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Author Archive | Hazon

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Vayetze: The Meaning of Seven by Aharon Ariel Lavi

Shmita is the seventh year, following six regular years — and numbers in the Torah are not incidental, but rather a channel for meaningful ideas. The first, and most renowned, appearance of the number seven is obviously the seven days of creation. Later, Noah invites seven couples of the pure animals to come to the ark, exactly seven days before the flood (Genesis 7:2-4); the ark rests on the seventeenth day of the seventh month (Genesis 8:4); Avraham forges an alliance with Avimelech by giving him seven female lambs and calling his well “Be’er Sheva” (literally: “well of seven”, Genesis 21:28-32); his son Yitzhak reaffirms the alliance in Be’er Sheva as well.  “I will work for you seven years for Rachel” says Ya’akov to Lavan, his uncle, in our parsha (Genesis 29:18). He is then deceived into marrying Leah, Rachel’s sister, and only gets to marry Rachel in exchange for an additional seven years of labor. Later, Rachel appears to be infertile, while her sister Leah gives birth to no less than six sons in a row, followed by a seventh — and final — daughter (Genesis 30:21). Only then does her younger sister become fertile.  In both cases — […]

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Food Rescue Hero: Minister Antonio

Over the next few months, Tania and myself, Lily, will be highlighting our local food rescue heroes. In doing this work only briefly, we have been struck with the profound recognition of our own privilege, of our ability to go to the market and get as much food as we not only need, but want. Yet so many do not have the means to do so by no fault of their own. Through working with Hazon and other partner organizations, we have met those who have turned their lives into helping others, ensuring as many families can be fed as possible. For food insecurity is not a problem with lack of food per se, but with food distribution. These are people who have welcomed strangers into their home, put food on their plates, and in doing so have created a community that stands up for one another and helps with no questions asked. It is truly an honor to work alongside these heroes. When thinking about a food rescue hero to write about, we immediately knew the top candidate, a man we’ve known only briefly but whose words and spirit have begun to fuel us in our everyday work. Minister […]

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Toldot: What Will We Eat in the Seventh Year? Shmita, Lack, and Abundance by Justin Goldstein

While the language may be a product of recent decades, the dichotomy between an “abundance mentality” and a “lack mentality” is a core human experience. The basic principles of these two concepts reflect a question of perspective; one who embodies an “abundance mentality” sees opportunities even in life’s challenges, whereas one who embodies a “lack mentality” concentrates on the fear of not having. Even as these ideas have gained traction in recent years, we see this tension reflected in the Torah. The Torah preempts the human fear of a lack of food – “What will we eat in the seventh year?” (Lev. 25:20) and the Torah sets out a reassurance that God will provide a three-fold crop in the sixth year. Is this a miracle, or something more nuanced? In Parashat Toldot, near the conclusion of the well-known vignette wherein Isaac, in his blindness, gives a blessing intended for his eldest son, Esau, to Jacob, his younger son in disguise. Isaac blesses his son (Gen. 27:28): “May God give you from the dew of the heavens and from the fats of the earth; and an abundance of grain and fresh wine.” In his commentary on this verse, Ramban (Rabbi Moshe […]

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Hakhel Spotlight: D I S T A N C E – A 9th Street Project

WHO? 9th Street is a community of Jewish multidisciplinary artists and creatives based in Johannesburg. Recently and together with seed money from Hakhel and a grant from the South African Cities Network, we embarked on a project to bridge the distances between people of difference. The project, entitled D I S T A N C E, asked four 9th Street artists to invite other artists who were different to them, be it in gender, race, age, sexual orientation, place of origin and/or religion. The artists then all gathered on Heritage Day here to create performative work in a public park. WHY? 26 years after apartheid ended, inequalities left over from this old regime abound. The poor black majority are still mainly poor while the white minority are still disproportionately wealthy. D I S T A N C E attempted to address these inequalities. Also, as young Jewish artists in Johannesburg, we have come to realise that our Jewish community is not integrated into wider South African society. D I S T A N C E aimed to question our white privilege, our Jewish silo and attempted to insert us as Jews into wider society. WHERE? We chose to work in […]

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Chayei Sarah: What does it mean to “own” land – and why is it important? by Nigel Savage

In my twenties I bought my first apartment in London. My parents lent me £5,000 for the deposit, and I got a mortgage for the rest. It was a 2-bedroomed apartment in Golders Green. I do no disservice to my apartment if I say that it was…. a pretty ordinary apartment. Yet I clearly remember closing my front door, after my parents left to return to Manchester, and sitting down on a box – surrounded by boxes on all sides – and just being so happy. Why was that?  Well, the answer is, it was mine. But why did this make a difference? And – a different kind of question – should it have made a difference? The obverse of my feeling that day, of course, is the line attributed to Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary: “in all of human history, no-one ever washed a rental car…” Both vignettes tell the same story: ownership matters. It makes a difference. We treat things differently if we feel that they are “ours” in some sense.   And that is why, in this week’s parsha, Avraham goes out of his way – repeatedly – to buy the cave of Machepela, which is to […]

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Lech-Lecha: Environmental Refugees by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

This week’s parashah, Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) heralds the emergence of the Jewish people. The story is inaugurated by a call from God directing Abra[ha]m to uproot himself and his family, leave his homeland, his memories, his childhood, all he has known, to begin again in a place unknown.  Abram amazingly, faithfully, does so. With the divine promise of prosperity, Abram becomes a pilgrim to a new homeland. But the lines between pilgrim, wanderer and refugee quickly become blurred. Once Abraham reaches his destination, he has a difficult time finding a place to settle. He stops at Elon Moreh, but the Canaanites were there. He then moves to the east of Beth El. But he doesn’t stay there. He ups and wanders again, moving incessantly throughout the desert. Why? With God at his side, guiding his journey, why was Abram so unsettled?  Because he is a refugee. Like all those displaced by war, plague, drought, floods; those who seek a safe harbor from the trauma that forced them to leave and healing from the losses they have endured, Abram has trouble settling into a foreign land. Abram’s story is a reminder of how hard it is for the refugee, even […]

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Bereishit: The Sabbatical Paradigm by Jeremy Benstein

“And there was evening, and there was morning” (Gen. 1). Nature has rhythms. “Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night… ” (Gen. 8).  Human society too has rhythms. Or at least it did, once. Traditional societies, whether nomadic or agrarian, had their rhythms, tied to the natural ones. They depended on them, were sustained by them.  Genesis 1 tells of another rhythm: the 7-day ‘beat;’ what we call a week. In Hebrew, shavu’a, related to sheva’ – “seven.”  Or better: 6+1. Six units of work, one of rest. It must be a pretty good ratio, since it has lasted for thousands of years.  That, however, makes the “1” seem like an afterthought, a utilitarian pause to catch our breath before plunging back into the main attraction, work.  But that “1” is anything but an afterthought. It is Shabbat, the pinnacle of the week in Genesis 1. It is the cessation of creative intervention in the world in order to celebrate creation’s abundance, revel in it, share it, build our families and communities around it. We don’t rest in order to work; we work in order to be able to be worthy of Shabbat. In order […]

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Hazon Detroit: Shake Local

Dear Friends, Our rabbis say (Tosafot, Suk. 37b) that when we shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, “the trees of the forest sing with joy.” So that got us to wondering, what are the conditions that might allow the trees around us to sing with the greatest amount of joy during this holiday season that just passed? Every year on Sukkot, the US imports upwards of 500,000 lulavim from Israel and Egypt so that we can construct our traditional lulavim bundles using the familiar palm fronds, willow, myrtle, and citron. This combination of species has become so definitional that most of us probably don’t even consider that a lulav could be constructed any other way. But the original text is not so clear. In Torah (Lev 23.40), where we’re first told about the four species, the text simply says: לְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃ On the first day you shall take the fruit of beautiful trees, fronds of palm-shaped trees, branches of woven trees, and valley-willows, and you shall rejoice before YHVH your God for seven days. Nowhere does it determine, at its linguistic core, the […]

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Join Hazon in Getting Out The Vote!

By Becky O’Brien and Janna Siller   “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” These words are from the same sage, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Z”L, who taught us to wake up in the morning and feel the radical amazement of being alive, to seek happiness through wonder. It is hard to know which is more elusive: wonder or a means for taking action against terrible wrongs this high holiday season. If we peek around the thick weeds that obscure, both are available to us, even now. Perhaps we can even combine the two, as Heschel described when he spoke of his march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It felt like my legs were praying.” So, what can you do?  VOTE! Go to the National Association of Secretaries of State’s “Can I Vote?” page, or do an internet search for “[your county] voter registration,” to ensure that your voter status is what you think it is and what you want it to be. Update if needed.  Ballot and election options and details vary across […]

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Hazon Detroit: I Am To My Beloved

Dear Friends, When this pandemic began it was winter. You may remember it snowing while we were Safer At Home. Winter eventually gave way to spring, as it does, and life bloomed bright while we remained in quarantine. As the months rolled by, the heat quickly picked up and summer kicked into high gear. And now, with Coronavirus still present as ever, fall is here. Our days are getting shorter while the golden hued sunlight mimics the bashful change of leaves. On the Jewish calendar, these subtle changes in light and leaf mean that the High Holidays are just around the corner. Today we find ourselves squarely in the Jewish month of Elul, a month of introspection and penitence that leads up to Rosh HaShanah. We know that this period is one of intensity and spiritual work. We’re reminded of that each day of Elul, when the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown. We know it’s a time of teshuvah (return) and selichot (repentance), illustrated by the cheshbon ha’nefesh (soul accounting) that we’re instructed to do all month. And many of us attend religious services (virtually, of course, this year) more in the weeks ahead than we do the rest of […]

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Mourning Eternity in the Cedars of Lebanon

By Jessica Haller There is one place in the world today where you can touch the grandchildren or perhaps even the sibling trees of the actual trees King Solomon ordered to build the First Temple.  The Cedars of Lebanon still stand in Barouk forest, Shouf Biosphere Reserve South of Beirut – a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The last 17 square miles remain of the Cedars of Lebanon.  They are ancient, tall, wide, amazing specimens. Scientists report that the stand will be extinct by the end of this century. Cutting those trees was Solomon’s first command in Kings 1 when he began instruction to build the Temple.  King Solomon knew the trees – as the wisest man in the world, the Navi says he “discoursed” on the trees – and knew their powers.  Cedars of Lebanon live for thousands of years.  Their wood does not rot, it resists fire, smells wonderful, conducts sound in wonderful ways, and is extremely strong.  The Phoenicians used the Cedars of Lebanon to build their ships, and the Egyptians used it for paper.  Solomon knew the Cedars of Lebanon would stand forever and chose their wood as the floor and walls of the Temple. Walking through […]

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Out of the Crash

Dear Friends, R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av. You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril? […]

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Shiva Asar B’Tammuz

Today is a fast day on the Jewish calendar, known as Shiva Assar B’Tammuz. The Mishnah (a compendium of Jewish oral traditions compiled in the third century) provides five tragedies that happened on this day in Jewish history: It was on this day that Moshe broke the two tablets; the day the tamid, or daily, animal offering was suspended; Jerusalem’s city walls were breached during the Roman siege; a man called Apostumos burned a Torah scroll; and an idol was erected in the Temple. The second “tragedy” – the cessation of the tamid animal sacrifice – is sitting with me this year more than ever as I complete my first year working at Hazon. As I dedicate more and more of my life to asking people to think carefully about the animal products they consume, it’s hard to feel terribly sad commemorating the inability to sacrifice an animal, to see the cessation of animal sacrifice as a tragedy. The name of this particular sacrifice – Tamid – is an important one. The word tamid in Hebrew can mean “forever”, “constantly”, or “routine.” The tamid offering was the mundane sacrifice, the routine one, the one that happened twice a day, every […]

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Hazon Detroit: Time to Grow

Dear Friends, I was present once, when a teacher told a full room, “In the years ahead, we will be called to be both the hospice caretakers of the old world, the old structures, and midwives of the new one.” It has stuck with me deeply ever since, as I’ve attuned my senses to a crossfade of sorts, watching the volume of an old way being turned down as the volume of a new song increases. With Passover just a few short days away, perhaps we could think of this crossfade like the mythic Israelites leaving Egypt, escaping the cacophony of slavery while cranking up the volume on liberation. At the crux of that crossfade is the 10th plague, when God vows to kill all Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 12:12). This of course, leads directly to the Israelite exodus across the sea. But this is not the whole story. In that same breath, God also promises to bring judgment on the false gods of Egypt (12:12). According to the midrash (Exodus Rabbah 16:3), the true and lasting liberation comes not only from the physical leaving of Egypt, but from the Israelites’ emphatic refusal to worship the idols of Egyptian rule. Yes, […]

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Freedom You Have Not Yet Known: The Energy of the Month of Nissan

By Rabbi Ora Weiss The glorious energy of the month of Nissan is a breath of fresh air, a time of birth, of new starts, a spring-time for the spirit and soul.  The invitation of this month, which begins this year on March 26 of the Gregorian calendar, has been called “the first of months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2).  Ramban, the medieval scholar and kabbalist, explains that although Nissan is not the beginning of the year (which is in Tishrei), we are alerted that there is a primacy of this month. Just as we count the days of the week with respect to Shabbat, we are to count, order and orient our year around Nissan.  The reason? It was during this month that the Israelites made their exodus from Egypt, which journey embodies and symbolizes the energy of redemption.1 We are on notice: redemption is the prime directive for our lives.  Redemption is the ultimate freedom.  It is a process, a difficult process, one that most of us have yet to understand, let alone achieve. It is an internal state of being.  We can access this state, even as we may feel trapped by voluntary or involuntary […]

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