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A New Vision For South Head - Rabbi's Message 24/06

24/06/16 06:40:42


This past Sunday we had our first Board Meeting. This is my opening address to the Board in which I enunciate critical elements of our vision for South Head. Below you will find a message from President James Hochroth who will, G-d Willing, be a regular contributor to South Head’s eNews.

Firstly, I would like to thank you all for being here today and for joining our Board of Management. In so doing you demonstrate your support of our Shule, our President and myself. The last two weeks have been difficult – I would say unnecessarily difficult – as a result of the unwelcome publicity in the AJN, but I believe that is behind us. I would like to say at the outset that James and our treasurer Jack have been extraordinarily supportive of me personally. Through that support they have unleashed an energy that I haven’t felt in years. Let’s say it how it is: everyone needs support. Even Moses needed support. When he had the support of the people, he ascended in greatness, when he didn’t, he descended. As of today, we turn over a new constructive leaf. We take the first steps in making our shule – South Head – all that it can be, the most vibrant shule in Sydney.

The President has asked that I deliver a Devar Torah encapsulating the critical elements of our vision for the shule. I will commence with four explanations of the first verses of this week’s parasha, and then explain their relevance to South Head.

The parasha commences with בהעלותך– the Mitzvah to light the Menorah every day in the Temple.

The Rabbis ask a simple question? Does G-d require light? Isn’t He THE Light?

Rather, they explain, the purpose of the Menorah was to be a source of Light and Divine Guidance for all the inhabitants of the world.

Indeed, the windows of the Temple were made contrary to normal windows. Normal windows are narrow on the outside and wide on the inside – to funnel the outside light in. In the Temple the windows were narrow on the inside and wide on the outside – to radiate the Light out!

It is my hope too that South Head becomes a Centre of Light - not just for our own community, but for the entire area and beyond. 

The actual word בהעלותך means “when you cause (either the lamps or yourself) to go up”. This is strange. Shouldn’t the Torah have simply said, בהדליקך – “when you kindle the Menorah”? Why is it talking about “going up”?

Below are four explanations for this puzzle, followed by their relevance to us at South Head.

  1. The Torah is not talking about the Lighting of the Menorah, but of the preparation of the Menorah. Each morning the Menorah would be cleaned and setup for the evening’s lighting. Now here’s something interesting. The cleaning and setting up of the Menorah had to be done by a Cohen. The lighting of the Menorah could be performed by anyone. It speaks of “going up” rather than “kindling” to include the cleaning and setting up of the Menorah. And here is an enigma: the cleaning and preparing of the Menorah in the morning was more important that its kindling at night. The Lighting could be done by anyone whereas the Preparation could only be done by a Cohen.

  2. The lamps of the Menorah cannot be set low; they must be raised at least 18 handbreadths above the ground.

  3. It’s not sufficient to just light the lamps – you must cause the lamps to stay alight. It’s possible to kindle a candle in a manner that it burns for a moment and then goes out. You have touched it with light, but not made it into a source of independent light. The Torah therefore instructs us to not merely kindle the lamp but to “cause it to go up”. Rashi explains, “kindle it in a manner that the flame remains alight of its own accord”.

  4. There were steps in front of the Menorah upon which the Cohen would stand – he had to go up to the Menorah. But why did he need the step?The Menorah was only 18 handbreadths high – about five feet? The reason is because the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) often lit the Menorah himself. He wore a Tzitz - a tiara - upon which was engraved G-d’s Holy Name. As you are not permitted to raise your hands above G-d’s Name, he had to stand high enough to ensure that this would not occur.

There are powerful lessons that we can derive from each of these explanations as applied to our vision for South Head.

  1. Our primary focus must be on preparation rather than on outcome. Once everything is fully prepared, outcomes flows naturally. A barrister represents his client in court; it may look simple, but there’s been a world of preparation leading up to his appearance. When you build a house – it’s all in the plans and materials. As we prepare to rebuild our shule, it’s important that we lay strong foundations, putting everything in its correct place. Under previous Boards we built a strong physical structure – the hardware. It’s something we can be truly proud of – and I thank them greatly for their support. It is now time to focus on the software.

    Together with James, Jack and our consultant Nick Hedges, we have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about the structure of the shule, the segmentation of the administration into different parts (body and soul), the role definitions within those parts, etc. Some of this is already in the process of being implemented. But there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. We need the right people in the right roles and we need those roles to be tightly defined so that we don’t have wasteful overlap, or things falling through the cracks. This will take time. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with James and Jack. I’m confident that with the good will and chemistry that we have - we are appropriately preparing for a great future for our shule by laying the strong foundations necessary.

  2. Every congregant is a Light – and every congregant must be raised. We need our congregants to feel as if they are important members of our community and that the Synagogue is there to serve them. We will do this by reaching out to them – all of them – and creating varied opportunities for connection. To this end we are in the process of appointing a Pastoral and Communal Engagement Manager who will be responsible for direct and personal communal engagement, Adult Education, communal dinners, cultural and social activities, coordination of pastoral care of the Synagogue and most importantly, taking an active interest in our Synagogue’s membership.
    One of the things that we feel is important, as James writes in his message this week, are Shabbos dinners for specific age groups at shule. To this end, Rebbetzen is hard at work organizing the first of these.

  3. It’s not enough to run our shule from the top-down –Rabbi, Rebbetzen, Board, Clergy, Pastoral Manager and staff. We need to get the congregation involved. We already have a Ladies Guild under the leadership of Bernice Charif who do an outstanding job – undoubtedly the best in Sydney. But community involvement must be broadened.
    We must have a Bikkur Cholim (Sick Visiting Society) – a staple of any traditional Jewish Community. I’m often called upon to assist business people who are doing it tough, or someone who is desperately in need of a job. Perhaps we could have a volunteer group of businessmen who give advice and/or assistance to those who are undergoing a hard time.
    There are people in shule, and in the broader community, who would be happy to volunteer to give shiurim – this is fantastic! The Pastoral and Communal Engagement Manager will create a framework for this to happen.
    On a more general level - as beautiful as our Chazanand choir are, we want our congregants to know the service well enough so that they can join in. It’s not about entertainment from the top down, it’s about communal participation.

    We need to teach the congregation so that they are comfortable participating in prayers.

    In short we need to empower our congregants.

  4. Finally, whatever we do, must be done in the clear knowledge that we are under a Higher Power whose Will and Laws we must respect. We must never do anything contrary to G-d’s Will and Word, as expressed in Halacha. We must never put ourselves above G-d and His Divine Name.​

To recap: a) We need to get the structure right, b) we need to make our members feel important, c) we need to get our members actively involved in our shule, d) we must recognise that we operate under the aegis of a Higher Being whose Will we must respect.

I would like to conclude by saying that the Menorah had Seven Branches. Each branch represents a different personality type. There are indeed different personalities and different approaches – especially among Jews! At the same time however, as with the Menorah we are all hewed from the one piece of pure gold - representing absolute respect and unity. Our President James Hochroth has said that South Head is a family. In a family, there are typically many personality types, but they remain a family. Or as the Seal of the US Senate boldly states, E Pluribus Unim - out of many one. Let that be our motto too. Out of Many, One!

On behalf of the Rebbetzin and all of us at South Head, best wishes for a Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Benzion Milecki OAM

Thu, 21 November 2019 23 Cheshvan 5780

Why Didn't You Take the Money and Run? -

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Rose Bay, NSW 2029
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