Simcha Shel Mitzvah, Words by Rabbi Margolin

February 1, 2019

This week I spent a lot of time going to events marking the Shoah in Brussels. They were, rightly and fittingly, solemn occasions. But here’s the thing: at every event, I found my fellow Jews talking together, smiling, sharing stories and there was even the odd joke or two.
Even at this darkest of commemorations, there was life and a celebration of the deep bond between us that transcends the shared pain and history. And it stood in stark contrast to the others present who were sombre faced and bore the weight of history in a very different way.
It seemed to me that the reminder to stay positive and rejoice in your Judaism that I tried to leave you with last week needn’t have been said, as it was clearly and demonstrably in evidence.
Because when you think of it, and you delve a bit deeper into our faith, the reason becomes clear: Joy (Simcha), is our central artery, feeding our heart and mind and driving us forward.
Moses after leading us through trying times, through hardship, rebellion and our complaining, understood us well when he said that it is our capacity for joy that gives the Jewish People the strength to endure.
Explaining to a non-Jew our holidays often ends with the cliché “they tried to kill us, let’s eat”, but this throwaway comment masks a more fundamental truth.
Let’s pick a holiday out at random…Sukkot for instance.
On Sukkot we leave the security and comfort of our houses and live in a shack exposed to the wind, the cold and the rain. Yet we call it zeman simchatenu, “our season of joy”.
Try another: Purim.
On the face of it a deeply depressing story, and yet we overcame, and boy, do we celebrate!
Time and time again, throughout our texts, we are enjoined to celebrate life, to rejoice.
Now either we are a bunch of deeply weird people who seem to thrive on adversity, orsomething deeper is going on here. You don’t need to guess what side I’m going to lean on. But let’s dwell on the ‘weird’ idea for a minute.
The founder of the Chassidic movement was once asked: "Why is it that Chassidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behaviour of a healthy, sane individual?"
The Baal Shem Tov responded with a story about a deaf man coming across a group of townspeople dancing to a musician that he hadn’t seen, and he thought they had gone mad.
The point is, without the context, such expressions of joy can appear disconcerting or perplexing.
Our context runs deep. We are commanded to Love the Lord our G-d with all our heart and all our soul and all our might. Moses as we touched upon earlier put Joy at the heart of Judaism (even as he was reading out the curses), and our Mitzvot? Well, the concept of simcha shel mitzvah, the "joy of a mitzvah," has always been part and parcel of Jewish teachings.
Rabbi Lord Sachs, as eloquent as always, once told a story that toward the end of his life, having been deaf for twenty years, Beethoven composed one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, his Ninth Symphony. It became the West’s first choral symphony. The words he set to music were Schiller’s Ode to Joy.
Now, Ode to Joy, as any Europhiles reading this will know, is the anthem for the European Union. And Rabbi Sachs story came to mind as I was looking at the European flag at one of the events.
Because looking around the room, looking at my fellow Jews smiling, living, rejoicing in their Judaism at this tragic commemoration, and contrasting it with the others present, underlined to me not only the context I was just talking about, but how each of us, each Jew, has, as Rabbi Sachs alluded to, their own ‘ode to Joy’ within them, an ode that to those who are deaf to it might indeed appear odd, but to us comes not as second nature, but instead as the primary essence of our being.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch wrote that "The Baal Shem Tov wiped away tears from the Jewish people. He worked hard to ensure that every Jew would be happy simply because he is a Jew.”
There’s still a lot more work to be done on this by all of us, but looking around the room at those various events, it was clear to me that the joy of being a Jew remains the ‘perfect defeat’ of the Holocaust, and a reminder, if one were needed, of what a beautiful thing it is to be Jewish.
We must always continue to go out with Joy.

Additional Articles

EJA in the Media January 2020- January 2021

 
 
 
 

Noah's Ark - A Global Lockdown, Reflections from Our Advisory Board Member Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam,  which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
This week in the Torah Portion we cover the story of Noah. Here, the Rabbi offers his unique and refreshing take on the portion. For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl and then: scroll down.
Noah's Ark - A Global Lockdown
At 8:10 am, its Shabbat and suddenly the power went out. That is always difficult, but especially on Shabbat because I cannot call a breakdown service (even if the phone would still work).
Water for coffee and tea in the Shabbat kettle was nicely turned on Friday evening before the start of Shabbat, the meal for Shabbat afternoon was simmering in the slow cooker… lighting, freezer and refrigerator, heating ..... Nothing worked anymore.
I went to the electrical box to see if the earth switch was to blame. But even if this had been the case, there was still little I could have done: Shabbat! And then my Reformatorisch Dagblad newspaper popped through the mailbox.
I immediately opened the door and reported my electrical problem to the delivery person.
They immediately understood the problem. "I'll check what's going on, because you can't do that because of Shabbat!" He immediately went into the electrical box, could not find anything out of the ordinary and then went to see if there were also problems elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Five minutes later he was back and told me the whole neighbourhood had no power. At that moment the light came on again. How happy I was with my Reformatorisch Dagblad, which not only brings the newspaper, but also the light!
And so I went with confidence to the synagogue where the beginning of Bereshit was read, including: Then God said, "Let there be light" and there was light! For a moment I felt that the self-evident is not always so self-evident!
Next Shabbat: the story of Noah. Before the outbreak of the flood, Noah was instructed by G-d to go into the Ark. And when it was dry outside he had to leave that Ark again.
Why, the question is asked, should he be ordered to leave the Ark? It was dry anyway! The answer contains an important life lesson. In the Ark there was an atmosphere of real Shalom, similar to the period after the arrival of the Moshiach, so he did not consider leaving the Ark. Why go into the world with all its worries and misery?
But G-d clearly pointed out that isolation from society is wrong. In that world with all its trials, we have the task to serve Him by making a contribution to the society surrounding us, even if closing off would be more pleasant for us personally. So, no Jewish monasteries!
But before the flood began, Noah was instructed to just enter the Ark and shut himself off from that world. Without wanting to compare corona with the Flood, there are times when we, you and I, have to be right in the middle of the world to be ready for others. But there are also periods when we are temporarily not allowed to go outside, social distance. How long do we have to stay in? We do not know.
But just as Noah did not protest and stayed in the Ark when he was required to do so, so too we must stay in, even if we find it difficult. It is too dangerous outside. We should not play with health. This coming Shabbat this will be emphasized extra in all shuls in the world. Noah Had to Enter the Ark: The First Global Lockdown!

A letter by our Chairman, Rabbi Margolin to the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Mr Josep Borrell

Our Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin has written to the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Mr Josep Borrell after it emerged that a senior EU diplomat to the Palestinian Authority advised Palestinian groups that terrorist activity or support for it was not an impediment to receiving EU grants and funding. 

Rabbi Margolin has asked for urgent clarification and a clear repudiation of this position from Mr Borrell. You can read his letter to the EU high representative below: 

CZECH « PERSONALITIES OF THE THIRD REICH » CALENDAR : CONDEMNATION IS MEANINGLESS IF SUCH ITEMS ARE NOT BANNED, SAYS EUROPEAN JEWISH HEAD

«Such items have no place in civil society, especially in a country that suffered so much under the nazi jackboot » - Rabbi Menachem Margolin.
As a storm erupted in Czech Republic diplomatic circles over the publication and sale of a calendar depicting « personalities of the Third Reich, the head of the Brussels based European Jewish Association said that in a time of rising antisemitism, condemnation was not enough and Czech authorities must ban all and any items that glorify the horrendous actions of the Nazis.
In a statement Rabbi Margolin, the Chairman of the European Jewish Association said :
«I find it incredible that a country that suffered massacres under the hard jackboot of the Nazis, and whose soldiers and airmen heroically fought the third reich from exile, would even countenance having such an item to buy in their country.
« The publisher states that there is demand for such items. We heard similar words from an auction house in Munich that was selling Nazi memorabilia in 2019. This is not an excuse.
« Words of condemnation whilst welcome are meaningless. The sale of such items is not only disgusting and an affront to the millions that perished under nazi ideology, but is very, very  dangerous in times of rising antisemitism. It glorifies murder, empowers those who hate the « other », and trivialises each and every abhorrent act undertaken by Hitler and his henchmen.
« I urge the czech government, for the sake of decency, for the honour of their fallen heroes and to send a messgae to Jews in the Czech Republic and across the world, to outlaw and ban the sale of any and all nazi memorabilia. »
you can read more about the story HERE

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