Abraham, Knife

Contributed by  Dr Howard G.

He gets up early. There’s a task he has to carry out. He wonders if it’s a test. He looks down at himself. Circumcise yourself, the Voice said.

This is going to hurt. He knows he must do it right: the target organ is the sole organ of generation. After the knife has finished its work, that organ has to work for generation. You will be father to nations…

He sharpens the knife. It’s the best Hittite bronze, this ma’acheleth, this knife that makes others to eat. He looks at the earthenware jug. Will he take wine? Wine will dull pain, will it dull the surgeon? No, wine will wait. There will be time for that after He gives him a son.

Hooded eyes look down again, calculating, reckoning. How much will suffice? How much will be too much? He raises the knife. It trembles in his hand. Vision blazes, the eyes widen, the blade strikes.


He’s up early again. When he hears the Voice he knows he has to act. It’s always daunting, always a task. Or a test? Take your son…

I have two sons. At least I used to have, before the Voice commanded: Listen to the voice of your wife. My wife told me to send the boy away. But still, which son does He mean?

Your only son…

He can’t mean Isaac! There’s the Covenant, the promise: father of nations…

Isaac, whom you loved. 

Well, there it is. No doubt, no further questions. So, up early, he saddles the ass, he takes two servant lads and they set off for the place which the Voice said to him. On the third day they stop at the foot of the mountain. Abraham speaks to his lads: You two stay here with the ass, and I and this lad will go on; we’ll bow ourselves down and we’ll come back to you.

Will we come back to you?

Both of us? 

Either of us?

How will I face his mother?

Why didn’t the Voice command me this time to hearken unto her voice?
So Abraham takes the wood pieces for the offering and he takes in his hand the fire and the voracious knife.

And the two of them go on together.

No speech in their mouths.

Silent climbing.
At length he hears the voice of his son: My father!

I’m here my son.

Here are the fire and the wood pieces; but where is the sheep for the sacrifice?

And Abraham says, God will see a sheep for sacrifice to Himselfmy son.

Isaac does not speak again to his father. Not ever.

And they go, the two of them, together.
And they come to the Place that God said to him.

Abraham builds an altar.

He arranges the firewood.

He binds his son. 

He places him on the altar, atop the firewood.
And Abraham stretches forth his hand.

And he takes that voracious knife to slaughter his son.

He moves deliberately, without haste, he allows time, as if awaiting the Voice, as if doubting the Voice, as if he now were the one setting a test.

The hooded eyes open wide. He is blinded by vision: he hears a Voice, the voice from heaven of a messenger.


Abraham says here I am.

He heeds the voice.
Abraham lifts up his eyes and he sees a ram and he slaughters it in the stead of his son.
The two descend.

They do not speak.

In hearkening unto a Voice that comes from heaven, he has obeyed.

No-one but he hears the Voice. Or the voices.

Were both the same true Voice?

If they were not the same voice, which was true?

The father and his son go to Beer Sheva and Abraham settles there.
What does Sarah hear from Abraham?

What does Sarah hear from her son?

What does she know?
The next we hear of Sarah is of her death in Kiryath Arba, which is a good distance from Beer Sheva.

Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot Torah reading

Contributed By Marcel

I believe that imagination plus knowledge leads to creativity.

My writing is about using the little knowledge I have, and combine it with my imagination that has no limits, to generate creative responses to the Hebrew Scriptures.

My hope is that my creative response will also awaken the reader’s imagination, so together we can create something even bigger, and both move closer to the Ultimate Creator.

This week’s Torah portion provides essential clues on getting closer to G-d.

Firstly, a major premise is G-d lives in the present, past, and future simultaneously, and has no concept of time as we know it. Thus generally, we have an opportunity to draw closer to Hashem, by encountering Him in the present, past and future as best we can. In the moment time stands still, G-d dwells.

Engaging with G-d in the past is easy. As G-d informs Moses, “I shall remove My hand and you will see My back” (after G-d has passed). Thus the Torah written thousands of years ago is relevant today.

We can easily exhort G-d for a better future, encouraged by His words in the Parsha  “Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations”

However, our efforts to encounter G-d in the moment, seem to be fraught with danger, “You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live.”

In the  Parsha further G-d informs us our relationship with Him is complex when He declares, “I shall show favour, when I choose to show favour, and I shall show mercy, when I choose to show mercy”. Words indicating G-d is not easily flattered, or beguiled by our praises, nor our actions to appease Him. Praying that we will be better Jews in the future, and asking forgiveness for our past transgressions, does not automatically lead to G-d’s acquiescence. Piety as an effort to engage with Hashem in the moment does not guarantee one favourable response by G-d. Of course piety does not mean there won’t be a favourable response. The Jew-G-d relationship as stated, is complex.

In addition the Parsha states clearly, the iniquity of parents is carried by the third and the fourth generations. Living a pious life today, does not preclude being punished for the transgressions of our great grandparents.

True intimacy can only occur in the present. Love affairs based on future predictions, or past experiences lack substance. It would mean if I only loved my wife because of her good looks when she was young, then by default I would lose interest in her as she ages she aged. G-d seeks our love NOW.

The Parsha offers a way of encountering Hashem in the moment.

The two Tablets of Stone mentioned in the Parsha, hold the key. They contain the Ten Commandments, the most exemplary moral code on HOW humans need to live their lives. The messages the tablets hold are unequivocal, and ensure living life with a  mutual respect for one another, a positivity towards all sentient beings, and to the planet. This is only possible through deep connections, only possible when we are fully engaged with life in the  present moment.

I believe reinstating the Ten Commandments to its position of importance and reverence, provides us with access to the ultimate moral code, a template on how to live a good and true life. A life where we are truly connected with all sentient beings and with the planet.

Since it is nigh well impossible for us to connect with G-d in the moment, as Moses, the greatest of all prophets found, surely the next best thing is to connect with his creations.

What does all this have to do with Sukkot?

Living in the moment is the most difficult thing for many people to do, exemplified by the never ending “to do lists” we carry in our heads, always taking us away into an unknown future, and often driven by negativities in our past. However, the present is the only time we are at our most vulnerable, able to show our true humanity. This is the encounter Hashem needs from us.

Living in booths is a ritual, and rituals generally do not make sense. We could celebrate Sukkot by simply reading the scriptures, in the comfort of our air conditioned home, rain and wind free, yet Hashem dictates us taking action, and with Melbourne’s weather in Spring,  inconveniencing ourselves at times as well. This ritual increases our vulnerability and our humanity.

Rituals by their nature compel us to experience the moment, because they are ‘unknowing’, just like the Unknown. This idea of being ‘unknowing’ takes us out of our frontal lobes, where endless planning, categorising, thinking and remembering occurs, leaving us to simply experience the ritual unprotected by our usual defence mechanisms, thereby getting closer to G-d.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach


Sukkot Insight

First day Sukkot 2021, Torah Reading

By Marcel 

There is a strange command in this Torah reading…
“You shall dwell in booths for a seven day period every native in Israel”
It seems strange is because the message was directed to the wandering Jews who had already been living in “booths” for close to forty years, they were not natives to Israel, and had never set foot in the place.
I suspect the last thing these Jews wanted to do was continue to dwell in booths, when they finally arrived at their destination, even for one week a year. Especially since they had been city dwellers when back in Egypt, and their current accommodation was not five star by any means
I suspect Hashem was once more delivering a cryptic message with his command. Since G-d lives in the present, past and future simultaneously, He was wanting to bolster the morale of the wandering Jews in exile, by pre-empting their status whilst they were still in the desert, wondering when they would get to their destination, and having no crystal ball.
In G-d’s view the Jews were already natives of Israel, because of all the effort they had made to arrive thus far. He afforded them citizenship as a way of inspiring them to keep going. The booth dwelling was a reminder of the context of their struggle.
The command reminds me of the stories of impoverished Jews, putting on their Shabbos best clothing, despite living in poverty. Their surrounds suddenly improved dramatically, just because of the garment change, and what it did for their self-image.
I believe the same principle applies to us nowadays. When we sit in our humble sukkah, and the rain leaks in (every September in Melbourne), we also need to remember we are Am Israel, the people (natives ) of Israel, and that our surrounds will never be onerous or wet enough to dampen (pun) our enthusiasm for our wonderful rituals and traditions.

Chag Sameach


By Dr Howard Goldenberg

When my stroke struck it struck my words

I’d speak a word and hear it slurred

The stroke struck my spoken word –

My word! How dear to me my darling words

The stroke struck words

Uttered aloud at prayer

I slurred those words

Unless I prayed with care

When I spoke the word

I recalled the ‘absurd’

Tale of the  Baal Shem,

Master of the Name:

when a man is born his words are numbered:

a man lives and speaks and exhausts his store

of words, then falls,

silenced, is heard no more…

That tale, to which I’d ascribed no store

Came to mind, and led me to deplore

The words I’d tasted,

Words I’d wasted

The basilar artery

That feeds the pons

Sometimes doesn’t

And it happened to me.

As strokes go

It wasn’t much –

Not so much a stroke

As a gentle touch –

And as strokes go

Mine went.

My words returned!

To heaven sent

But it was a stroke

Pontine infarct in fact

Seen by scan

It took me aback

Mum said, after her second stroke,

The next one will get me –

Three strokes and you’re out!

We both laughed at death’s little joke.

Or was it a joke?

 Words are the weapon of the Jew. Amoz Oz and his daughter co-authored a book on the subject of Jews and words. We have a love of words. Our Commandments are called The Ten Words, and by contrast, when Scripture endows an animal with speech, the endowment is potent for evil (the serpent) or for truth (Balaam’s ass).

 The stroke, (more a caress than a stroke, really) fell in the month of Ellul. Was Balaam’s ass talking to me? – I wondered. A wound to my words, that’s all it was, and only those words uttered without thought. That is, I was afflicted only when I davvened without intent. The immediate result was a slowing of that automatic utterance which had become my ritual. And when I slowed, words and phrases leapt out at me: I’d awaken and I’d say Modeh ani l’fanecha (I thank you…)  I’d start the Amidah with: Hashem, sfatai tifthach  (Hashem, open Thou my lips!) and I’d close that passage of pure prayer with Elokai, n’tzor l’shoni me’rah (My God, guard my tongue from evil).

I came to realise that our practice of spoken prayer was itself a sly joke: we use words to pray that our words be good. I heard myself reciting the prayer to Hashem that He should listen (shema koleinu, Hashem Elokeinu) when I, the speaker was not even attending. That realisation of my careless holy speech reminded me how colossally impertinent I was, as if I’d addressed the Bench with my back turned.

This enterprise of prayer is, by its nature, audacious. We speak to Hashem with our requests (nineteen of them, in fact, in even a routine Amidah). The act of prayer presumes to imply that the Almighty should listen, take heed and alter His plan or His intent: Hey, listen, God, I’ve got this great idea, actually a better idea than Your own.


In sefer Dvarim Moshe warns us: motza sfatecha tishmor (guard that which departs from your lips). Perhaps he’s recalling that occasion when Miriam, his own sister, traduces him for his union with a Cushite woman. For that sin of speech she is stricken with leprosy. Moshe’s immediate response is instinctive and impassioned. He cries, el nah, refah nah la (O God, heal her, I pray!)  Moses’ words redeem Miriam’s words. Moses literally asks God to reverse His decision. God heeds, acts and heals.


Ellul turned to Tishrei. On Rosh Hashanah I blew the shofar: one

hundred impassioned notes, now the pained cry of tekiah, now the helpless yelping of teruah, now the stuttering of shevarim. One hundred notes and not a single contaminating human word, nothing insincere, nothing half-hearted, nothing sly, sophistic or even clever. Pure prayer. The shofar had stopped my lips from speech.

In this season of confession it’s meet for me to confess. An addict of words, a wielder of words – in work, in play, in creation, in war, I’ve erred and I’ve wounded. I offer this confession with these public words, which alone will be utterly vain, unless underlaid with deeds. That’s our paradox: we’ll use speech to try to atone for speech. Other than the whirling of chickens overhead in an attempt to make the thought flesh, we have only words.

So, we’ll solemnly pray to God to annul our vows. We’ll say contritely al chet she’chtannu bevitui sfattayim, for the sin we sinned before You by an utterance of our lips.

We’ll follow this with al chet she’chattanu… b’dibbur peh, for the sin we have sinned before You in speech,

and shortly afterwards with al chet she’chattanu… be’vidui peh for the sin we have sinned before You by insincere confession.

The liturgy searches out my errors relentlessly:

Al chet she’chattanu … be’tumm‘at sefattayim (for the sin we have sinned before You by impure speech (ah, all those dirty jokes, all that sexist speech.)

Al chet she’chattanu…b’tifshut peh for the sin we have sinned before You by the folly of speech.

I thought of Roberta Flack:

Strumming my pain with his fingers

Singing my life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly with his song

Telling my whole life with his words

Killing me softly with his song…

And I thought of Moshe Rabbeinu, who said, va’ani aral sfattayim, (and I am uncircumcised of lips), and remorsefully, and vainly, I wished I was too.

Alot Can Happen Over Yom Kippur

A lot can happen over Yom Kippur

A short poem by Murray Meltzer

With Yom Kippur out I turn on the news,
the world has moved on with hardly a snooze.

In less than 24 hours we now have a nuclear roadmap at sea,
We’ve barely got past Neilah and our first cup of tea

We’ve upset the Chinese and pissed off the French,
I’ve only just eaten and have yet to Bench.

Our case load is up, it’s a pandemic still here.
The shrill sound of the shofar blasts through the air.

SpaceX has put 4 civilians into Space.
Dan is still taking on Sydney and it’s hardly a race.

Somehow we managed another Yom Tov at home.
We’ve heard a few tunes via Zoom on the phone.

We look forward to Succos and the joys of Spring,
And (wow) a mobile succah on a bike the Rabbi will bring !

So as we finish one year and a new one begins,
we’ve repented and atoned and cast out our sins.

There’s no looking back, with restrictions now easing,
it’s picnics outdoors with a friend now that sounds pleasing !!!

So in 24 hours we stopped for a while,
each in our own way with plenty of style

We move forth invigorated with sense of wonder,
a Yom Kippur 24 hours in Lockdown down under.

Insights on Parshah Haazinu


By Marcel 

Moshe’s final communication to the Jews through poetry and allegory, has one purpose I think.

That is to alert the Jews, G-d is not some quaint old man with a white beard and rosy cheeks, who brings gifts to those who are pious, and punishes those who are not.

Despite Hashem punishing Moshe by exclusion into the land of Canaan, Moshe continued to sing His praises (and His decisions) till the end.

Guaranteed Moshe was not trying to sidle up to G-d seeking favours, and redemption in his last moments. Because at all stages Moshe was only interested in the perpetuity of the Children of Israel, through an authentic covenant with G-d,.

The honest relationship Moshe had with G-d till the end, is the template of the kind of relationship we need to have with G-d today.

Jacob the patriarch provides the HOW to do this.

Years ago after he and his brother Easau had become estranged, an opportunity arose for  a meeting between them.

What did Jacob do? He used the only tactics available to all of when trying to make a connection with another person.

He accumulated gifts, he sent away the vulnerable members of his group, plus he prepared to fight.

Explaining Jacob’s strategy, Jacob moved towards, away and against, the ONLY way we can ever interact with anyone

Bringing gifts was moving towards. Sending off the vulnerable was moving away, and getting ready to fight was moving against.

In other words this is how we need to treat our relationship with Hashem, to ensure a genuine relationship, and no longer say one thing, and do another.

Sometimes only we need to move towards Him, sometimes we need to move away from Him, and there are plenty of times we must move against (challenge) Him.

Currently, it appears we have a delusionary relationship with an imaginary G-d, who will reward us if we are nice. Time and time again it is noticed how good and pious Jews die or suffer despite moving endlessly towards G-d, and the “rashas” thrive and prosper after moving exclusively away.

Is it not time to wake up and re-establish that authentic relationship as demonstrated by Moshe, at the most pivotal time in his life, his imminent death. At this point there was no time for niceties, or rhetoric, Moshe had to say it as it is, and he moved towards, away and against, never declaring our piety would see us through, rather our following the Torah as difficult as that was, would give us some hope of redemption.

The prophet Isiah also reminded us not to anthropomorphise   G-d

“ For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, My ways”, says the Lord


Thus far we have not really listened.

What will it take??


Shabbat Shalom