Created in the image of God

Today, Friday (22 May/28 Iyyar) we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, one of several Jewish holidays commemorating events of war in the modern State of Israel. This one recalls Israel’s regaining of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. Despite these modern memorial days, it seems safe to say that we Jews generally don’t think of ourselves as military people. Yet the coming together with our annual reading of the opening portion of the Book of Numbers, beginning with a census of all Israelite men, might give us pause to question our assumption.

Our parasha begins with God’s instruction to Moses to count the people: 
s’u et-rosh kol-adat B’nai Yisrael,”-“take a census of the whole Israelite company”. The commentators notice the way God describes the head count: s’u et rosh, “lift the head.” Nachmanides (a rabbi from the thirteenth century) points out that the phrase can be positive or negative. Joseph uses the same phrase positively back in Genesis when interpreting the dream of the imprisoned cupbearer: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your post.” But Joseph also uses the phrase negatively a few verses later while interpreting the baker’s dream: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift your head from your body and hang you on a pole

Imagine the scene, though, Moses and Aaron lifting each young man’s head, gently touching the chin of each soldier-to-be, looking them in the eye, thus acknowledging the humanity of each one, and recognising the real “risks” of war. Will this young man’s head be lifted up to greatness or fall in battle?

S’u et-rosh, “Lift up the head” of each one, says God to Moses, as if to say, touch them, look them in the eyes, write down their family names, because even though you are counting them, these men are not just numbers.

A wise man once taught that if you look deeply into the eyes of another, you will find there the Presence of God. Would we really be able to send people into battle if we spent the moments before looking deep into the eyes of our soldiers?

As we shall see in the weeks to come, despite its stories of fighting, rebellion and violence, the Book of Numbers also delivers the message that God would rather encourage the people Israel toward a gentler way of being, and to realise that the price we have paid in any war was more than just a soldier. She or he was a human being, created in the image of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

(Source: Rabbi Lisa Edwards)

Kfir Brigade Swearing-In Ceremony - (c) IDF 2015
Kfir Brigade Swearing-In Ceremony – (c) IDF 2015

Shavuot 2020 @ Bet David

Together with the learners of our Cheder, we will open the Shavuot Festival with a joyful Service Thursday evening at 18h30. Please join in and support our cheder learners.

Prof. Steven Friedman opens our night of learning with a Shiur about the intention of the Torah: “What the Torah Was Really Meant to Do”. The Shiur will follow the service at 19h30.

At 20h30 we will join the
national night of learning (Tikkun Leil Shavuot) of the SAUPJ (programme see below).

Please note that we use two Zoom sessions on Shavuot evening, the first is for the service and the shiur with Prof. Friedman (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-1) and the second for the SAUPJ learning night (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-3). We will also stream all sessions and the service on Facebook and YouTube.

Thursday  28 May
* Erev Shavuot Service (18h30)
and Shiur with Prof Friedman (19h30)

ZOOM http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-1 (M 857 1878 1073 P 478751) 
to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

* SAUPJ Tikkun Leil Shavuot—proudly progressive (20h30)

When WhoWhat
20:40SAUPJ Young AdultsOpening Ma’amad
20:45Brett Kopin, Rabbinic student, Ziegler School, Los Angeles.“Tattooed Torah Movie”: the story of an Animated movie made recently, following a legendary book by Marvell Ginsburg, which is a powerful resource for Holocaust education for children.
21:30Panel:
Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Julia Margolis, Beit Luria, JHB.Andrea Kuti, Rabbinic Student, Aleph.
“Kol BaTorah – Isha” – The feminist voice of Torah:Following the prominent Feminist Jewish thinker Judith Plaskow who defines the Feminist revolution in Judaism as Standing again at Sinai, we will hear from panelist their views, in this festival of receiving the Torah, how do they view its feminine aspects and how they bring it about in their professional life.  
22:30Panel: Rabbi Greg Alexander, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Adrian M. Schell, Bet David, JHB, Sofia Zway, Rabbinic student H.U.C, Los Angeles.“Days are coming” – Gaze into the near future for Jewish communities. The panelist will reflect on the transformation we’ve been experiencing, trying to extract lessons we can apply and insights for our conduct. 
23:30 Sofia Zway, Rabbinic Student, H.U.C. Los Angeles.The Book of Ruth – How it is the simple acts of Human grace which make the most difference. Sofi Zwai is a South African, graduate of our movement, studying toward a Rabbinic ordination at the HUC.
23:50Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked, Beit Emanuel, JHB.Concluding Ma’amad

ZOOM http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-3 
to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

Friday 29 May
* Shavuot Morning Service and Yizkor (09h30)

For YouTube click here: http://tiny.cc/BD-YouTube
and To follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

For how to use Zoom and our Siddur online, please visit our website: www.betdavid.org.za/online

What in God’s Name is God’s Name?

This is one of the more profound theological questions. To be able to name something or someone is to have a specific relationship to it or them, even a form of control. One can call out not just “Hey, You!” but “Hey, David!” or whatever, and expect some form of response. By using a name one potentially opens a dialogue. It is, therefore, no coincidence that most prayers begin with “Baruch Atah – Something.” “Blessed are You…”and then a Name.

The problem is: The Name. What is the name, what can we use to address God, what does it mean?

In Exodus 3:14, God has refused to answer Moses directly, saying simply, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”, “I am Who I Am”—or even “I Will Be whom I Will Be”. So, no name for God, or……..?

We have the Four-Letter Name, the ‘Tetragrammaton’ which is used in many places in the Torah for God’s name. Traditionally, one reads “Adonai” instead of the consonants ‘YHVH’ – but this is only a tradition because we have to say something. The fact is that No-one actually knows. Which makes it theology, not physics.

At the outset of this parashah (Ex. 6:3) God simply tells Moses, “I am the same God who appeared under a different name to your ancestors”. That’s a bit of a relief, because we can learn from here that God has not only one name and that there are many ways to encounter God. And it opens up a range of other possibilities when God appears but is described as something or someone else; it leaves the gender issue open; it allowed the rabbis to determine whether different names indicated different qualities—such as justice or mercy. It allows modern theologians to discuss whether ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ are the same, it allows archaeologists to place bits of inscription with ‘Shaddai’, and it allows translators to find alternative words like ‘Lord’ or ‘The Eternal’ or ‘The Creator’, and so on.  But being honest, No-One knows, God’s name remains a secret from us. 

In the end, I suppose what is important is that we pray, that we say ‚Baruch Atah‘, Blessed are you – that we open a dialogue regularly—and that God knows who God is, and will listen, and may respond.

–  Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi W Rothschild on Vaera)

Shemot: A story, which can challenge our assumptions

At the beginning of 2011, while protests were happening in Egypt against the regime of Hosni Mubarak, a joke did the rounds, which claimed that the Jews had warned the Egyptians that they would refuse to rebuild the pyramids if they got destroyed by the violent protests which swept through the country. This joke may be related back to this week’s
Torah portion in which we read that as the Israelites became numerous Pharaoh began to persecute them, and ‘they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses’.

This week we begin the book of Shemot, also known as Exodus, and the first of half of the Book as a whole focuses on the persecution of the Israelites by Pharaoh and the Egyptians, with their eventual escape from slavery to freedom. Pharaoh and the Egyptians are the bad guys at the start of this book. Pharaoh worried that if the Israelites continued to multiply one day they could be a fifth column joining their enemies in a future war. And so he responded by making ‘their lives bitter with hard slavery, in mortar, and in brick, and in all kinds of service in the field; all their service, which they made them serve, was with rigour’.

And yet almost at the beginning of the book we get a short little story, which can challenge our assumptions about the Egyptians. Having failed to check the growth of the Israelites through hard labour, we read that ‘the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, and the name of one was Shifrah, and the name of the other Puah’. Pharaoh told them that when they were helping the Israelite women during their labour if they gave birth to ‘a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live’. The ultimate ruler of Egypt, a man considered to be a god, gave Shifrah and Puah a direct instruction and yet we then read: ‘the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive’. They even lied to Pharaoh to defend their actions.

In studying this story, the commentators have been primarily concerned by the identity of Shifra and Puah; were they Israelites or were they Egyptians who served the Hebrew community? In reading the text it seems unlikely that they were members of the Israelite community. For one, it is hard to believe that Pharaoh expected Israelites to kill members of their own people. But in terms of the text the statement that ‘the midwives feared God’ seems superfluous if they were members of the Hebrew community, but highly relevant if they were Egyptians rebelling against their Pharaoh.

Shifrah and Puah provide us with the first example of civil disobedience, but more importantly, they demonstrate that not all of the Egyptians were necessarily evil and wicked. As we read the first half of the book of Shemot it is easy to negatively characterise all of the Egyptian people, but Shifrah and Puah show that this was not true of everyone, they call on us to be more nuanced in our view of the Egyptians. And they set a secondary example as the first righteous gentiles, risking their own lives to save others.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Danny Burkeman) 

CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=383344