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CELEBRATING A BABY

Q. Why do we have a celebratory meal when a baby boy is born?

A. It probably began with Abraham and Sarah who made a feast to mark their son Isaac (Gen.21:8).

Any happy event has a Jewish celebration associated with it, originally because childbirth was associated with danger and there was no guarantee that the mother and child would survive.

There was also a spiritual and intellectual danger. The unborn child is said to have learned a great deal in the womb but at birth everything was lost, so that subsequent education was like re-learning. Having a party to mark the birth was to console the baby for his loss of knowledge, and it reassured him that the family and community welcomed his arrival nonetheless.

All this applies when the baby was a boy, but many circles extend the celebration to the birth of a girl. The source is said to be the Talmudic report (Bava Batra 91a) that Bo’az had 120 children, 60 boys and 60 girls, and he believed in celebrating the birth of both sexes.


GUARDIAN ANGELS

Q. Do we each have a guardian angel?

A. Biblical teaching believes in guardian angels – "He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:11).

There was an ancient belief that there was one angel for each person, but this developed into the notion of a host of angels who all look after us as necessary.

The traditional prayer before going to bed at night mentions four angels – "May Michael be at my right hand, Gabriel at my left, Uriel before me, Raphael behind me, and above my head the Presence of God".

There is an idea that good angels seek our good but evil angels oppose them. All depends upon the path we choose. If we perform good deeds they take wings like angels; if we carry out less worthy deeds they come to haunt us.

Not all views see the angels as actual beings; Maimonides regards them as spiritual energies or forces.


ART IN THE WILDERNESS

Though many people think that this week’s long double sidra is exceedingly boring, Pinhas Peli finds its description of the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness a fascinating chapter in the history of art and artistry.

The skills of Betzalel and Oholiav – both of whom come from impressive lineage – are exceptional. The way they translate the Divine command into an edifice equipped with furnishings is nothing less than genius.

Despite the leadership status of Moses, the building and furnishing of the sanctuary show Betzalel and Oholiav in their element. Though the task they undertook came from Above, they brought their own creative abilities into areas in which Moses had no expertise, so, for example, they constructed the Ark before the building itself.

Their spiritual soul knew that the Torah was a higher priority than the walls and drapes, and they knew what had to come first.

THE LEVITE ACCOUNTS

Our second sidra, P'kudei, begins, "These are the accounts of the sanctuary… the work of the Levites by the hand of Itamar the son of Aaron the high priest" (Ex.35:21-23).

We wonder why the Torah does not stick to the subject of accounting and introduces an apparently irrelevancy.

Abravanel asks this question in his commentary. He answers that Itamar was an expert in assessing costs and accounts and he led a team of Levites in working out and summing up the effort and expenses involved in constructing the mishkan.

They realised that there might be ways of siphoning off some of the valuables donated to the project and the method of checking and reporting the figures had to be totally true and honest.