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)

 

A ‘light’ for Israel

Adrian KleinerDear friends,

The news that overwhelms us in the media about the terrorist attacks in Israel saddens me in a myriad of ways. It is hard to withhold my tears over the dead in Jerusalem, and like my fellow Jews across the world, I mourn for the victims of the latest attacks across the whole country.

Less than a year ago I lived in Israel for a while, and walked through the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem daily. I felt safe, and had the feeling that we finally could see a glimpse of a new era for Israel – a place where Jews can live in safety, secure with their neighbours of all creeds. And now? Once again, our friends in Israel are filled with fear when they go out in public. Once again, words have become deadly weapons, as those around us use them to call for violence. Holy sites, places that should actually be filled with peace and security, have become places of grief and terror.
Mehr lesen

Ki Tavo – An eternal flame

KiTavo, our Parasha for this week starts with the words:

VE HAJA, KI TAVO ET HA’ARETZ ASHER ADONAI ELOHEICHA NOTEN LECHA –
When you enter the land that the Eternal, Your God is giving you.

What follows are instructions to the Israelites regarding what they have to do, after they have entered the Promised Land. This is not the only time in the Torah, that some commandments are strongly linked to “the land”. Remember that all the Mitzwot, dealing with the Sabbatical Year for agriculture are commandments linked to the land.

According to the traditional interpretation of the Halachah, these Mitzwot are still bound to the land of Israel, or more precisely, only within the border of the biblical land of Israel and Judah. This means, that our friends on the progressive Jewish Kibbutz Lotan in the South of Israel are not obliged to follow the regulations of the Sabbatical Year. The Arava and Negev Desert don’t belong to ancient Israel.

Reading the bible very literally, one could argue these commandments are not relevant to us in South Africa. We are neither going to enter the land of Israel, nor are we living there already. One may even be tempted to say that even a lot of Israelis are not really observing the laws that are presented in our Torah portion.

But, I wouldn’t be raising this topic, if I agreed with this point of view. There is another way of looking at it, that – in my opinion – makes more sense. I would argue and say that Mitzwot, connected exclusively to “the land”, bear an absolute relevance for us all, even though we are not living in the land of Israel.

The laws we find in our Torah portion, and in other places as well, are loaded with ethical values that are vital to every society. These include the sharing of a tenth of our harvest or income with the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and the appreciation of the land, and our natural recourses, by keeping the idea of a sabbatical year. I truly believe that the intention of the Torah by telling us this is – as mentioned in Verse 26.18 of our parashah – to create a “Holy Nation”, a nation that is struggling for a better world in the path, God has designated for us.

Actually, I think that all these Mitzwot, which on a superficial level are connected to the land, have a broader, and deeper meaning – that of connecting us to each other and the Eternal through the ethics they represent.

Therefore, the connection of the Mitzwot with “the land” can be understood as being of great help and greater importance. The land of Israel may be seen metaphorically as an eternal flame, reminding us not to forget to thank the Eternal for what we have achieved, and that every one of us has had a moment, a time in their lives where they are brought out of a “very personal” Mitzrayim. Every one of us overcomes challenges in life. It could be leaving home, entering into a partnership, discovering one has a serious illness. The list is endless. Israel, in this sense, is a symbol of the well-being of the Jewish people because it reflects our relationship with God.

I would like to very briefly raise another point relating to the issue of “the land”. I can understand that a lot of people are troubled by the politics, and realities connected to the modern State of Israel. I, too, am very often troubled, and I would consider this to be a normal reaction. We need to be concerned, but I think our Torah portion also teaches us, that we, as Jews living outside of the land of Israel, are in a relationship with Israel. Like the other Mitzwot I referred to, Israel has a relevance for us all.

I believe, Israel reflects our eternal relationship with God. If we think, that things in the State of Israel are not going well, then our relationship with God also needs some improvements. Guided by shared values – like gender equality in public spaces, the “western wall” as a place of worship for all Jewish streams, and a human treatment of all people, irrespective of their background, – we should seek to find ways, in which we can change the current situation. Israel is too important for us as Jews to be left alone and on its own. Ignoring it, or even boycotting it, won’t change anything. After all, Israel is our Jewish homeland.

As progressive Jews, we have a responsibility for Israel in the same way as every other Jew has – whether they are living in Israel or not. In our Torah portion Moses repeats that the land of Israel is part of our heritage. Not only OUR heritage today, but the heritage of EVERY generation of Jews. Those who have gone before us, our generation today, and for the generations that will come after us. I think, it is worth taking on this responsibility.

Shabbat Shalom