From the Magazine of the New West End Synagogue – 1956
At the suggestion of a congregant who attends services every Sabbath, we intend to include as a permanent feature of VENTURE some of the points made in sermons from the New West End pulpit. This congregant, with much personal experience in modern publicity methods, remarked that while few people are prepared to read and digest sermons whole, many would like to have in handy form some of the more interesting points from sermons delivered in the Synagogue. We have adopted these suggestions and hope that the new feature proves a success.
Nov 1956, Vol 1 No. 3
Points from Recent Sermons
To understand the Bible correctly we have to recognise that its eternal truths are expressed against the background of an ancient civilisation very different from our own. To take the Bible seriously, we must not take it literally. We need not be perturbed at the fact that in some matters its views differ from those of modern science or that some of the Biblical stories are paralleled in the Babylonian and other ancient mythologies. The eternal truths found in the Bible stand out like precious jewels whose brilliance is unaffected by their setting. To take some of the truths taught in the first portion of the Torah-that man is created in the image of God; that God is the Creator of all that there is, that sin consists of God saying: “Do not” and man defiantly saying: “I will!”. Can religious truth be summarised more effectively and in more simple a form, so that even a child may understand while containing food for reflection for the most mature man and woman?
‘Where art thou?-Where Is thy Brother?‘
Jews have always been fond of the question and answer method of teaching. ‘Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question?’ a Jew was asked. ‘Why not?’ was his reply! One of the most important branches of Jewish legal literature is the Responsa literature in which great teachers reply to questions put to them in matters of Jewish law by diligent inquirers from many parts of the world. It is not surprising therefore, that the Bible begins with two great questions-that addressed by God to Adam ‘Where art thou?’ and by God to Cain: ‘Where is thy brother?’ This is what Judaism means. God requires of man the answers to these two questions: ‘Where art thou?-what are your standards, your aims, the purpose of your life, what are you making of your life?-and ‘Where is thy brother?’-what are you doing to increase the happiness and wellbeing of others, are you a good neighbour, do you give to others as well as receive from them?
Hard and Easy Judaism
People think that we fail in our Judaism because it is too hard. May it not be nearer to the truth that we fail because our Judaism is too easy? When our ancestors said ‘It is hard to be a Jew’ they were doing more than express whimsically the difficulties of their existence. They knew in their heart of hearts that an easy religion is a contradiction in terms and that it is the glory of Judaism that it makes demands on its followers. ‘God offers us the choice between truth and ease.’ (Emerson.) ‘The disciples of the wise have no rest neither in this world nor in the next.’ (Talmud.)
If each Jew would take hold of some great Jewish idea and try to give it full expression in his life, even if he had to make sacrifices to do this, Judaism would soon become a real force for good.
‘Not by bread alone . .’
Man does not live by bread alone, says Scripture. This does not mean that the material things of life should be neglected. Judaism teaches that God placed us in this wonderful world he has created to enjoy it. The meaning of the verse is well expounded in the Chinese proverb: ‘I had two loaves so I sold one and bought a Lily.’ Many a Jewish scholar would have said: ‘So I sold one and bought a book.’ Many a Jewish philanthropist would have said: ‘So I sold one and gave the money to a man in need.’
Religion arid Ethics
The relationship between Religion and Ethics ought not to be that of Master to Slave, with Religion dominating Ethics or Ethics Religion. Nor ought it to be the relationship between enemies, with Religion and Ethics hostile to each other. It ought rather to be the relationship of two members of the same family who recognise their kinship and help each other to achieve their aims. The Rabbis put the Jewish ideal in these words: ‘And thou shalt do the good and the right…. ‘The good’ in the eyes of God, ‘And the right’ in the eyes of Man.
June 1957 Vol 2 No 1
Points from Recent Sermons
Searching for the Torah
The Rabbis noted that the two middle words of the Torah are larosh darash, meaning ‘he diligently inquired.’ It is a mistake to think of Judaism as a static faith in which everything is given, as it were. There is room in Judaism for the questing soul. The old Jewish idea that there are ‘secrets of the Torah’ implies that there are Torah ideas still to be revealed, truths of Torah yet to be realised, potentialities of Torah to be made actual. Each generation has its own problems and the Torah speaks to each generation in its own idiom and to its own situation. Among the problems our age has to solve are those of using atomic energy, that it be for a blessing and not a curse, the question of racial prejudice and discrimination, the relationship between employer and employee, the threat of Communism. We may not find a complete solution to these problems in our generation but this does not absolve us from trying to discover what Judaism has to say about them. For the words ‘he diligently inquired’ are right at the heart of the Torah and more than one great Jewish teacher has said that to seek for the truth is itself to find.
Freedom of the Spirit
T H E word most frequently used in hebrew for ‘freedom’ is heruth. The root meaning of this word is used in the Bible for ‘nobility.’ The nobles are called the ‘horim.’ For freedom is more than absence of external control. True freedom depends on an attitude of mind. As Ahad Ha-Am has said, there are Jews who are freemen in the midst of bondage because their souls are their own. And there are Jews who though free in body have no freedom of soul. It was no accident that Moses was brought up in the king’s palace. Only a man with something of the aristocrat in his soul can lead a people to freedom.
Faith and song
Scripture records that when Israel saw the hand of God at the shores of the Red Sea and when Israel believed ‘then sang Moses and the children of Israel.’ “When Israel believes Israel sings’ (Midrash). For a life without faith is a life without wonder and without purpose. But a life with faith is a life receptive to all the joy, the mystery, and the beauty of existence, in which a world is seen ‘in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower. The Jew could sing despite the tragedy of his life because there was a spark of the divine within him which enabled him in the midst of squalor and degradation to bless God who had not made him a heathen. In a Cologne cellar where Jews hid from the Nazis there was found this inscription:
‘I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when not feeling it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.’