection and community.
We’ve been doing a lot of ‘YouTubing’, a lot of self time.
We’re looking forward to getting together again stronger than ever and appreciating more than ever the power of community.
Beware not to forget Hashem
30 July 2021
Eikev, Chapter 8: “Beware not to forget Hashem…” “…lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein…” “…and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases…” and you will say to yourself, “My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me.” “…But you must remember Hashem your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth”.
The importance of recognising that there is a higher power that coordinates our success can be seen by some as a weakness. The truth is, however, that it makes us even more powerful. Recognising the limits of our powers enables us to maximise our powers where possible.
Humility and healthy surrender is analogous to a seed that first rots in the ground before it grows into a tree and provides fruits. Without the rotting, there is no growth. Faith requires humility too. Faith doesn’t mean you have all the answers, on the contrary, it means you are willing to believe and commit despite not having all the answers. We are limited beings with faults and imperfections who can nonetheless achieve amazing things. Let’s recognise our personal limits so we can realise our true potential to be better spouses, teachers, friends, parents and children of Hashem.
Find the true meaning of every tradition
23 July 2021
One of the idols of the ancient world, Baal-Peor, is mentioned in this week’s portion.
This idol was worshipped by the worshippers approaching and relieving themselves. That’s right, they would defecate before the idol!
How did this insane form of worship come about? Who would think of defecating as a means of praying or appealing to a god?
The original worshippers of the Baal-Peor had such reverence for their god that when they approached it to pray, they would feel anxious and nervous resulting in the need to step aside and relieve themselves. Then, over many generations, the defecation itself became the worship. In other words, what started as a marginal by-product of worship became the worship itself.
This phenomenon happens with Jewish traditions as well. Over time of practising something without proper knowledge and understanding, we come to do it out of habit or ‘tradition’ and can end up doing things erroneously or begin to resent what we are doing because it seems silly and meaningless.
We need always to enquire and study the true meaning of every tradition, whether it is a Bris, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a wedding, a funeral, a prayer service or even why we eat cholent. It all has depth and meaning. Ask your Rabbi or do some reading. Don’t just do it, do it right!
Experience and commemorate Tisha B'av in some small way
16 July 2021
The lockdown has been extended for another two weeks and this poses a challenge for everyone in different ways. Some are lonely, while others have crowded homes (BH!) and it is important to take care of ourselves as well as to reach out to others to make sure they are ok. A phone call goes a long way. Dina and I are always available and we continue to reach out to our community.
This Saturday evening and Sunday is Tisha B’av. A day of fasting, mourning and reflection. As with everything Jewish, it is not an all or nothing exercise. Everyone can experience and commemorate Tisha B’av in some small way. Please do something over Tisha B’av to feel the importance of the day. Read about it, consciously delay your meals by a bit, (every bit of fasting counts) talk about the meaning of the day with your family – You never know the far reaching power of a Jewish tradition and how it impacts children and adults.
Try to avoid activities that involve an element of danger such as water activities because according to our tradition, Tisha B’av is a day that has the potential to attract negative events as it has done throughout our history.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and only Simchas!
Everything in this world is there for a reason
9 July 2021
This week I felt the positive power of social media when someone in a different country who was in substantial emotional distress, reached out online. It was at a very late hour where they were, so it was unlikely that someone local would respond.
I made a few calls and Baruch Hashem I was able to get a few caring locals to call and provide vital assistance. Some might argue that social media is one of the causes of poor mental health, but in this case it was part of the cure.
Everything that exists in this world is there for a reason, we need to find out what it is and how to use it to make things better. Every situation we are in is also for a reason. Stressful situations can be an opportunity to practise and teach calm. Boring moments can be an opportunity to come up with creative ideas. Long stretches of time with seemingly nothing interesting to do can be opportunities for socialising or connecting with your calm self. Many of the most rewarding games we played as children came out of a stretch of boredom that seemed interminable.
Let’s all use our time wisely and see the many opportunities around us, even and especially during challenging times.
What is the most important verse in the Torah?
2 July 2021
What is the most important verse in the Torah?
According to the Talmud it is a verse from this week’s portion that doesn’t attract a lot of attention:
“One lamb you shall offer up in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the afternoon” – Pinchas 28,4.
This verse instructs us to make two offerings to Hashem every morning and every afternoon. It is the source of the morning and afternoon prayers.
Why is this obscure verse more important than the verse of the Shema for example, or the verse about loving your fellow? Because it is about persistence and consistency. Every day, twice.
Everything we do requires consistency, but with things related to the human spirit, consistency and persistence are essential because there is a gravitational pull in the opposite direction. The body pulls down and the soul pulls up. It is easy to feel lethargic, not motivated, frustrated, not inspired. It comes naturally from our emotional gravity. It is hard to feel uplifted, focused, active, inspired and positive because you have to fight gravity to stay afloat and upward moving. That’s why consistency and persistence are key.
We are all grappling with lockdown, which is necessary but not fun. Our routine took a brief pause with many fun activities, trips and Simchas put on hold. Let’s make sure to be vigilant and active. Exercise your body and mind daily. Let’s be patient and spend quality time with our families.
Dina and I wish you a peaceful Shabbat.
The Mitzvah of Love and Fear
25 June 2021
Love and fear are described in our tradition as a Mitzvah and as two emotions that are crucial to help us do the right thing. But love and fear aren’t always a good thing. Fear can be paralyzing and unhealthy, and love can drag us into bad relationships and bad behaviours. Fear can drive us to try and ruin someone else’s success even though it doesn’t affect us negatively and love can be self serving. The Mitzvah of love and fear is to love and fear the right things, in a balanced way.
Fear that is coming from insecurity is bad. Fear that leads to feelings of terror is bad. Fear of doing the wrong things is good. Fear of ruining a relationship is good, and fear of losing your Jewish connection is good. All this is if it is directed towards a positive outcome.
Love is equally important. We must love what we do. Notwithstanding, sometimes love is not strong enough and we need some fear in order to do the right thing.
“You must fear Hashem, your God” (Deuteronomy 10,20). “Love Hashem your God with all your heart”(Deuteronomy 6,5).
Keep healthy, cautious but not fearful.
'Ten Commandments' of Birthdays
18 June 2021
Given today is my Jewish birthday, the day when a person’s mazal (good fortune) is increased, I want to bless you all with good health, joy and success in everything you do. May you all have Nachas from your children and may you experience only Simchas!
I was raised with the ‘ten commandments’ of birthdays, namely ten practices or customs commonly practised in my community that help make a birthday a day of personal growth, concern for others and general refocus and reflection. It keeps you quite busy and focused that’s for sure!
The customs are: 1) studying some additional Torah; 2) increasing Kavana (intention/focus) in prayers; 3) giving charity; 4) studying the chapter of Psalms corresponding to the new age; 5) receiving a call-up to the Torah on the Shabbat before or on the day itself if possible; 6) sharing an insight publicly from the Hasidic teachings related to the soul; 7) performing an act of love toward a fellow; 8) spend time on introspection; 9) strengthen your performance of mitzvahs by taking on something additional; 10) having a soulful get-together with friends to celebrate and give thanks for your life.
Thank you for the love. May we all celebrate in each other’s Simchas with joy and gladness of heart.
Chaim & Dina
Why do people like to win at all costs?
11 June 2021
Fighting and arguing are fiery forces in human nature. People fight bitterly, sometimes ruining their life in the process, trying to prove someone else wrong. Needless to say, this is true in the political sphere but it is also true in day to day interactions. Arguments get worse when each side feels like only they are morally correct.
What is at the root of it all? Why do people like to win at all costs?
How can we calm the flames of a controversy or a bitter argument when emotions are raging and no one is giving up?
By addressing the root cause.(It is captured in one word) – CONTROL. The desire for control is very deep in human nature. People want control of their conversations, control of their country, control of a narrative, or control of other people, and when they feel like they are losing control, they cannot handle it. (So they fight to try and regain control). It is possible to be right and still not fight about it, it’s not a contradiction. If every person practises letting go more regularly, they will be able to handle not getting their way when something important and difficult comes up. It starts with the small things. We can’t always get our way. The only thing we can attain full control over is our own urges and the way we respond to life’s situations. The serenity prayer is a good guide: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’. Learning to let go is a great gift. Let’s use it.
Chaim & Dina
The Twelve Spies
4 June 2021
The phenomenon of Jewish people speaking negatively about Israel began
even before we set foot in the Holy Land. When Moses sent 12 spies to explore the land, ten of them brought back a negative report, causing the nation to panic.
The spies were essentially good and moral people, why did they act this way? The source of their downfall was that they were looking to find solutions for problems that didn’t exist. G-d said that the land was good and that they could and should conquer it, but instead they insisted on making their own judgment on whether it was feasible or not.
Trying to find creative solutions for non existent problems is a bad idea because it takes you in the wrong direction. As an example, if someone ignores the well established fact that the key to good health is a healthy diet and exercise, and insists on finding their own creative way, they will veer away from the truth.
We don’t have to give our creative touch to everything, some things call for our obedience and trust.
We have a spiritual tradition that survived, thrived and inspired generations for thousands of years. We don’t need to brainstorm new ways to keep Judaism going.
Studying it, living it and acting it out is what always worked. Let’s do our best to make small daily commitments and inspire everyone around us!
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
16 April 2021
Dina and I wish long life and healthy years to Kevin Jochelson and his family on the passing of his step grandfather in South Africa this week.
On a happy note we wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Rod and Carolyn Hyman on the Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, Will Holland, this past Shabbat.
We also wish a big Mazal Tov to Itamar Francis and to his parents Keren and Gilad on Itamar’s Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.
Itamar has a beautiful and angelic voice. We have been enjoying his singing at services over the past year and we look forward to hearing him sing his Haftorah and a few other bits during the Shabbat day service.
Over the past week I participated in the daily Shiva services for Zeldi Farbenblum together with David and Gillian Farbenblum, Michael and Sue Farbenblum, their families and many other members of our community. They deeply appreciated the support and love they received.
Marking and experiencing the entire week of Shiva was very uplifting for the family and for those who attended.
I have a personal rule I call: ‘Ruminate Marinate’. Whether I am preparing a speech, a Shiur or trying to connect with something, there is no better way of doing it than ruminating over it and marinating in it. In a situation of grief the Shiva week is a gift that provides consolation and inspiration to the mourners and to those present.
The daily stories told about Zeldi as well as the personal reflections from the family were transformative and we are all better and more inspired for being part of it.
May Zeldi’s Neshama have an Aliya, and an elevated pleasant journey.
We wish long life and healthy years to the Farbenblum family.
Chaim and Dina
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Commemorating Zeldi Farbenblum
9 April 2021
Dina and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Zeldi Farbenblum this morning.
It is ironic that she passed away on Yom Hashoa!
Zeldi was a survivor of the Shoa and she was the ultimate survivor. She fought every day of her life to live fully. She persevered and overcame challenge after challenge to live almost 95 very full years.
Zeldi was blessed to live with clarity till the very end. When I visited her just a few weeks ago she spoke with a clear mind about her love for her family.
Her children David and Michael, together with Gillian and Sue and their families, absolutely adored her for the wonderful attitude to life she exemplified.
Her memory lives on vividly in her family and in all those who were blessed to know her.
Zeldi’s efforts, and those of her husband Harry, who founded the wonderful Cremorne community, will live on as we all continue to benefit from it.
We wish comfort, strength and a long and healthy life to David and Gillian Farbenblum and their daughters Bassina, Debbie, Shelly and their families, and to Michael and Sue Farbenblum and their children Josh, Steven and Eliza.
May Zeldi’s memory be a blessing.
We will welcome the Farbenblum families to Shul this Friday evening during the service (starting 6pm).
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Pesach Anecdote from Rabbi Y Meir Lau
2 April 2021
When he was Chief Rabbi of Israel (1993-2003) and headed the Supreme Beth Din in Israel, a Russian immigrant walked in and wanted to confirm his Jewish status. He brought two witnesses with him. The first witness said that he was at this immigrant’s Bris in Russia 42 years earlier. The second witness was a Chasid and he shared the following: This immigrant’s mother had a prominent role in a local hospital and as such would receive a ration of two cigarettes a day. Cigarettes were a rare commodity at the time. She would smoke one and put one aside. Every year a month before Pesach she would come to me with 365 cigarettes, give them to me and ask me to get her matzahs in return. I would sell it, buy flour and bake the matzahs for her. Rabbi Lau was very impressed and asked if she is still alive and whether he can talk to her. He said she was and arranged the phone call. She confirmed the story and Rabbi Lau told her: ‘I think about Pesach a few days a year, you live Pesach the whole year round!
We have a few days left for Pesach, let us utilise, celebrate and enjoy it!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Exciting News + Chag Sameach
26 March 2021
Dina and I wish a huge Mazal Tov to Anna and Jonathan Mitchell on the birth of a baby boy this past Monday. We wish them only Nachas from him!
We extend a hearty Mazal Tov to Anna’s mother Maureen and Jonathan’s parents Tony and Robin.
One of the great gifts of Jewish life is the connection between ideas and actions. Ideas alone dissipate. Act them out and they feel more real and last forever.
Many practices of Jewish life are essentially acting out an idea.
Avoiding Chametz (leaven) on Pesach is a very rigorous practice. Very nuanced and all encompassing, but when you reflect on its message, even the details come to life.
We all love humble people. Humble people are extremely loveable friends, parents, rabbis, and colleagues. Humble people don’t get overly offended, or angry. They avoid fights and excessive attention. They are sensitive towards others but not themselves. They are ego-free. But how do we become them? It is not an easy thing to achieve because the ego creeps in everywhere. We get entangled with it at times innocently. Avoiding Chametz, which is inflated dough, represents the mindful labour of diminishing our ego, keeping our ego in check and not inflated. When we eat Matzah we take it into our system.
This is why the Chametz actions are so detailed, because the exercise it represents is detailed, but also incredibly rewarding and it earns you the greatest title you can earn as a Jew – being a Mensch.
Dina and I wish you a very happy, meaningful and Kosher Pesach and we are looking forward to celebrating our new bundle of Joy with you on Friday evening, and Monday evening with the Bris.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
19 March 2021
Many Jews who don’t consider themselves observant and don’t keep Kosher, still maintain the practice of not eating pork, shrimp and various other ‘non Jewish’ foods.
They also teach their children to do the same. This is a positive practice. Judasim/Jewish practice is not all or nothing, so avoiding these foods despite eating other non Kosher food has value.
What reason do you give your children or yourself for avoiding these foods? What if your child wants to experiment with some bacon on their Pizza? Do you tell them to have a go and see if they like it, or see how they feel? Or do you say; ‘We are Jewish and we don’t this!.”
If you say the former, you are missing an important educational opportunity to teach your child that it is ok to want something and not have it. It is ok to not fulfil every desire. We don’t avoid pork because we don’t like it, we avoid it because Hashem said so.
We have a unique relationship with Hashem and we do this for Him. Children get it and it gives them clarity. It helps them create boundaries and gives them confidence in their decision making process. Some things we just don’t do even if we really feel like doing them. Sometimes the desire may be for pork, other times for being rude to their parents, or later in life for doing something dishonest in business.
We just don’t do it. It is ok to say no.
That’s why we first start teaching children at school the book of Vayikra which deals with sacrifices and opens with the words ” and Hashem spoke to Moshe” in order to inspire the children to sacrifice for what is right and to acknowledge that we do it because of Hashem’s calling to us through Moses.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
This week in the Community
12 March 2021
Dina and I wish long life to Sam Zweig and to his daughters Tami, Sharoni and their families for their wife and mother Rachel’s first Yahrtzeit this week.
Rachel is still fresh in our hearts. She was a warm, friendly and gracious woman. She is certainly looking down, shlepping nachas from her family.
We wish them only Simchas!
On a happy note we wish a big Mazal Tov to Ilana Heller and Rob Gertskis on their Aufruf this Shabbos. We extend Mazal Tov to Ilana’s parents Gillian and Steven and to Rob’s Mother Rita and the extended family.
May they build a beautiful and loving home together!
Finally, a Happy 7th Birthday to Shani Yedid, Rochel Lazarus’s daughter. May she continue to bring much Nachas to her parents, family and everyone at Cremorne!
Rochel will be bringing a birthday cake for her on Shabbat day!
We at Cremorne Synagogue are proud to be participating in Yesh Tikva’s Sixth Annual Infertility Awareness Shabbat along with over 100 other synagogues in North America, Australia, and Israel in partnership with Australia Jewish Fertility Network who does tremendous work in supporting couples who struggle with infertility. This shabbat aims to give infertility a “voice” and to spread awareness in the Jewish community. Too often, infertility is a silent struggle, such that we may not even be aware when our friends, family members or neighbours are suffering. The goal of this campaign is to increase sensitivity towards our fellow Jews who dream of becoming parents.
Sensitivity and awareness is a big blessing.
In the link below you can get some tips and ideas of how to be more aware and support people around you in this regard.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Honoring Rabbi Shmuel Cohen
5 March 2021
Tomorrow, Friday @ 6pm we are hosting a memorable service in honour of Rabbi Shmuel Cohen. The service will be led by his past Bar Mitzvah students.
We will be serving Sushi and Scotch after the service. Everyone is welcome!
Rabbi Shmuel had a unique ability to teach the Bar Mitzvah students how to lead the entire Friday night service on their own. This is a great gift he has given them and a great legacy that will remain forever. I would like to invite young adults from our community and beyond, whether you learnt with Rabbi & Rebbetzin Cohen or not, to join us for the evening and come and catch up with old friends and members of Cremorne. Please remember to register if you intend being present.
In this week’s reading we are instructed not to count people’s bodies when carrying out a census but rather to collect coins from them and count those.
The reason is in order to teach us not to look at people as a number, but rather as a piece of Hashem with infinite potential.
That is certainly how Rabbi Shmuel saw his students. He didn’t put any limit on their ability to learn and grow. May we aspire to have this unconditional love for all people!
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Mitzvot of Purim
26 February 2021
Dina and I wish a big Mazal Tov to Simon and Joanne Travers on the Barmitzvah of their twin boys Jeremy and Aiden this Shabbat.
It has been an exciting journey preparing them for this day and we wish them only continued Nachas from them!
Jeremy and Aiden will help us lead the services during the Friday night instrumental service followed by whisky and Hamantashen.
Whether you are young or old, this is one of the most highly anticipated weeks on the Jewish calendar. This week we celebrate the holiday of Purim! Purim begins Thursday night, February 25th, at sundown, and families around the globe will gather in synagogues or other venues for the reading of the Megillah – the Book of Esther. Then Friday morning everyone returns to hear the Megillah read once again.
The holiday of Purim is a very special time; children of ALL ages dress up and go from home to home, spreading cheer and distributing gifts of food and delicacies to friends and neighbours. The mitzvot of the day include mishloach manot – everyone is required to provide at least one person with two food items – and there is a specific Purim obligation to help those who are needy (matanot l’evyonim). These acts of gift-giving and charity are meant to foster brotherhood and unity. Purim is a time when even the dourest amongst us manages to crack a smile.
There is also a Mitzvah to have a Purim meal some time during the day.
Dina and I wish you all a very happy Purim and we look forward to celebrating with you.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Teruma - Giving
19 February 2021
An individual consulted with his Rabbi: ‘Rabbi, I give charity to various causes but I don’t feel good about it. I give for selfish reasons, it makes me feel good, I am recognised in public, I like the fame and the satisfaction of being a benefactor. Maybe I should stop and reassess my motives’.
The rabbi responded: your intentions may be tainted but the beneficiary’s intentions are pure. Meaning, the poor person or the institution that receives your donation benefits from it equally, whether your intentions are pure or not. The purity of your intentions matter only for your own personal development.
This story illustrates what our focus should be when we give to charity, or when we do anything that benefits someone else. The focus should be, ‘is my giving helping someone or something?’ If it is, it doesn’t really matter how I feel inside because I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it to help someone’. The purity of my intentions shouldn’t stop me from giving.
This can be applied to our relationship with Hashem. When we deliberate over a Mitzvah like prayer, Tefilin, Kosher etc ideally we should love what we are doing and find it uplifting and meaningful. However, part of the human condition is that there are many moments where we are not interested (It happens to me!). What do you do then?
This is an opportunity to do it for G-d, purely because it makes Him happy. This is true giving and this can make us happy too.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
12 February 2021
The bulk of this week’s Torah portion deals with Civil disputes and the Mitzva upon both litigants to have their disputes resolved according to Jewish law before expert judges with high moral character.
Litigants don’t have to adhere to a particular Beth Din unless they were elected by the community. Otherwise each litigant can choose the Halachik Judge they prefer, and those two judges chose a third judge to form a group of three.
A Jewish judge should possess the following seven attributes: wisdom, humility, the fear of God, a loathing for money, a love for truth; he must be a person who is beloved by people at large, and must have a good reputation.
In summation, this is a joint responsibility.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Commemorating Rabbi Shmuel Cohen
5 February 2021
This week began with the sad news of the passing of our dear Rabbi Shmuel Cohen who together with his wife Rivka served the Cremorne community with the utmost dedication and love for 22 years. The outpouring of love for Rabbi Shmuel was not limited to the Cremorne community. All across the Sydney community and throughout the world, in person and online, there was a flood of messages demonstrating how much Rabbi Shmuel meant to people. He achieved this admiration through the deep impact he had on people’s lives, their educational development and their Jewish identity. Rabbi Shmuel excelled at imparting a love of learning, and through his limitless patience he elevated his students to high levels of knowledge and excitement for Yiddishkeit.
King Solomn said “And the living should take to heart” (Kohelet 7,2), we must learn from the life of this beloved Rabbi how sincerity, humility, patience, and love for people make a person very beloved and admired by people near and far.
May Rabbi Shmuel Ben Yitzhak memory live on, and his commitment to truth and good values inspire us to follow in his ways.
Dina and I together with the entire Cremorne community wish Rivkah and her family a long and healthy life.
‘May Hashem comfort you, among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem’.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
29 January 2021
Dina and I wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Shalva and Alon Beran on the birth of a beautiful baby boy, little brother to Elora!
We extend a Mazal Tov to the grandparents Shoshana and Aron Shamberg and to Roger and Nomi Beran. May they have tremendous Nachat from him!
The festival of Tu Bishvat commemorated today, is celebrated by eating the seven fruits of the land of Israel. Fruit is a symbol of natural pleasure. Having a ritual with fruit represents harnessing our pleasures and making sure they are not uncontained.
Unbridled pleasures take the depth and satisfaction out of the experience and leave us chasing for more. When you put some constraint on your pleasures, it makes them meaningful and satisfactory.
This is why the Shabbat, which is a day of constraint, is described as a day of pleasure and a gift of love from Hashem to us. It takes away the quantity of life engagement but it adds quality. Engaging with life relentlessly can make life’s experiences more shallow. Holding back, enables us to have true appreciation so that everything tastes so much better!
Wishing you a pleasurable Shabbos!
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Why "Come" to Pharaoh and not "Go" to Pharaoh
22 January 2021
Dina & I would like to wish a heavy hearted farewell to the Tobys – Jonathan, Jodi, Rafaeli and Ashriel. We have been lucky to have them living nearby for a couple of years now in which time they have become strong members and friends of our community. We wish them the best of luck for their future, and look forward to welcoming them back again whenever they are visiting Sydney.
The Tobys will be sponsoring a covid safe farewell kiddush this Shabbat following the service. Everyone is invited to join!
When I teach teenagers I notice that the confidence level of the students plays a big role in their progress. A confident student is more focussed, assertive, memorises quicker and retains the information for longer. Their level of confidence, or lack thereof, is often not due to their own making. It is affected by their upbringing and their nature among other things, but either way, it is a major factor in one’s development as a person.
Self doubt is common. We often doubt whether we can learn or practise something new, whether we can handle our personal challenges, the struggles with our children, our job, our relationships. This is why role modelling is so important, it instills confidence. If we’re lucky we get it from our parents and teachers in our formative years.
Information from books is nice and important (even in the Torah), but it doesn’t impress most people. People need to see it acted out by a human being, especially someone they respect in order for it to make an impression and for them to believe it can be done.
When Hashem sent Moses to pharaoh, he didn’t tell him to GO to Pharaoh, he said COME to Pharaoh, come with me, we’ll do it together. This is a lesson about how to teach, parent, or inspire. You don’t send your children or students on a task, you ask them to join you and show them that it can be done.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Types of Nations
15 January 2021
Please consider supporting the Minyanim over the holiday period.
I welcome my friend Rabbi Dovy Rappaport -Rabbi at Kehilat Kadima- and his wife Rivkah and family to Cremorne for Shabbat. Rabbi Dovy will share a few words during the Friday night service.
There are four words used in the Torah for nation. 1. Ooma (אומה) 2. Am (עם) 3. Leh’om (לאום). 4. Goy גוי)).
Even though the word Goy is commonly used to refer to a Gentile, it is used in the Torah multiple times to refer to the Jewish nation, like in Exodus 19, 6 – ‘Goy Kadosh’ – Holy nation, or in Deuteronomy 4,6 ‘Goy Gadol’ – great nation. The other three terms are also used to refer to the Jewish nation.
These four words are not just synonyms, they each refer to a different type of nation, or different aspects of a nation.
‘Ooma’ has the root ‘Ima’ meaning mother. This refers to a nation that has a common ancestor and family tradition and that is what binds them together.
Leh’om relates to land, referring to a group that shares a common connection to a land.
Goy might refer to the word body or tribe.
Am (as in Am Yisrael) relates to the word ‘Im’ (עם) which means with, referring to strong interconnectedness between the people of your nation, not based on ancestry, land or family but based on a deep commonality.
Am, is the most common word used for the Jewish people, because what makes us a nation is the commonality that we were all chosen by Hashem to be his (at the Exodus), to be in a relationship with him and that connection can never be severed. Human choices are strong as long as we keep to them. Hashem’s choices are eternal just like he is eternal.
I thank Rabbi Ben Elton for helping me with some of the content in this message.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Commemorating the Rambam
8 January 2021
This past Monday, the 20th of Tevet, was the Yahrzeit of the Rambam also known as Maimonidies.
The name Rambam is an acronym for his name Rabbi Moshe the Son of Maimon (the Spaniard). Originally from Cordoba Spain he later lived in Egypt. The Rambam is one of the greatest scholars of Jewish history and his teachings and insights recorded in the books he wrote cover almost every topic under the sun.
He was also an expert gastroenterologist (a few medical treatises on preventative medicine have survived till today) and his advice on health and diet rings similar to the natural healthy diets advised today. He taught that keeping the body healthy is part of the service of G-d, and spoke strongly about diet and exercise.
He taught that the basis for positive emotions is knowledge, and that knowledge produces love. Your love towards Hashem, as mandated in the Shema prayer, will be according to the depth of your knowledge of Hashem. Little knowledge cannot produce a positive connection.
I have a daily learning session in his book Mishne Torah.
In honor of the Rambam’s Yahrzeit, explore some of the Rambam’s teachings. There are many fascinating topics to connect with. The section Called ‘The foundations of Torah’ at the beginning of his work ‘Mishne Torah’ is fascinating (Chabad.org has it with translation and commentary). There he discusses angels, prophesy, belief in G-d, the intelligence of galaxies, the elements, and much more.
Take advantage of this and gain a depth of knowledge in all areas of your life.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Happy Gregorian New Year!
1 January 2021
This Thursday night/Friday marks the new year on the Gregorian calendar.
Many people think that this counting is meaningless and is nothing more than a change of numbers in people’s heads. It is not a religious or spiritual calendar and therefore it is insignificant.
This is not entirely true.
The Gregorian calendar follows the cycle of the sun. Every 365 days the sun returns to the same spot in relation to earth.
The Jewish calendar follows the cycle of the moon which is 354 days. 11 days short shorter than the sun.
The reason the Jewish calendar follows the moon is because the moon represents renewal; even if things look dark, light will follow. The moon waxes and wanes, even though it is within sight, it doesn’t alway radiate light.
The sun always radiates light, representing the consistent cycles of nature.
Nature is important and we even adjust the Jewish calendar every few years to make sure it aligns with the solar calendar and the seasons.
Jewish spirituality is intertwined with nature, but the patterns of nature are not set in stone, because nature is being renewed every moment by Hashem and therefore even a bad pattern of nature can change for the better at any given moment.
It has been a challenging year in many ways but that can all change in an instant.
In the words of the Midrash: ‘Hashem’s salvation can happen in the blink of an eye’.
May the upcoming year be a year of good health joy and prosperity!
Best wishes from Dina and me
Rabbi's returned from holidays!
24 December 2020
Please consider supporting the Minyanim over the next few weeks. Many people are away and your attendance will be very helpful!
Dina and I wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Gillian and Steven Heller on the engagement of their daughter Monique to Michael Sherman.
We wish them a life of joy filled with Hashem’s blessings.
This Friday is a fast day and a day of reflection called ‘Asara Betevet‘, the tenth day of Tevet. It is the day the armies of the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in the year 425 BCE. Thirty months later—on 9 Tammuz 3338—the city walls were breached, and on 9 Av of that year the Holy Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia for 70 years.
The fast is observed from dawn to nightfall. We fast into Shabbat and make Kiddush and have the break-fast/Shabbat meal at 8:37 pm.
This traditional fast day is also a personal day for my family because it is the Yahrtzeit of my niece Rivakh Koncepolski who tragically passed away last year.
We wish my brother and sister in law Mendi, Dobi and family a long and healthy life and strength and comfort over this time.
The Mincha service tomorrow has a Torah + Haftarah reading so it will take an extra ten minutes. Please come on time to avoid delay.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a pleasant holiday period.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
Rabbi with Family on Holiday!
18 December 2020
Rabbi Chaim, Dina and family are on a short holiday and we wish them a fun and relaxed time away and look forward to their return next week.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
11 December 2020
We look forward to the joyous festivities over Chanukah.
Here are a couple of laws and customs around the Chanukah festival:
The complete Halel (thanksgiving prayer) is recited every day of Chanukah right after the Amidah.
There is a short paragraph of gratitude called ‘Al Hanisim’ which contains a soundbite of the Chanuakah story and an expression of gratitude for the victory of the few Jews vs the many Greeks that restored Jewish sovereignty over our land. It is recited during the ‘Birkat Hamazon’ (grace after meals) and the Amidah on Chanukah.
On Friday, the Chanukah candles must be lit before the Shabbat candles. The Chanukah candles shouldn’t be lit before 6:31 pm.
Every night of Chanukah, the Chanukah candles should remain lit until at least 30 minutes after nightfall. In order to do this, it is best to use beeswax candles or olive oil and wicks.
The Menorah should be placed either at the window or inside the house adjacent to the door post of the main passageway, opposite the Mezuzah so that when you walk through you are surrounded with Mitzvahs.
Make your meals during Chanukah festive.
Eat foods that are cooked with oil to remember and reflect on the miracle.
There is a custom to eat cheese on Chanukah as it was used by Judith to get the enemy (thirsty and then) drunk.
Increase in giving Charity during Chanukah to enable the less fortunate to experience increased joy.
Play dreidel during Chanukah. Avoid gambling large sums of money.
We avoid confessional prayer (Tachanun) during the 8 days of the festival.
If you need a Chanukiah let me know.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Same’ach!
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
4 December 2020
Something very interesting has happened over the past few decades. Even though much of reality has become less tangible and more virtual, people are leaning more in the opposite direction by defining what is real based on what they can see or feel physically. So, for example, faith and G-D are things that some people find challenging because they can’t see G-D or feel him physically.
There are many things we value that are not tangible like like love, art, music, and wisdom. Keeping intangible things going is often a battle.
I’ve had couples tell me that they have fallen out of love. The truth is that everyone has moments that they fall out of love, because it’s not possible to love someone effortlessly and endlessly, love needs to be worked on and nurtured. It is a battle at times.
It is the same with faith. It is a battle. It takes work and effort. If the things we believed in were fully exposed right in front of us, it wouldn’t require belief and it wouldn’t require effort.
That’s what you mean when you tell your child or anyone else you care for ‘I have faith in you’, meaning, even though I can’t see it or prove it, I believe that you will achieve it!
In Portion Vayishlach, Jacob battled with the attacking angel, beat him and had his name changed from Jacob to Israel.
Israel means, to wrestle with G-D. That’s what faith is – to not give up on fighting for meaning and for living purposefully according to the divine design.
In honour of Rabbi Sack’s Shloshim I’ll conclude with one of his brilliant sayings: “Faith is not certainty, but the courage to live with uncertainty”.
Rabbi Chaim and Dina
27 November 2020
Dina and I wish a big Mazal Tov to Matthew and Alinta Zwi on the birth of their princess – Ayla.
We wish them much Nachat from her!
We also wish Mazal Tov to Matthew’s parents, David and Rene Zwi. May they continue to Shep Nachas from all of their children and grand-children.
There is an amusing Medrash that tells that when Jacob lay his head down to rest on a stone pillow on the temple mount, the local stones started fighting, each wanting to be the one that Jacob, who was a holy man, would rest his head on.
To resolve the stone politics, Hashem performed a miracle and all the stones turned into a single stone, thereby all being placed under Jacob’s head together.
Once the stones were fused into a single object, they were no longer upset if Jacob’s head would not rest directly on them because they were now part of the same stone.
There is a wonderful message in this amusing story.
If you feel like you are on a separate team than someone else, you will feel jealous of their achievements, because you want your team or your agenda to win. However, if you look at life the true way, which is, we are all on the same team, we are all here to make the world a kinder and more harmonious place, albeit in our own unique way, then anyone else’s achievements are also our own.
The ‘two team’ approach can affect even our most personal relationships. Husbands and wives, parents and children often try to ‘win’ and have their way.
A subtle shift in attitude will create a major shift in your happiness and success.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
Passing of Rabbi Sacks
20 November 2020
By now, you would have heard about the upsetting news of the passing of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He was such an inspiration to so many people and provided thought provoking insights on a weekly basis.
This Shabbat, I will dedicate my sermons and messages to Rabbi Sacks.
I will share some of his insights and my reflections on how he stood out to me personally.
I hope you can join me in memorialising him and learning from his great wisdom.
For my weekly message, I will suspend my own thoughts and share a text from an animated video Rabbi Sacks shared one year ago. May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to all.
BY RABBI JONATHAN SACKS – Things Judaism taught me about life.
Never try to be clever. Always try to be wise.
Respect others, even if they disrespect you.
Never seek publicity for what you do. If you deserve it, you will receive it.
If you don’t, you will be attacked. In any case, goodness never needs to draw attention to itself.
When you do good to others, it is yourself, your conscience and your self-respect, that will be the beneficiary.
The greatest gift of giving is the opportunity to give.
In life, never take shortcuts. There is no success without effort, no achievement without hard work.
Keep your distance from those who seek honour.
Be respectful, but none of us is called on to be a looking glass for those in love with themselves.
In everything you do, be mindful that God sees all we do. There is no cheating God.
When we try to deceive others usually the only person we succeed in deceiving is ourself.
Be very slow indeed to judge others. If they are wrong, God will judge them. If we are wrong, God will judge us.
Greater by far than the love we receive is the love we give.
It was once said of a great religious leader, that he was a man who took God so seriously that he never felt the need to take himself seriously at all. And that is worth aspiring to.
Use your time well. Life is short, too short to waste on television, computer games and unnecessary emails;
too short to waste on idle gossip, or envying others for what they have,
too short for anger and indignation; too short to waste on criticising others.
“Teach us to number our days”, says the Psalm, “that we may get a heart of wisdom”.
But any day on which you have done some good to someone has not been wasted.
You will find much in life to distress you. People can be careless, cruel, thoughtless, offensive, arrogant, harsh, destructive, insensitive, and rude.
But that is their problem, not yours. Your problem is how to respond.
“No one”, a wise lady once said, “can make you feel inferior without your permission”. The same applies to other negative emotions.
Don’t react. Don’t respond. Don’t feel angry, or if you do, pause for as long as it takes for the anger to dissipate, and then carry on with the rest of life.
Don’t hand others a victory over your own emotional state. Forgive, or if you can’t forgive, just ignore.
If you’ve tried and failed, don’t feel bad.
God forgives our failures as soon as we acknowledge them as failures – and that spares us from the self-deception of trying to see them as success.
No one worth admiring ever succeeded without many failures on the way.
The great poets wrote bad poems; the great artists painted undistinguished canvases; not every symphony by Mozart is a masterpiece.
If you lack the courage to fail, then you lack the courage to succeed.
Always seek out the friendship of those who are strong where you are weak.
None of us has all the virtues. Even a Moses needed an Aaron.
The work of a team, a partnership, a collaboration with others who have different gifts or different ways of looking at things, is always greater than any one individual can achieve alone.
Create moments of silence in your soul if you want to hear the voice of God.
If something is wrong, don’t blame others. Ask, how can I help to put it right?
Always remember that you create the atmosphere that surrounds you.
If you want others to smile, you must smile. If you want others to give, you must give. If you want others to respect you, you must show your respect for them.
How the world treats us is a mirror of how we treat the world.
Be patient. Sometimes the world is slower than you are.
Wait for it to catch up with you, because if you are on the right path, eventually it will.
Never have your ear so close to the ground that you can’t hear what an upright person is saying.
Never worry when people say that you are being too idealistic.
It is only idealistic people who change the world, and do you really want, in the course of your life, to leave the world unchanged?
Be straight, be honest, and always do what you say you are going to do. There really is no other way to live.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
Teaching a subject vs teaching a student
13 November 2020
“Avraham was proud of Yitzchak and Yitzchak was proud of Avraham” – Toldot, first verse.
Many schools and parents put tremendous effort into building skills and increasing knowledge, and if their children or students graduate, open a business, make a respectable living, they take pride in their accomplishments. But, what about focusing on building their character as an educational goal? Teaching them to acquire skills like, bravery, decisiveness, resilience, optimism, humility, being driven, being authentic, being reliable and supportive. Do schools give enough or any classes on character building? Is it a focus?
Education is not teaching a subject, it is teaching a student, you’re dealing with human beings, and human beings by nature have their dark places, their twists of character, their rough edges, their fears and insecurities. You can be an instructor and teach a subject and stay very clean, but if you teach a student, you have to meet them in their dark places, and if you’re not prepared to meet them in their dark places then that cannot be called education. If you want your child or student to do good in the world, to be a good friend, a good spouse, a good father or mother, you must focus on character building as a fundamental goal in their upbringing.
In addition to the above, it is no secret that there is a surge in mental health problems among youth like never before. Prioritising our children’s strength of character, will go a long way in giving them emotional resilience and stamina to cope better with these challenges.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
6 November 2020
An insightful child ask his father who was one of the great leaders of his time, why did Abraham get to see G-D (as told in Vayeira). What about me? I would like such an appearance by Hashem as well. Why do we only read about such things but don’t experience it ourselves.
His father responded: when a person of 99 years old obeys a very difficult command and agrees to circumcise himself, as Abraham did, he becomes worthy of a personal encounter with Hashem.
To have Hashem show up at your door may require something of that magnitude but every time a person does something uncomfortable for Hashem, you will experience a closeness and a spark of Hashem’s presence.
Spiritually speaking, I personally still feel quite far from Abraham’s level and I’m assuming most of you do too, but through small acts of self sacrifice we can all get some glimpses here and there and maybe that’s all is expected of us.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
The Unknown Unknowns
30 October 2020
The Unknown Unknowns
Corona has shown us, that we live under conditions of great vulnerability and uncertainty.
What can you do to prepare yourself for uncertainty? Many people prepare themselves by risk management and by mathematical models of risk. But these won’t protect you because of what some call the ‘Unknown Unknowns‘. You can try to prepare yourself for something that has happened to you once, incase that exact thing happens again. But what if it reappears in a different way? What about things that come your way that never happened before? Could any of us have imagined one year ago that our lives would be the way they are right now? Limited or no travel, limited or no socializing, forced limited attendances at Simchas, Shuls, Funerals, etc!
It is simply impossible to predict or imagine what might come your way at any given moment.
So what can you do?
The simple answer is: develop your character, so that whatever fate Hashem throws at you, you are not fazed. You have the tools, the emotional stamina and perspective to confront it and not become frazzled or lose hope.
One of the main ways to build your character is by embracing uncertainty, by taking steps to go out of your comfort zone, a place where things feel very secure and cozy.
For the past seven or eight months, we have been forced to recluse to our safe spaces to protect our health. Now I believe is time for us to go out and be part of community again. We are very lucky in NSW that the risk factor for Corona has been relatively low, and now things are starting to open up again.
The government now allows groups of 30 at restaurants, 500 at outdoor concerts and up to 300 at places of worship.
So it is now time for us to embrace this low risk and once again be active participants in our Community and Shul life and enjoy the meaningful times we enjoyed before Covid came our way.
Rabbi Chaim & Dina
28 February 2020
This Thursday night/Friday is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, in Hebrew it’s called – Tu B’Av.
This day has been called the Jewish Valentines Day because it was set aside since Talmudic times, and even before, as a national matchmaking day.
The Talmud equates the greatness of this day with Yom Kippur.
Tu B’Av is considered a day of good luck and spiritual strength because the moon shines full (as it does on every 15th of the Jewish month), however, in this month it comes right after the sad day of Tisha B’Av and therefore it is the light that comes after the darkness. The happiness & joy experienced after sadness is a lot stronger.
Much of of life’s greatest experiences and successes are set up in this way.
First comes a temporary downfall or a seeming failure or breakdown, but when we persevere through it, we come out a lot stronger. It’s almost like the downfall brought about the success, just like a seed needs to first rot in the ground in order to produce growth.
This is life’s greatest secret, to allow our emotions to flow and even experience temporary difficulty in order for infinitely greater happiness and success to follow.
Have a peaceful Shabbos!