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Author Archive | Hazon

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Purim: Truths Revealed Over The Past Year by Melissa Hoffman

Many of us anticipated this Purim as the approximate year-marker since our lives changed unimaginably. There’s something apt about the holiday that highlights the topsy-turvy nature of life bookending the beginning — and hopefully the beginning of the end — of the coronavirus in the United States.  Purim represents a time of finding happiness and hopefulness amidst great existential uncertainty. It’s also about hidden truths being revealed to us. In the early months of the pandemic, many of us found joy, paradoxically, in hearing tales and seeing images of rejuvenation and rebirth occurring in nature due to the sharp drop in our own activity. With humans in temporary retreat, wildlife proliferated in formerly abandoned habitats and even occupied urban spaces. As motorway traffic plummeted, a dramatic decline in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions allowed all life to breathe more easily again. We got a glimpse of what it would look like to give the land a long-deserved Shabbat, a respite from our anthropocentric reign. Maybe we caught a glimpse of the truth that’s been drowned out by the busy-ness of our typical, frenetic day-to-day: that slowing down is a good look for the world.  A key lesson we can […]

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Terumah: Good Neighbors by Judry Subar

Breathlessly, the first third of the Torah runs through stories of creation, accounts of love and rupture in the pre-Israelite and Israelite family, reports of slavery experienced and slavery escaped, and rules governing all sorts of circumstances.  Over the course of this telling, the Torah builds theological, emotional, moral, and legal superstructures.  But then in parshat Terumah, the race to tell a human, and then national, story takes a pause.  The biblical focus turns to an infrastructure project, the building of a tabernacle as a location for divine rest. Notwithstanding the contrast between the frenetic energy of earlier biblical narratives and the calm epitomized by the idea of a holy sanctuary, two phrases appearing early in Terumah make clear that divine rest is hardly passive.  An opening passage in the parsha (Exodus 25:2) calls for donations for the construction project “מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ – me’eyt kol ish asher yidveynu libo – from every person whose heart so moves him.”  The Chatam Sofer reads this verse about a rest-evoking structure as linking heartfelt human gift-giving with God’s grant of the world to humankind, as if to suggest that God expends effort to provide us with a restful world and […]

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Mishpatim: We All Live Downstream by Adriane Leveen

“We all live downstream.” Those words, spoken by a member of a first nation community in the haunting film, The Condor and the Eagle, capture a simple truth we are too ready to forget. None of us will escape the consequences of the climate crisis. But some of us have already borne far more than their share of its tragic consequences, including severe illness and death. The film focuses on Indigenous peoples from Northern Alberta to the forests of Ecuador. Unforgettable activists bear witness to unequally borne and horrifying environmental injustice. The verses in Mishpatim strengthen a resolve to heed their call and stand in solidarity with our Indigenous neighbors. “And you shall not maltreat (תוֹנֶ֖ה – to’neh) nor oppress (תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ – til’chatzeh’nu) the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. All widows and orphans you shall not afflict. If you do afflict them so that they yell out to me I will surely hear their cries.” Exodus 22:20-22 (author’s translation) Meaning often emerges from a closer look at language. Two words in verse 20 are found elsewhere in the Torah, illustrating its persistent demand to protect and dignify others, a demand that extends to a commitment to […]

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A Call to Action for Rabbis and Spiritual Leaders From Hazon’s Detroit Rabbi, Nate DeGroot

Dear Rabbis and Spiritual Leaders, With each passing day, and each new scientific report, it is becoming increasingly clear that the climate crisis is and will continue to be the most pressing moral issue of our time. I know you, like me, feel a keen sense of obligation and responsibility to care for and protect the natural world and to ensure the safety and survival of those who are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. As rabbis, we have the ability to speak up and speak out on this issue. As Jews, we have a tradition that demands this of us and inspires us to care for all of God’s creation. And as humans, we have a vested interest in doing this work speedily, for ourselves, for future generations, and for the more than human world. That is why I am writing to you today, to introduce you to a new project of Hazon, called the Brit Hazon. This initiative aims at inspiring thousands of Jews from all across the country and world to commit to small and achievable environmental actions in their own lives. Participants can choose one of six paths of sustainable change, and will […]

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Yitro: The Operating Manual by Deirdre Gabbay

Parshat Yitro, in the book of Exodus, contains the beginning of the story of the Revelation at Sinai. The story of Revelation begins here, but the telling unfolds in a complex, layered piece of narrative origami. The halakhic midrash of one second century commentator adds an additional fold, and centers the promise of Shmita in the telling of the courtship between G-d and Israel. The Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael’s commentary on Parshat Yitro suggests that the wedding ceremony between G-d and Israel, if you will, took place the day before the Revelation; that it was on the Fifth Day of Sivan that Moses read from the book of the covenant to the children of Israel, and they responded in enthusiastic unison, “Kol asher diber Adonai na-aseh v’nishma!” as a form of “I Do!” This text suggests further that Moses read a specific section of the law to us, drawing forth this spirited assent. The midrash tells us that Moses starts his reading with Leviticus 25:1-3: “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying … then the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. Six years shall you sow your field, etc.”, sabbatical years, Jubilee years, blessings and curses. What is […]

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Beshalach: Redemption Song by Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein

It is Friday evening and the sun is just about the set. The synagogue is filled with a psalm and song-filled greeting for Her Majesty, the Shabbat Queen. After six long days of toiling, working, and serving,  we have finally come to Shabbat, the day of rest. People of all ages can be seen humming and moving to the beat, circling and dancing, eyes closed and wide open. They sing: “Az Yaranenu Kol Atzay Ya’ar – then all the trees of the forest will sing out (Psalm 96).” The 5th century rabbinic text Vayikra Rabbah (30:4) quotes Rabbi Acha who said: When King David sang the words “Then all the trees in the forest will sing,” he was talking about the days of redemption, when all barren trees that didn’t bear fruit will come to produce and receive what they need. This teaching not only speaks to the current month of Shvat, which celebrates the New Year of the (fruit) trees, but also to any generation longing to split seas, see the unmasked pharaohs of their time washed away, and address the many inequities facing our humanity.  The Israelite slave-uprising and rebellion reaches its climax, rising out of four-hundred years of […]

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Food Rescue Hero: Darraugh Collins

After the completion of ten weeks of exposure, enlightenment, and heavy back breaking work, Tania and I find ourselves longing for our internship to continue on into 2021. By working with Hazon and other partner organizations and leaders in the community, we have become a part of a community of compassion — centering the needs of hundreds above their own. In this work across the city of Detroit, we’ve met individuals who consistently leave us in awe with their unwavering dedication to food rescue. This week we want to highlight the gift of Darraugh Collins. Despite only residing in Detroit for several years, she has made an enormous impact on the community. Darraugh was not always a leader in the work of food rescue; after attending a banquet at her fiance’s hotel in St. Louis, she noticed the immense amount of leftover food. She was shocked that it was all going to be thrown away. This made her wonder: How many people had she passed on the street who could have benefitted from this food? How many hotels and businesses in the area also disposed of surplus food? It soon became clear to Darraugh what the next step must be: […]

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Bo: Hyssop – The Paintbrush of Liberation, by Rabbi David Seidenberg

In parshat Bo, the destroying angel passes over the houses of the Israelites — in Hebrew “pasach al hapetach” — sparing their firstborn, and giving the Passover holiday its name in Hebrew and English. But the angel only “knows” who is in which house because it sees the sheep’s blood smeared on the doorposts and lintels of the entryway. In Exodus 12:22, Moses tells the Israelites that the way to apply the blood is by using an “agudat eizov” – a bunch of hyssop, which could be dipped into the blood like a paintbrush. Varieties of hyssop grow everywhere in the Middle East naturally, which is why hyssop is described in 1 Kings 5:13 as being rooted “in the wall.” The Psalms also describe hyssop as something that purifies (Psalms 51:9), and hyssop was used for that purpose in three rituals: sprinkling blood on a person or house cured from “tsara’at” (leprosy, Lev. 14:4-6, 14:49-51), preparing the ashes of the red heifer (Num. 19:6), and sprinkling those ashes mixed with “living water” on a person who had come in contact with a dead body (Num. 19:18). All these rituals helped a person transition from a state of impurity into a […]

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Vaera: Our Plagues and Our Plans by Ann Hait and Rabbi Gabe Greenberg

In Parshat Vaera, the action revolves around God’s command, through Moses, that Pharoah free the enslaved Israelites. Pharaoh’s hard-headedness and selfishness preclude him from doing so immediately, and in response, God sends a series of plagues to Egypt. Dam, tzfarde’a, kinim… In the last year, we’ve experienced our own, very real, plague. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our world, and to date has taken the lives of almost two million people worldwide. This plague has forced us to radically alter our day-to-day lives: it has limited our activities, limited our movement, and caused us to stay at home to a much larger degree. One result of our newfound immobility, interestingly, has been the degree to which we’ve been lessening our impact on the world. Just as the biblical plagues provided brief windows of enlightenment for Pharaoh, we have witnessed how the reduction in human activity over the course of this pandemic has positively impacted the environment and revitalized the Earth. Researchers from the American Geophysical Union noted at their fall meeting that “Deforestation rates are changing in some places, air pollution is diminishing and water quality is improving…in some areas since the pandemic began earlier this year.” […]

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Shemot: Talking with God by SooJi Min-Maranda

This week’s parsha, Shemot, is the same Torah portion that I read from the bima at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, MI, thirteen-and-a-half years after officially claiming Judaism as an adult b’nai mitzvah. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to turn and return to this portion again now, 7 years later. And what an auspicious number – seven years — as we enter a Shmita year beginning Rosh Hashana 2021. In my dvar back then, I spoke about Moses, who has just received God’s call. He is no doubt struck with awe and fear, but after a series of objections Moses accepts God’s mission to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. One of the things that struck me at the time was the casual nature of the conversation Moses has with God. “Vayomer Moshe el haElohim — Moses said to God.” God is referred to as Elohim — the basic name for God. The casualness of the God’s name showed me that there is no right or wrong way to talk to God. I don’t have to wait for a sign that God is ready to listen. I don’t have to wait for a sign that I […]

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Miketz: Run Wild by Judry Subar

In the beginning, the world was a wild and chaotic place.  While the arc of the Genesis narrative bends relentlessly toward the taming of the chaos, progress is slow.  As the human species settles in for the long haul, its members commit all sorts of mischief.  From Cain’s fratricide to the Babel builders’ inability to deal with diversity to Simon’s and Levi’s attempt to take the law into their own hands, we observe considerable instability. When we get to Parashat Miketz, we see a pivot to a more sedate reality.  Pharaoh has a dream whose key symbols epitomize domesticated farming and ranching: cows and sheaves of grain.  Joseph organizes a welfare-state bureaucracy that meets the people’s needs.  At the end of Miketz, as Joseph and his estranged brothers edge closer to recognizing difficult truths about each other, the Egyptians and Jacob’s sons exhibit the careful etiquette that marks a society as orderly.  It’s as if all the Torah’s characters finally personify a well-ordered ideal as they follow God’s decree (Genesis 1:28) that humans should master the Earth. But Egypt’s leaders later go too far.  They use their highly structured society to abuse its weakest members, reinforcing class divisions by enslaving […]

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Food Rescue Hero: April Roe Agosta

For our second edition of Food Rescue Hero of the Week, Tania and I instantly knew the exact woman we needed to highlight. For years, April Roe Agosta has fed those in need — from her backyard to the back of Thurston High School —  nothing stops her mission. Since the pandemic hit, April and her  team of volunteers have taken lead in a constantly growing food rescue and distribution mission. Every week, Hazon Detroit partners with April to feed our food insecure neighbors  in Redford, MI.    April grew up and lived much of her life in Scotland, moving to America in 1983. She speaks of her home fondly, longing to go back when our world allows for families to once again reunite across the globe. April told us that she has always been a helper, a trait passed down from her father, a man who made sure every person was fed, whether they were his own or not. In a country like Scotland where the government provides extensive housing and medical assistance, money can be secured solely for food.  In Scotland, help is given to all — not divided up by race, religion, or class.  Hence, April faced […]

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Vayishlach: Rename and Renew by Rabbi Joshua Ratner

2020 has been a year of unbelievable struggle. Between the devastating impact of Covid-19, the profound struggle for racial equality that erupted in nation-wide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the hyper-partisan election campaign that tore apart so many, 2020 is a year many of us can’t wait to finish. But I was recently reminded in this article that, even with the approval of the new Covid-19 vaccines, January 2021 will not be a panacea; any societal return to “normalcy” will not begin until well into the fall of 2021. How, then, should we continue to grapple with this interminable hardship? Does our tradition offer us tools and resources to bolster us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as we continue to traverse this brutal terrain? I believe one such resource can be found in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlach. This parashah focuses mainly on the rich narrative of Jacob’s reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau but also includes the famous story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. After an exhaustive stalemate, the angel blesses Jacob in Genesis 32:29 with a new name, declaring: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with […]

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Hazon Detroit: Tragic Hope & Meaningful Action

by Rebecca Levy   Dear Friends, Since the summer, we have had the incredible fortune of having six wonderful interns supporting and enriching our work. Much gratitude to Repair the World Serve the Moment, the Applebaum Internship Program, JOIN, and the Hornstein Program For Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University. One of these interns, Rebecca Levy, has written the piece below and we are thrilled to be able to share her words with you. In loving community, Wren, Rabbi Nate, Marla, and Hannah   When sitting in shul, my favorite part of most sermons is the speaker’s call to action, which typically comes towards the end. Yes, it is important to learn and the lessons that we draw from the Torah and from life are beneficial, but as one of my English-teachers always said, “so what – who cares?” – English-teacher code for “why is this important and what can we take away from it?” Especially in days like these, when the feeling of loss and uncertainty can be overwhelming, I like to know what I can do moving forward. Do not get me wrong, I love to learn and learning is necessary if you want to act meaningfully, but […]

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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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