To be a Zionist is to wrestle with, but not to give up on Israel.

This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “6 Day War“ in 1967. As a Progressive Jew and Zionist, I have mixed feeling about this anniversary. Not because of what happened in 1967, I think what happened was necessary and important for the Jewish state, but since then, I feel as though the Jewish visions and values unmatched and transgressed. As a Zionist, I see that the present-day Israel has not yet achieved what – to my understanding – Herzl had envisioned for the Jewish state. As a Progressive Zionist, I believe Zionism also needs to progress and continue to create dreams worthy to be followed.

Israel is important to me – that’s why I am not giving up on it:

  • As a Progressive Jew, I am committed to the modern State of Israel as a reflection of God’s unbroken and eternal covenant with the Jewish people. And I continue to promote the values and visions of our prophets in regard to a democratic and pluralistic foundation of the State of Israel as it is written down in  the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, I see the pain any war and any tragedy has caused, and for me, human dignity can’t be limited by borders, religion or belonging to an ethnic group.
  • As a Jews living in the Diaspora I stand, without question, with Israel when it is under attack, or when people try to undermine its mere existence. I know that the Jewish state would do the same for me, being my stronghold, when I am in need or (even worse) in danger.
  • As a Progressive Jews in the Diaspora, I have a vital interest in the Jewish state which also reflects my way of being Jewish, and I will continue to stand for our progressive values and to raise my voice when pluralism and our sisters and brothers of the Progressive communities in Israel are under attack. The Kotel also belongs to us, as any other holy and historic site in Israel does.
  • Jerusalem is important to me, too. As much as I believe that God’s presence is not limited to one single place, and that anyone can find God wherever one seeks God, I not only recognise Jerusalem’s historical importance for the Jewish people, but also understand her as the geographic and spiritual centre of our Jewish identity.

Yes, Israel is important to me.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

 

Torah Sparks: Shabbat haChodesh—Time is relevant

The spiritual cycle of the Jewish year depends on an interaction among the flow of holidays, the marking of Rosh Chodesh (the new month) and the weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) observance. The holidays and fast days sometimes permeate the surrounding Shabbatot (plural of Shabbat) with holiday themes. These special Shabbatot may create the mood for an upcoming festival, reflect or enhance festival themes, or ease the transition from a festival back into the weekly flow of Shabbatot.

This Shabbat we celebrate Shabbat HaHodesh. Shabbat HaHodesh occurs either on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nisan (this year on Tuesday) or on Rosh Chodesh itself. The traditional maftir reading is Exodus 12:1-20, which details eating the  Passover sacrifice, with “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand”; eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread; and putting blood on the doorposts; and it lists the Passover laws.” The haftarah for our Shabbat, Ezekiel 45:16-46:18, describes the sacrifices that the Israelites are to bring on the first of Nisan, on Passover, and on other festivals in the future Temple.

The first day of Nisan is also important as the occasion for God’s commandment, sanctifying the new moon, which begins the additional Torah reading, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” This commandment moved the determination of months from God’s agenda into the hands of the Jewish people–giving them control over time and the theological/liturgical cycle.  (Source: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/)

It is deeply significant that the first national mitzvah that God gave us, while still in Egypt on the very threshold of redemption, was to take control of our time. A slave has scant need for a calendar: he sleeps and wakes, eats and works, lives his entire existence, according to his master’s timetable. Only a free person can determine his own schedule, and only a free nation can determine its own calendar.

Anything that can be done at anytime by anybody will be done at no time by nobody.”

All major ideas of Judaism, even though they are intangible, are made accessible by being embedded in time. Therefore, it is of great importance that we mark our time, that we continue to be aware of our “Jewish time”, and not to get lost in the secular calendar. As Jews we give great space to the world around us, and we are even willing to embrace different traditions into our own.  This is good, and important. But we need to be careful not to become slaves again, slaves again of someone or somewhat who determines time for us. On our way to Pesach, it is not only of importance to clean out our cupboards, but also our calendars. Let’s make space for some more Judaism, for Shabbat, festivals and time with our (extended) Jewish family.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell      

 

Parashat Naso: It’s not my fault!

by Monica Solomon

Being in business these are words I hear almost daily.  Certainly if they are not said, they are implied.  It seems that it is really difficult for people to own up to their mistakes, and to take responsibility for the consequences.  And when one tells the other what the result of their mistake is, ’sorry‘ still does not come easily.   And sometimes ’sorry‘ can be a painful word to say, depending on the severity of the result.

It’s the same in any relationship, whether business or personal.   No-one likes to admit they’re wrong because they feel that this somehow diminishes them, but if one doesn’t admit ones mistake life cannot go on with any normality.

There’s a children’s story entitled „The Hardest Word; a Yom Kippur story” which brings this point home in a beautiful way.  The story describes God commanding a giant bird to search the world for the „hardest word“ a person can say. In a first attempt, the bird proposes „Goodnight“ — since no child likes going to bed. God just smiles. Next, the bird suggests, „Spaghetti.“ Cute but wrong. Only later, after many unsuccessful guesses, the bird reflects on his own life, looks into his own heart, and realizes that the hardest word must be „Sorry“ (Jacqueline Jules, Kar-Ben, 2001).

The story rings true as much for us as it does for children „Sorry“ is indeed one of the hardest words we can say.  But when we do say ’sorry‘ and we do accept that we are in the wrong, we create a just society.  We remove blame from the other and both parties can be assured that even though a mistake has been made efforts have been made to repair the damage.

This weeks Parasha, Naso, reads in part   “The Eternal said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Eternal is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.“

Rashi commented that this injunction is similar to the one in Leviticus ch. 5.  He say that the words “and must confess the sin” stresses that repentance cannot be effective without a proper confession of wrongdoing.

Interestingly, requiring confession from the guilty seems to have been one of Rashi’s particular concerns. Elsewhere, in his Talmud commentary, Rashi writes that a person cannot achieve true repentance without admitting guilt: “One does not offer compensation or a sin sacrifice without making confession” (Rashi on Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 108b, s.v. m’shalem keren).

So our Parashah teaches us that, just like there is belief that Israel and Palestine can only live peacefully with a two state solution, justice can only be achieved by a two step solution: when the guilty party makes confession and then follows this with restitution.

Admitting guilt is a sacred act.  It’s difficult but in order to repair the world it is necessary.  Maimonides wrote a lot about the concept of confession going so far as to say that confession should be a public act.

At the end of The Hardest Word, the giant bird reflects on recent events and remembers when he “accidentally” fell from the sky and destroyed a vegetable garden beside a synagogue. He determines that he will return to the scene of the crime bearing a basket of fruits and vegetables from his own garden because, „It was time to say the hardest word.“

It’s time for all of us, to learn how to say the hardest word too.

Torah Reading Shabbat Naso

Numbers 4:21—7:89 Reading Num 6:1-27

Plaut p.928; Hertz p.592

Haftarah Judges 13:2-25 Plaut p.947; Hertz p.602

In our Torah portion:

*A census of the Gershonites, Merarites, and Koathites between the ages of thirty and fifty is conducted and their duties in the Tabernacle are detailed.

* God speaks to Moses concerning what to do with ritually unclean people, repentant individuals, and those who are suspected of adultery.

* The obligations of a nazirite vow are explained. They include abstaining from alcohol and not cutting one’s hair.

* God tells Moses how to teach Aaron and his sons the Priestly Blessing.

* Moses consecrates the Sanctuary, and the tribal chieftains bring offerings. Moses then speaks with God inside the Tent of Meeting.

 

 

 

Parashat B’midbar: We count!

Incredulous! That’s how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

„4.8! That’s it?“ I thought. „I’ve never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?“

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives. The world knows us by our ID Numbers and PINs. Job performance and health are quantified and compared. We rank and rate universities, restaurants, wine, cars, and even dates.

It goes without saying that qualification makes large amounts of data easier to categorise and understand. But it also has the effect of obscuring beauty, individuality, and difference. We have only to think of the Nazis‘ practice of tattooing numbers on our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents and we shudder with horror.

Perhaps, the dehumanising quality of quantification is the reason Jews have generally frowned on counting people. I remember counting students for a minyan whispering, „Not one, not two . . . “ In fact, this concept goes back to the Babylonian Talmud where Rabbi Isaac taught, „It’s prohibited to count the Jewish people, even in order to do a mitzvah“ (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 22b).

Then again, in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat B’midbar, God instructs Moses to, „Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clan, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names of every male, head by head“ (Numbers 1:2). The parashah goes on to count and compare the male populations of the various Israelite tribes.

In Rashi’s commentary on this parashah, Rashi turns the whole idea of taking a census on its head. For him, this isn’t an act of bureaucratic expediency. Rather, he writes, „Out of God’s love for them, he counted them often“ (see Rashi on Numbers 1:1). For Rashi, counting doesn’t dehumanise or obscure, it’s an expression of love and care — one manifestation of God’s protection and devotion to God’s precious treasures.

We don’t normally experience counting in this way. More often than not, to be counted is to feel more like digits and ratings — robbed of our identities. Yet, Rashi’s interpretation of our parashah, reminds us what we all know deep down: We are much more than the numbers assigned to us. We are much more than ones and zeroes and Uber rankings. We are all precious treasures, worthy of love and affection.  We count! 

Rabbi Adrian M Schell  (Source: Joseph A. Skloot)

 

Behar – Bechukotai: Walking upright and unafraid

In our parashah, God vows to enact a series of blessings and curses for the Israelites—blessings if they observe the commandments, and curses if they do not. In her interpretation, Rabbi Lisa Exler explains that the blessings are “curiously framed” by the image of walking.

Walking is, for many of us, our most basic vehicle for navigating the world. Yet we probably don’t put much thought into it. We’re more concerned with where we’re going than how we’re getting there; and unless we’re on a hike, we rarely think of walking as an end in itself, or count it among our blessings. Our biblical passage opens with God stating the condition for receiving these blessings:

Im bechukotai teileichu—If you walk in accordance with My laws and observe and do My commandments.” And the section concludes with God’s promise to walk, in return: “V’hithalachti b’tochechem—And I will walk in your midst, and I will be your God and you will be My people.”

The section of blessings could have ended there, with the final inspiring blessing being one of reciprocal relationship and intimacy between God and the Israelites. But it doesn’t. Instead, it ends with the following verse, a seemingly superfluous description of God’s role in the Exodus, which, significantly, also includes the image of walking:

I am Adonai your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk upright—va’olech etchem komemiyut.

A midrash explains that the word komemiyut, upright—which appears only this once in Torah, means “with a straight spine and unafraid of any creature.” In other words, God reminds the Israelites that they are no longer oppressed slaves living in fear; but rather, dignified people who can stand tall and walk proudly and are free to choose their own paths. The Israelites’ ability to walk upright, which they attained through their experience of the Exodus, was the necessary precondition for the other “walkings” described previously in the text—walking in accordance with God’s laws and God’s reciprocal walking among the people, bestowing upon them the blessings of rain, food, peace and fertility.

May we continue to be blessed to walk upright and to share our blessings with those in need. Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat and a meaningful week.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell