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Va-Etḥanan, Shabbat Naḥamu, and Tu Be-Av: With Heaven And Earth As Our Witness, By Rabbi Louis Polisson

“If you know you have harmed the earth, know that you can heal it.” On Shabbat Naḥamu, the Sabbath of Comfort the week after Tish’ah B’Av, we read Parashat Va-Etḥanan. Though Shabbat Naḥamu is about consolation and healing after lamenting Jewish traumas on the 9th of Av, the threat of destruction continues to loom in Parashat Va-Etḥanan. Moses tells the Israelites:  “When you … are long established in the land, should you act wickedly… causing the LORD your God displeasure and vexation, I call heaven and earth this day to witness against you that you shall soon perish” (Deut. 4:25-26). The calling of heaven and earth as witnesses is not just metaphorical. The natural world doesn’t just witness our actions, but actually suffers from humanity’s destructive tendencies. As Rabbi Harold Kushner puts it: “Heaven and earth do indeed witness against us when we make improper use of that with which God has blessed us. Poisoning the air and water, despoiling the environment do threaten to cause us to ‘perish from the land.’” Our fate is not sealed, however. We can return to God and right our relationships with the earth: “Because Adonai is a compassionate God… and will not fail […]

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Devarim/Hazon, Erev Tisha B’Av: Rooting Ourselves In Space And Time by Rabbi Jesse Paikin

On the confluence of the beginning of Deuteronomy, Tisha b’Av, and the shmita year North Americans often suffer from the affliction of being uprooted from space and time. Out of a historical or philosophical perspective, some of us call ourselves “post-modern,” literally self-labeling as “not of the now.” Likewise, for professional advancement and personal fulfillment, we value our ability to live or work from wherever. Seeing “remote” on a job posting – supposedly a boon these days – is ironic, given that it also means “removed,” “unlikely,” or “having very little connection or relationship.” This is not true for everyone today, most especially those ancestrally of these lands, who have traditionally cultivated societies built upon deep kinship. But what of the rest of us? In my native Canada, we are getting better – or at least trying to get better – at acknowledging the history of having uprooted indigenous peoples from their intimacy with specific places. In these first acts of civil teshuva, we can also ask ourselves: what could it mean to belong to a particular place in a particular time? This question already reverberates powerfully in the Jewish consciousness. There is a narrative harmony between parshat Devarim, the […]

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Matot-Masei: What We Can Learn from Regret, by Rabba Dr. Carmella Abraham

“Through the lens of regret, we learn the importance of appreciating the land and its fundamental purpose of sustaining humankind.” In a surprising twist, the midrash recounts the regret expressed  by the tribes of Reuben and Gad for choosing to stay east of the  Jordan river instead of settling in the land of Israel  When these two tribes entered the land of Israel and saw how much room was there for sowing and how much room was there for planting trees, they said ”Better is one handful of pleasantness in this land Israel than two fistfuls of land on the other side of the Jordan” Upon reflection, they themselves withdrew their complaint and said “Is it not we who chose the territory east of the Jordan ourselves?” (Vayikra Rabba 3:1). This change of heart was entirely unanticipated in light of this week’s parsha Matot-Masei where we find these very same tribes of Reuben and Gad pleading with Moses to allow them and their families to settle east of the Jordan rather than to enter the land of Israel. The reason provided is the economic suitability of the Transjordan region, “it is a land for livestock and your servants have livestock […]

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Hakhel Newsletter: July 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, While it may be extremely hot in your part of the world, or extremely cold if you’re in a different part, Hakhel has remained in motion this past month. Some recent highlights include OLAM’s release of a report on Jewish organizational work in Ukraine, in which Hakhel is featured, as well as our participation in the International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) conference in Skanderborg, Denmark (see more on both below). At the same time, we as Hakhel Intentional Communities are synced inextricably with the Jewish calendar, it should be noted that we are currently in the Three Weeks, an annual Jewish mourning period, with Tisha B’Av coming soon (it’s Sunday, August 7). We mourn many disasters that befell our People, most prominently the destruction of the Temple. This terrible event is traditionally attributed to sinat chinam (baseless hatred) between Jews. How can we work as intentional communities on the baseless hatred that currently fills our polarized world and replace it with trust, security and a sense of love of fellow Jews and humankind? Nigel Savage, former CEO of Hazon, shared with me recently some implications of Tisha B’Av for the environmental movement, which I feel are relevant […]

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Hakhel Newsletter: June 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, It’s hard to believe that it was a month ago that Hakhel community leaders gathered together in Israel for our Trip & Summit! We toured Israeli intentional communities for in-depth learning; and gathered at the Summit to learn and dialogue together, celebrate Shabbat and discuss Israel-Diaspora relations, and build connections with one another. Following these experiences, we took practical tools and insights about community-building back to our home communities. Some of these are summarized in this newsletter for the benefit of all, including those who weren’t able to join us in Israel. The 5 Pillars of Hakhel which were addressed during the Summit and which will continue to be Hakhel’s focus areas are: Community Development and Building Leadership Development Jewish Life and Literacy Israel Connection JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Experiences) According to the exit survey following the Summit, the overall experience was quite popular, with a rating of 5/5 by 63% of respondents and 4/5 by 30%. 53% responded 5/5 that they will utilize what they gained, and 36% responded 4/5. In other feedback, we heard that we shared very relevant tools and practices to take back; that it was great to have real […]

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Hazon Farm Bill Campaign

Join Hazon in Advocating for a Just and Climate Resilient 2023 Farm Bill! The once-every-five-years Farm Bill authorization process is coming up in 2023! This presents an historic opportunity to lower the nearly one third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spewed by the food system; to reshape food production and distribution toward justice and equity; and to lean into Jewish food and farming wisdom that paints a vision of food sovereignty for all. Farm Bill Advocacy Timeline: 🥕 Summer of 2022 is a great time to encourage our representatives to support The Agriculture Resilience Act, a roadmap for reducing emissions from agriculture to net-zero by 2040. This bill lays the groundwork for a robust Farm Bill process moving forward. Check out our July 2022 advocacy alert here.  🥕 November of 2022 is election season and there is a lot on the line. The makeup of members of the House and Senate will foretell what kind of climate action we get in the 2023 Farm Bill, among a great deal else, so make sure you arrange your plan to vote ahead of November 8th. 🥕 Spring of 2023 we will likely have drafts of the Farm Bill coming out of the […]

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Pinchas: Loving the Land, by Talia Weisberg

“If we lived our love for land – whether in Israel or elsewhere in the world – how different would our world look?” Parshat Pinchas is, at its core, about loving the Land of Israel. The first major event of the parsha is a census, which is conducted in order to apportion land to the tribes based on demographic need. Then we read about the daughters of Tzelophehad, who successfully petition to receive their late father’s portion in Israel in the absence of sons. God then tells Moses that he will die in the wilderness, and Moses asks for God to appoint someone to lead the Israelites into the Land in his stead. Specifically, Moses asks for someone “who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that God’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:17).  It is meaningful that Moses analogizes the Jewish people to sheep in this moment. Sheep are grazing animals and thus especially reliant on land, sustaining themselves exclusively through what grows in their vicinity. Throughout their wanderings in the desert, the Israelites became accustomed to eating manna […]

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Balak: Getting The Best of Both Worlds, by Aharon Ariel Lavi

“Where is the sweet spot between conserving and respecting the past (cycles), and progressing towards a new reality (linearly)?” Parashat Balak is one of the two weekly portions in the Torah named after a significant non-Jewish protagonist. The first one is Yitro, named after Moses’s father-in-law, who was the architect of the ancient Hebrews’ internal social structure. The second one is Balak Ben-Tzipor, the King of Moab, a nation which was a distant relative of the People of Israel (both share a great-grandfather from the times of Abraham). In our parasha, the Israelites camp east of Canaan and prepare to enter the promised land. The only problem is that the Moabites, and others, dwell along the Eastern border, and although Moses assures them he has no intention of threatening their sovereignty, they will not let the Israelites pass.  Balak is terrified and summons the wizard Balaam, who was known for his magical ability to curse and destroy whole nations. Unlike Yitro, Balak’s purpose is to rebuff the Israelites. Balaam orders him to build seven altars and sacrifice seven oxen, yet he warns him that he can only say what God puts in his mouth. Balaam ends up blessing the Israelites […]

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Chukat: What Happens When You Keep Hitting The Rock by Gillian Steinberg

“We must hear both God and the rock crying out: the punishment is upon us.” In Chukat, after Bnei Yisrael complain about missing the comforts of home, Moses strikes a rock to elicit water. God is angry at Moses for striking the rock rather than speaking to it as instructed, but the water appears nonetheless. Moses’ punishment for this transgression occurs years later when he is prevented from entering Eretz Yisrael. In the shorter term, he is reprimanded but gets what he needs: flowing water to assuage the complaints. In this shmita year, our community seems self-satisfied in our connections with the land and following of divine commands. We seem to regard shmita as a kind of Godly magic: if we follow the rules, we are rewarded in kind. Of course, we also recognize science-based reasons for letting the land lie fallow, but our basic presumption around shmita seems to lie in cause and effect: we’re not sure why God sets these rules, but if we follow the manual precisely, we (literally) reap the benefits. Observing the effects of climate catastrophe — not in the distant or even the near future, but in the crisis of right now — we […]

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A Prayer for our Country

Friends, Today, the Supreme Court of the United States, in their ruling on the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) case, stripped the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants, drastically reducing our ability to fight climate change. This ruling takes us in the exact opposite, wrong direction: increasing emissions and accelerating climate catastrophes. And though we are all impacted, those hit hardest by this ruling are our most vulnerable fellow Americans: low-income Black & Brown communities living near power plants and harmed by environmental injustices. We find this court’s ruling – gutting the EPA’s ability to curtail the existential threat of carbon emissions – to be morally and religiously unconscionable. And this comes, of course, on the heels of a rather devastating few days, as last week the Supreme Court first eroded states’ abilities to enact gun safety regulations, and then overturned Roe vs Wade, effectively ending the federal protections for the right to an abortion. We are rocked by these rulings, and want to share the Jewish Council for Public Affairs statement on gun safety here, and invite you to join us in supporting our partners at the National Council for Jewish Women. So it’s […]

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