Weekly D’var: Vayeshev

by | Dec 15, 2022 | Hillel Ontario, Weekly D'var | 0 comments

This week’s Parsha predominantly features Joseph’s narrative. However, after the first chapter there is a break in the story to tell us a bit about one of Joseph’s brothers, Judah, together with his three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah and of course, his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

After Tamar is left widowed twice by Judah’s eldest Er and again by his second son Onan, Judah gives Tamar no timeframe in which she could expect to be betrothed to his third son, Shelah. In fact, Rashi says that Judah had no intent giving Shelah to Tamar in marriage at all. As a result, Tamar decides to take things into her own hands. She disguises herself and artfully seduces Judah. Months later, upon finding out that Tamar has somehow become pregnant, Judah proclaims that Tamar “should be burned” (38:24) for her sins. This is when Tamar finally reveals who she truly is, and Judah realizing what he has done, takes full responsibility for his misdeeds. Judah notes that despite Tamar deceiving him, “she was more righteous, for he had not given her [his] son” (38:26). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l remarks that Judah is actually the first person in Torah to explicitly admit that he was in the wrong. This episode is a pivotal moment for Judah. 

If we investigate the other times the Torah decides to highlight Judah’s actions, we see that this is not the first time Judah steps up to take some form of responsibility.If we recall, at the beginning of this Parsha, Reuven, the firstborn, initially proposes that they throw Judah into a pit rather than kill him. However, Judah objects, and convinces his brothers to sell him into slavery instead, with Sforno commenting that Judah realizes the irrevocable harm caused by leaving their brother to die, or deciding to kill him outright would be done not only to Joseph, but will forever weigh on his brothers too. While Judah’s actions with regard to Joseph are underwhelming and are not to be condoned, it still exemplifies an attribute of Judah that develops considerably over the next few Parshiot. Fast forward to next week’s Parsha and we see that it is none other than Judah who is willing to be jailed so that his youngest brother Benjamin can go free.

While it was not apparent at the time, Judah’s episode with Tamar is a tipping point in his life, with his deeper sense of responsibility melding his legacy. On Jacob’s deathbed, Judah is praised and blessed, while the firstborn Reuven is cursed. From here we can draw a direct correlation between Judah’s actions and his legacy. It is Judah, the fourth child, from which the Davidic line—and in the future, the messiah—originates, specifically through the son he had with Tamar, while also ultimately becoming the namesake of the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom!

Jacob Samson,
Student, Queens 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