Pinchas: The achievement of Zelophehad’s daughters

In this week’s Torah portion, the daughters of Zelophehad petition to inherit their father’s portion. The story  of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah (Numbers 27:1-11) encapsulates the challenges that women faced and what they had to do in order to affirm their rights with dignity.

We might expect that women, heirs to Egyptian slavery and then put under law that frequently favours men, might react by keeping silent, by accepting as natural the rule decreed for them to follow. We might expect women in those days to stay close to their tents, remain out of sight, and not go far from their families.

However, this is not all that the five sisters do. First, they “go out” from their living place, from their social space, from the destiny imposed on them. The text states: “The daughters of Zelophehad … came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” Secondly they speak with determination: “Our father died in the wilderness. …  Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!”

How does Moses react? Moses discloses his inability to assess the claims of these sisters. He takes the case to God, who responds by clearly supporting the sisters’ demand and even by promulgating a new and permanent law to secure inheritance for any daughters in such circumstances. Thus, the sisters’ claim leads to the law of inheritance’s being changed forever.

The achievement of Zelophehad’s daughters was a landmark in women’s rights regarding the inheritance of land, from those days up to now. In addition, however, the story of these five women offers a compelling lesson for all those who believe that their destiny is fixed or that divine justice has abandoned them.  It encourages us to think differently–and provides a message of hope for all those faced with obstacles. Perhaps the most important legacy of Zelophehad’s daughters is their call to us to take hold of life with our own hands.

– Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Silvina Chemen, WRJ Torah Comment)

The Daughters of Zelophehad (illustration from the 1908 Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons)


Sh’lach lecha: See it with your own eyes


Once a year, I travel back to Germany to see my family and friends, but also to see for myself how things are, back in Europe. Things have changed since I moved to South Africa, nearly five years ago. Of course Chayim tells me of his impressions, I read the news, see what friends write in their blogs and posts on Facebook, but I want—I need to feel it by myself.

Our Torah portion is titled “Sh’lach lecha”, which can be translated as “Send for yourself” scouts. It is, as God is telling Moses and the Israelites that reports and promises are not enough, that they need to feel the land.

It is my hope that I find Germany still in the way I left it, a stronghold against anti-Semitism and a place that was able to welcome refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, despite the reports of a growing right wing movement. I hope that Europe still remembers the achievements that came with the unification, despite the polemics, thrown into the world as part of the recent election campaign and the Brexit.

It is my hope that I will be able to see the beauty and the possibilities, as Joshuah bin Nun did in our Torah reading, and that I will not be overwhelmed by the negativities as the ten scouts.

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and see you again in July.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

Torah Reading

Shabbat Sh’lach Lecha Numbers 13:1-15:41

Reading: Num 13:16-14:9

Maftir:Num 15:37-41

Plaut p. 979/990; Hertz p. 623/633

Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

Plaut p. 998; Hertz p. 635

Shabbat Korach Numbers 16:1-18:32

Reading: Num 18:1-18:10

Plaut p. 1008; Hertz p. 645

Haftarah: 1 Sam. 11:14-12:22

Plaut p. 1019; Hertz p. 649

Important Dates:

Tisha b’Av

11 August 2019

Shavuot: No shofar, seder, Chanukah candles or sukkah, but Torah – only Torah


This coming Sunday we will observe Shavuot, the day we celebrate receiving the Torah. Unique among our holidays, it has no specific mitzvah associated with it. With no shofar, seder, Chanukah candles or sukkah, there is little to grab the attention of all but the most serious of Jews.

It’s precisely because Shavuot celebrates the gift of Torah that there are no specific mitzvot related to the holiday (outside of special sacrifices during Temple times, and perhaps eating cheesecake 😉 ). It is the Torah as a whole that we celebrate. Highlighting the overarching nature of the holiday is the fact there’s no specific date for it. We need specific times to focus on repentance, to celebrate our freedom and to recall our journey through the desert, but Torah itself is to be celebrated and observed every day.

Instead of a specific date, Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after Pesach, serving as the culmination of the Exodus and teaching us that freedom needs a framework so that any member of the society can enjoy it.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 


Bamidbar: The ta’amim of our congregation


I’d like to thank and to compliment all our members who have in the past—and will in the future—read from the Torah, co-lead or lead services for us on Shabbat and other occasions.

The Hebrew word for taste or spices is ta’am, and as the musical notes for the Torah reading are called ta’amei mikra, because they bring some spice or taste into the Torah reading. So for me, all those who contribute to our beautiful services, our amazing choir included, are the ta’amim of our congregation. It is wonderful to know that so many of you contribute to what we are at Bet David, a congregation of many.

Our Torah portion opens the 4th book of the Torah, called Bamidbar in Hebrew, and Numbers in English. It recounts the first census of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. The sages explain that verse “Sse’u et rosh kol adat b’nei-Yisrael—lift up the head of the whole community of the children of Yisrael”, which the Torah uses for the census, highlights that every individual of the community counts. The image is that Moses had to lift up every single head of his people, and by that looking into the eyes of each and everyone, not leaving anyone out, and recognising the potential of all of them.

Knowing that our ancestors emphasised the importance of the potential that is inherit to all the members of our people, I am glad that we follow them in their footsteps, doing the same—as I said, Bet David can be proud of being a congregation of many.

Thank you.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

Picture above: Lag BaOmer at Beit Emanuel. Thank you to Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked and his team for hosting us for the evening of Lag BaOmer.


Bechukotai: Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do


Many Reform siddur editors have been bothered by the biblical language of retribution as they appear in our Torah portion Bechukotai and in various parts of Deuteronomy. The same holds true for many congregants. On the Shabbatot when these portions are scheduled to be read, often the baal korei (Torah reader) will chant them quickly at a whisper so the congregation can avoid prolonged contact with them. Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger (z“l), wrote, „The public reading of these threatening passages caused great uneasiness to former generations. … people avoided the privilege of being called up [to say a blessing] on the Sabbaths when the curses were ready from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.“

Rabbis have long struggled to understand the concept of reward and punishment in our sacred texts. In discussing the Sh’ma (see page 67 in our Siddur Mishkan Tefilah), Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff writes, „… we cannot fathom God’s justice: whether we are talking about individuals or communities, it is simply not true that the righteous always prosper and the wicked suffer …“ But he provides useful guidance to motivate our performance of the mitzvot, „I also believe that ‚The reward of performing a commandment is [the propensity and opportunity to perform another] commandment, and the result of doing a wicked thing is [the propensity and opportunity to do another] wicked thing (M. Avot 4:2). That is, we should do the right thing because it is the right thing and not out of hope for reward . . .

Offering a silver lining, this section of our parashah ends on a comforting note, „Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them . . . I will remember in their favour the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt…“ (Leviticus 26:44-45). Despite the harshness of the earlier text, this ending holds out hope for redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

(Source: Audrey Merwin )