Weekly D’var: Noach

by | Oct 28, 2022 | Hillel Ontario, Weekly D'var | 0 comments

In this week’s Parsha, we learn about Noah and about God’s destruction of humanity, outside of Noah and his family. In what can seem like a pretty bleak and sad parsha, it can feel hard to locate points of hope. Especially coming off of a series of holidays which ask us to reflect in order to improve ourselves for the upcoming year, a story of people so stuck in their ways of hurting one another that God decides it can’t be fixed, can feel demoralizing. It can feel like we’re stuck in our boxes, and there is little to be done about it. Not exactly the post Rosh HaShana message we’re looking for. 

But when you look at this week’s Torah portion through the lens of some of the Torah commentaries, you begin to see a somewhat hidden message of hope for change. When God asks Noah to take along two of every kind of animal, Ibn Ezra, a Medieval Spanish Torah Scholar, adds:

“…ask, what did birds of prey eat? What did carnivorous animals such as lions who live on meat eat? Their questions are invalid. One who cannot find meat will eat grass or fruit when hungry.”

To me, I don’t see what Ibn Ezra is saying as simple logistics, but a strong message in the light of the text upon which it is commenting. If lions, without the intellect and free will of humans and for whom it is in their nature to eat meat, can adapt, all the more so are we, as humans, not confined to what we feel is our nature.

Within the text itself, there are also hints at the hope and confidence that God has for us to be able to change. While it seems implausible, or even impossible, that this story could demonstrate God’s confidence in humanity to change their ways Rashi, a Medieval French Torah Scholar, points to something anomalous in the text of Bereishit Chapter 7, Verse 12. He notes the superfluous mention of the rain lasting 40 days and 40 nights:

“But later on (v. 17) it says. ‘And the Flood was upon the earth’! But the explanation is this: when He poured down the water at first He made it fall in mercy (gently), in order that if the people would repent, it might prove a rain of blessing; but when they did not repent it became a destructive flood.”

Despite the fact that humans had been acting selfishly for a long period of time before the flood, God still had faith that within the timeframe of the rain starting and when He would begin the true flood, humans would be able to break their long established patterns, what they perceived as their nature, and to make amends.

Although ultimately a tale of sadness, the story of Noach’s generation does not reinforce the idea of stagnancy and inalterability. In our lives too, it can seem that the ways our lives are constructed and structured can leave very little room for change. For us as university students, the onslaught of exams, job hunts, and grad school applications can make it seem like there is no time and/or room for growth for change. The story of Noach can remind us that even though it can seem impossible at times, we are more capable of change than we think.

Orly Aziza,
Psychology Student at York University
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