Students' Divrei Torah
With the postponement of our Israel trip, Makom, a program of the Jewish Agency reached out to us with their brand-new IMPACT Israel Fellowship, a multidimensional online learning and leadership experience. We are excited about the opportunity to engage with multiple perspectives and challenge questions of identity. Benji Davis, the founder and Director of the Fellowship, and Danielle Alexander are co-facilitating the group of 11 participants in the first cohort. Each week the participants can volunteer to give a d'var torah. Below you will find the participants' divrei torah. We look forward to continue to add to this page throughout the fellowship.
In this week's parsha (Chukat), Moshe is called to make a hard decision in front of his community. As the Israelites continued their long journey through the desert, tragedy struck: Miriam, prophet, weaver, and sister of Moshe and Aaron, died. As the community mourned, a new stressor surfaced: Miriam’s well. As the Israelites wandered through the harsh desert, Miriam’s mystical traveling well gave them water. It was one of the many miracles that kept our people alive. However, when Miriam died so did the well; no more water flowed from it. The people began to worry among themselves. Texas summers are bad enough, but 40 years in a desert with no water? It was a death sentence. Hashem, seeing their dilemma, called out to Moshe and told him to gather the Israelites around Miriam’s well and instruct it to once again give water. Moshe did as he was told, and with all men, women, and children of his community gathered around him, he approached the well. Here’s where the problem began: talking to a rock is one thing when G-d just instructed you to do it, but it’s entirely different when you have to do it in front of the people you lead. Moses was their leader, the eldest of the elders. Without him, the Israelites could be led astray, so out of fear of embarrassment, Moses did not speak to the well. Instead, he struck it with his staff. Water did flow and the people were once again watered, but Moses’s defiance would not go unpunished. Moses, who had left a place of privilege in Pharaoh's house, freed his nation, and led them through the wilderness, would not step foot in the holy land he led them towards for his brashness. Just like Moses, we are faced everyday with opportunities to speak up and do the right thing. When we hear something racist or bigoted, it is our responsibility to not simply move on just because it makes us uncomfortable or nervous to speak up. -Liv Rubenstein, IMPACT Israel Fellowship, Summer 2020
Our parsha this week is Pinchas. It’s a portion that touches on many subjects, including sacrifice and a census following the end of a plague, which feels relevant considering the pandemic, but I’d like to discuss something else; the story of the daughters of Zelophehad.
In this chapter, the daughters of a man who died in the desert ask for his share of land when they enter Israel. He had no sons, they explain, but they believe they should still get land. G-d agrees and grants them their share of land. G-d rules that if a man passes with no sons, his daughters should inherit his land. This is not only a question about land, but about money, autonomy, and freedom. By giving these women land, he gives them a chance to have their own lives and control their futures. The recent Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Russo gave people who can get pregnant the right to control their futures and gave them autonomy. This case gives people who can get pregnant the right to the ability to control their futures and the futures of their family. This ruling, like G-d’s with the daughters of Zelophehad, allows freedom and autonomy. Although the Torah is not the most feminist book, this story shows the importance of equality and respect. These women did not have to marry to get land, but rather were given land in their own respect. As the world changes and rulings like June v. Russo become standard, it is important to look back on the history of ruling for women’s autonomy and rights. -Alex Lewis, IMPACT Israel Fellowship, Summer 2020
Quite recently, I started a workout program with a friend, and let me tell you, our bodies have been aching and crying for help. We have gone through muscular cramps, gone through 3 bottles of water per workout video, and there are days where we couldn't even walk. But even though we are suffering through this pain, it is a sign that tells us that if there is no pain, there is no gain. Because our bodies are regularly hurting from all of these cramps and pains, our muscles are growing and becoming stronger and toned. Frankly, this thought didn't shock me. An individual shouldn't exercise, shower, then eat a box of donuts (or in our case, a box of sufganiyot). It just ruins our hard work. In Parsha Matot-Masei, the tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by the Levites) asked for land east of the Jordan River as their portion of the Promised Land. Moses was originally angered by the request but finally agreed on the condition that they first join, and lead, in the conquest of the lands west of the Jordan River. What about the Levites? They were only given a city. ONE city. According to Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, more commonly known as Rashi, he believed that the Levites were only given a city instead of a piece of land because they weren’t enslaved in Egypt with their brothers. They didn’t know what it was like to work in the conditions their brethren did, which is another reason why they were left empty-handed. As it says in the Talmud, some gifts are only received through the pain. We as people never hope to gain an understanding of some level because of pain, but only a certain level of achievement or understanding can indeed come after a painful experience. In our world, our people have gone through pain. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on our lives and we have suffered our way to make it through. The entire state of Texas is required to enter stores with a mask now because of the virus’s severity and believe me it is NOT fun. I have never been more thankful to get into my car and take a big gasp of air. It’s so hard to breathe! But because of the lack of social distancing, this is what we have brought amongst ourselves. In the state of Florida, who is also on level red, college students are having these “Corona-virus parties.” A corona-virus party is a gathering with the intention of catching COVID-19. To enter these parties, you need to pay a certain amount of money. When the party is over, students must go and get tested. The student who ends up catching the virus gets all the money the students paid. This makes me wonder, is the world going to get any better with all of this irresponsibility? All these thoughtless actions have led to how the US is carrying itself today. Remember what I said earlier about how if there is no pain, there is no gain? The world is suffering and going through this long, painful, agonizing disease that we weren’t prepared for. Have things gotten better since the beginning? Maybe. Will it eventually get better? There is no answer, yet. The only thing I could say right now is that if you want the pain to turn into gain, as in getting to go to Kehillah High and BBYO, and getting to go to Israel; be smart, wear a mask, and social distance. Shabbat Shalom -Nava Smith-Litvak, IMPACT Israel Fellowship, Summer 2020
Yesterday was the first day of the month of av, the 5th month of the Jewish religious calendar. Since the fall of the Temple in 586 B.C.E., Av has been considered a month of disaster by Jews because of the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews expulsion from Spain, the start of World War I, and more. This relates to the year of 2020 rather than any month, because of all the 2020 tragedies like Covid-19, many deaths of black lives/BLM, and much more. Along with a new month, we move onto the next torah portion, devarim, the 5th book of the torah. Devarim is viewed as Moses’ last will and testament to the Jewish People. The book begins with, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1). He has new laws for them to follow once they cross the Jordan River, however he is unsure if they will follow them when he is not around. This book is unique, because Moses is speaking directly to the people rather than G-d telling him what to say. The words primarily consist of Moses’ recapitulation of the Torah, shown from the common title “Deuteronomy” which derives from the Greek words for repetition of the Law. After delivering his speech and laws, Moses passed away thirty-six days later on the seventh day of Adar. Now, in recent days, we are given laws, like wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from others, to follow because of circumstances around the world. Many people are staying home and away from all the mess of Covid-19. However, some are still going out with friends, going to parties, or even flying to some riskier places in the U.S. where numbers are quickly rising like Florida or California resulting in these laws being constantly repeated. -Bar Yaari, IMPACT Israel Fellowship, Summer 2020
Sitting in the car, on hour 11 of a 15-hour road trip to Colorado, coffee from Bucees in the cupholder, chips in hand, and a blanket over my legs, I was on my third movie of the trip. I had cried watching the notebook, laughed watching the Hangover, and I had just started the movie, Selma. The movie is about a town in Alabama in 1965 that was fighting for the right for blacks to be able to vote despite the civil rights act being signed the previous year in 1964. It shows the major march from Selma to Montgomery, led by MLK that eventually led to Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965. While I was watching the movie, a thought had crossed my mind, MLK, a leader, and visionary never truly got to see what he dreamed of. He fought for most of his life for the black man and woman to be seen as a person, and right as that dream was coming true; he passed away. In this week's Parsha, Va’etchanan, Moses is about to pass away, and he is reading out the ten commandments for the last time to the Israelites. He explains how he begged God to let him go to the promised land, but God refused, and he is making Joshua the new leader, and God assures them that Joshua will lead the people to the promised land. Moses speaks the words of the sh’ ma, warns the people not to commit idolatry, and commands them to show their love for God and to keep his laws. Moses, looking out to the land; sees the history of the land and future generations interpreting the five books and that through them, he will gain immortality and that they will inspire future nations. Both Moses and MLK were leaders of their times, who struggled to try and bring their people to freedom and prosperity, and right as their struggles almost paid off, their time was over. Over history, we have seen these leaders who envision the promised land, but never get to live in it, and instead have to pass it on to their successors and future generations who help to achieve their goals. While Moses and MLK may not be alive today, their legacies and their stories help to-not only
show what is right and what is wrong, but they aid people in realizing that what they truly wanted to see has yet to happen and that the fighting and longing must continue. We, as the future generation, need to keep fighting for what is right and to break down this system of hate and prejudice. We have the stories of struggle, we have the determination, and we have the willpower to not back down for the right thing, but instead to push for equality and prosperity for anyone who feels as though that right has not been given to them, especially when it comes to the Jewish people. And while our fellowship is coming to an end and our discussions may be winding down, our drive and our collective support of Israel has not ended and we, not only as a group but as individuals, need to keep fighting for Israel, just as Moses fought for the Israelites to be free from slavery and like how MLK fought for Blacks to be free, we as Jews needs to fight for Israel to be free so we can finally have a place where everyone in the world can call it the home of the Jewish people, our home. Like Moses said, future generations will inspire nations of people to love and support each other, not because a governing body told them to, but because they chose to based off of love and trust. Shabbat Shalom. -Hanna Sweeden, IMPACT Israel Fellowship, Summer 2020