Have no fear – be Strong!

The Torah portion Va’yechi is the concluding parasha of the first book of Torah, B’reishit. It ends the narrative of the founding mothers and fathers of our folk and faith, and also concludes the complex and compelling story of Joseph. As such, it has many aspects of endings, including Jacob’s death-bed blessings given to his sons and grandsons plus explicit instructions regarding his burial. The parasha also contains a poignant exchange between Joseph and his brothers which echoes old duplicities but results in peace among them. Finally, the parasha tells of Joseph’s death and his final request, “When God has taken notice of you (i.e. the people of Israel), you shall carry my bones from here.”, fore-shadowing the events that will unfold in the next book of the Torah.

Despite all these endings, how this parasha begins is truly unique. All other por-tions in a Torah scroll start at the beginning of a line of text, and/or after an open space that indicates the start of a new block of text. Vayechi, meaning “and he lived”, starts right in the middle of a line. There is no clear indication where the previous portion ended and this one begins. The very structure of the Torah text impresses upon us the unavoidable continuity that characterises our lives. Past events influence future happenings. Present conditions cast new light on previ-ous circumstances. Future considerations determine present actions.

This Torah portion is a perfect match for the beginning of a new (secular) year that comes with so many uncertainties. The rise of anti-Semitism world wide, the horrible fires in Australia, and the possibility of a war in the Near East are only three of the many horrors that have cast their shadows on our future.


“Have no fear!” is Joseph’s answer to his brothers, when they are in fear of their future. Friends, we don’t know what 2020 will bring. We are somewhere in the middle of something, not able to see what is coming next. However fear cannot be our answer. Instead, I invite you to take the following words to your heart, which we recite when we end a book of the Torah, as we do this Shabbat:

Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik
Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen one another

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Jack Luxemburg)

Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen one another

Chanukah Oy Chanukah – Come light the menorah

Celebrate Chanukah with us on Friday 27 December with a festive service. Bring your own Chanukiah to the service and 7 candles to join in lighting the Chanukah lights.

Chanukah Oy Chanukah (23. – 30. December 2019)

Chanukah begins this year on the evening of Sunday, 22nd December.

Chanukah (alternately spelled Hanukkah), meaning „dedication“ in Hebrew, refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and „rededication“ of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the chanukiah, a special menorah for Chanukah; foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); and special songs and games.

Candles are lit on each of the eight nights of Chanukah, one the first night, two the second, and an additional candle on each subsequent night. The candle for the first night is placed at the far right of the chanukiah; on each subsequent night, another candle is added to the left. An extra candle, designated as the shamash, is lit first, then used to light the others after the blessings are recited. Each night the candles are lit from left to right, starting with the new candle. The last blessing (Shehechiyanu) is recited only on the first night. The last candle is lit on Sunday night, the 29th December.

What is a dreidel? The word dreidel derives from a German word meaning “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Chanukah game adapted from an old German gambling game. Chanukah was one of the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance. The four sides of the top bear four Hebrew letters: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Players begin by putting into a central pot or “kitty” a certain number of coins, chocolate money known as gelt, nuts, buttons or other small objects. Each player in turn spins the dreidel and proceeds as follows: nun – take nothing; gimmel – take everything; hey – take half; shin – put one in. Over time, the letters on the dreidel were reinterpreted to stand for the first letter of each word in the Hebrew statement “Neis gadol hayah sham,” which means “A great miracle happened there” and refers to the defeat of the Syrian army and the re-dedication of the Temple. In Israel, one letter on the dreidel differs from those used in the rest of the world. The shin has been replaced with a pey, transforming the Hebrew statement into Neis gadol hayah po, which means “A great miracle happened here.”

Blessings for Chanukah

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חַנֻכָה.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with Mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לָאבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהם בַּזִּמַן הַזֶּה.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wonders for our ancestors in days of old at this season.

Add every night: We kindle these lights because of the wondrous deliverance You performed for our ancestors. During these eight days of Chanukah, these lights are scared; we are not to use them but only to behold them, so that their glow may rouse us to give thanks for Your wondrous acts of deliverance.

First night only:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

See also Mishkan T’filah page 572 and 668.

Chag Chanukah Samei’ach ~ חנוכה שׁמח חג

A joyous Chanukah to all

More about Chanukah can be found here: http://www.reformjudaism.org/jewish-holidays/hanukkah

Heaven and earth touched each other

This week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, describes the first part of the journey of the biblical Jacob. Fleeing the wrath of his brother, whose birthright he purchased and whose blessing he stole, Jacob is “heading for the exits (Vayetzei).” As the now iconic story unfolds, Jacob stops for the night and has his famous dream of a ladder with angels going up and down between heaven and earth. God appears to Jacob in the midst of his dream and repeats the covenantal promise to Jacob as promised to Abraham
before.

It is remarkable that this didn’t happen in a safe environment, in a tent, or a regular place of worship. It happened in the ‘nowhere‘, a place where
literally heaven and earth touched each other.

Last Shabbat, we went out to have Shabbat together in the Botanical
Gardens, and while I doubt that this was a moment comparable to Jacob‘s, it was still special and it brought together family, friends and  people we had never met before. It was a wonderful way to confirm our covenant with the Eternal and to open ourselves to new ways and new encounters.

I hope we have more of those special services in the future.

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Toledot: It is about seeing—and not seeing.

Our parasha reports how Isaac was tricked by Jacob, taking advantage of his father‘s blindness, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn.  But was Isaac really blind? Was he really not able to notice that it was Jacob and not Esau who stood before him?  History is sometimes made by averting our eyes.  Many people think that miracles are about God working magic.  But according to Genesis miracles are about lifting up the eyes.  They are about opening the eyes and seeing what is already there. So miracles are more about us seeing things rather than God’s magic.  Miracles are about noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

So how do we understand Isaac’s not seeing?  If he is blinded by choice because it is too painful to verbalise what one son is doing to another or how his wife is conspiring against him or how he is favouring one son over another, then what might  the miracle be that he is unable to see? 

The miracle  is in the sequel.  It is in next week’s portion.  That miracle is the dream of a ladder going to heaven.  This miracles occurs because Jacob is now running from Esau.  Such is the history that is created by Isaac
choosing not to see.

We can’t see everything and some things are too painful to see clearly.  The truth must sometimes be concealed and that we must, as a matter of faith, veil our eyes. Our rabbis teach us that we learn from Isaac how to lead a life of faith.  We can look at the world and all its pain.  We can look at our own lives with all the difficulties and say, there is no God; there are no
miracles.  Or, you can see Nature in all its wonderful colours, and say, „I believe!“ Faith is a matter of averting our eyes from our daily pains and seeing instead the sometimes less frequent joys and blessings.  It is about seeing—and not seeing.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Knowing that We Are Blessed

As Abraham reached the twilight of his years, our Torah portion informs us that „the Eternal had blessed Abraham in every way“ (Genesis 24:1).

The Rabbis were perplexed by such an assertion. No surprise! Do you know anyone on earth who is blessed with everything? Some people may give the impression that they „have everything.“ But when you scratch the surface you will find that we all carry burdens- physical, emotional, and
financial. We live with disappointment, with pain, with hopes not realised and goals never achieved.

So what about Abraham? As Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides) suggests, Abraham was blessed with riches, possessions, honour, and
longevity (Ramban on Genesis 24:1). What for me is missing in this list is love, family and friendship.

Last weekend, when we were sitting around the tables that were so richly filled with cakes and sweets for the High Tea, and also on Shabbat at the brocha, after the service, I felt that we are a blessed congregation. Not so much because of the food, which was lovely, but because of being a real community, where friendship and togetherness are not only nice terms on paper, but a lived reality.

When the Torah says that the Eternal had blessed Abraham in every way, perhaps it not only meant the many blessings Abrahm enjoyed in his life-time, but also anticipated the many blessings Abraham‘s children—us—would some days enjoy: a rich tradition, friendship and community.

 Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell