Metzorah: Only one month to go, and election day is here.

25 years after the first democratic election. Many things have changed since then, and still much more needs to change, bringing more healing and more equality to our country.

Therefore, it is no wonder that campaigning has returned to South Africa, as many politicians and parties have very different ideas on how to solve the problems we are facing. As a result, it is inevitable that there will be debates about race, empowerment of different classes and the status of foreigners in South Africa. Once again, political leaders will try to explain to us who is in and who is out. All too often, they will try to score points by being harsh towards one group in our society and soft to others. In my humble opinion, this has nothing to do with the colour of our skin, our backgrounds, reconciliation, or real interest in problem solving — this is unfortunately only politics. At times, when listening to these politicians who are fighting about your votes, it seems to me that they try more to convince you who is more acceptable to be a part of „our“ group and who is not, rather than seeking to find ways to include everyone in our society.

In this week’s Torah Portion, we appear to get a similar kind of situation where the Torah lays down a legal system and laws for who is considered clean and unclean. And, by virtue of a person’s uncleanliness, who needed to be removed or kept separate from the camp for a period of time.

At first glance we can therefore assume that it is about exclusion, searching out the unclean and excluding them from society. However, I would suggest that it is the opposite. This part of the Torah reminds us of the importance of finding ways to include all, so that when a person was removed from the camp for what ever reason, the law provided a way back, based on open and trans-parent principals. Ultimately, these people would be returned and re-admitted into the camp and into society, because a healthy society needs all of its members to flourish. My hope and my wish for this year’s election campaign is, that our politicians follow the example of the Torah and strife for inclusion rather than to polarise and divide this society more than it already is.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Tazria: There is always the possibility of Teshuva

The portions of Tazria and Metzora are perhaps, for many of you, very uncomfortable portions of the Torah, dealing with all kinds of issues related to ritual purity and impurity.

Ritual impurity, or tumah, has nothing to do with hygiene. Instead, tumah is a spiritual state that prevents a person from participating in the worship life of the community. One becomes impure through a variety of means, all of which are perfectly natural, such as illness, childbirth, physical
discharges and contact with a corpse. Purity and impurity are not related to good or evil. However, impurity is considered to be a spiritual disability.

For example, tzaraat, the skin affliction that is discussed at length in this part of the Torah, is not the biological disease Leprosy – as it has historically been translated – but rather a state that the Torah understands as the physical manifestation of a spiritual or ritual problem. This is not a medical treatise, nor are the Kohanim (the priests) serving as paramedics. Rather, tumah is a purely ritual concern, and as the ritual leaders of the community, it falls upon the priesthood to facilitate purification for those who find themselves in a state of impurity.

The laws presented in this and the next parasha have long been the basis for numerous rabbinic homilies against the spread of lashon ha-ra — literally “evil speech” or gossip. Metzora, the rabbis conjectured, sounded just like motzi-ra — the bringing forth of evil with the mouth. Cause and effect: if one is guilty of lashon ha-ra, one will be afflicted by tzaraat and thus becomes a metzora. But the Torah tells us that tzaraat is not a permanent condition. One can become healthy again. Neither the condition, nor the sin that precipitated it, is hopeless. There is always the possibility of Teshuva — expiation for one’s misdeed — and a process by which the unclean metzora could again become pure and rejoin the community. This process always exists for us, no matter what our sin was.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: R’ JD. Cohen)


Shabbat Parah Adumah ?!

Shabbart Parah Adumah ?!

The Shabbatot surrounding holidays are often  permeated with the holiday themes, creating the mood for an upcoming festival, reflecting or enhancing festival themes, or easing the transition from a holiday back into the weekly flow of Shabbat.

A special Shabbat usually includes a special Torah or Haftarah [prophetic] reading that either replaces the standard weekly reading or is read in addition to it, as well as a maftir, or final aliyah, that reflect’s the holiday’s theme and is read from a different Torah scroll.

Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the Red Heifer, occurs on the last Shabbat of the month of Adar. The final Torah reading read on that Shabbat, Numbers 19:1-22, deals with the red heifer whose ashes were combined with water to ritually purify anyone who had been in contact with a dead person. Because only people who were pure could eat from the Passover sacrifice, in ancient times a public announcement reminded anyone who had become impure to purify themselves before making the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The Haftarah, Ezekiel 36:16-38, also deals with issues of being cleansed from contamination, but the impurity in this case symbolizes human sinfulness. But, like physical impurity, sins can be overcome. As God says in Ezekiel 36:25,26: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanliness and from all your fetishes [idolatrous practices]. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you.” This renewal of self and nation reflects Passover’s theme of redemption.

Shabbat Shalom — Rabbi Adrian M Schell



A joy that has no bounce

Each month in the Jewish calendar symbolises many things, one of which is the general energy for that month.  The energy of the month fills through every aspect of our lives, if we pay attention. The month of Adar, the month in which Purim falls, is the month of Joy!  What better month to make plans for the future, to get married, to start a new partnership, a new job or just to
relax, than on the month where Joy rains upon us?

However, be mindful that there are two types of joy. There is the light-hearted, ecstatic, playful and, for me, bouncy joy, like the joy of a child at play. The second kind of joy is the joy that comes from toiling all night, all week, all month or all year with ourselves.  The joy after hours, days, weeks or months of cleansing the soul of the many darknesses that it holds from past mistakes, negative conditioning, and mistaken projections.

It is the joy that is waiting for you, once you have journeyed to the depths of your “Gehenum“ and rectified whatever needed to be cleansed or awakened there. It’s a joy that has no bounce because it fills the entirety of your reality and your universe. It is the joy of being on the journey of a lifetime, knowing that even when you are in the depths of despair, there is a light waiting for you on the other side.

Wishing you a happy, joyful Purim—a freiliche Purim and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Mazal Tov to Carla (Rubin), daughter of Linda and Alan Rubin, and Jason Danker who were married on 17 March
Mazal Tov to Carla (Rubin), daughter of Linda and Alan Rubin, and Jason Danker who were married on 17 March

Shabbat Zachor: God’s outcry

It is an interesting co-incidence that on this Shabbat we commemorate all the violent and destructive attacks on the Jewish people in the past while we also begin with the reading of the third book of our Torah—Leviticus, Vayikra in Hebrew.

Leviticus is known for its long and detailed descriptions on how and when to bring animal sacrifices (korbanot) to the Eternal, but it has more to offer than the ritual outline of biblical Judaism. Leviticus establishes a firm framework for an ethical and just society. It calls upon each and every one for us to base our acts on righteousness and compassion.

The key word is kadosh, meaning holiness. Holiness is nothing lofty nor unreachable, far from our human realm—on the contrary, it is achievable and is something we can become with our own human abilities.

Judaism has no concept of half gods and that holiness is only a matter of the divine realm; Judaism teaches us that we can create holiness by conscious acts. It is our duty to give space to the divine.

One of the motives in the Esther story we read on Purim, is that God withdrew Godself from this world, and that cruelty could come into this world, because mankind allowed it. A motive we find in any dark moment of history, from Amalek to Auschwitz. Humans allowed cruelty to take over, to tip the scale into the wrong direction.

Vayikra, the first word of Leviticus, can be translated as ”And God called“.  For me, it is God’s outcry to us, to bring light into a darkened world. With its teachings, Leviticus is a call to each and every human being to ensure that the scale is moved back, that holiness gets its space in this world and that—please God—the next generations can live in a world less broken.

May we find strength in the teaching of our tradition and may Esther  serve us as a role model in bringing truth and healing into our  community.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach — Rabbi Adrian M Schell