Shabbat Zachor: God’s outcry

It is an interesting co-incidence that on this Shabbat we commemorate all the violent and destructive attacks on the Jewish people in the past while we also begin with the reading of the third book of our Torah—Leviticus, Vayikra in Hebrew.

Leviticus is known for its long and detailed descriptions on how and when to bring animal sacrifices (korbanot) to the Eternal, but it has more to offer than the ritual outline of biblical Judaism. Leviticus establishes a firm framework for an ethical and just society. It calls upon each and every one for us to base our acts on righteousness and compassion.

The key word is kadosh, meaning holiness. Holiness is nothing lofty nor unreachable, far from our human realm—on the contrary, it is achievable and is something we can become with our own human abilities.

Judaism has no concept of half gods and that holiness is only a matter of the divine realm; Judaism teaches us that we can create holiness by conscious acts. It is our duty to give space to the divine.

One of the motives in the Esther story we read on Purim, is that God withdrew Godself from this world, and that cruelty could come into this world, because mankind allowed it. A motive we find in any dark moment of history, from Amalek to Auschwitz. Humans allowed cruelty to take over, to tip the scale into the wrong direction.

Vayikra, the first word of Leviticus, can be translated as ”And God called“.  For me, it is God’s outcry to us, to bring light into a darkened world. With its teachings, Leviticus is a call to each and every human being to ensure that the scale is moved back, that holiness gets its space in this world and that—please God—the next generations can live in a world less broken.

May we find strength in the teaching of our tradition and may Esther  serve us as a role model in bringing truth and healing into our  community.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach — Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Because they lived, we will too

Chaverim—Beloved Friends,

 Normally, when Jews die, we recite a prayer: ‚baruch dayan ha’emet‘ blessed is the True Judge. It’s a way of saying: “the good and the bad they did, can pass with them — their soul is in God’s hands now“. When Jews are slaughtered by anti-Semites, however, there is a different prayer: ‚hashem yikkom damam‘ – may God avenge their blood.

It may sound awful to call for revenge in the wake of an attack. It may sound like a summons to continue the cycle of violence. Please be assured, that is not the type of vengeance we are speaking about.

The best form of revenge, in the face of people who want to destroy you, is to carry on living, more than ever. Nothing pains anti-Semites and haters more than to see the people they want to extinguish go on and thrive.

Last Shabbat we celebrated our Judaism proudly. We came together for our Challah Bake, we had joyful services, some of us went to the Johannesburg Pride, and on Monday we welcomed a new Baby Boy into our covenant with God. And this is exactly how we will carry on, being more Jewish. More visible. Louder. More different. More inclusive.

Last Shabbat was also painful, hurtful, and shocking. Not only have we, the Jewish people, lost members of our community, but humanity has lost—as in so many other terror attacks before—wonderful souls, human beings created in the Divine image.

In their honour, we will be more faithful, more humble, closer to God. Because they lived, we will too. We will outlive the anti-Semites, the haters, the racists. With our lives, we will avenge their blood.

– Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

How can we remember on Shabbat Zachor?

Chaverim,

I have always been intrigued by the commandment ‘you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it’ (Deuteronomy 25:19). Simultaneously we are told to ‘blot out the remembrance’ and to ‘not forget it’; two instructions which appear to be contradictory. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the commandment appears in the Torah ensuring we are reminded to blot out and not forget.

Amalek is a recurring feature in our people’s history, assuming a position as the archetypal villain. And on Shabbat Zachor, it is the original story of Amalek that we are remembering. On Shabbat Zachor (as with most of the other special Shabbatot) outside of the special readings for the day there is no special ritual for the service.

Following a tradition my dear colleague, Rabbi Danny Burkeman, started , and which we adopted for Bet David two years ago, we will read also this Shabbat Zachor from our Czech Memorial Torah scroll (saved from Europe after the Shoah) .

This Torah itself symbolises the very fulfilment of the commandment to never forget; it emerged from the horrors of the latest Amalakite persecution, as the Nazis sought the destruction of European Jewry. The survival of this Torah scroll, and its use in a Synagogue for worship and prayer, is evidence of the fulfilment of the commandment to ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek [the Nazis] from under heaven’. And simultaneously, as we honour the scroll as our Czech Memorial Torah scroll, always remembering its story of survival out of the ashes of destruction, we guarantee that we ‘shall not forget it’.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Shabbat Zachor: We can’t tolerate the political abuse of people who suffered under Apartheid

Rabbi Schell SAFI ConferenceThis coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat of Remembrance, one of the special Shabbatot leading up to Passover. In addition to the regular Torah portion congregations conclude the reading with an additional reading of Deuteronomy 25:17-19. These verses tell us to do something difficult – remember what Amalek did to us after we left Egypt, while we erase the memory of him. Shabbat Zachor is always the Shabbat before Purim, because the villain of the Purim story, Haman, is an Amalekite – a direct descendant of Amalek. One way to fulfil the idea of our additional Torah reading is the practice during the reading of the Book of Esther to make noise each time Haman’s name is read, in effect obliterating his name, while we still remember everything he did to us.

It is a very interesting coincidence that our Shabbat Zachor falls on the same weekend South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day. Because the South Africa’s Human Rights Day is connected with the Commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre from 1960, we have a powerful reminder that Human Dignity is unfortunately nothing we can expect to be respected by everyone. Protagonist will easily trample on the rights of others if it is in their interest. It is the story of Amalek attacking the just freed Israelites, Haman who planned to kill all Jews in Persia because of a personal vendetta, and also the apartheid-regime that wanted to stabilise their power.

Last week we all could once again read about and witness the abhorrent actions of the BDS movement, running a so called „Israel apartheid week“ in many universities of South Africa. Not only that the analogy of Israel being an apartheid state is without any substance, it turns the idea of reconciliation up-side down. Because the victims of apartheid, those who were killed, or imprisoned, those who were marginalized and robbed of their human rights, are once again reduced to objects for a distasteful  political cause. Again their human dignity has been stolen from them by people who have no interest in human rights, who don’t care for the Palestinians, nor the victims of apartheid. The goal of the BDS movement is to wipe out Israel and the Jewish people at any cost, including misusing the memory of the victims of the apartheid regime.

For us Jews it is not only a biblical commandment to stand in support for Israel and against our enemies, but also to stand for the human dignity of all our neighbours. We know what it means when people try to erase our existence. That is why we need to oppose those actions, why we can’t tolerate the abuse of the people who suffered under Apartheid. Why we need to make clear that there is a fundamental difference between the State of Israel, its pluralistic and democratic make-up, and the utterly unjust, and to the core inhuman reality of the Apartheid state, which we all have overcome.

This Shabbat Zachor, this Human right’s Day, we remember all victims of injustice no matter where. We vow that we will be vigilant, and work towards a better future for the Jewish people, for this country, and for all humankind.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (This text has been also published in the JR of this week)