Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 3: Yisro

(Exodus 18-20)

yisroFirst of all, an apology. In last week’s Weekly Words of Wisdom (with Rabbi David Schneider), there was a quite literally cataclysmic error which anyone who knows me or who has ever listened spellbound to one of my sermons would know I would never commit: the word “G-d” was written without a dash. The editor has sworn it wasn’t his typesetters and I’m too good a man to call him a liar, which he obviously is, but I’d just like to remind him that G-d (note the dash) knows all, and even if He didn’t who is He more likely to believe: me or an unshaven, yarmulke-free “cultural” Jew who probably thinks naches is a dish you order in a Mexican restaurant, probably with pork? The answer is me.

Of course, unlike journalism, the rabbinate is a ruthlessly competitive and cutthroat profession. As it says in this week’s parsha, Israel is “a nation of priests”. Have you any idea what that means for our job prospects?

Take, for example, a certain Rabbi whom I shall refer to as Rabbi B because that’s the first letter of his surname (which rhymes with Turnstein). Rabbi B can’t cope with the fact he was passed over by a certain big synagogue in favour of a Rabbi who we’ll call Rabbi DS who’s now got a regular column in the JC with his name in the title. Twice. It pains Rabbi B that his rival’s doing so well whilst he has to lead a synagogue so small that half the minyen they barely manage to scrape together on shabbes has to sit in the Ark with the Torah scrolls. I know that because I’ve been there in disguise. The place is no bigger than a seder plate!

For Rabbi B, this missing dash is a G-dsend. Who cares that the target of his false accusations has been locked out of his own house by his wife and her lover the builder who’s a woman? Who cares that he’s spent the last three nights sleeping in the cold, unheated synagogue under a pile of taleysim, wrapped in the curtain off the Ark to try and keep warm. Plus there’s that broken fluorescent light you can’t turn off which means the only way he could get to sleep was to wear one of the embroidered Torah scroll covers over his head. And yes, perhaps he should have told the caretaker he was there because then the caretaker wouldn’t have got quite such a shock in the morning when he sat up with the Torah cover over his head. And then the caretaker probably wouldn’t  have run out into the street shouting “Torah Ghost he comee get me!” in that funny accent of his (I’m not racist) and might not have ended up accidentally assaulting that police officer. But does Rabbi B care about any of this? No.

But what of this week’s parsha?

Well, it’s a biggy: the Ten Commandments. But is there a hierarchy to the commandments? Is there one which it’s worse to break than the others? Clearly not “thou shalt not lie”. We all know that in some cases it can be acceptable to lie. For instance, in order to preserve derekh erets (respect for his office and the community) a man may lie to the police when accused of breaking and entering a place of worship wearing only an ill-fitting Torah-cover and an ark curtain.

So what is the worst commandment to break? Adultery? Stealing? Murder? Adultery? They’re all very bad but far, far worse is coveting. Coveting someone’s ox or ass or ministerial position at a major North London synagogue. Perhaps Rabbi B should think about that before he posts more he-didn’t-use-a-dash-related slander on his website “Rabbi Bernstein’s The Week’s Wise Words (with Rabbi Bernstein)”, which, if it has been running for several months, I’ve certainly never heard about.

So let’s be clear. I always use a dash, sometimes I even use two. Sometimes I feel so holy I simply write —. And besides, dashes have more than one use, Rabbi B, you sad, jealous tw-t.

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle

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