Mark the Omer time in a significant way

Many of us know that Passover takes place during the Hebrew month of Nisan. In contrast, most of us do not know that the month of Nisan also includes another observance which begins on the second day of Passover. In ancient times, as set forth in the Book of Leviticus, our ancestors would start bringing a ceremonial measure of barley, called an “omer” to the Temple on each of the 49 days between the 15th of Nisan and Erev Shavuot (the 6th of Sivan). The number 49 has special significance in Jewish tradition because it constitutes a week of weeks (7×7), a significant number in the story of creation and in the beliefs of the Jewish mystics.  According to the rabbis of the Talmud, these 49 days also represent the length of the journey from Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

According to Jewish tradition, the “Counting of the Omer [Hebrew: Sefirat HaOmer ]” represents a spiritual journey from slavery to freedom and from chaos to the giving of the law. In the absence of the Jerusalem Temple, many Jewish communities have sought to imbue the counting of the Omer with daily spiritual significance. We at Bet David have adopted the Kehillah feeding scheme as a way to mark this time in a significant way.

I believe that education is one of the major ways to empower all parts of our society and to fulfil the dream of Nelson Mandela of a better South Africa. However, we have seen that many families still struggle on a daily basis to put food on the table because education is expensive and, too often, after paying the school fees there isn’t enough money left for a decent meal for those learners.

Several years ago, a former student of our own Mitzvah school started a feeding scheme in Alex, in an attempt to combat this situation. By providing one full, hot meal a day for more than 200 children, she managed to take away some of the burden those families have to carry every day.

With each parcel donated, we bring a little bit of healing (Tikkun) into our world.  Please support Kehillah also this year generously. May we, on our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, bring some additional light into the world.

Chag Pesach Seamach – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Bet David Kehillah’s Omer Project

Counting of the Omer begins on Sunday, 21 April for 50 days in support of Kehillah’s Feeding Schemes. Place your name and those of your loved ones on the list to donate one day’s food parcel for only R100 to Kehillah. Sign up on the sheet on the notice board in the Bet David Gallery, or call the shul office.  Please EFT to Bet David Sisterhood, Nedbank Sandton Account 1970476214, branch 197005.

Thank you for your great support!




50 days that can help so many

At Bet David, we have found an additional way to give meaning to the traditional way of counting of the Omer. When we count the omer, we give 50 days of hope.

I believe that education is one of the major ways to empower all parts of our society and to fulfil the dream of so many for a South Africa with an amazing future. Our Mitzvah school is the living proof of our efforts to implement this dream into reality. However, I have seen that many families still struggle on a daily basis just to put food on the table. Education is unfortunately very expensive and, too often, after paying the school fees there isn’t enough money left for a decent meal for the families and the learners.

Several years ago, a former student of the Mitzvah school started a feeding scheme in Alex to combat this situation.  By providing one full hot meal a day for more than 200 children, she managed to take away some of the burden those families have to carry every day.

Bet David’s Kehillah – with the help from many of you –  has financed and carried this feeding scheme since its inception. Nevertheless, Kehillah still need your support for this programme. They need the best we can give, our money. Please join me and become a sponsor of one or more food parcels for the feeding scheme.

Add your name and those of your loved ones on the list of supporters. One day’s food parcel has the value of only R100. Sign up sheets can be found in the shul or contact Glynnis during office hours. EFT to Sisterhood, Nedbank Sandton, Account 1970476214, branch 197005, and send your proof of payment to

Thank you for your great support!

חג פסח כשר ושמח        Chag Pesach Kasher v’Samei’ach  

Rabbi Adrian M Schell     


Torah Sparks: Resurrection of the death?

This coming Shabbat, we have a dramatic haftarah reading from Ezekiel 37:1-14. The prophet shares the vision of dry bones coming to life. What does this vision have to do with Passover, our festival of freedom, our deliverance from slavery? The Haftarah Commentary, by Gunther Plaut, offers the following opinion on the connection between Passover and this prophecy: “The connection of the Shabbat of Pesach and the main body of the haftarah (37:1-14) lies in the theme of Israel’s deliverance: in the Torah it is delivered from slavery: in the haftarah, from death.”

The story of Passover is the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, yet the story is incomplete without a messianic vision. Ezekiel, preaches to his people who are exiled from Israel, after many have been killed in battle; they are given a vision of the return of the dead to Jerusalem and a restored homeland.

Are there other possible connections to Passover?

One interesting connection is that we end our seder with the song „Chad Gadya“, the so-called „children’s song“ that follows the chain of violence and death from one goat to God’s striking the Angel of Death. By this time in the seder, most of us are too tipsy, tired, and full to pay attention to the incredible theological message- masquerading as child’s play, sung in Aramaic. Its message of ultimate redemption echoes in the seder and is fully disclosed in Ezekiel’s prophecy of hope and restoration.

But, was Ezekiel’s prophecy meant to be real or a metaphor? Is it really a description of physical resurrection or spiritual resurrection?  And how do we moderns-and particularly we Progressive Jews-find meaning in this?

The prayers for the resurrection of the dead were among the first to be excised from classical Reform prayer books. But our more recent Mishkan T’filah has put the prayer back as an alternative reading. Could it be that the last century, with its extraordinary events, reminded us that „resurrection“ is possible?

In our haftarah, Ezekiel will send a shiver down your spine: „Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost (v’avdah tikvateinu), we are cut off [from life]!“ These words, written sometime in the sixth century BCE, resonated in the hearts, minds, and pens of our early Zionist dreamers! The rebirth of Israel is probably the most powerful cultural resurrection of the twentieth century. Ezekiel was right, „I will put My breath into you and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land“ (Ezekiel 37:14).  Recited century after century, this haftarah has changed from a wistful prayer to a clarion call to action.

Wishing you all a very meaningful Pesach

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Naamah Kelman )

A thought on last week’s parasha by Rabbi Yosef Solomon

He shall remove his garments and wear other garments and he shall take out the ashes.” ~ Leviticus 6:4

 The first daily Temple-service was the removal of the previous day’s ashes from the Altar. Why did the priest need to change clothes? Sorry budding Kabbalists, no hidden mysticism here and not even a mitzvah! Rather just simple common-sense: since he’s likely to soil his holy garments from the dirty ashes, the priest should change into ‘overalls’. Evidently, certain clothing is unsuitable for specific pursuits. If you dress appropriately for business-meetings or social-functions, why should spiritual ones be any different? The famous proverb „clothes maketh the man“ points to the fact that people generally judge others by their external reality.  Judaism points in the opposite direction: judge the moment and align your internal reality by dressing accordingly.

Torah Reading Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach

Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 28:19-25
(Plaut 592; Hertz 362)

Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:1-37:14 (P1465 Hertz 1015)

With the reading, we are reminded of the age-old desire to know God. Moses implores God to let him see God. While God will not allow Moses to see God’s face, God tells Moses, “I will make My goodness pass before you…“ Perhaps we experience the divine presence through the goodness we create in the world. The Torah then sets forth the thirteen attributes of God, among them that God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. By emulating these very attributes, we create the goodness which allows us to know God.



Pesach Seder: A very Jewish version of a symposium

The most well-known thing that Jewish people do during Passover is to gather together for a ceremonial festive meal called a seder. The main thing to understand about a seder is that it combines a delicious meal, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and a lot of symbolic foods and rituals tied to the Exodus story. Whether you are hosting a seder at your home or you are a guest at someone else’s, a typical seder is set up like a dinner party with a script. There’s a book, called a Haggadah in Hebrew, which contains the ritual order of the meal – traditionally comprised of 15 steps, or ritual units.

History: The seder and the Haggadah were developed by a group of ancient rabbis who lived in the Land of Israel under Greco-Roman cultural influence. They did some cultural borrowing in crafting the Haggadah, using the Greco-Roman concept of a symposium and filling in Jewish content. A symposium was a meal with guests during which an important subject would be discussed and a specific number of cups of wine would be served. The hosts would issue invitations, which would state the topic for the evening’s discussion and the number of cups of wine that would be served. At the beginning of the evening, guests would arrive and be invited to get comfortable – reclining on pillows and cushions and preparing to eat and drink, talk and argue deep into the night. Familiar?  Exactly, the seder is our very Jewish version of a symposium:

The Topic: The Exodus from Egypt and freedom,
How many cups: 4 cups of wine and lots of food.

Wishing you all a very meaningful Pesach
Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: ITJ Handout on Pesach)

Torah Reading – Shabbat Hagadol
Parashat Tzav

Leviticus  6:1-8:36 Reading Lev  8:10-36
(Plaut 694; Hertz 436)

Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-3:24 (P1459 Hertz 1005)

In our weekly Torah portion the five sacrifices that the priests are to perform are described. Further, limitations on the consumption of meat are outlined by the Torah.

Our portion concludes with details about the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests and the preparation of the Tabernacle as a holy place.

 Pesach—First day

Exodus 12:37-42;13:3-10 (Plaut  414) and Numbers 28:16-25 (Plaut 1082)

Haftarah: Isaiah 43:1-15 (P 1462)

Omer Counting

Beginning with the second night of Pesach we count the Omer until we arrived in our calendar at Shavuot. To help you with the counting, we have prepared for you a leaflet with a calendar, the blessings and the numbers (COUNTING THE OMER 2017). Traditionally the Omer is counted in the evening, after sunset.



Torah Sparks: Teach it to your children

An old saying teaches that we believe what we see, but the reverse is often true: we see what we believe.  And what we believe is often coloured by the stories we’ve learned. In less than two weeks, we are going to celebrate Pesach, Passover. The most important mitzvah for Pesach is to share knowledge with the next generation. But why?

When Abraham told the story of one God creating the universe, the idea of history—the belief that we can learn from our past—was created. After all, if there were many gods, as so much of the ancient world believed, what happened yesterday might have no bearing on today, because we might be dealing with a different god.  But with one God there could be one plan and one set of rules, so learning from the past—from yesterday, from our parents, or from the lives of our ancestors—became both possible and essential. It is no wonder that the TaNaCh, our Bible, not only records the victories of the Jewish people, like the hieroglyphics do for the Egyptians, but also our failures.  We must learn from both. Peoples, nations, cultures, faiths: all have stories that inform their vision and help shape their thinking.

For many Christians, the world is seen through the story of death and resurrection. For many Muslims, through the image of spiritual struggle and war. For Jews, our vision is one of leaving the slavery of the past, wandering through the wilderness of the present, and moving toward the promised land of the future.

Significantly, while so many other peoples speak of “the golden age of the past,” Judaism’s story puts the best of times in the future.  It is the Jewish vision that laid the groundwork for the belief in messianic times for so many people of the world. So important is the Jewish belief in the power of stories—and in particular, our Jewish story—that four times in the Bible we are commanded to tell our story to our children, whether or not they ask to hear it.

Our Pesach Haggadah translates this mitzvah into the story of four children—for a good reason. Jewish teaching explains the verse “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—as opposed to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”—as a lesson that each of us must find their own way to connect with the Jewish people, its history and with faith until that “faith relationship” becomes personal.  The lesson of the four children teaches us that we must work to understand each individual and hear each question before we respond. Otherwise, we may be providing answers important to ourselves, not those important to our students or children. Our hope is that all our children—every Jew and non-Jew alike—will be connected to our people, our history and our God.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Lauren Eichler Berkun)

Torah Reading Shabbat Vayikra

Leviticus 1:1-5:26 Reading Lev  4:1-21
(Plaut 666; Hertz 417)

Haftarah: Isaiah  43:21-44:23
(Plaut 682; Hertz 424)

 In our weekly Torah portion God instructs Moses on the five different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered in the sanctuary: * The olah or „burnt offering“ was a voluntary sacrifice that had a high degree of sanctity and was regarded as the „standard“ offering.

* The minchah or „meal offering“ was a sacrifice made of flour, oil, salt, and frankincense.

* The zevach sh’lamim or „sacrifice of well-being“ was a voluntary animal offering from one’s herd, sometimes brought to fulfill a vow.

* The chatat or „sin offering“ was an obligatory sacrifice that was offered to expiate unintentional sins.

* And finally the asham or „penalty offering“ was an obligatory sacrifice that was required chiefly of one who had misappropriated property.