One of the most important teaching of the torah is v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, love your neighbour as yourself. There are no ifs, ands or buts. We are commanded to love all members of the fabulous human family. In the creation account of the Book of Genesis, God creates us betzelem elohim, in God’s image. That means that all of us, no matter our race, religion, gender, gender identity, nationality, economic status, disability, or sexual orientation are reflections of the Divine Being who created us all. Therefore, when we act with love and compassion towards one another, we become holy. However, holiness is not enough. Being holy means we become aware of our task, to fix this broken world. The biblical prophets urge us on with their words, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
The past weeks have shown that we are far from reaching a just world and that each and every one of us is asked to not remain silent when violence against women is crippling our country, when people are still being judged and treated differently just because of their skin colour, and when members of the LGBT* community are discriminated because of their sexual orientation and/or identity.
Our rabbis teach that we can see a glimpse of the messianic time, a world in balance, each Shabbat. Why? Perhaps, then is when we know that it is worth fighting for.
Today, Friday (22 May/28 Iyyar) we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, one of several Jewish holidays commemorating events of war in the modern State of Israel. This one recalls Israel’s regaining of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. Despite these modern memorial days, it seems safe to say that we Jews generally don’t think of ourselves as military people. Yet the coming together with our annual reading of the opening portion of the Book of Numbers, beginning with a census of all Israelite men, might give us pause to question our assumption.
Our parasha begins with God’s instruction to Moses to count the people: “s’u et-rosh kol-adat B’nai Yisrael,”-“take a census of the whole Israelite company”. The commentators notice the way God describes the head count: s’u et rosh, “lift the head.” Nachmanides (a rabbi from the thirteenth century) points out that the phrase can be positive or negative. Joseph uses the same phrase positively back in Genesis when interpreting the dream of the imprisoned cupbearer: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your post.” But Joseph also uses the phrase negatively a few verses later while interpreting the baker’s dream: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift your headfrom your body and hang you on a pole”
Imagine the scene, though, Moses and Aaron lifting each young man’s head, gently touching the chin of each soldier-to-be, looking them in the eye, thus acknowledging the humanity of each one, and recognising the real “risks” of war. Will this young man’s head be lifted up to greatness or fall in battle?
S’u et-rosh, “Lift up the head” of each one, says God to Moses, as if to say, touch them, look them in the eyes, write down their family names, because even though you are counting them, these men are not just numbers.
A wise man once taught that if you look deeply into the eyes of another, you will find there the Presence of God. Would we really be able to send people into battle if we spent the moments before looking deep into the eyes of our soldiers?
As we shall see in the weeks to come, despite its stories of fighting, rebellion and violence, the Book of Numbers also delivers the message that God would rather encourage the people Israel toward a gentler way of being, and to realise that the price we have paid in any war was more than just a soldier. She or he was a human being, created in the image of God.
Together with the learners of our Cheder, we will open the Shavuot Festival with a joyful Service Thursday evening at 18h30. Please join in and support our cheder learners.
Prof. Steven Friedman opens our night of learning with a Shiur about the intention of the Torah: “What the Torah Was Really Meant to Do”. TheShiur will follow the service at 19h30.
At 20h30 we will join thenational night of learning (Tikkun Leil Shavuot) of the SAUPJ (programme see below).
Please note that we use two Zoom sessions on Shavuot evening, the first is for the service and the shiur with Prof. Friedman (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-1) and the second for the SAUPJ learning night (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-3). We will also stream all sessions and the service on Facebook and YouTube.
Thursday 28 May * Erev Shavuot Service (18h30) and Shiur with Prof Friedman (19h30)
Brett Kopin, Rabbinic student, Ziegler School, Los Angeles.
“Tattooed Torah Movie”: the story of an Animated movie made recently, following a legendary book by Marvell Ginsburg, which is a powerful resource for Holocaust education for children.
Panel: Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Julia Margolis, Beit Luria, JHB.Andrea Kuti, Rabbinic Student, Aleph.
“Kol BaTorah – Isha” – The feminist voice of Torah:Following the prominent Feminist Jewish thinker Judith Plaskow who defines the Feminist revolution in Judaism as Standing again at Sinai, we will hear from panelist their views, in this festival of receiving the Torah, how do they view its feminine aspects and how they bring it about in their professional life.
Panel: Rabbi Greg Alexander, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Adrian M. Schell, Bet David, JHB, Sofia Zway, Rabbinic student H.U.C, Los Angeles.
“Days are coming” – Gaze into the near future for Jewish communities. The panelist will reflect on the transformation we’ve been experiencing, trying to extract lessons we can apply and insights for our conduct.
Sofia Zway, Rabbinic Student, H.U.C. Los Angeles.
The Book of Ruth – How it is the simple acts of Human grace which make the most difference. Sofi Zwai is a South African, graduate of our movement, studying toward a Rabbinic ordination at the HUC.
Tomorrow, 8 May, marks the 75 anniversary of so called V-E-Day (Victory in Europe Day), Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. For Jews all over Europe this day meant a final liberation from state organized terror and murder, but not from the suffering and finding ways to cope with enduring persecution and wounds.
Seventy five years later, there is still no “new normal”, no final stroke, only the reminder to not allow anti-Semitism or any form of baseless hate to rise up again, so that they can’t show their ugly faces and deprive humans from their dignity or even worse take human lives again. The world is still waiting for a V-Day, when we all can celebrate the defeat of anti-Semitism. Until then, 8 May is a memorial day, reminding us to stand against all forms of discrimination and suppression.
The first of the three weeks of the national lockdown has nearly finished, and we hope this finds you all well and healthy.
We understand that the circumstances have imposed challenges and hardships on many of you and observing the news nationally and internationally, we believe that we are only at the beginning of a longer journey until we will reach the end of this pandemic. Rabbi Schell has uploaded a series of daily video messages on our YouTube channel, trying to answer some of the questions you might ask yourself in light of this crisis: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfFI7bvb1yKllEMFutUri4A/.
Clayton Donnelly, one of our congregants, who lives in Israel, hosts a webinar on coping with the crisis by regaining one’s strength this coming Sunday (5 April at 11h00). Please see the flyer attached hereto for details.
Pesach is only one week away. Together with our sister congregations in South Africa, we have prepared for you several documents and handouts to prepare and celebrate a meaningful Pesach at home. Please see our website http://betdavid.org.za/pesach-in-johannesburg/ for the service schedule and materials – we will keep the page updated. Please find Rabbi Schell’s guide for Pesach 2020 hereand a letter by the SAAPR-Rabbis to all congregants with additional thoughts and ideas for your Pesach here.
The SAAPR (SA Association of Progressive Rabbis) finished the second draft of the new progressive Pesach Haggadah for South Africa. We invite you to open it virtually on your computers and use it for your sederim: https://bit.ly/2wNRDlM . For our Bet David Pesach seder, we will use a shortened version of the Haggadah, Download from here.
Diane, our cheder teacher, has prepared a Chocolate Pesach Seder Haggadah (please send an email to get your copy). If you like to join with your children our ZOOM children’s seder on Sunday, 12 April @ 11h00, please register with Diane (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Last, but not least, we invite all of you to join us again for our Shabbat services. All our services are being streamed on Youtube and on Facebook. For YouTube click here: http://tiny.cc/BD-YouTube and to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook
Friday 03 April * Kabbalat Shabbat Service (18h00)
Saturday 04 April * Shabbat morning service (09h30)
Sunday 05 April Strengths Based Discussion Talk with Clayton Donnelly (11h00) Zoom Chat: http://tiny.cc/rxoamz