July 2019, Parshat Pinchas

Dear Friends,

This past week I had the great pleasure of representing the ARK Centre community at Parliament House in Canberra to affix the office Mezuzah of my good friend Josh Burns, the new Member for Macnamara. Josh is one of a small but significant cohort of Jewish Members of Parliament from all sides of politics that do a fantastic job in representing our community in the House.

While I have previously visited Parliament, this time I found it very moving to be present while Josh gave his maiden speech. Noting in his speech that his newly renamed seat of Macanamara is named after Dame Annie Jean Macanama (previously it was known as Melbourne Ports), Josh reflected on the outstanding contribution that Dame Annie Jean made to Australian society as a medical doctor, scientist and work in children’s health and welfare. He also remarked that his own grandfather, Dr Herschel Cohen, had been a student of Dame Annie Jean, something that was only discovered at one of his pre-election functions!

Following his speech in the House of Representatives, I was invited by Josh to visit his new office in the halls of Parliament. Accompanied by about 60 well-wishers and fellow MPs, I helped him to affix the Mezuzah to his office door in Parliament House in Canberra.

I explained to the small crowd the importance of a Mezuzah and how it symbolizes faith in G-d’s protection. With cheers of ‘L’chaim’ to Josh and a small simcha dance of Siman Tov, I left Canberra feeling very confident that the youngest MP in Parliament stands in good stead to continue being a strong community leader and advocate while undertaking his important role.

While this week’s Parsha is Pinchas, I would like to focus on the beginning of the three weeks, a traditional time of mourning and national introspection for the Jewish people which began last Sunday, with the fast day, the 17th of Tammuz.

Although this fast is known as one of the four minor fasts, I think the 17th of Tammuz holds great significance. It commemorates the tragic breaching of the walls of the city of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed, three weeks later on Tisha B’av. But I think that the breaching of the walls was far more serious than we may sometimes realise.

Often before a serious incident in our lives and in the world, there is a smaller and earlier struggle which makes us feel uneasy. It is a sickening realization that something is amiss and may not be right. I’m referring to the kind of feeling that dawns on you as you realize that you are in a horrible work environment, your marriage or relationships are facing problems or the ache in your body does not feel quite right, even after you take a painkiller.

Right before a very serious calamity or breakdown, there is often a feeling of foreboding. That is the period we are now in, the three weeks, in which our defences and walls were broken. At the end of this mourning period, with Tisha B’av in two more weeks’ time, we are supposed to have undertaken some serious introspection about how to strategise in bettering ourselves as a nation and people.

And so as we undertake this introspection for the next two weeks, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves of ways to improve and ways to work towards a more cohesive community. Let us take it upon ourselves to increase our charitable acts and make amends with those with whom we have fallen out. Let us emulate the examples of those who demonstrate kindness and compassion and in so doing, together, we can help to rebuild what was lost.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi and Rebbetzin Mushka