In Memory of my Teacher, Mentor and Role Model

by | Nov 13, 2020 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

Written by Rabbi Aaron Greenberg

I am sure many of you by now have heard of the tragic passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I have no doubt you have read about how he was a beacon  of morality to humanity, a confidante to state and religious leaders across the entire world. Perhaps you also read that his lectures, speeches, books and articles are filled with wisdom, brilliance and sophistication. While all that is true, I want to tell you about my personal interactions with him. 

I was first introduced to Rabbi Sacks’s writings twenty years ago, and I began purchasing each book he published the moment it was available. I was an avid reader of his books and articles, and I yearned to meet with him and engage him in conversation. This opportunity finally arrived in November of 2011. Hillel was co-partnering on a program to have the Chief Rabbi engage in conversation with one of the most well known Canadian intellectuals of the time, Prof Charles Taylor. 

Prior to the start of the event, I was pacing the halls of the theatre when I noticed the Chief Rabbi standing on the side alone! I found myself drawn to where he was standing, knowing full well that this could be the pivotal moment when I would finally be able to engage with my mentor, who was larger than life. Those of you that know me know that I am rarely at a loss for words, but I could not get out more than a pathetic whimper of “shalom”. The rabbi, sensing my nerves, asked me a series of questions and was excited to learn that I worked with students on campus as part of the OU-JLIC, a program that partners with Hillel. Finally, after a few moments, I asked him for some wisdom about working with students, and he looked at me with his piercing but loving eyes and said,  

‘You must make Torah Judaism relevant, meaningful, and real. Judaism is an ancient religion with modern and profound lessons. This needs to be taught and modeled. Be a proud Jew, be truthful to it but be humble to always learn from others. Be happy and smile. People will smile back.” 

Of course, he said it with more profundity and his very elegant British accent, but the message to me was crystal clear. I had a mission from which I dare not deviate, no matter what challenges awaited. Fast forward four and a half years. His office insisted he meet with the president of the university that morning and deliver a lecture to York faculty, but the highlight (his word, not mine) was to address students in the Zac Kaye Hillel lounge at York University to a packed crowd.  His message to the students was the message that he had told me years prior: that they should never stop learning and growing as Jews and as citizens of the world and to hearken (yes, he actually used that word) to the moral voice of the Jewish tradition. 

Rabbi Sacks had much more to accomplish. His website indicates numerous projects that he had initiated that are unfinished and in progress. It is our duty as his students, his moral heirs, to continue living by his creed, to continue to make Judaism relevant and meaningful. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Lady Elaine, his children Joshua, Dina and Gila and his entire family at this difficult time. May we come together during these challenging times and become stronger, prouder and more committed Jews to truly honor his memory and continue his legacy.

“Wars are won with weapons but it takes ideas to win at peace” 

“Good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders.” 

“Morality can no longer be predicated on the state, for we have become too diverse to allow a single morality to be legislated. Nor can it be located in the individual, for morality cannot be private in this way. We have neglected the third domain: that of community.”

Here is one of his most thoughtful videos: Why I am a Jew? 

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

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