Weekly D’var – Bereshit

by | Oct 21, 2022 | Hillel Ontario, Weekly D'var | 0 comments

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Our Jewish liturgical year has just begun again and it brings us right back to Bereshit.  

I first read Bereshit when I was about 9 years old and could not stop fidgeting in shul. My Mum handed me the Chumash (Tanakh/Torah) and turned it to the first page of Genesis,  “In the beginning…”  Five minutes in and I couldn’t put this action drama down. The universe is created in six days, there are sneaky serpents, brothers who destroy each other, epic floods and people who lived Way. Too. Long. 

The story opens with the first debate between good and bad ever. I’m talking about the etz hadaat tov v’ra – the tree of knowledge of good and bad. As you know, it was Eve – a woman – who first ate its fruit. Yes, the Torah says a snake egged her on but really, it seems to me, and probably did to Eve at the time, quite irresistible. You get a sampling of divine knowledge, plus a tasty snack as a bonus. Once her eyes and her mind were opened, Eve gave some of the fruit to Adam, who ate it without question. Just made some munching sounds. It’s no surprise to me that it was Eve who was tempted to bite the fruit – I think of her as the first multi-tasker – really, it could only be a woman who could handle dealing with the knowledge of good and bad at the same time. 

Another Biblical Heroine, Miriam was also always forging (no joke intended) her own path. Miriam is as wise as she is young when Pharaoh decrees that all the newborn Jewish boys shall be drowned in the Nile. She follows Moses in his basket and makes sure that he is retrieved. While she put her trust and faith in Hashem (G-d), she also needed to see it through. This combination of faith and drive is what keeps our connection to God. Eve and Miriam both live their lives with the values of Emuna (trust) and Hishtadlus (drive) brings them closer to God and a better world. 

I don’t think Eve was ever going to NOT eat the fruit. It was an obvious part of this story. God telling a woman not to do something that will give her more knowledge and wisdom about life? Please, it was bound to happen. I don’t even view this act as a sinful one, although Eve has been vilified for this act for centuries. It was Eve who took that risk. Like Eve, who took on the responsibility to enlighten herself and bring Adam, and by extension the rest of humanity along with her, each of us has a responsibility to keep searching for the things that bring us more knowledge, greater meaning, and a strong moral core. May 5783 be a year that we do the right things in order to better ourselves and our communities.  

Looking back to my nine year old self reading Bereshit, I could not imagine how endless and infinite the knowledge from the Torah is. One Pasuk (verse) can carry many meanings and morals. I think the moral from the few Psukim (verses) about hetz hadaat tov v’ra (tree of knowledge of good and bad) is that it is not sinful to both have faith in something and deepen your knowledge about it. In fact, that’s how we got to where we are, and that’s how we will keep moving forward.

Mollie Milchberg
Program Coordinator, Hillel Queens

This Passover, help Hillel fortify Jewish students’ identities

This Passover, help Hillel fortify Jewish students’ identities

The night before the Children of Israel’s departure from Egypt is referred to as leil shimurim, often translated as a “night of vigil.”  Rav Nahman and subsequent scholars interpret this phrase, which appears nowhere else in the Tanakh, as a time of divine protection. These scholars conclude the night when Passover begins is one of safety – one on which no harm can come to the Jewish people.

In the face of rising antisemitism, isolation, extremism, and other threats to Jews individually and collectively, we are fortunate that there are additional ways and times for seeking security and comfort.  Building and sustaining strong, inclusive, and welcoming Jewish communities on campus enables Jewish students to experience a sense of belonging with their peers, bolster their leadership skills, advocate for themselves, and chart their own Jewish journeys.  Indeed,  Hillel Ontario is on track for a record-breaking year, in which we will engage more than 3,500 Jewish students. Leil shimurim might be just one night, but together, we can fortify emerging adults’ Jewish identities and provide spaces in which they prepare to take on leadership roles after graduation.

As we head into Passover, we are grateful for all of the contributions you’ve made in support of Jewish student life in Ontario.  Your generosity allows us to confront antisemitism, instill a sense of joy, pride, and resilience in Jewish students, and empower the next generation of Jewish leaders.  

While we’re proud of our success, more work remains to provide for our universities’ 10,000 Jewish students who remain unengaged with Jewish campus life in Ontario.  In conjunction with your observance of the upcoming holiday, please consider a gift to Hillel Ontario so we can continue our work and provide additional openings for connection with Jewish life, learning, and Israel.

Chag sameach,

Seth Goren
CEO, Hillel Ontario

Weekly D’var: Tzav

Weekly D’var: Tzav

In this week’s parasha, Tzav, focuses on the laws of sacrifices and priestly duties. The emphasis is on the instructions given to the priests regarding the burnt offerings, the meal offerings, the sin offerings, and the guilt offerings. These offerings were an essential part of the religious practices of the Israelites, and they were intended to symbolize the people’s devotion to God.

As I reflect on this chapter, I am struck by the idea of sacrifice. In today’s world, sacrifice is often viewed negatively. We are taught to prioritize our own needs and desires, and sacrificing them for the sake of others or for a greater cause is often seen as a burden. However, the concept of sacrifice in this chapter of the Torah is different. It is not seen as a burden or a punishment, but rather as a means of expressing devotion and gratitude.

In Tzav, the burnt offering is described as a “pleasing aroma to the Lord”. The idea of a pleasing aroma suggests that the sacrifice is not just a physical act, but also a spiritual one. It is an offering of the heart, a way of expressing love and gratitude to God. As I look around the world today, I see many examples of sacrifice that are motivated by love and gratitude. Healthcare workers, for example, have been sacrificing their own safety and well-being to care for those who are sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are not doing this because they are being forced to, but because they feel a sense of duty and devotion to their patients. Similarly, many people have been sacrificing their own comfort and convenience to protect the environment. They are making changes to their lifestyles, such as reducing their energy consumption or using public transportation instead of driving, because they recognize the importance of preserving the planet for future generations. Making sacrifices to show devotion and gratitude is also a way of showing appreciation for the things that we have been given, and a way of giving back to the world.\

As I read this chapter, I am also intrigued by the idea of atonement. The sin offering and the guilt offering were both intended to provide a way for the people to seek forgiveness for their sins. In our modern world, forgiveness and atonement are often difficult to come by. We live in a culture that values punishment and retribution over forgiveness and reconciliation. However, the idea of atonement in this text suggests that forgiveness is possible, even for the most serious of offenses. It requires a willingness to acknowledge our mistakes, to take responsibility for our actions, and to make amends.

In today’s Jewish community, the lessons of Tzav continue to be relevant. The act of sacrifice, whether it be in the form of volunteering, making charitable donations, or participating in community service, is still seen as a way to connect with God and express gratitude for the blessings of life. Similarly, seeking forgiveness and atonement remains a central tenet of Jewish faith and practice. Finally, the concept of sacrifice is particularly relevant during Jewish holidays and festivals, such as Passover and Yom Kippur. During these occasions, we make offerings and engage in rituals that are intended to demonstrate our devotion to God and their commitment to living a righteous life

As I reflect on this parasha, the concepts of sacrifice and atonement may seem outdated or irrelevant in our modern world, but they still have a powerful message to teach us. By sacrificing for others and seeking forgiveness for our mistakes, we can show our love and devotion to the world around us and ultimately make the world a better place to live.

Emily Green
Student, Western Hillel