Following the annual cycle of Torah readings is a way of being connected even if you are not able to hear the Torah read in synagogue every week. The same Torah portion is read across the Jewish world in all denominations of synagogues every week (there are two weeks only that are exceptions to this for Progressive communities).
A short precis and comment on the weekly Torah portion for the current month follows.
June 4th - Naso
Naso contains detailed instructions of dealing with a suspected adulterous wife in quite barbaric ways. It also tells the ways of the Nazirite and the meaning of abstention for holiness. Tucked away in the midst of this Parasha is the wondrous Priestly Blessing. Called so because it was initially only the Levites who were entitled to speak the blessing. King David we are told blessed his people before the first temple was built, Solomon did after the sanctuary was finished. And in the days of the Second Temple these words were intoned every day by the priests at the morning sacrifice. In orthodox synagogues still the Cohenim covered in their tallitot will bless the congregation empowered by their name and genetic heritage. For us Progressive Jews. It is the words now that speak more powerfully than the speaker. The words succeed in attributing all to God and yet also articulating human inspiration for our safety, security and hope. No longer seen by most as a channel of the divine and therefore uncomfortably close to religious magic, as Plaut says, so now the blessing has become more of a prayer for us. 'God's presence becomes a common hope rather than a certainty. The Eternal Bless you and protect you! The Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you! The Eternal bestow favour upon you and give you peace!
June 8th - Shavuot
On Shavuot we celebrate revelation at Sinai. However, this also leads us to question the very nature of revelation and the origins of the Torah. Ultimately, whether we believe in the literal transmission of the Torah from God to Moses to the Jewish people or we see the Torah as an ancient historical document, it is the central text of Jewish tradition and an ethical code which is at the root of much of the world’s morality. It is the foundation on which Judaism rests and the basis of our lifecycle, ethics and annual rituals. Shavuot is a day on which to celebrate our textual origins and the way that Torah has informed all of Jewish life.
June 11th - Beha'alotecha
Contains the verses that explain why some of us whip each other with spring onions when we sing Dayenu at Pesach. And what a quaint custom that is. The people complained bitterly before God. their whinings reached epic proportions and still they did not heed Moses' calming influence. God attempted to put an end to it with a fire ravaging the camp but Moses prayed and the fire died down. The mixed multitude in Hebrew asafsuf really conjured up in an onomatopoetic way a people gather together, mixed and messy. They moan and whine for food. 'We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic...' They grow tired of the manna and forget the whips and hardships that accompanied their plentiful eating in Egypt. And that is why we whip on Seder night. It is so bitterly easy to romanticise the past when the present is challenging.
June 18th - Shelach Lecha
Moses sends scouts into the land to see whether it is inhabited and report on its agricultural fertility ‘See what kind of country it is..... [investigate its cities, people, soil, and forests and] bring back some of the fruit of the land.’ They are gone for forty days and during that time are awed by the figs and pomegranates. They return with a branch from a grape vine so weighed down with fruit that it needs to be carried between two people. Later in the portion, on returning to the wandering Israelites they declare that while the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey, it is inhabited by powerful people that the Israelites could not possibly hope to overcome. This declaration leaves the Israelites into chaos, and they shout that through Moses, God led the Israelites out of Egypt (which at least had good food!) only to die in the desert. All the Israelites seem to join in this accusation, except for two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb. These two men actually put their lives on the line and tell the people that God will remain with them, and that they should not fear. Joshua and Caleb risked everything in order to speak the truth.
June 25th - Korach
The Torah describes not one, not two, but multiple groups of rebels who stand up and openly resist Moses’ leadership and God’s rule. They are led by Korach and his family, two other men named Datan and Aviram, and a group of 40 elders of the tribes. It seems like this was one mass rebellion led by multiple people, but the Torah is reflecting multiple rebellions occurring at different times for different reasons. The Torah conflates them all into this one portion. God tells Moses and Aaron that the Israelites will be annihilated. However they plead with God to spare the community and only those responsible are destroyed. Korach could not be successful in his rebellion because ‘envy, passion and the pursuit of honour drive a person out of this world.’ Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez.
All members are welcome to join in Shabbat Morning Study group from 10-11 in the ground floor library floor, during school term times. There is also a weekly Basic Hebrew and Prayer Book Reading class in the second floor seminar room at 10.00am.
For a complete listing, please check the interactive calendar.
If you would like more information, please contact one of the Rabbis at firstname.lastname@example.org.