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 )



Behar: Thinking long-term


After several chapters about purity and the sacrificial system, our Torah portion “Behar”,  feels it necessary to refer back once again to the time of the revelation of the Torah.  This chapter appears as if it is an afterthought, something that Moses had neglected to mention until now.

I am saying this due to the sheer fact that we have read the last few weeks more or less nothing else than how to do sacrifices or to maintain holiness.  In Leviticus Chapter 25 we are still in the early days of what is to become a forty-year odyssey through the wilderness. The Israelites are still a disorganised rabble, they have no land, no crops, no harvests – they have no need for any Sabbatical years, or a Jubilee year, as well.

However,  right there, we are switched abruptly back to the top of Sinai, receiving instructions that seems to be out of context: ”When you come into the land which I will give you….”

Suddenly we are thinking long-term, strategically, we are thinking in terms of land and vineyards and fields and orchards, we are thinking in half-centuries and what to do to correct any imbalances in land-ownership that may develop. We receive a wonderful vision of a society based on checks and balances and respect for the mortality of man and the shortness of human ownership and the eternity of a Covenant and a God. So – why is it necessary to state suddenly that these laws were given on Mount Sinai? – It is as though the Torah text, having got distracted into allowing itself to muse upon the problems of skin diseases and issued decrees concerning the moral duties incumbent upon all to care for and ‘love’ the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the poor, the stranger –
suddenly has to pull itself together and return to the mode of ”As I was saying……”.

Having dealt with some inconvenient and rather messy incidents in the present, the Torah can now look again to the future – the presumed future, the presumed imminent future. Sounds for me as a General Election just passed and now everyone can concentrate to build together on a joined future. Don’t you think so?

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild)

(c) goodfreephotos


Emor: Time for new bridges

The point of being Jewish is to have a relationship with God. Yet, a relationship implies a certain give and take, and there is precious little in the Torah that talks about what we have that God could possibly need. What can we give to God?

In our parashah (Lev 22:32) we read: „You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people-I Adonai who sanctify you.“ Translation issues become important here. The text says v’nikdashti, „and I will be made holy“ amidst the Children of Israel. In other words, „You will make Me holy just as I, Adonai, have made you holy.“ Here, for a moment, there is a relationship. We do something for God in response to what God has done for us.

However, having a relationship with God is a feathery thing. One never really knows what God is thinking and how we can truly bear witness to God’s will in the world. Yet, through prayer we are reminded of all that is Holy in our world and in ourselves, and through this we form a bridge of connection. We become partners with God in the perfection of this world. It is then that we can truly make God holy. By repairing the brokenness in ourselves, by repairing the brokenness of our world, we repair the brokenness that has resided within God since the first moment of creation and in this way we can indeed make the Holy One, whole once again.

Chaverim, the past few weeks were marked by the general election and the campaigns of the different parties here in South Africa. Nature of the matter is that lines were drawn and camps were formed. As much as this is part of any democratic elections, I also saw that new rifts were created in our society, that people felt hurt by the one or the other statement and that unnecessary fears were instilled in some of us. Therefore, we all should come together now and start bringing the people back together; every time after an election is the time to find real solutions, compromises and shared visions. Now is the time to repair the brokenness in our society — independent from any party programme and election—let’s bring back some holiness to our world.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source R’ JR Rapport)

Kedoshim: When the world  seems to lose its own compass


Once again we are mourning and raging after an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue over the weekend. I have been and remain determined not to give any anti-Semite the victory they want in any way. Whenever they want to push us out of society, whenever they want us to be too afraid to gather in our places, or to live our lives as Jews out in the open, whenever they want us to feel that we do not belong, we say that is they who do not belong. It is they who are doing wrong and evil. Our place is wherever we chose to live, in South Africa, in Germany, in Australia … and in Israel. Every time an anti-Semite shows his or her face, we and ten or a hundred or a thousand of our friends and allies come to counter them.

Last week and the upcoming week are dedicated to the memory of those of our people who perished in the Shoah, and who fought in the many wars to establish and protect the modern state of Israel. We restore the dignity of those who have been  dehumanised by the Nazis and we honour those who stood up to protect our Jewish values and heritage. BUT, most important, we keep the promise given to them, to never forget.

Our Torah portion for this week opens with the following, beautiful words: „You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy (Lev. 19.2)“. What follows is not only a set of ritual obligations or ceremonies, but mainly a codex of ethical guidelines. Being holy means to be conscious of what we do and how we do things.  This is even more important in times when the world  seems to lose its own compass,  when terror,  fundamentalism and  populism is shaping  the reality in which we are living.

Friends, this must not be our future—you—we have it in our hands to counter this: it is our obligation to bring holiness into our world and to create a future that is less frightening. Please vote on Wednesday, strengthen our democracy by making your voice heard, and continue to stand with us when evil shows its ugly face.

Our Torah portion mentions love several times. So, let love be our answer.
May this Shabbat be filled with love, for you, our people and the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Yom HaShoah Ceremony @ West Park Cemetery 2 May 2019


Beginning with the second night of Pesach we count the Omer until we arrive in our calendar at Shavuot. To help you with the counting, we have prepared a leaflet for you with a calendar, the blessings and the numbers (download link below and available in the Shul).

Traditionally the Omer is counted in the evening, after sunset.

Chag Sameach