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

Bamidbar: The ta’amim of our congregation

Chaverim,

I’d like to thank and to compliment all our members who have in the past—and will in the future—read from the Torah, co-lead or lead services for us on Shabbat and other occasions.

The Hebrew word for taste or spices is ta’am, and as the musical notes for the Torah reading are called ta’amei mikra, because they bring some spice or taste into the Torah reading. So for me, all those who contribute to our beautiful services, our amazing choir included, are the ta’amim of our congregation. It is wonderful to know that so many of you contribute to what we are at Bet David, a congregation of many.

Our Torah portion opens the 4th book of the Torah, called Bamidbar in Hebrew, and Numbers in English. It recounts the first census of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. The sages explain that verse “Sse’u et rosh kol adat b’nei-Yisrael—lift up the head of the whole community of the children of Yisrael”, which the Torah uses for the census, highlights that every individual of the community counts. The image is that Moses had to lift up every single head of his people, and by that looking into the eyes of each and everyone, not leaving anyone out, and recognising the potential of all of them.

Knowing that our ancestors emphasised the importance of the potential that is inherit to all the members of our people, I am glad that we follow them in their footsteps, doing the same—as I said, Bet David can be proud of being a congregation of many.

Thank you.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

Picture above: Lag BaOmer at Beit Emanuel. Thank you to Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked and his team for hosting us for the evening of Lag BaOmer.