August 2019, Parshat Matot-Massei

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from a two-day conference held in Geelong by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. This conference was a chance for Rabbis from across Victoria to discuss and strategize for the year ahead. I found it uplifting to sit with my rabbinic colleagues and discuss some of the most relevant issues facing congregants, people and leaders across the Jewish community in Australia. While this conference is not held every year, when it is held it provides a fantastic opportunity for Rabbis to compare notes and share concerns.

Topics discussed included how to encourage people into or back into Shule, helping couples on their journey to parenthood, ways to be more inclusive of the Jewish LGBQTI community and ways to increase the involvement of women within the Orthodox framework.

I myself gave a small talk on the things I learnt from my Rabbinic mentors in previous roles and community jobs I have held. When I left the conference I felt inspired by the discussions that were held. Mushka also attended a Rebbetzin’s dinner dedicated to discussing many of these topics.

We look forward to implementing some of these new ideas in our Kehillah and had a wonderful time representing ARK Centre at these events.

This Friday will usher in the new month of Av. The Jewish calendar anchors itself around its festivals and months, each which bring unique feelings, commemorations and rituals. Av is known as one of the sadder months in the calendar due to the myriad of terrible atrocities that have occurred during at this time.

The month of Av witnessed tragedies such as the First and Second Temples being invaded and destroyed, the expulsion of Jews from in 1492, the fall of Betar to the Romans and more recent atrocities like the massacre in Hebron in 1929.

So sad is the month of Av, the Babylonian Talmud declares that “when we enter the month of Av, we, the Jewish people, decrease our joy.”

Yet while Av is known for its sadness, I want to focus on one of the more obscure commemorations that take place on Rosh Chodesh Av, namely the Yahrzeit of the high priest Aaron, the elder brother of Moshe. Aaron was the original high priest and the date of his death is the only specific Yahrzeit date recorded in the Torah.

Aaron was noted for his kindness and peaceful nature. The great sage Hillel instituted a saying about Aaron noting that he, ‘loved peace and pursued peace’ as a way of life.

These qualities were not lost on the nation. The Torah records Kol bait Yisrael – “all the house of Israel” – mourned for the full month for Aron! In contrast, when Moshe passed away, the Torah only records that he was mourned by the “Bnei Israel” without the word Kol – “all”.

As a people, we can emulate the example of the high priest Aaron and pursue peace amongst ourselves and with others as, in doing so, this is a way to atone for the sins of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) that led to the destruction of the second Temple, which occurred during Av.

In addition, the month of Av helps us to stay anchored to sacred times and take stock of ourselves. While the lead-up to the fast of Tisha B’av is solemn, the rest of Av maintains a more upbeat perspective preceding the season of teshuvah- “repentance”, demonstrating that if we work together, things can change for the better.

As we enter this solemn month let each of us put into action the qualities of Aaron the high priest by pursuing peace and bringing people closer. Love and kindness do not need to be calculated, they just give. Let’s each of us increase our thoughtfulness and charitable acts with an aim to promote a more cohesive and peaceful community.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi