Author Archive | Hazon

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Ekev: It Is A Land Which Hashem Your God Looks After, by Rabbanit Michal Kohane

“In dealing with the land – working it, taking care of it, making it bloom – we have to be constantly connected to the Divine.” The Torah portion of Ekev, the 3rd in the last book of the Torah, stretches from Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25. Among its topics are the blessings of obedience to God; the dangers of forgetting God; Moses recalling the making and re-making of the Tablets of Stone; the incident of the Golden Calf, Aaron’s passing, the Levite’s duties and, and the need to serve God. And, most importunately, is the emphasis of the Land of Israel’s specialness: For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There, the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors like a vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which Hashem your God looks after, on which Hashem your God always keeps an eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end” (Deut. 11:10-12). The Land with special qualities also […]

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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: for Justice and Climate Resilience

The once-every-five-years Farm Bill authorization process is in full swing! This presents an historic opportunity to lower the nearly one third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spewed by the food system and reshape food production and distribution toward justice and equity. Join a robust, intersectional movement from a Jewish perspective! There has never been a better time for working together on behalf of our food future. A Just and Climate-Friendly 2023 Farm Bill Could Help the Food System… bring its emissions to net-zero by 2040 adapt to a changing climate prioritize racial justice reduce food waste incentivize land, soil, and water conservation increase equitable access to healthy, fresh food uplift community-led land use and food sovereignty Seven Ways to Take Action with Hazon’s Farm Bill Campaign                 Building on centuries of Jewish wisdom, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Z”L said that “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.” Terrible, fixable wrongs exist in the food system. Thirty-five million people in the U.S. confronted hunger in 2019 while 30-40% of food produced was wasted, accounting […]

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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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Korach: When Is The Desire For Equality Sincere? by Avraham Norin

“Capable leadership can use authority wisely to contribute to solidarity and equality.” A memorable line from the movie The Incredibles is said as Syndrome captures the Incredible family and explains his grandiose plan to the captured heroes “I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can be superheroes. Everyone can be super! … And when everyone’s super, no one will be.” Syndrome’s reasoning, derived from his jealousy of the Incredibles, is similar to that of Korach in this week’s parasha. Korach, the oldest son of Amram’s younger brother, was a first cousin of Moses. Yet he was not awarded any leadership position in Israel- neither president, priest nor prophet. Therefore, Korach started an anti-Moses campaign, stirring up the crowds against Moses with slogans such as “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy!” and ” Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?” Korach felt that if he couldn’t be a leader, then no one should be able to be one. Korach preached complete equality, but in reality, he was only interested in Moses’ demise. To paraphrase Syndrome, Korah knew that when everyone is a leader, no one is really a leader.   Once every seven years, the […]

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Shlach: Honoring The Bounty by Rachel Siegal

“A person who is deeply connected to the land around her is a person who can honor its uniqueness, celebrate its bounty, and respect its need to rest.” This week’s parsha, Shlach, contains the well-known scene of the scouts sent to assess the land of Canaan for its habitability. Chosen from each Israelite tribe, the twelve  scouts are charged with reporting back on the people who live there, what the towns look like, how rich the soil is, how wooded the area is, and to bring back a sample of the type of fruit that grows there. This seems like a reasonable request: when we ourselves are considering a new town to live in, we certainly want to know more about what the people are like, whether the houses, say, are mostly in gated communities, what the school options are for our children, and where the open spaces and parks are located.  Do we also want to know what fruits are native to the region? Perhaps, although most are unlikely to factor that question into our modern day assessment, given our ease of access to all kinds of produce from all around the world in most grocery stores. Inspired by […]

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B’haalot’cha: Of Fertility And Infertility In Land And People by Anna Burke

“Action and prayer work hand-in-hand; we cannot rely solely on God for our well-being, but we can derive meaning and support from walking our journeys with God in our hearts and minds.” Parashat B’haalot’cha marks the beginning of the Israelites’ journey from Sinai to the Promised Land as they make their final preparations, set out from their encampment, and grapple with the challenges they face along the way. The Israelites push God’s buttons with their complaining, and in this portion even Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses, and God by extension. God punishes Miriam with leprosy for speaking out against Moses. Upon hearing Aaron’s plea for forgiveness, Moses prays for his sister with the words, “El na refa na la,” meaning, “Please God, heal her.” Moses’ prayer for healing has become a staple of the Jewish tradition that compels us to lean on God as our source of healing. We trust in God to heal the earth in the shmita year as we allow the land to rest, and hopefully, in turn, become rejuvenated. Maintaining faith in God as we remove ourselves from our regular activities and work can be challenging, especially at our most vulnerable times. And yet, we know […]

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Naso: Lift Up Their Heads – And Notice Them, by Rabbi Carol Glass

“Moving towards equity, inclusion, and diversity by truly seeing others and sharing our bounty with them.” By mandating a 7th year cessation of all agricultural production and the release of intra-Jewish debts, shmita is a highly ‘disruptive’ ancient Jewish practice with important lessons for today’s world. As Kohenet Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny has pointed out: Shmita slows down the race to the top (of production and power), supports more equitable distribution of wealth, and promotes generosity, forward planning, and collective care, while encouraging self-control for the long haul. Shmita is about love of land and it is also about love of and for, all people and creatures. It is by interrupting our drives to produce, accumulate wealth, compete, and establish boundaries, that we learn that drives are not the same as needs—that sharing, reducing what separates us, and watching out for one another make for a holier (holistic) existence. Our parasha, in choosing the word ‘Naso’ (see Num 4:22), emphasizes this message. In Biblical Hebrew the phrase “Naso et Rosh” is used to mean “Take a census of…” however, Naso literally means “carry, lift up”, and also “forgive”; so the phrase ‘naso et rosh…’ literally means ‘Lift up the heads […]

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BaMidbar: Being Sustained, In Eden and the Wilderness, by Rabbi Eli Herb

“To create a society balanced between the curse of civilization and the wildness of being nourished by the Creator.” “When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl fluttered, no ox lowed … the sea did not roar, the creatures did not speak; the universe was silent and mute.” (Exodus Rabbah 29:7) The Creator brought all into being for this moment of receiving; the whole world was wired with the knowledge that this moment would come. When the moment came, everything was still, receptive. At the beginning, Creator placed the human being in Gan Eden where all received sustenance from Creation herself. Tragically, humanity (and humanity alone) was exiled to become workers of the land, civilized, alienated. Empires and imperialism, slavery and injustice, inequality and exploitation arise from this exile.  Gan Eden remains, Torah tells us, guarded by flaming swords, mostly inaccessible to those of us cursed to live in the civilized world. At the same time, Gan Eden evolved in our tradition to be a synonym for the World that is Coming (and is even now flowing like a great river into the world). It remains a place we can access; like Torah, Gan Eden […]

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