This Shabbat:

Friday Candle Lighting: 7:29 pm
Shabbat Ends: 8:26 pm

Torah Message:


“These are the words…” (1:1)

It’s always a refreshing experience to walk off the plane in London. I keep forgetting how polite the English really are. The wheels of English social intercourse are oiled through a millennium of homogeneous culture (the last invasion of the British Isles was in 1066), in which politeness is arguably the highest social virtue. Immigrants fast become more English than the English. When I grew up, someone who wore a turban, or a chador, or had different skin color, was guaranteed to carry along with that a heavily accented and foreign demeanor. Now when you speak to someone clearly ethnic, their accent could be as cockney as the sound of Bow Bells, or as a cut-glass as an ex-Etonian – but they are so polite. Yes, the English are so polite even when you can see they hate you.

As I was making my way through security on my way back home, we were all lining up to go through the scanner, our hats removed, our shoes and belts removed, our phones removed. “Everything out of your pockets, please!” “EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKETS PLEASE!” One by one we walked through the scanner, like sheep through a turnstile. “Please don’t come forward until you are called!” “Next, please!” A young blonde woman waved me into the scanner. Her two arms were raised, and after the scanner had finished, one of her hands came down, indicating that I should walk to the right. A chill ran down my spine.

“Pour into me now some of that red, red…” (Genesis 25:30) The word na, “now,” in this sentence can also be translated as “please.” Esav hates Yaakov. But he can be so polite in his hatred.

This week’s Torah portion of Devarim is always read in the week before the day of Jewish tragedy, Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av.

Some seventy years after the event we are still trying to come to terms with the destruction of European Jewry. How could the most cultured nation in the world turn to savage and merciless barbarism? How could the nation that produced Goethe and Beethoven produce monsters unrecognizable as human beings?

If the Germans prided themselves on anything, it was their politeness — “derech eretz” as it is called in Hebrew.

I once heard a lady who had been in Auschwitz recount her reception at that terrifying place. She was waiting to have her forearm tattooed with the number that would be her only identification in that hell. She was about to become a number. As she reached the man whose task it was to tattoo those numbers on her arm, she froze for a second in front of him, and he said to her mechanically, “Bitte!” Please!

Please hold out your arm! Please become a number! Please disappear from the face of the earth! Please!

How polite! In that hellhole of death and misery — “Please!”

“These are the words…”

Words can reveal, but words can also mask. May we soon see the great revelation of the Word of G-d in this world, for, on that day, G-d will be one and His Name One!