Parashat Devarim: And charge the people as follows

“Then the Eternal said to me: You have been skirting this hill country long enough; now turn north. And charge the people as follows: You will be passing through the territory of your kinsmen, the descendants of Esau, who live in Se-ir. Although they will be afraid of you, be very careful not to start a fight with them. For I will not give you of their land so much as a foot can tread on; I have given the hill country of Se-ir as a possession to Esau. What food you eat you shall obtain from them for money; even the water you drink you shall procure from them for money. Indeed, the Eternal your God has blessed you in all your undertakings.”
(Deuteronomy 2:2–7)

 The news and pictures coming from Israel these days left many from us shocked. Again, violence and hate has risen and is challenging our dreams and hopes for Israel. Looking for an answer for my own questions, I found this short D’var Torah on our Torah Portion for this week written by my colleague Rabbi Fred Greene which I’d like to share with you:

“Those of us who are committed to a secure, prosperous Israel ache each day that the conflict with the Palestinians persists. Despite the anger we might feel toward the Palestinians, Deuteronomy 2:2–7 reminds us that God did indeed promise land to other nations in the region beside Israel. The Bible reminds us that despite our feelings, we must live according to our ethical and religious precepts.

While we stand in solidarity with Israel, we must resist the temptation to demonize the Palestinian people en masse because of the sins of their leaders and the terrorists who live among them. Reform Judaism has always maintained that the Palestinians are entitled to coexist side by side with Israel and has also challenged the efficacy of settlements in the West Bank.

Our focal passage illustrates God’s desire for integrity and peace among peoples. Israel was given a land to build and to make holy, but it is only to be considered so when God’s presence lies therein. Rabbi Jonathan Magonet argues, „It is God’s presence that ensures the holiness of the land, not any special nature of the land itself. Indeed, God cannot be present in the land, so to speak, when it is polluted by the actions of the nations that preceded Israel—or by those of Israel itself.“ („Covenant and Holiness: Help or Hindrance in Seeking a Reform Theology of the State of Israel“ in Journal of Reform Zionism, vol. 1)

This parashah reminds us that no matter what the original boundaries of Eretz Yisrael were (and there were variations), Israel needed—needs—to be righteous and just; and her neighbours, despite their conflicts with Israel, were—are—entitled to their own land.

The beauty and challenge of Reform Zionism is to continue to build Eretz Yisrael–not necessarily its roads and highways as in yesteryear but its promise for peace and its democracy—in partnership with Israel’s citizens. It is our understanding of k’dushah that drives us to implement our conviction of hope for the City of Peace, Y’rushalayim.”

May this Shabbat may bring peace to Israel and its neighbours
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Painting: „The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan“ by Benjamin West, 1800)

Torah Reading for Shabbat Chazon/Devarim

 Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22; Reading Deuteronomy1:1-25 ;
Plaut p.1161; Hertz p.736

Haftarah Isaiah 1:1-1:27; (Plaut 1180; Hertz p.750)

Tisha b’Av begins this coming Monday evening and ends on Tuesday evening (31.7. to 1.8.2017)

In our Torah portion:

* Moses begins his final words of instruction to the Children of Israel, focusing first on recounting their physical journey.

* Moses reviews the people’s reactions to the negative reports of the spies and the appointment of Joshua to succeed him.

* Moses recounts that all of the Israelite warriors who left Egypt died, as God had intended, and the people continued their wanderings and defeated their enemies.

* Moses reiterates that the Land of Israel was allocated to the Israelite tribes.

 

My Chanicha Patrizia

Our Parashat Matot Masei, which brings the Children of Israel to the plains of Moab on the border of the Land of Israel, deals with the nexus between two of the founding stories of Judaism. The story of peoplehood frames the Jewish People as a family and a tribe bound together by a shared history and destiny in mutual responsibility. The story of nationhood views the People of Israel as a community that is associated with a specific land, Zion, from which it was exiled and to which it ever seeks to return.

In the second half of our Torah portion, the tribes are informed of the borders of their future dwelling, while the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe chose to remain beyond those borders; on the east of the Jordan river. Thus, we see that even before the Jews entered the land, life beyond Israel’s borders was already a reality accepted and validated by the Torah. However, such a “proto-diaspora,” was not freed from its own obligations to the rest of the Tribes of Israel.

Indeed, in the first half, Moses challenges the two and half tribes: “Shall your brothers go to war while you dwell here?” (Numbers 32:6). However, the tribes assure Moses that they will join their sisters and brothers to conquer the Land of Kana’an, only returning when all of the people are settled.

Thus, the roots of Diaspora Judaism are long and deep; so too are the expectations of the Jewish People from Jews beyond Israel’s borders to contribute to the unity and wellbeing of the people within the Land of Israel, while Israel itself is the beating heart for all, keeping all Jews connected—close by or far away. This obligation has taken many forms in different times and contexts over centuries. This is highlighted in this very moment while we discuss the egalitarian extension of the Western Wall Plaza and the conversion bill.

On the one hand, multiple missions of solidarity especially from the Progressive Diaspora Communities, millions of Rand, Euros and Dollars of financial assistance and broad mobilisation on social media have all embodied our commitment to Israel. On the other hand the on-going diminishing and out-casting of the non-orthodox communities in Israel have left severe marks on our Jewish souls.

Progressive Jews in South Africa, and all over the world have continually shown their unbroken solidarity with Israel. The security and well-being of our sisters and brothers in Israel are without a question part of our “DNA“, and no group or organisation in Israel or outside of Israel has the right to challenge or even cut this bond we have.

Patrizia (in the picture right) is one of my former chanichot at Netzer. She visited Israel for the first time when we had an exchange programme with Noar Telem (Netzer Israel) in 2014. Last year she made Aliyah after her Netzer-Shnat year, and today she serves as a lone soldier in the IDF. I could not be prouder of her, because she lives the values and ideals we teach in Netzer and the Progressive movement. And it is for her and all other Progressive Jews that we stand and fight for a more pluralistic Jewish Israel. Patrizia, as any other Jew, deserves a Jewish home and place that reflects their, our, values and traditions, too. Moses, in our Torah reading, challenges the diaspora to stand on the side of Israel. Today, we challenge Israel to stand on our side.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Josh Gottesman/Gidi Grinstein)

 

Is Korach All Bad?

Only five Torah portions derive their titles from the names of individuals. These five portions are Koach, Yitro, Korach, Balak, and Pinchas. Three of them are in Numbers, a book that heightens the trials of the Israelites with micro-narratives in the midst of the great historical trek toward mature freedom and the continued attachment of moral demands to the Israelites‘ story. And each of these portions represents a figure whose role in the creation of the nation Israel is quite revolutionary. Each of these figures engage in behaviour that was groundbreaking, and (even in the case of Korach) essential for the development of the Jewish nation. Two of them are rebels whose plots were foiled (Korach and Balak), two of them make the world better for the Jewish people (Pinchas and Jethro), and one of them is designated to save the world. That role went to Noach, the righteous one of his generation.

Korach is clearly a bad guy, as he rebels against the one clear, pure leader of the Jewish people; there is no doubt about history’s judgment of Korach. But the story becomes more important than its simple moral message when we reflect on the leader whom Korach opposes. Moshe, called in innocence to lead the people and flawed by his own physical imperfections and temper, emerges within the larger biblical story as tragic, incomplete, and monumental to the human challenge of leadership. Sometimes those who oppose him or his values are judged, and at other times (as with Zelophehad’s daughters, who influenced change in inheritance law), the rebels guide him in new directions.

Other challenges to authority have better results for the challengers. For example, in I Samuel, the people complain to the prophet that they are tired of his leadership and want a king. In that instance, God urges Samuel’s compliance. Samuel, like Moses, becomes defensive, asking: Have I taken anything from the people? Have I benefited from this awful leadership task? Jethro challenges Moses‘ ability to judge all the people and warns him that eventually he will wear himself out. Moses heeds this challenge as well. A linguistic note is worth mentioning here: Korach accuses Moses and Aaron with the phrase rav lachem (you have gone too far [Numbers 16:3]), while Jethro warns his son-in-law with the phrase ki chaveid mimcha hadavar (for the task is too heavy for you [Exodus 18:18]). The differing approaches of Korach and Jethro demonstrate how we can respond with either jealousy or concern.

Parashat Korach provides us with a unique opportunity to examine the entire concept of challenging authority-a value that Reform Judaism prizes -and to do a little soul searching about how we react to strong leaders. We may not celebrate Korach’s arrogance, but we can certainly celebrate the acknowledgment of the dark side of leadership and follower-ship.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source William Cutter)

A healing prayer for when a loved one is suffering

In last week’s Torah portion Miriam and Aaron talk about the „Cushite woman“ whom Moses has married. In addition, they complain that God speaks not only through Moses but also through them. As a result, Miriam is struck with tzara’at, often translated as leprosy. In an interesting twist of the story, Moses shows a deep love for his sister and begs God to heal her. Tradition understands this short intervention as the foundation for  our healing prayers we say when someone we love is sick.  Below are two texts we often use in the service, but can be used by everyone, at anytime:

Mi Shebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu, Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel v’Lei-ah, hu y’vareich et hacholim [names]. HaKadosh Baruch Hu yimalei
rachamim aleihem, l’hachalimam ul’rapotam ul’hachazikam, v’yishlach lahem m’heirah r’fuah, r’fuah shleimah min hashamayim, r’fuat hanefesh ur’fuat haguf, hashta baagala uviz’man kariv. V’nomar: Amen.

May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless and heal those who are ill [names]. May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for their health to be restored and their strength to be revived. May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of body and spirit, and let us say, Amen.

(A musical version can be found here: https://youtu.be/2og0YFpzdhA)

The following Mi Sheberach prayer and song was written by Debbie Friedman:

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
and let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah,
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen

(A musical version can be found here: https://youtu.be/uxAw8Z-3qOc)

Wishing you a blessed Shabbat and a good health.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source Mishkan Tefila Page 371)

 

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