Weekly D’var: V’Zot HaBracha: The Power of Unconditional Sharing

by | Oct 13, 2022 | Hillel Ontario, Weekly D'var | 0 comments

Parshat V’Zot HaBracha outlines Moshe Rabeinu’s blessing of the twelve tribes and his subsequent death on Mount Nebo at 120 years old. Each blessing received by the tribes defined their roles as they were about to enter the Land of Israel. Afterward, Moshe ascended the mountain, where he was able to see the Land of Israel: “And the Lord showed him all the Land … And the Lord said to him, ‘This is the Land I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1–4). 

While reading this parsha, I wondered whether it was difficult for Moshe to wholeheartedly bless Bnei Yisrael without resentment, as he knew he would not get to enter the land alongside them. I find it difficult to fathom how I could push aside something that was so important to me for the sake of others. At times, while people close to us are advancing, we may feel as if we’re missing out. Such situations can create feelings of resentment, which may result in us being less kind. It can be challenging to set aside these feelings with grace. 

I can recall times when I felt as if elevating someone else meant that I had achieved a “less—than” status. While involved in theatre during high school, at times I didn’t receive the part I desired. In such situations, I wasn’t always as altruistic as I could have been. As much as I always wished the best for my friends, classmates, and castmates, I will admit that at times I put my own feelings first. Still today, I find it difficult to be happy for others when I feel as if I’m missing out. Therefore, when I read about Moshe freely and so joyfully blessing Bnei Yisrael as they embarked on the journey of his dreams, I was quite moved. 

Moshe embodied true humility and selflessness. He dedicated his life to serving Hashem and always shared unconditionally. May we all merit to epitomize such holiness.

Leah Bogatie
Student, Guelph Hillel

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

Weekly D’var: Vayetzei

This week’s parsha is one that is filled near to overflowing with iconic stories.  Covering Jacob’s travels to, life in, and departure from Haran, the home of his uncle (and eventually father-in-law) Laban, Vayetzei recounts the stories of Jacob’s dream of the ladder, his marriages, first to Leah, then to Rachel, the births of twelve of his children, and so much more.  

With all of this, I am struck by a couple of stories that are not explicitly in our text at all, but come to us in the form of Madrash, the traditional interpretations or explanations of our text that have come down from the sages.

The stories that have captured my interest are surrounding two verses that come at the very beginning of our text (Genesis 28:11 and 28:18) and are seeking to explain a seeming inconsistency between these verses. Just as Jacob is lying down to have his famous dream, we are told that “He took from the stones of the place and set it/them at his head and lay down in that place”, the Hebrew text being unclear on the number of stones Jacob had taken.  Verse 18, which picks up immediately after the dream, is by contrast, very clear, saying, “he took the stone that he had set at his head and set it up as a standing-pillar”. 

The first explanation comes from Rashi (11th/12th c. French commentator), who explains that Jacob had taken a number of stones and arranged them around his head for protection, prompting an argument among the stones, with each asking that they have the honour of holding the righteous man’s head.  Rashi goes on to say that at this point, the holy one fused the rocks into one. 

There are a number of others that appear in the great collection of Midrash, Breishit Rabbah, each offering a different number of stones.  One of the stories counts twelve stones to teach Jacob that he would be the father of twelve tribes; another, three stones, teaching that God’s oneness would be made known through Jacob; yet another, two stones, to teach that Jacob’s progeny would be worthy to form the people Israel.

Our tradition offers us all of these understandings of a single moment in the life of Jacob, each of them teaching him a different lesson.  We can find multiple interpretations of most stories from the Torah; that is part of the beauty of Midrash.  But I am struck by the form that these midrashim take, each of them recounting a lesson learned, each examining a single moment.  In this, I am reminded of the beauty of reflection, of a life examined, reminded that, within the hustle and bustle of our lives, and despite it, each moment has so much potential to teach us.

Rabbi Danny A Lutz
Senior Jewish Educator, Guelph Hillel

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

Weekly D’var: Chayei Sarah

The second line of this week’s parsha tells us that Sarah, our matriarch, died in Kiryat Arba in the land of Canaan. The first verse, and the one from which we get the name of the parsha, Chayei Sarah, describes her life; “Sarah’s lifetime came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.” Abraham has just proved his dedication to God; he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice before God, was commanded to spare him, and received a blessing. Abraham was promised that his descendants would outnumber the stars in heaven and the grains of sand, but his wife Sarah, his partner and his children’s mother, has now died. Abraham mourns Sarah and weeps by her. His experience of deep sadness is another low point in his turbulent story. Despite being offered by the Hittites and Ephron a burial place, he insists on paying them the full amount of silver it is worth and when Abraham dies at a hundred and seventy-five, he joins Sarah in the cave on Ephron’s land.

This parsha always makes me think of the ritual of shiva, the week of mourning following the death of a loved one. Mourners are joined by their community to provide comfort and meet the needs of the family and are present as those closest to the deceased say kaddish. The mourner’s kaddish is a fascinating and beautiful exaltation, a prayer for peace and for God to hear us and keep us, something that can feel jarring and distinct from grief and loss. The value of the Jewish ritual following death is that we gather to remember and reminisce the span of a person’s existence in our lives and their affect on the world around them for good, not simply to lament their passing. We’re told in the parsha that after they are wed, “Isaac loved [Rebekah], and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” 

Jacob Brickman
Hillels Waterloo & Laurier