Ezekiel’s picturesque and provocative prophecies

Chaverim,

The last few weeks, we have studied the book of Ezekiel in our breakfast study every Shabbat. This Shabbat we conclude our studies on Ezekiel and therefore it is a wonderful coincidence that the Haftarah is of the same last chapters of this, perhaps the most unusual book of the Bible.

The Visionary Ezekiel Temple plan drawn by the 19th century French architect and Bible scholar Charles Chipiez.

 

Aside from Ezekiel’s picturesque and provocative prophecies, his book is well known for its discrepancies with the normative law that preceded it. One such variance is found in his description of the Temple rites for Rosh Chodesh Nisan: “Thus said the Lord God: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and you shall purify the sanctuary.” (45:18)

This detail seems innocuous to us but it introduced a previously unknown rite to the sacrificial order already fixed in the Torah. This divergence from the previously established procedure obviously bothered the sages and therefore required explanation. The Talmud took up this question, prompting the following debate: “A sin-offering’? But surely it is a burnt-offering? … This was taught: Rabbi Judah says: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. But Rabbi Yose said to him: [It refers to] the consecration-offering offered in the time of Ezra, just as it was offered in the time of Moses. He replied, May your mind be at ease for you have set mine at ease.” (bT Menachot 45a) This Talmudic reconciliation does not really quiet the discussion on this and similar passages since Ezekiel’s prophecies preceded the the Second Temple and were only partially realised.

This prophecy still raised questions. It is well known that Maimonides devised a series of creedal statements which some took to define basic Jewish beliefs. Among those statements was an affirmation of prophetic truth. So how is one to treat a complicated situation where there are contradictions not only between different prophecies but also conflicting ideas over how a prophecy should be understood?

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein offers the following idea: “It means that their words and visions should act as a prism through which we can see their world, and that they become a part of our lives and our debates [when we interpret our world]… framed by loyalty, respect and love.”

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei and International Women’s day: Examples of gratitude

Chaverim,

The double portion Vayakhel-Pekudei presents Moses‘ speech to the Israelite community at one of the many special gatherings during their wanderings in the desert. The speech opens with a brief restatement of the commandment to keep the Sabbath. However, the topic of Moses‘ message is the building of the Tabernacle. Moses solicits gifts—gold, silver, copper, and a long list of other items—to provide for the physical structure of the Tabernacle and its adornment. He also urges those who are skilled builders to construct the Tabernacle, the tent to cover it, and all the furniture within, including the ark.

Our biblical ancestors understood the unifying power of a community effort to construct a sanctuary. With regard to giving gifts and engaging in the labour of building, the biblical text uses the phrase „everyone whose heart so moves him“ to recognise the psychological need to give, as well as to praise those who donate or volunteer their wealth and time.  Our biblical text provides an example of gratitude for gifts given when the heart moves the giver or the contribution of labour is a reflection of unique skill.

This correlates perfectly with International Women’s day, we mark this week (8 March).  As someone who sits nearly every day in the office of Bet David, I am able to witness day after day how much women contribute to the success of our congregation. To the team of Kehillah, our wonderful Gabbaim, Shammashim and Lay-Leader team, to all our special ladies in ManCom and in the office, Glynnis, Di, Thandi and Neria: THANK YOU. Often your contributions are beyond the normal, and this is what makes Bet David this warm and welcoming Shul.

Thank you all for making Bet David so special.

I feel blessed to work with those wonderful women.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Ki Tisa: A second chance

Chaverim,

This week’s Torah portion interrupts the description of the building of the Tabernacle with a narrative section that includes the story of the Golden Calf, and — although perhaps less famously — the most chutzpadik (impertinent) question in the whole Torah. The question comes after Moses has negotiated twice with God on behalf of the Israelites, with success. His next negotiation with God is not on behalf of the Israelites, but—surprisingly—for himself. Out of the blue, it seems, Moses speaks up again: „Oh, let me behold Your Presence!

It’s a short exclamation, but it’s a big, big question. Judaism has always thought that God cannot be seen. No human being has ever seen God directly — and that’s not merely a coincidence, but a reality of God’s power and vastness, and human limitations. As is typical with the Torah, most of the details around Moses‘ question are left up to our imagination and interpretation. Was he begging God out of curiosity or just giving voice to a wish he knew was impossible to grant? Had he been trying to summon up the courage to ask this question for months or did it slip out of his mouth? Was he literally talking about seeing God, or was „beholding God’s Presence“ a metaphor?

Rabbi Beth Kalisch, following the lead of some of the mediaeval rabbis, such as Rashi and Rashbam, suggests that Moses out of “piety, humility, and perhaps shyness and fear, refuses to look at God’s Presence” at the “burning bush”, and that he asked for a second chance for what must have been felt as a missed opportunity in Moses eyes. So many of our relationships are burdened with unasked questions; mistakes we made at the very beginning of a relationship that now seem like history that can’t be rewritten.

You cannot see My face,“ God tells Moses. But, God finds a way to say yes to Moses, offering what we might understand to be next best thing.  The past cannot be rewritten and impossible wishes cannot be granted. But, Kalish writes, if we have the courage and the faith in a relationship to ask the questions we’ve been burying for too long, perhaps there is still a „yes“ that we might be able to receive, and to fill that holes that are stopping us from going forward.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Torah Reading for Shabbat Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
Reading: Ex 32:1-24 – Plaut p. 578; Hertz p. 356
Haftarah : I Kings 18:1 – 18:39 – Plaut p.607; Hertz p.369

 

How can we remember on Shabbat Zachor?

Chaverim,

I have always been intrigued by the commandment ‘you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it’ (Deuteronomy 25:19). Simultaneously we are told to ‘blot out the remembrance’ and to ‘not forget it’; two instructions which appear to be contradictory. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the commandment appears in the Torah ensuring we are reminded to blot out and not forget.

Amalek is a recurring feature in our people’s history, assuming a position as the archetypal villain. And on Shabbat Zachor, it is the original story of Amalek that we are remembering. On Shabbat Zachor (as with most of the other special Shabbatot) outside of the special readings for the day there is no special ritual for the service.

Following a tradition my dear colleague, Rabbi Danny Burkeman, started , and which we adopted for Bet David two years ago, we will read also this Shabbat Zachor from our Czech Memorial Torah scroll (saved from Europe after the Shoah) .

This Torah itself symbolises the very fulfilment of the commandment to never forget; it emerged from the horrors of the latest Amalakite persecution, as the Nazis sought the destruction of European Jewry. The survival of this Torah scroll, and its use in a Synagogue for worship and prayer, is evidence of the fulfilment of the commandment to ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek [the Nazis] from under heaven’. And simultaneously, as we honour the scroll as our Czech Memorial Torah scroll, always remembering its story of survival out of the ashes of destruction, we guarantee that we ‘shall not forget it’.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Shabbat Teruma: Make Me a sanctuary

Chaverim,

Last week, I shared with you the sad news of the passing of Michael Brookstone, a member of our Introduction to Judaism programme. Many of you met this gentle man, who despite the many hardships he had to endure in his life, always had a smile for others and the will to continue to follow his dreams.

What has moved me the most after I had to announce his death is to learn how many hearts he had touched and how he had contributed in his own, unique way to make Bet David a warm home for so many—a place were God can be found, because of the people who come here.

Our Torah portion opens with the word from God to Moses: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.” and some verses later God explains for what those gifts are needed. “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25,2 and 8).

Studying these two sentences, we  learn something fundamental about any place of worship, any Shul, church, mosque or temple. It is not what we give and how much, only an open heart will provide the space for God. Rashi sees the gifts demanded by Terumah not as dictated practice but rather as an intentional choice. Not only are the gifts voluntary, but also, Rashi suggests, they come from the heart as expressions of good will. The first sanctuary for the Israelites was not only built with gold, silver, wood and so on, but more so by all the volunteer work, and an immense sense of community, creating something special and unique.

Michael’s contribution to Bet David was his optimism, which came from his heart. May his memory inspire all of us to open our hearts alike, creating a sanctuary for God among us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Torah Reading Shabbat Terumah

Exodus 25:1-27:19 Reading: Ex 25:13 – 25:36
Plaut p. 546; Hertz p. 327

Haftarah : I Kings 5:26-6:13
Plaut p.559; Hertz p.336