February 5, 2016 admin

My Sinai

I see a double-world, – and am lucky, for the present, to live in the easier part.
Nicky and I spent a few days in the New Forest to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. It was, among many things, the shared love of gardening, walking, woodlands and animals – not to mention Jewish life – which brought us together, so the forest was a fitting place to go for our special celebration. We both love being surrounded by trees. I am grateful to Nicky, and to our children Mossy, Libbi and Kadya, for the blessings of these 25 years.
Something I like is to pray outside. Harried by Mitzpah the dog, I put on my Tefillin, (covered by my anorak so as not to look odd in the unlikely event of any passers-by) shut the cottage gate behind me and stand among my minyan of beech trees and oaks while a small brook sings the service. Trees make a reliable quorum; they’re always there in ample numbers and never interrupt their quiet, vital meditations. The great trunks and canopies inspire attentive silence, while the birds with their songs, and the dog with his running and dancing, promote joy. (He even knows by now that at a certain point his human will stand still for the Amidah prayer, and stops with a yawn to wait.)
‘You are mighty forever, God; it is you who revive the dead’:  amidst this great forest of life I feel embraced in a fathomless vitality. Let it hold me, nourish me and inspire me while I live, and transform me when I die into earth and grasses and trees.
I believe this communion with a natural world of growth and wonder, decay and regeneration, is what humanity was born for. It chastens the mind and cleanses the heart, as the Psalmist says: ‘Create me a pure heart, God’. I believe, too, that not to have access to such a world is a great deprivation of the spirit, and contributes to the undermining of our moral life. We need the landscapes of our soul, the fields, paths, woods and mountains, especially those which nurtured us in childhood, in whatever part of the world we were born.
Yesterday I heard in a report from the conference of donors here in London that as many as thirteen million people inside Syria, as well as all the refugees who have fled, face displacement and disaster. ‘I had a good life before’, one woman recalled, ‘Now it’s cold in this half-built shelter of a house, and I cannot feed my family’.
The vast abomination of violence and cruelty, and similar horrors elsewhere in the globe, cry out to the humanity of each and every one of us.  We are not at liberty to rejoice in our privileges and care nothing for the searing losses which devastate the lives of others. None of us must fail to make our contribution to allaying human suffering where we can.
At our wedding, Rabbi Louis Jacobs spoke about the first words of the weekly Torah portion ‘Ve’eleh hamishpatim – And these are the laws you shall set before them’. The noun Mishpatim derives from the root meaning ‘justice’ and refers to the reasoned principles of fairness by which society must be maintained. The verse begins with ‘and’ to indicate that the great revelation of God on Mount Sinai which precedes it, with all its thunder and lightning, is as nothing if it does not lead us to conduct our lives and govern our world in accord with the rules of justice.
Like many others my personal Sinai is made of woods and hills, gardens and streams. But I realise that its inspirations are largely an indulgence if they don’t teach us to use our lives to prevent, put an end to, or ameliorate the hurts and wrongs suffered by others.

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