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D’var Torah: Vayakhel-Shekalim

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In his D’var Torah for this week the Chief Rabbi considers the messages imparted by two different palindromes – ‘V’natnu’ (‘They shall give’) appears in the special portion of ‘Shekalim’ that we are to recite this Shabbat, while v’lichshetishakelu (‘And when you become bereaved’) is the longest palindrome in modern Hebrew. The Chief Rabbi identifies an intrinsic link between the two words that suggests we can transform our suffering into a force for inspiration.  The transcript appears below:

One of my favourite riddles is ‘Who was palindrome, son of palindrome?’ The answer is David Ben-Yishai, King David, son of Jesse. דוד David – daled, vav, daled – of course is a palindrome and so is ישי Yishai, his father’s name.

I have for a long time been fascinated by palindromes and the lesson we can learn from them. This week we will be reading Parashat Vayakhel, and the special portion of Shekalim. In the maftir for Shekalim we have the Torah’s longest palindrome: ונתנו v’natnu, which means ‘they shall give’, and there is so much significance in this term. It’s the forwards and backwards motion, it’s the message that when you give, you receive in turn. It’s a truism of life that the best way to have fulfillment and gratification is through giving of ourselves – to our people, to our society and to our environment.

Now what’s the longest palindrome in modern Hebrew? It’s the nine-lettered word ולכשתשכלו v’lichshetishakelu, which means ‘And when you become bereaved’. That’s the ultimate state in which sadly a person needs to receive; to receive sympathy and empathy, help and sometimes also counselling. But also being in that position enables one to inspire and guide others. Sometimes people come to comfort a person who’s bereaved and they emerge and they say ba’anu l’chazek yatzanu mechuzakimwe came to strengthen, and we emerged strengthened.

King David was one such individual. Throughout the 70 years of his life his suffered enormously. He endured many tragedies. And he used the sadness of his experience as the inspiration through which he wrote the Psalms, which provide for us strength and faith and comfort and encouragement to this day.

From the palindrome we learn that regardless of our circumstances, we can always be a source of inspiration to others. Of course we don’t want sadness, we pray that tragedy should never happen, and if they do occur, we can utilise the darkness of our experiences to provide light into the lives of others. Shabbat Shalom.