Author Archive | Hazon

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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Barak Gale

Vaera: What Gives Me Hope? By Dr. Barak Gale

“Shmita offers a “release” from this harsh legacy, whispering to us: Aspire to this time when you no longer harden your heart.”   Vaera recounts the Ten Plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.  I am often asked in my climate presentations – what gives me hope?  Day after day the news speaks of another tipping point or plague threatening our survival – the cracking of ice shelves in Antarctica that keep the great ice sheets from sliding into the ocean, the loss of permafrost holding vast stores of potent methane, and more.  Day after day also sees new threats to what is left of our democracy, and of our humanity.  And we see marginalized communities suffering disproportionately, for example Black children suffering from asthma, often due to proximity to fossil fuel plants, refineries, freeways, at 8 times the rate of White children.   Rabbi Shefa Gold comments on Vaera, that symbols of life, like blood, in excess become the opposite. Yes, sun provides essential energy and warmth and now electricity, but intense heat waves are deadly.  Wind provides essential cooling and transportation for seeds, insects, birds, but in excess becomes monstrous storms and hurricanes. Greenhouse gasses keep the Earth from being […]

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Shemot: Building A Society That Rejects Decadence And Oppression, By Rabbi Binyamin Zimmerman

Shemitah and jubilee ensure that Israeli society will be protective of the weak, combating wage gaps and building a redeemed economy. If it worked with the Exodus, it could work now.   Parashat Shemot begins the second book of the Torah, Exodus, by detailing the background of the Jewish nation’s enslavement, and setting the stage for their ultimate redemption. The entire book of Exodus discusses the Egyptian bondage and the Divine deliverance of the Jewish nation. This miraculous redemption inspired their trek through the desert, including accepting the Torah and ultimately building the nation’s home in the Promised Land, Israel. Understandably, the Exodus plays a significant role in the Jewish heritage.  While the Exodus is central to our thought, seemingly, it could have been from anywhere. Why Egypt? What role does Egypt play in the whole encounter? The Torah itself provides a significant piece of the puzzle. From the days of Avraham, Egypt served as a foil to the ultimate goal of Jewish civilization in Israel. Avraham travels there during a famine in the land. Egyptian grandeur turns off Avraham but seems to have affected Avraham’s nephew Lot. He emerges from Egypt following Avraham from a distance, but his shepherds can […]

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Judry Subar

Parashat Vayechi: E Pluribus Unum? by Judry Subar

We must temper using our own resources to satisfy our individual human desires in recognition of our responsibility to preserve our Earth for the benefit of humanity. Mortality sets the scene for the concluding chapters of Genesis. Vayechi, the last portion of Genesis, tells us generally how both Jacob and Joseph prepared for their own deaths.  The primary emotional force of the portion, though, lies in Jacob’s decision to sermonize to his sons and grandsons as his life was ending.   Jacob’s deathbed statements can be understood in different ways.  Were they blessings as suggested by Genesis 49:28?  Were they prophecies as intimated in Genesis 49:1?  According to one view found in Midrash Rabbah, when Jacob instructed his sons to listen to him muse about their personalities, he meant to signal that their twelve respective tribes were actually one social entity.  Strange, though, to interpret Jacob’s thoughts as being all about unity when he expressed himself so differently about his various children.  Reuben, for example, is castigated for bad acts; Judah’s future is foretold; Joseph is explicitly praised; and the only one of Jacob’s last testaments that refers to more than one of the brothers uses decidedly negative rhetoric to comment […]

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Hakhel Newsletter December 2021

Dear Hakhel Communities, What do you believe will come of you in the days and years to come? What about your loved ones and community? Why is this your vision? These are just some of the questions evoked in this week’s parsha, Vayechi, as our Forefathers Jacob and Joseph are confronted with the end of their lives, when such questions must be considered. We all want to come to the end of our lives with the sense that it has been lived with purpose. It seems fitting that the Book of Bereishit (Genesis) ends on this note. With the end of the first book of the Torah, as well as the recent conclusion of our celebration of Chanukah (see photos from communities around the world below!), it seems like a good time to take stock of where we are with ourselves and our communities and where we see them going in the coming months and years. If you’re stuck on an issue and looking for some inspiration, why not consult with your Hakhel subnetwork (see more about that below)? Don’t forget that you have a global network of peer communities that will give you energy and advice (and who you […]

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Parashat Vayigash: Feeding the World, By Shoshana Michael Zucker

“From both the story of Joseph and the practice of Shmita, we learn that the earth, if respected, is capable of producing adequate food. Hunger is a human-caused problem that humans can solve.” Parashat Vayigash is set during the famine that Pharaoh dreamed and Joseph predicted in the previous portion. It features Joseph’s reunion with his brothers and father, the resettlement of his entire extended family in the Goshen region of Egypt, and his on-going program to manage the famine.  Concealed, but not quite, within this story is an important lesson about the global food supply. Egypt and the surrounding region have experienced seven years of plenty followed by drought and famine. Yet, because of shrewd management, there is food in Egypt, enough not only for local consumption but also for export.  The heart of  Joseph’s food management program was collecting surpluses, storing them and redistributing them in times of need. Joseph’s use of that food to nationalize Egyptian lands, and enslave the Egyptian people to Pharaoh are controversial, but a simpler point underlies the story: the world produces enough food to feed its population (although climate change could alter that). Hunger exists because of human-caused storage and distribution problems.   […]

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Miketz: Learning from Joseph’s Mistakes, By Rabbi David Seidenberg

“Therein lies a basic lesson of Shmita: You can’t deprive other people or the land of their freedom in order to preserve your own.” The Shabbat of Chanukah is here. When we left Joseph last week, he was in the dungeon. This week, Joseph gets lifted up from the dungeon and becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man, second to Pharaoh “in throne only” (Gen. 41:40). All this because Joseph listens to Pharaoh’s dreams, predicts seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine, and (slyly?) advises Pharaoh to seek out a wise person to carry out a plan. The outlines of the plan are common sense: store up grain each year during the years of abundance, and redistribute that grain during the years of famine (Gen. 41:34-36). Next week, however, we will learn the specifics. After there was no bread left in Egypt, the Egyptian peasants used up all their money to buy grain from what Joseph had stored up. When that was gone, they gave up their animals, and finally, after they had lost their money and their cattle, they gave up themselves and their land, becoming slaves to Pharaoh (Gen. 47:13-23). The peasants had actually grown all that grain. […]

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2021 Hazon Gift Guide

As we approach Chanukah, it’s natural for our thoughts to turn towards family, unity, tradition and food. Hazon is a strong proponent of “buying less stuff” which means that when we are faced with an influx of gift guides and holiday lists, we ponder how we can rethink gift giving and promote a more sustainable yet just as satisfying alternative. This year, we have decided to brainstorm and release our top eight holiday gifts – a guide that most closely aligns with our values.  It is often said that the best gift is the gift of an experience. You will find several experiences and learning opportunities in this guide. We encourage you to not only think out of the box this season, but more sustainably as well.  For more resources and information on Chanukah, please visit our Chanukah Holiday Guide. For more information on how you can live more sustainably, including buying less stuff, join the Brit Hazon today!   2021 Hazon Gift Guide   Shmita Sourcebook We have been hard at work on our updated Shmita Sourcebook and we are excited to announce that it’s now available! The updated Shmita Sourcebook is designed to encourage readers to think critically […]

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Vayeshev: Equal Social Dignity, By Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

“So whether you wear a coat of many colors or a simple shift when you glean, shmita is a reminder that we are all the same: temporary tenants wholly dependent on the gifts of this God-given world.” “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.  And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.” There is something terribly irksome about inequity. At least for the ones on the outs.  We all know that life is unfair, that some people are more gifted, more adored, more successful, than others.  But when that inevitable inequity is flaunted before our eyes, when there isn’t even an effort to pretend that everyone is equal, then animosity starts to churn and lashing out may not be far behind.  This is what happened to Joseph, and thus Jacob too.  The Bible is well-aware of life’s constant assaults. And though they may be able to be borne for a while, they add up over time, often releasing their […]

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