Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleCourtesy

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com


Recently when writing about the Shema I said that when we hear ("Hear, O Israel"), the verb is not always to be taken literally. We hear with our ears but also metaphorically, with our mind.

"To hear" is thus to perceive with our mental capacity for understanding. "I read you" means "I comprehend what you are telling me".

Likewise this week (Deut. 11:26) when God says "See", we do not limit ourselves to the literal meaning of the verb, but using our mind’s eye we grasp the situation.

When we are told to walk in the path of the Almighty, the verb has two nuances, literal and metaphorical. The second nuance is where we get the idea of halachah, the Jewish way.

Everything in Jewish life emphasises this principle; we think as Jews, we act as Jews, we do the Jewish thing. We are Jewish Jews.


A major section of the weekly portion sets out the kosher laws.

The word "kosher" is generally understood as connected with food, but in fact its true meaning is "fit" or "correct", as we see from its one and only instance in the Bible, where in Megillat Esther the queen asks the king whether something if kosher in his eyes.

The notion is that if something is kosher it is acceptable. If it’s not kosher, there is something wrong with it.

Hence when I gave a funeral address for a relative who chaired the Kashrut Commission in Britain, I said that over and above his concern with kosher food, he was a kosher human being, a "kosherer Mensch", known for his probity and integrity.

It’s good to have a word like "kosher", because it shows that we have standards and (to use a contemporary term) red lines.


The sidra says (Deut. 11:26-27) that God gives us two options and says, "Choose!".

This is the basis of the doctrine of free will, which gives man the power of decision-making. What man makes of his life is therefore up to himself. Isa. 3:10-11 says that human beings "eat the fruit of their deeds".

Impressive, but more complicated than it sounds. The Talmud (B’rachot 33b) says that all is in the hand of Heaven: man has free will, and yet God is in charge. How we explain it is that God controls the external situation but man controls the response.

However, it is not only a philosophical struggle between man and God but even a psychological tussle between forces within man himself. Moshe Chigier states: "Philosophically speaking, it seems that an absolute free will is non-existent. All human actions are motivated… with a purpose of gaining or achieving something…

"When the law demands that an act to have legal validity must be done with a free will, and that, for instance, a sale, or a contract, entered into by force, is not valid, force of circumstances of any kind does not invalidate it."


Q. Is the Messiah simply a nice dream or will it really happen?

A. The word "Mashi'ach" means "anointed". Biblical kings were anointed. They formed a dynasty with David as their ancestor and role model.

Messiah was a king descended from David and fulfilling the role of a political liberator who would bring the people back from exile and restore the dynasty. With the restoration would come peace and prosperity. By extension the Messiah would bring redemption to the whole of humanity.

This role is described in the prophetic books – especially Isaiah – in lyrical, inspiring terms.

Christianity tended to see the Biblical prophecies as fulfilled in Jesus, whilst Judaism was adamant that the Messiah was yet to come.

The sages said that Messiah’s coming would be when all the world was blameworthy – or blameless: in a terrible or a terrific state. Rav Kook said these descriptions would not be alternatives but partners. It would be the best of times and the worst of times.

Rav Kook is right when we look at our generation with its breathtaking achievements – and its colossal failures. People live better and healthier and less troubled lives today than in the past – but they also have gigantic problems when all seems lost.

Whether this is the messianic age or not, people need hope and faith and have the means of bringing utopia to be.

Mashi’ach is not yet here but we can make the world ready for him.


Q. Why do we make a fuss of the first of a month when there is a much more impressive moon in the middle of the month?

A. The Jewish calendar has twelve divisions, the days of which add up to about 354. These divisions, based on the phases of the moon, are the months.

For some purposes, however, we also need to take account of the solar months.

Pesach, for instance, has to be a spring festival, and if we adhered strictly to the lunar months we would lose roughly 11 days a year and it would end up in the wrong season. Therefore we adjust the lunar calendar to the solar by adding an extra ("leap") month seven times in 19 years.

There are many explanations of why we attach significance to the beginning of the month. The phases of the moon symbolise how man’s perception of God waxes and wanes; when the moon is small we have a keen sense of aspiration to encounter God, and when it is full we rejoice at a moment of spiritual fulfilment.

The moon’s phases also represent the Jewish experience, alternating between times of hope, times of fulfilment and times of growing darkness.