Mrz 27

Abuse – do not remain silent (Parashat Tzav)

Shalom BayitThis evening, I am not going to share with you some regular thoughts on our Torah portion of this Shabbat. We will learn more about it tomorrow morning, especially from our Bat Mitzvah Jessica.

What I would like to share with you is a deep impression I have made this week at a seminar that was organized by Shalom Bayit, and I am very thankful that I had the chance to join the seminar.

The topic of the seminar was ABUSE; physical, mental, and sexual abuse. I know, this is not a usual topic for a Friday night sermon, but please bear with me for a moment.

The people on the podium, as well as two survivors shared with us not only facts, numbers and statistics, we can read everywhere; their words lead us into a sea of an emotional abyss, which they had to face personally or as counsellors professionally. They shared with us the brutality of any abuse, and how this affects and changes the life of any victim forever.

Even though we don’t like to hear it, we must hear the following: The abuse of women, men, girls and boys has been happening also in the “Jewish world”, it has been happening in our progressive one, too. We need to hear it, because it happens, and can happen everywhere at any time to everyone.

I don’t want to shock you, but I have to, because we need to be aware of it. Awareness is the first step to change the situation, and to help the victims.

Our Torah portion for this week is mentioning again the Ner Tamid, the eternal light or flame that once was lit in the sanctuary on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple, and has now become a symbol of God’s presence in every synagogue.

Some of you might (hopefully) remember that I talked about the eternal light just some weeks ago, because it was also a topic in Parashat Tetzaveh. On that Shabbat I shared with you the idea that the Ner Tamid is not only this light above the Aron HaKodesh, the Torah Ark, that represents God’s presence in our Synagogue, it is also the divine spark that is imbedded in every human being. This eternal light is nourished by our love and care for another human being. It is the love of a parent, a partner, of a child, of a friend, or even a stranger that feeds this eternal light in us.

But, let’s be reminded that this light is very fragile, it can be easily diminished or even worse, it can be extinguished very easily by abuse. This light needs our joined protection. We all, as individuals, and as part of this community have a high responsibility to keep this light shining, bright and un-touched.

If we learn that one person, only one, is in danger, or even already abused, we need to act immediately. As Rabbi Goldstein said – there is a zero tolerance policy towards abuse.

I have much more in my mind, I would like to share with you – the words of the survivors have impressed me heavily, and I know this is not the right place to share these experiences. But I think we should be having a seminar on this topic in the nearer future in order to give you all more information – first hand.

In the meantime, I would like to make you aware what you can do, if you learn about abuse, or if you need help.

We have pamphlets from Shalom Bayit in the foyer of the synagogue. They help you to understand more what abuse is, how you can recognize it, and how you can help or get help. Please get them.

As I said before, awareness is the first step to help the victims. Abuse happens, and the victims need our help. This synagogue is a safe zone. If you need help, or if you know of someone, who needs help, you will find it here.

Shabbat Shalom


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Feb 12

To behold the graciousness of the Eternal

אחת שאלתי מאת־יהוה אותה אבקש שבתי בבית־יהוה כל־ימי חיי לחזות בנעם־יהוה ולבקר בהיכלו׃
One thing I ask from the Eternal, One thing I desire:
That I may dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life,
To behold the graciousness of the Eternal,
And to enter His sanctuary.
Psalm 27.4

Rabbi Avidan, Rabbi Margolis, Rabbi Shaked,
Dear congregants and guests,

Please allow me to go back for a moment to our Torah reading from yesterday:

During Jethro’s visit to the Israelites camp, he notices a long line of people waiting to bring their disputes before Moses. Sitting alone from morning until evening, Moses listens to each argument, hears each problem, and states his judgment on each situation brought before him.
Jethro is astounded:
“What is this thing you are doing for the people?” he asks Moses.
“Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?”

Noting that Jethro was deeply upset with Moses, Rabbi Fields quotes an ancient sage who suggests that what disturbed Jethro was not Moses appeared overworked – but that Moses had become full of self-importance. Moses, he says, was “behaving like a king, who sits on his throne while all the people stand.”

The Torah is – as I have mentioned several times before – an important guideline for every one of us. One of its goals, to my understanding, is to form a just society. The Torah forms out of a group of slaves a nation of priests, serving God and all humanity. There is a massage for every one of us, as we are all to some degree slaves to something, and we will hopefully become once all these cohanim, priests, the Torah envisions us to be.

And so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Torah is raising the question of leadership several times. As much as the Torah leads us to a society founded on the ideal of equality and democracy, it does not undermine the need of a strong leadership, as long as it is to the benefit of the people. And that is why Jethro criticizes Moses so harshly right in the beginning of his leadership.

The quote for our induction from the 4th book of Moses, Numbers 27.16 and 17 underlines this idea. This time it is Moses, who asks God at the end of his leadership to appoint a new leader, a good shepherd for the Israelites “who shall go out before them and to come in before them”.

Both instructions of the Torah teach us that leadership has always been a serious responsibility. Caring for the safety of a community and preserving its culture and traditions are complex tasks. Jethro appreciated the need to share the burden, and the interpreters of his advice to Moses – defined for us the qualities of leadership – required by Jewish tradition.” (Fields)

And so I pray to God, as we both, Rabbi Margolis and I, are entering the leadership of this community that we will meet the standards our tradition has set for us, that we will be wise in our leadership like the old Moses, and always sensible to the need of our people, you all, like Jethro.

And let us say Amen.

Source: Fields, Torah Comment

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Feb 12

Shabbat Shekalim

Shabbat Shekalim („Sabbath [of] shekels“) takes place on the Shabbat before the 1st of the Hebrew calendar month of Adar, and is one of the four 4 special Shabbatot surrounding Purim and Passover to help us prepare physically and spiritually for those holidays. Traditionally every adult Jew was requested to contribute a half of a Biblical shekel for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. This tax was due by the 1st of Nisan, meaning in a month from now. In later times – as we can understand it from our Haftarah – the donation was used for maintenance of the temple. Today we can understand it as a contribution to the infrastructure of a community. The building and maintenance of a Synagogue for example. As the Israelites contributed to the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, we are still today asked to support our communities.

But we shouldn’t make the mistake to understand it only as a donation of money. This is one way of support, but Silver and Gold are only placeholder/symbols for other things we can give. It can be a cake for a Bracha, help when something needs to be prepared or done in the Synagogue or the visit of people who are sick. Sometimes, “just coming to the prayer services” can be a big contribution. Today, I think, the giving of TIME is one of the most valuable offerings we can give to our community.
Thank you all. – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

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Feb 01

Shabbat Shirah: God a man of war?

Our Torah portion this morning describes that glorious moment in time when the Israelites, just having been emancipated from Egypt, cross the Red Sea in such a miraculous manner that it caused Moses, Mirijam and the people to break out in song …a song that gives this Shabbat the special name of “Shabbat Shirah” – the “Shabbat of song.” It was a song of such significance that it is actually recited in some traditions every morning in the Shacharit service.

The song begins with glorious words of praise to God. The first verse tells us:
“Ashirah L’Adonai ki goa gaa – I will sing unto the Eternal for He is
highly exalted.”

The second verse tells us:
Zeh eili v’anveihu – This is my God and I shall exalt him.”
But then comes the third verse with the shocking, almost incomprehensible words,
Adonai ish milchamah Adonai shmo – the Eternal is a man of war, Adonai is His name.”

God a man of war? This seems to contradict everything we traditionally say about God. War and God, this looks like an alien concept. “O’seh shalom bimromov – May He who makes peace in the heavens
above make peace for us and for all Israel.”
Or “Yevorecha Adonai v’yishmercha – May the Eternal bless you and
keep you … may He bless you with peace …”
Countless times, it is God whom we turn to in the name of peace. Indeed, in the Talmud we are told that God’s name is Peace.

But still, “Adonai ish milchamah”, God a man of war, even so?

I am sure, I mentioned the following mashal, an analogy, already once before: To me the Torah is like a good old Bagel. You know: the donuts with the big hole in the middle. A bagel is only a bagel because of this hole. No hole, no bagel. And this is somehow true for the Torah as well. The Torah works only, because it shows us all the aspects of life without sparing the downsides. War, famine, hate are as much part of this world, as peace, prosperity and love. For me one of the most important messages of the Torah is that we shouldn’t have unrealistic dreams of a world without darkness, rather to learn how we can cope with the reality, and to keep the scale between good and bad a little bit more on the good side. A just society acknowledges that bad things happen, and evil exists, without giving up.

And here we come to understand what that difficult verse: “Adonai ish milchama” – “God is a man of war” may mean. The Israelites have just experienced in a wondrous, spectacular manner how God has taken them out of the land of Egypt. They have suffered enough, and now they are only seeking peace and tranquility. But the Torah finds it necessary to warn us: don’t think the battle for freedom is over! In some way, it has only just begun. In the biblical narrative the Israelites are about to have to fight for their survival. Battles with Amalek and Amon and Moav and the Caananites are going to take place in the years to come …

Our Torah portion ends with the imperative to remember Amalek, the first tribe who attacked the Israelites right after the exodus. Forgetting the Amalekites, or that resistance, and even war, is an immanent quality of God might have deprived the Jewish people, us, and the world of a valuable lesson: The Amalekites have emerged through the ages as the prototype for aggressive, dangerous human behavior. Understanding the consequences of such evil, and battling against it, may be critical for the survival of Judaism and all humankind.

The Torah, our Bagel, is very clear that there is darkness in the world, that war is part of it and that we need to be aware of it, or even to fight from time to time for our freedom. Do I like it? No, but as I said, a bagel is only a bagel because of the hole in it. Our Torah is only our Torah, because of all its teaching and our world is the only world we have – let’s make it a better place.

May we all be blessed with a long life to see a time coming with less violence, less hate, and less war in it.

Shabbat Shalom

(Source: Fields – Torah )

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Jan 08

Exodus – Kings and Gods

A few weeks ago, the film Exodus – Kings and Gods was launched and, in anticipation of the upcoming Torah readings about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, I decided to watch the movie. I wanted to see how the authors of the film interpreted the biblical narrative. I was disappointed in the film in so many ways. I never expected to see a movie that was close to the bible’s narrative, and/or to Jewish interpretation, but in my opinion the film’s only goal was to devalue the Bible. The filmmakers presented a crude idea of a shizophrenic Moses who caused Israel to become insane followers of a cruel, child-murdering God.This film is not the first attempt at finding scientific explanations for the 10 plagues, and to devalue Moses’ prophecy as a kind of mental delusion. Usually, I don’t mind these attempts, as long as they respect and don’t vilify those who have a different understanding of the Torah. Unfortuantely this film has no intention of doing so.
Weiterlesen »

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