Memorial Evening 2020

5780/2020 Memorial Evening of learning

The Memorial Evening of Learning to mark the twenty-fourth Yahrzeit of Etta Ehrman Kossowsky z.l. bat moreinu haRav Zvi Ehrman z.l. was held on 22 February 2020 in Bet Shemesh.

Esther Ehrman


Esther Ehrman welcomed everyone warmly, gratified that so many people had once again come to celebrate the life of her daughter, Etta Ehrman Kossowsky z.l.. Fortunately, the evening took place before the Covid-19 pandemic took over.

Parshat Mishpatim is part of a sequence of events. The Hebrew nation of slaves needed the revelation on Mt Sinai (Yithro) to understand their new identity as the people of HKBH; they then had to learn what this entails (Mishpatim), a new master-slave relationship and laws incumbent on the people who worship HKBH; there follow the details of the place that allows HKBH to live amongst them (Teruma), followed by the Egel.This sequence raises the question how the Mishkan is connected - is it the remedy for the Egel, showing the proper way to worship? - the kind of question that Etta z.l. would have loved to discuss.

Esther introduced the Evening’s Guest Speaker, Miriam Reisler,an exceptional educationist who has inspired a whole generation of girls fo follow up their Gemara learning after High school, who consults for the Ministry of Education and is involved in setting the Bagrut syllabus.

Turning to the finances of the Fund, Esther said these were in a poor way. We had no fund raising events last year and donations contributed only one quarter of the expenses. (copies of a summary of expenses were in the hall outside). Perhaps we should discontinue our status as a formal charity.


Michi Kossowsky


Michi Kossowsky's devar Torah focused on the injunction, not to lie, mi devar sheker tischak (Mishp.23,7). We are, he said actually programmed to lie. A baby that knows his mother will come if he cries, cries. Is that not lying? The great harm that lying does is that it takes away the free will of the person who is being lied to. When Yakov - and his mother - lied to Yitzchak, they took away Yitzchak’s free choice.

Yakov and Rivka both realised just how bad the world would be if Esau were to get the first-born’s blessing. They lied for ‘the greater good’. Yakov stands for Emet, a word that perhaps indicates ‘greater good’, rather than ‘truth’. Noting that Chazal accepted Yakov’s lie, perhaps because blending unfettered compassion with untempered justice would lead to the greater good. However, the Torah teaches us that if the greater good persuades you to lie, there is a price to pay. Yakov was dogged by deceptions throughout his life.

Miriam Reisler


In this talk given by the Guest Speaker Miriam Reisler says that given that our aim is to make this world a better place, is there a tension between the Ministries of Education and of Justice? The Ministry of Justice, or the Sanhedryn, can legislate, but only so far. Before it can do so, it has the tough job of understanding/interpreting the Biblical text; it relies heavily on the Torah she be al pe, the Oral Law and here, Miriam Reisler pointed out, the Gemara often rejects a logical interpretation (savara), preferring tradition (messora). She took parshat Mishpatim to illustrate these thoughts, one example being ‘an eye for an eye’, -not to be taken literally.

The Supreme Judge is HKBH, Elokim, which denotes both Judge and G-d. We are all called upon to be judges, assuming that, to be created ‘in the image of G-d’ means, among other things, that we have within us a spark of the divine Judge. But laws between man and man, ‘dinei adam’ - and Mishpatim deals mainly with these - cannot go far enough to ensure our aim of making a better world. So we have ‘dinei Shamayim’, heavenly decree. And the court of Justice allows for that. For example, if a ‘shor mu’ad’, an ox that has previously killed, kills again, the ox and the owner are condemned to death, (Mishpatim 21,35 ). The ox is indeed killed. The owner must, of course, make restitution, but he did not personally commit murder. He is to die by ‘dinei Shamayim’. Likewise, if a person is involved in setting fire to the field of a neighbour by opening a gate to the field. It is essential always for the judge, and that includes us all, to know right from wrong, beyond the legislature that can be enforced, and to take responsibility.

G-d accepts His responsibility in the kindling of fire, but that does not exonerate us. We have to know what is right and,to know right from wrong we need the knowledge acquired through Education.

Eli Ehrman


Eli Ehrman thanked The guest speaker for her wonderful talk and for the inspiration that she and other great teachers offered. It was this that provided the excitement needed to ensure that our tradition would be passed on from one generation to the next.

Eli’s devar Torah focused on something he called Soft Power, the power that ideas and values have in the continued survival of Judaism. Hard Power, on the other hand, is the power to control, such as an air force, ships, a police force, tools that a state needs to enforce.

Its values, - a temporal power. Zionism believes that Hard Power of a Jewsh state, a temporal power, is what is required. But this has not served us well, historically speaking, since we have had few actual periods of sovereignty. What about Soft Power alternatives? Eli suggested two examples: When Yakov steals the blessing,, was he really meaning to deceive, Did Yizhak actually see through the stratagem? When Yitzhak gives the blessing of the fat of the land and dominion over the siblings, that, Eli said, was the blessing he meant for Esau, - not the Abrahamic blessing. The ‘chiddush’ of Yithak was that Esau should be enabled to look after his sibling. We, Yakov, are the Cohanim who will need the protection of Esau. The other example is given by Yeshayahu: The Israelites are in bad shape and the consequences will be dire, but the Meshiach with the ability to judge, will rescue us - not at the end of days, but immediately, through Yiskiyahu, he believed. The Meshiach’s rescue will come through Soft Power. In the mean time, we need both.

Eli ended with a few words about Etta z.l., who will always remain for us ‘eternally young’.

The evening, as always, concluded with everyone enjoying each other’s company over refreshments.