A place of hope and unity

Chaverim,

There are a number of Shabbatot throughout the Jewish calendar that have special names. The most familiar of these is probably Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Return, which takes place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These special Shabbatot each serve a purpose, some historical, some still relevant today. On Friday evening begins Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of Shekels. It takes place every year on the Shabbat before the month of Adar. It is named for a special verse of Torah read on this date which commands every Israelite to contribute half a shekel to support the sacrifices in the ancient Temple.

Now, the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE and, with its destruction, came the end of Jewish sacrificial worship. So, the notion of a half shekel contribution to The Temple is an interesting historical idea, but, beyond that, seemingly irrelevant to our 21st Century lives. And yet, there were several things about this contribution which still resonate today.

First, this was a shared responsibility. The obligation to give a half shekel fell to each and every Israelite, regardless of income. This shared tax must have led to a unique sense of unity and belonging among the Israelites.

Second, this money went to support what was considered the main institution which guaranteed the welfare of the Israelite nation. From the perspective of the Israelites, that half shekel tax was the first step to providing prosperity, safety and happiness to the entire nation … to providing hope for the future.

To have the official opening of our new Bet David campus this Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, was a deliberate choice, because the two above mentioned values, which seem to be from another time, but will be hopefully continue to be the supporting pillars of our congregation. A unique sense of unity and belonging in which all who are part of Bet David enjoy the same rights and responsibilities. And Bet David as a place that provides hope for the future, a place where we grow together and strengthen our community and our Progressive Judaism.

On this Shabbat Shekalim, I pray our congregation will prosper in its new home and that everyone who seeks a place of peace, safety and hope will find it within its walls.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Howard J. Goldsmith )

Torah Reading

Shabbat Shekalim – Parashat Mishpatim

Exodus 21:1-24:18 – Reading: Ex 22:27 – 23:22 (Plaut p. 519; Hertz p. 315)

Haftarah for Shekalim: II Kings 12:5-16 (Plaut p.1451; Hertz p.993)

 

Parashat Yitro: Who am I and who is my neighbour?

Chaverim,

The first Mishna in the tractate Rosh Hashana informs us of various ’new years‘. These are times of the year that are considered the beginning of the annual calendar with regard to various laws. The Rosh Hashana for trees is the fifteenth day of the month of Sh’vat, more famously known as ‚Tu Bi Sh‘vat‘. This day is considered a festive day. Further, there is the universal custom to make blessings on, and, eat a variety of fruit. The overall focus of the day is to thank God for the gift of trees to the world and to recognise the wonders of nature.

Tu Bi Sh‘vat and Parashat Yitro

In our Torah portion we read of God‘s encounter with all people of Israel. In this moment of intense, hallowed energy, a voice echoed through the Sinai mountains. It began, “I am the Lord your God…” and concluded with “all that is your neighbour’s.” The Torah’s ten essential guidelines, which address our place in the world are bookended by the self (anokhi) and the other (re’ekha). 

Rabbi Ira Blum teaches that on a daily basis, we challenge ourselves to consider the existential WHO AM I? and the social WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? What a blessing! To be tasked with the responsibility of compassion and respect for others, even as we continue our individual searches for truth and meaning.

As we celebrate Tu Bi Sh‘vat this week, let us mirror our natural environment by finding strength and space to nourish personal growth, while cultivating circles of responsibility. May we find balance in our rooted knowledge, and may we continue to enrich one another on our journeys of self-discovery, social awareness, and everything in between.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Ira Blum)

 

Parashat Beshalach: We don’t need miracles

Chaverim,

The story of the liberation from Egypt is the cornerstone of Jewish existence. Or is it? Read the Torah portion again, and you will find that what is most striking is not the miracles — wondrous as they may be. What is particularly noteworthy is how quickly the Israelites forget about their redemption.

Crossing the Red Sea, from Dura Europos synagogue, 3rd century

 

Barely did they cross to freedom, when the people complained to Moses and to God. They complained about a lack of water, they complained about a lack of food, and they complained simply about no longer being surrounded by familiar–if hostile–Egypt. Miracles seem to be an ineffective way of inculcating a consciousness of God. In fact, the entire Bible can be read as a book about the consistent inability of God to teach the Jews to be grateful.

First, God tries an idyllic garden. That doesn’t work; Adam and Eve disobey anyway. Then God sends a flood. That fails as well. God then sends a liberator, and redeems them from Egypt. After ten miraculous plagues and a split sea, the Jews still act far from God’s expectations. God gives a Torah—the Jews ignore it. God sends prophets—the Jews rebel against them. The Bible seems to indicate that miracles don’t work. People marvel at them while they are in process, and then forget about them the moment they finish.

To change human character takes much more than “special effects,” no matter how Divine their origin. There is no need for a big drama, but rather constant and gradual education, reinforcement, and community.

The shift from biblical to rabbinic Judaism reflects the growing, divine insight that the way to mold a sacred people lies not in external miracles, but in inner transformation. That change is accomplished through small, prosaic progress. By gradually incorporating mitzvot into our lives–by moving a step at a time toward making Shabbat, Tikkun Olam, social justice, and study a regular part of our being–we can, with time, remake ourselves in the Divine image.

Such a transformation is much more difficult than merely splitting a sea. But the reward of such a transformation is precisely what God sought more than three thousand years ago— a Jewish community that puts God at the centre.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Bradley Artson)

 

Parashat Bo: Ask questions and grow

Chaverim,

It is a wonderful coincidence that our Torah reading, parshat Bo, the section that deals with the culminating plagues and the exodus, turns three times to the subject of children and the duty to educate them, when we, at Bet David, have our Back to School service and the opening of the cheder for 2018. As Jews we believe that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilisation you need education. Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. Unless one generation hands on their memories and ideals to the next generation – the story of how they won their freedom and the battles they had to fight along the way – the long journey falters and we lose our way.

What is fascinating, though, is the way the Torah emphasises the fact that children must ask questions. While most traditional cultures see it as the task of a parent or teacher to instruct, or command in order for the child is to obey (“Children should be seen, not heard,” goes the old English proverb. “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord,” says a Christian text), Judaism is asking for the opposite. It is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions. That is how they, how we, grow.

Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Indeed, astonishingly in a religion of 613 commandments, there is no Hebrew word that means “to obey”. Instead, the Torah uses the verb shema, untranslatable into English because it means [1] to listen, [2] to hear, [3] to understand, [4] to internalise, and [5] to respond. Written into the very structure of Hebraic consciousness is the idea that our highest duty is to seek to understand the will of God, not just to obey blindly, because we believe that intelligence is God’s greatest gift to humanity. Rashi understands the phrase that God made man “in God’s image, after God’s likeness,” to mean that God gave us the ability “to understand and discern.”

As we begin a new year of learning, I encourage all of you, children and adults alike, to ask questions, to grow and to help us growing, and to enjoy one of the greatest gifts we have been granted ever, the freedom to learn.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

Torah Reading Shabbat Bo

Exodus 10:1-13:16

Reading: Exodus 12:1-28

Plaut p. 409; Hertz p. 253

Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28

Plaut p.427; Hertz p.263

TuBiSh’vat is on Wednesday 31.01.2018

 

Parashat Va’eira: Each person has a name.

Each person has a name.
We each have a name given by God and given by our father and mother.
We each have a name given by our stature and smile and given by our attire.
… We each have a name given by the sea and given by our death.

(Poem by Zelda, Mishkan T’filah, ed., Elyse D. Frishman [New York: CCAR Press, 2007], p. 579

The revelation of God’s name YHVH (pronounced Adonai) does lead us to think of Zelda’s poem. But what does it mean to have a name given to us by our parents, our yearnings, our fears, or our enemies? Each of these gives us a name based on what we mean to them or what they expect us to do for them. A name based on our attire or a name we choose ourselves is a name based on what we want the world to think of us. Where do we get the name that calls us by who we really are?

In the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Exodus 6:2, we are told that our ancestors did not know God by the name YHVH because that name means that God is faithful to fulfill promises. The promises made to our ancestors in Genesis were not fulfilled in their time, but God speaks and fulfills promises immediately in Exodus. Unfortunately, this just means that YHVH is another description of what the Holy One can do for us.

Rambam’s commentary hints that the name YHVH is God’s true essence: not how we see God, not what God does for us, but Who God really is. I don’t believe that human beings can understand the true essence of God. Perhaps that is why we cannot pronounce the Name. Nor do we fully understand the true essence of people around us. Perhaps that is why people need more than one name.

However, I do think God can understand our true essence and God knows our true name. It would be nice to think that when we die, God will call us by that name. When we hear it we will recognize it immediately, and all of our behaviour, character, and history will, in that moment, finally make sense.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rbbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Tom Gardner )

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Torah Reading Shabbat Va’eira

Exodus 6:2−9:35 – Reading: Ex 6:26-7:19
Plaut p. 384; Hertz p. 235

Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Plaut p.401; Hertz p.244

Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat is on Wednesday 17.01.18