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.

 

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)

 

Parashat Naso: It’s not my fault!

by Monica Solomon

Being in business these are words I hear almost daily.  Certainly if they are not said, they are implied.  It seems that it is really difficult for people to own up to their mistakes, and to take responsibility for the consequences.  And when one tells the other what the result of their mistake is, ’sorry‘ still does not come easily.   And sometimes ’sorry‘ can be a painful word to say, depending on the severity of the result.

It’s the same in any relationship, whether business or personal.   No-one likes to admit they’re wrong because they feel that this somehow diminishes them, but if one doesn’t admit ones mistake life cannot go on with any normality.

There’s a children’s story entitled „The Hardest Word; a Yom Kippur story” which brings this point home in a beautiful way.  The story describes God commanding a giant bird to search the world for the „hardest word“ a person can say. In a first attempt, the bird proposes „Goodnight“ — since no child likes going to bed. God just smiles. Next, the bird suggests, „Spaghetti.“ Cute but wrong. Only later, after many unsuccessful guesses, the bird reflects on his own life, looks into his own heart, and realizes that the hardest word must be „Sorry“ (Jacqueline Jules, Kar-Ben, 2001).

The story rings true as much for us as it does for children „Sorry“ is indeed one of the hardest words we can say.  But when we do say ’sorry‘ and we do accept that we are in the wrong, we create a just society.  We remove blame from the other and both parties can be assured that even though a mistake has been made efforts have been made to repair the damage.

This weeks Parasha, Naso, reads in part   “The Eternal said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Eternal is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.“

Rashi commented that this injunction is similar to the one in Leviticus ch. 5.  He say that the words “and must confess the sin” stresses that repentance cannot be effective without a proper confession of wrongdoing.

Interestingly, requiring confession from the guilty seems to have been one of Rashi’s particular concerns. Elsewhere, in his Talmud commentary, Rashi writes that a person cannot achieve true repentance without admitting guilt: “One does not offer compensation or a sin sacrifice without making confession” (Rashi on Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 108b, s.v. m’shalem keren).

So our Parashah teaches us that, just like there is belief that Israel and Palestine can only live peacefully with a two state solution, justice can only be achieved by a two step solution: when the guilty party makes confession and then follows this with restitution.

Admitting guilt is a sacred act.  It’s difficult but in order to repair the world it is necessary.  Maimonides wrote a lot about the concept of confession going so far as to say that confession should be a public act.

At the end of The Hardest Word, the giant bird reflects on recent events and remembers when he “accidentally” fell from the sky and destroyed a vegetable garden beside a synagogue. He determines that he will return to the scene of the crime bearing a basket of fruits and vegetables from his own garden because, „It was time to say the hardest word.“

It’s time for all of us, to learn how to say the hardest word too.

Torah Reading Shabbat Naso

Numbers 4:21—7:89 Reading Num 6:1-27

Plaut p.928; Hertz p.592

Haftarah Judges 13:2-25 Plaut p.947; Hertz p.602

In our Torah portion:

*A census of the Gershonites, Merarites, and Koathites between the ages of thirty and fifty is conducted and their duties in the Tabernacle are detailed.

* God speaks to Moses concerning what to do with ritually unclean people, repentant individuals, and those who are suspected of adultery.

* The obligations of a nazirite vow are explained. They include abstaining from alcohol and not cutting one’s hair.

* God tells Moses how to teach Aaron and his sons the Priestly Blessing.

* Moses consecrates the Sanctuary, and the tribal chieftains bring offerings. Moses then speaks with God inside the Tent of Meeting.

 

 

 

Parashat B’midbar: We count!

Incredulous! That’s how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

„4.8! That’s it?“ I thought. „I’ve never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?“

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives. The world knows us by our ID Numbers and PINs. Job performance and health are quantified and compared. We rank and rate universities, restaurants, wine, cars, and even dates.

It goes without saying that qualification makes large amounts of data easier to categorise and understand. But it also has the effect of obscuring beauty, individuality, and difference. We have only to think of the Nazis‘ practice of tattooing numbers on our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents and we shudder with horror.

Perhaps, the dehumanising quality of quantification is the reason Jews have generally frowned on counting people. I remember counting students for a minyan whispering, „Not one, not two . . . “ In fact, this concept goes back to the Babylonian Talmud where Rabbi Isaac taught, „It’s prohibited to count the Jewish people, even in order to do a mitzvah“ (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 22b).

Then again, in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat B’midbar, God instructs Moses to, „Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clan, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names of every male, head by head“ (Numbers 1:2). The parashah goes on to count and compare the male populations of the various Israelite tribes.

In Rashi’s commentary on this parashah, Rashi turns the whole idea of taking a census on its head. For him, this isn’t an act of bureaucratic expediency. Rather, he writes, „Out of God’s love for them, he counted them often“ (see Rashi on Numbers 1:1). For Rashi, counting doesn’t dehumanise or obscure, it’s an expression of love and care — one manifestation of God’s protection and devotion to God’s precious treasures.

We don’t normally experience counting in this way. More often than not, to be counted is to feel more like digits and ratings — robbed of our identities. Yet, Rashi’s interpretation of our parashah, reminds us what we all know deep down: We are much more than the numbers assigned to us. We are much more than ones and zeroes and Uber rankings. We are all precious treasures, worthy of love and affection.  We count! 

Rabbi Adrian M Schell  (Source: Joseph A. Skloot)