Author Archive | Hazon

Judry Subar

Shemini: Energizing The Ultimate Source Of Energy, by Judry Subar

“When we focus on the purposes of Shmita  we facilitate the flow of spiritual power from earth to heaven and back again.” So many adjectives can be used to describe the act of eating: necessary, enjoyable, challenging, fraught, social, and on and on.  We might be inclined to add “earthly” to the list; inhabitants of this world eat for a variety of reasons.  Several references to eating in Parashat Shemini reinforce this perspective.  We read in Leviticus 10:12-14 about priestly eating, the physical consumption of holy food by the sons of Aaron.  And the end of the parasha identifies the sorts of meat we may eat.   But Shemini refers not only to human eating but also to divine consumption.  Verse 24 of chapter 9 tells us about the godly fire that consumed the sacrificial meat on the altar.  And the beginning of the following chapter provides another example of divine consumption, telling of the celestial fire that consumed two of Aaron’s sons because of some sort of excess fervor on their part in the way they approached service in the Tabernacle.  What does it mean for something in this world to be consumed by its creator?  If, as physicists would […]

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Hakhel Newsletter March 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, I hope you and your community celebrated a very happy Purim! We are now in the lull between Purim and Pesach (always shorter than you think!), but that doesn’t mean there’s an end to the work to be done.  One thing that should be top of your to-do list is signing up for the Hakhel Israel Trip and Summit, taking place from May 9-15 in Israel. We may be fewer, due to the war in Europe, but we are strong as communities and as a network, and we are here to carve out the next phase of this work in person together even in hard times.  Please sign up and have your community members sign up. Registration ends on March 31. See below for more details. Our own efforts have been focused on supporting our communities in Ukraine at this terrible time – through sending Hakhel delegations and thousands of dollars of medical supplies and food. Read on below for more info about these efforts and how you can help. In this week’s parsha, Shemini, we see a lot of divine activity – a fire issues from G-d to consume offerings on the altar, G-d’s presence comes […]

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Parashat Tzav: Shmita As An Expression of Gratitude By Shoshana Michael Zucker

People who have the tools of production at their disposal should gratefully acknowledge their blessings, and invite others to partake of the bounty.  Of the many sacrifices mandated in Parashat Tzav, one stands out: the thanksgiving offering (Leviticus 7:12-15), which must be consumed before the next morning. To eat the whole lamb at one sitting, it is necessary to invite guests. As Rabbi Shai Held teaches: “A core aspect of gratitude is the desire to respond, the urge to repay or pay forward the kindness we have been shown. Gratitude is the bridge between the realization of how much I have been given, and the commitment to be a giver myself.” The Biblical and modern Hebrew word תודה, todah, which has a dual meaning of “acknowledge” and “thank,” embodies this idea. The word’s root,  י-ד-ה y-d-h, is derived from יד-yad hand and also means “to throw.” Just as the hand is a body part that can move away from the rest of the body, these words all signify acts that move outwards from the self. We express thanks by sharing. Moreover, in order to be grateful, we must first acknowledge that our achievements build on gifts we have received.  Some […]

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Daniel Silverstein

Vayikra, Zachor: Stepping Back, Drawing Close By Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein

“When we release our usual patterns and tools, we open a sacred space for contemplation, and for re-imagining ourselves and our world.” Our parsha of Vayikra (“And He called”) begins the third book of the Torah, to which it also gives its name. It contains many intricate laws of various kinds of sacrifices made in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), including Elevation Offerings, Meal Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings and Guilt Offerings. The root of the word for sacrifice used here, Korban (קרבן), is קרב, k-r-b, meaning “close” or “near”; sacrifices were one of the ways through which our ancestors came closer to the Divine. The Zohar (III 5a) teaches that the word denotes “compassion” (rachamim). Our parsha is the first time that the Torah uses this particular word to describe a sacrifice, and this is not the only hint that the intended mood of the parsha is tender intimacy. Rashi, the great French medieval commentator, begins his commentary on our parsha by noting that the very first word, “Vayikra” (“And He called”) signifies affection. This first word, “Vayikra,” is describing the Infinite One calling to Moses. Rashi writes that each utterance from the Divine to Moses is preceded by an affectionate […]

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Josh Weiner

Pekudei: Combining Laws And Generosity by Josh Weiner

“Like the mishkan that was built of laws and gifts, the paradoxes of the shmita system allow kindness to re-enter our economic lives.” This week’s parasha concludes the construction of the Mishkan – the portable center of ritual life as the Israelites traveled through the desert. Several chapters dealt with God instructing Moses in how to build the Mishkan, followed by several chapters describing Moses telling the Israelites what to do. Now, in our parasha, they actually do it – everything is put together and completed. The Mishkan is constructed using two types of funds: taxes and donations. Everyone, rich and poor, was required to give half a silver shekel towards the running of the Mishkan. In addition, everyone was invited to give whatever materials and however much they wanted. This combination of law and generosity is a theme that comes up in the shmita year too. While shmita is primarily concerned with ecological and social concerns around letting the land rest, there is one aspect that applies throughout the Jewish world today: shmittat kesafim, the remittance of debts. The basic law is simple – at the end of the shmita year, all open debts are supposed to be canceled […]

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bieler photo larger

Vayakhel: Some Striking Shabbat And Shmita Parallels by Rabbi Jack Bieler

Just as the weekly Shabbat starkly reminds us who is the Creator and who is the Creature, shmita achieves a similar goal Parashat Vayakhel, although primarily devoted to the fabrication of the Tabernacle and its vessels, begins (Exodus 35:1-3) with a brief reprise of the commandment to observe the sabbath, already discussed in the Ten Commandments. While the sabbath applies to Jews wherever on earth they may find themselves, there is a “special” sabbath that pertains only to the land of Israel, “Shabbat Ha-aretz” (the sabbath of the land) or shmita.  We see how the term “sabbath” is used interchangeably between the seventh day of the week, and the seventh year of the Sabbatical cycle, in Parashat BeHar (Leviticus 25:2-6) and particularly in the rebuke of Leviticus (ibid. 26:34-5): Then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years. Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it. Although the “human” sabbath entails a […]

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Fisher Headshot

Ki Tissa: Breaking God’s Tablets? Way To Go, Moses! by Rabbi Jessica Fisher

“Sometimes rupture is necessary and holy. Sometimes disruption is an essential spiritual practice.” In parashat Ki Tissa, we encounter one of the pivotal moments of tension in the Torah. After spending forty days and nights on Mount Sinai, Moses descends, carrying the gift of God’s words on two tablets. As he gets closer to his reunion with the Israelites, he realizes they have constructed an idol and are gathered to worship this golden calf. In his anger, he throws down the tablets, destroying the tangible evidence of God’s relationship with this difficult nation. After some negotiating on their behalf by Moses, God calls Moses back up the mountain to repeat the process. At one point, discussing the first set, God refers to them as the tablets “which you broke, asher shibarta.” (Exodus 34:1) We may want to read these words as a critique of Moses, but Reish Lakish, a former rogue turned famous sage, interprets the comment differently. He says that the word “asher” alludes to the phrase “yasher koach she-shibarta,” meaning, “may your strength be true” or “kudos” (Shabbat 87a). In other words, Reish Lakish believes God is praising, not critiquing, Moses for smashing the tablets. It may seem […]

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Elyssa Photo

Tetzaveh: Portable Holiness, Global Jewishness by Elyssa Hurwitz

“Holiness is inside of us, meaning we can embrace shmita, both inside and outside of the Land of Israel, inside and outside of the traditional ways of observing it.” As we continue forward through both the Book of Exodus and the 5782 Shmita year, I am struck by the intensity of the details found within larger Jewish understandings of time, space, and place. Parashat Tetzaveh starts with a heads-up that rituals are about to be presented that must be done forever and ever. The parashah then expounds upon the details of what the priests wore in the Mishkan, and the many sacrifices. How Aaron was to give Olah (burnt, whole) offerings, specifics of Tenufah (waving) offerings, particulars of Ḥataat (sin) offerings, and a whole description of how Aaron and the other priests were going to purify everything and everyone for seven days. The parasha concludes with a reminder that these rituals are holy to God and they must be continued l’dorotaechem (לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם), for their future generations. This set of instructions feels as technical as those of the shmitah year, Shabbat, and other cyclical practices that we have.The ta’aseh (do’s) and lo ta’aseh (don’t’s) are unpacked, they are multi-sensory experiences, and […]

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Hakhel Newsletter February 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, What makes the world holy, and how can we increase the holiness of the world together? In this week’s Torah portion, T’tzaveh, the Israelites learn about how to organize a community with Torah at the center, in a way that truly elevates the mundane to the holy. For instance, the brilliant priestly garments – with precious stones and metals donated by the community – and the rite of priestly consecration are described, as well as the garb of the High Priest, complete with Stones of Remembrance bearing the names of the 12 Tribes for his shoulders. It is clear from these instructions that we live in an interconnected ecosystem, where resources, people, and places can be given sacred meaning and influence one another through channels of mutual obligation and responsibility. In today’s context where we face environmental destruction and human suffering, how can we apply these lessons to repair our world and allow it to flourish? February 20 is the World Day of Social Justice (as referenced in the graphic above). We hope you find inspiration to take this opportunity for your community to engage in social justice projects locally or globally, or even simply to have […]

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Terumah: Cultivating The Trait of Generosity, by Rabbi Micah Peltz

“When we are able to live generously, then we can create not only a sacred structure, but a more sacred world.”  Parashat Terumah begins the final section of the book of Exodus which deals mostly with the construction of the mishkan, Tabernacle, the Israelites’ portable desert sanctuary. Its opening words instruct the people to bring gifts to contribute to its construction. God tells Moshe to accept gifts from every person asher yidvenu libo, “whose heart so moves him.” How much they should bring is left up to each Israelite. The word yidvenu has the same Hebrew root as nadav, meaning “generous.” God relies on the generosity of the people to fund the building of the mishkan. God is not disappointed. The people overwhelm Moshe with gifts: gold, silver, copper, fine yarns and linen, oil, precious stones and other beautiful things. Moshe ends up with more than he needs. The Israelites’ giving is a wonderful example of nedivut, generosity. Generosity is a middah, a character trait or virtue that we all strive to cultivate. We can be generous with our resources, as well as our time, our wisdom, and our love. Additionally, generosity is a Divine quality. In the Talmud we […]

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Bradley Shavit Artson-01

Mishpatim: Shmita, By Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson

“Our mastery and possession of creatures and objects is always provisional and limited by the broader guidelines of our creatureliness.” This parashah is known in Hebrew as Sefer Ha-Brit (the Book of the Covenant). It contains the first body of laws in the Torah. These rules— a combination of moral imperatives, social standards, civil and criminal injunctions, and rules for proper worship—are all recognized as the will of God, the embodied consequence of the distinct relationship between God and the people Israel. At the heart of these guidelines for establishing the Beloved Community lie the laws of Shmita:  “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce. And in the seventh you shall leave it untended and unharvested and the destitute of your people shall eat and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left of them; so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove.” The Torah establishes a practice that echoes throughout Mishpatim: our mastery and possession of creatures and objects is always provisional and limited by the broader guidelines of our creatureliness. We are finite in time and understanding, and our ownership is too. The law Is most explicit with […]

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Yitro: The Ten Commandments As A Guide To A Sustainable Society, By Dr. Jeremy Benstein

“What does it take to build a society that will long endure on the land?”  The highlight of this week’s parasha, the Decalogue, begins with God’s self-identification as having brought Israel “out of the house of bondage” and launches directly into prohibitions of false gods (commandments 1-3). These two ideas – slavery and idolatry – are linked. Slavery, in all its manifestations, means taking human beings, ends in themselves, and making them means to one’s own gratification. Idolatry is the reverse: taking things that are legitimate means to further life, like money, power, achievement – and making them ends, worshiped and sought after as if they were god-like (“their idols are silver and gold”). The twin evils of entrenched oppression and the single-minded pursuit of profits, ignoring questions of justice and health, creates long-lasting impact – “upon the third and upon the fourth generations” – while the opposite too ripples out, a deep commitment to chesed reaches “to the thousandth generation.” At the core of the Decalogue is another image of intergenerational responsibility. Commandments to honor parents, and prohibitions on murder and adultery (5-7) are about the sanctity of life and its creation, the importance of love, honesty and commitment. […]

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Gila Caine

Beshalach: The Knowledge Of Water, Fire And Clouds By Rabbi Gila Caine

“This is the strongest lesson of shmita, that the non-human world around and within us is filled with its own intelligence, and its own Torah.” This week’s Torah portion kicks off with our ancestors leaving Mitzrayim (the Biblical Egypt, the place of constriction) and venturing into the Midbar (the desert, the place of speaking or the place that speaks), and as they hesitantly make their way out their enslavers have a turn of heart and begin chasing them. Can you imagine this scene in your mind’s eye? It’s important to visualize it for ourselves because this story holds the image of our neshama (soul/spirit) aching to leave behind all that enslaves it, while our inner fears call on us to go back. This is one part  of soul-yearning to live a more conscious life while other elements inside us continue making excuses for why we must go on consuming, why we must keep ignoring the climatic earthquake that is upon us. As our ancestors make their way towards freedom, they arrive at Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds) and stop stunned by its shores with the Egyptians behind them, with their place of constriction getting narrower by the moment. At […]

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Hakhel Newsletter January 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, is the scene of many incredible miracles that have captured the imagination of countless generations: the splitting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt; the manna that rained down from Heaven to provide them with sustenance in the desert, with a double portion on Friday in preparation for Shabbat; the water that emanated from the stone. Through all of these miracles, we feel the immense, special love and protection of G-d. In your lifetime, have you experienced any acts that seemed divine? What about your community, in what ways has it received love and protection that allowed it to grow and flourish? This Sunday, we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the birthday of the trees. This is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with your community, as it comes with a unique Seder that is an interactive, sensory experience through the eating of specific fruits and nuts and the drinking of wine. It also carries with it powerful messages from Kabbalah and about our connection to and stewardship of the Earth. Regardless of how you choose to mark the day personally, we hope you will join Hazon in a special virtual […]

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Bo: In Times Of Darkness, Can We Share Our Light? By Yali Szulanski

“The plague of darkness evokes imagery of desperation, fear, and of dark times. It is the plague, perhaps, that most echoes the time we live in now.” Parashat Bo occurs in anticipation of Bne’i Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Here, the last three plagues coincide with a divine hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to bring our ancestors into freedom. This journey, which brings us to Torah and mitzvot, is led by a beam of light that bursts forth after generations of darkness. The penultimate plague – where the Israelites enjoy light, while the Egyptians suffer thick, stifling darkness (Exodus 10:23), must have left many Israelites grappling with an existential crisis – of faith and the  future. The plague of darkness evokes imagery of desperation, fear, and of dark times. It is the plague, perhaps, that most echoes the time we live in now. The world currently oscillates between darkness and uncertainty and pockets of light.  Yet while some experience this light, others still suffer. When we aren’t quite sure about what moves about in the shadows, we fear what is there – and what it wants from us. Sometimes, though, the unknown of the darkness can bring about the possibility of hope […]

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