Because this is a leap year, this week we celebrate Shabbat Shekalim. We add in verses from Ki Tissa to recall the census of the people by the counting of the half Shekel. At the same time, we hear the institution of Shabbat and the penalties for breaking the commandments of the day. Both readings go on to specify physical objects that were to be made and the way they were to be used in order to define practice for our newly formed nation.
In the 18th Century, Alexis de Tocqueville, (who had been sent to America to report into the prison service), produced a large body of work; his observations on American society. It included the relationship of religion to society. He wrote:
As long as family feeling (for which we can read religion) is kept alive, the opponent of oppression is never alone.
Physical objects; structures, ornaments and regulations can imprison us. They have no intrinsic religious value. Jews do not try to see God, we listen. The 19th century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz wrote:
The pagan beholds his God: the Jew hears Him.
I want to dedicate this “Thought” in the memory of Rabbi Dr Jeremy Collick, z.l. our teacher and our Rabbi. A good friend, a kind and gentle man who always listened. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life