The Challenge We Face as Jews

by Rabbi Alex Chapper

What’s expected of us?  To keep the Torah, 613 mitzvos, to learn, to do chessed, to improve ourselves and the world around us. That’s quite a challenge!  Is it realistic?

Well, it must be, otherwise we wouldn’t be called on to do it by G-d!

But, however determined we are to fulfil our mission, we can’t underestimate its dimensions.  So that it shouldn’t overwhelm us, what should our perspective be?  What’s the correct attitude to adopt?

The opening words of parshat Behar hold the key.  Reminding us that all of the Torah’s instructions were give on a mountain highlights that mountains actually hold significant symbolic and historical importance in Judaism. They’re often associated with divine revelation, spiritual ascent, and transformative experiences.

Har Sinai is perhaps the most iconic mountain in Judaism. It’s the place of Divine Revelation, where Moshe Rabbeinu received the Torah from G-d, an event that’s central to Jewish faith and practice.

Har HaMoriah is traditionally identified as the location of the Binding of Isaac and later the site of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Har Tzion is often used synonymously with the city of Jerusalem, itself. It represents the spiritual and national aspirations of the Jewish people. It’s frequently mentioned in Psalms and other biblical texts as a symbol of G-d’s presence and the ultimate destination of Jewish longing. In Jewish liturgy and poetry, Zion often symbolizes redemption and the future messianic era.

Har HaCarmel is known for the dramatic confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal, as recorded in the Book of Kings. While Har Nevo is the mountain from which Moses viewed the Promised Land before his death.

Mountains in Judaism are more than just geographical features; they’re imbued with deep spiritual and symbolic meaning. They serve as places of divine revelation, symbolise spiritual aspiration, and represent the enduring presence of G-d in the world. Whether through the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai or the vision of the Promised Land from Mount Nevo, mountains play a crucial role in the narrative and spiritual life of Judaism.

The Mechilta asks:  Why was the Torah given on a mountain?

And we can answer that it encourages us to look up, to aspire to reach its summit, to climb higher that we thought possible. Judaism is about aspiration, a commitment to elevate ourselves and the world around us to greater heights.

The past week has shown us that we face a tremendous challenge

We started with the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister and his defence minister, along with those for Hamas leaders. Any rational person can see that this is perverse, that there’s no “moral equivalence” between the actions of a State legitimately defending its citizens and the barbaric actions of terrorists. This is outrageous, abhorrent, hurtful and deeply offensive to the victims of October 7th and their families and those being held hostage and will cast an everlasting mark of shame on the international court

If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday, Ireland, Norway and Spain announced a decision to recognise Palestine as a state. Not only is this step and injustice to the victims of October 7th but it also sends the message that terrorism pays.

Do these countries not realise that their actions are a rewarding Hamas and Iran for the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? Have they not watched the harrowing video showing the abduction of female soldiers from the Nahal Oz base? If they had, they would’ve seen how the footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction.

And yet the world remains silent!

Overnight on Wednesday, a historic cinema in north London was defaced with blood-red paint ahead of a documentary screening about the Nova festival massacre. Artists for Palestine UK claim that “Seret (the Israeli film festival) is part of a broader artwashing strategy by the Israeli settler-colonial apartheid state that uses culture to whitewash and cover up its crimes against the Palestinian people.”

No mention of the murder of innocent Israelis or the hostages!

It’s been a difficult week

The only good news we’ve had this week is that Bendicks mints are to remain kosher!

The Torah was given on a mountain so that we should aspire to rise above the morally corrupt world in which we live, to hope for a better future, to commit ourselves to climbing its face through Torah and mitzvos to reach a place where we have a meaningful connection to G-d, to find clarity on what is good and decent, to grow as individuals and contribute to society.

We’ve worked hard to reach this point, but the work doesn’t stop here, it’s only just beginning but with G-d’s help we’ll be successful and see the fulfilment of the words “You shall live upon the land in security.”

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