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Rabbi Yonah Berman

V’Zot Habracha & Hakhel: How The Torah Ends The Shmita Year by Rabbi Yonah Berman

“Joining together with our People, and remembering a place and time before we had our own land, we are being called to maintain the sanctity of humanity and creation.” The final parsha in the Torah, V’Zot Habracha, is unique in that it is not read on a regular Shabbat. Rather, this third-shortest parsha, containing only 41 verses, is read on Simchat Torah as part of our celebrations concluding – and immediately restarting – the annual Torah reading cycle. It recounts blessings by Moses to the various tribes of Israel, his death overlooking the Land of Israel (which he was destined not to enter), and the Children of Israel’s mourning for our greatest leader.  (This Shabbat’s reading instead focuses on portions related to the Festival of Sukkot). It is actually right now and specifically this year that we are commanded to fulfill a unique and particularly beautiful mitzvah: Hakhel. Parshat Vayelech, which we read two weeks ago, instructs us to gather in Jerusalem during Sukkot following the conclusion of Shmita (Deut. 31:12): Gather the nation: men, women and children and the stranger in your midst, so that they shall hear and so that they shall learn; and be in awe of […]





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Hazon Detroit: October 2022 Newsletter

Shana Tova! How sweet and hopeful to have arrived into this new year with you. We hope that you are nourished and inspired from these last weeks of reflection, joy, togetherness, and intention-setting. We look forward to showing up for one another and for the earth in this new year.  This year, we’re building on the impactful foundation of our longstanding Hazon Seal of Sustainability program, and working with over 50 Jewish organizational partners to provide enriching Jewish Earth-based experiences and environmental education, stewardship, and action in 5783. In the weeks and months to come, we hope you’ll join us – as individuals and organizational partners – in showing up for one another and the Earth by participating in an upcoming event (see below). Start the New Year off with opportunities to connect with community and steward our earth: Tree Planting with The Greening of Detroit One approach we’re taking to offset some of the environmental impact of our recent Food Festival, is partnering with The Greening of Detroit to plant trees! We hope you can join us. This is a great opportunity to connect with our new Hazon Detroit team and contribute to increased tree equity in our region.  […]





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Ha’azinu: The Idolatry Of The Denier, by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff

“We are growing closer to our last chance to turn our attention back to the earth and its needs, for our beliefs to become re-rooted in reality.” What is sacred to a climate denier? What do they worship? They privilege pseudo-science over science, fantasy over reality, all in the name of preventing  significant change in the world. Non-change, non-progress, unending perpetuation of the status quo. That is the religion of the climate denier. The climate pessimist says something similar. They acknowledge the climate crisis but they refuse to believe in a solution. This phenomenon has echoes in Parashat Ha’azinu. After describing the extraordinary ingratitude of the Jews in turning to idolatry, the Torah says, “They sacrificed to demons, no-gods,”(Deut. 32:17) and the Midrash says, “If they had worshiped the sun, or the moon, or stars, etc., things that are necessary to the world, and the world benefits from them, God’s angry jealousy would have been less. But they worshiped things that do no good for them but rather do them harm!”(Sifrei Devarim 318:17). The idolatry described here is not misplaced faith that something beneficial has powers of its own. It is doubling down on the belief that something that in […]





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Vayelech: Is This The End Of Shmita? by Rabbi Petakya Lichtenstein

“What is being born when something is ending and what is ending when something is being born?” This week is the last week of the 7 year sabbatical cycle called Shmita. The portion of Torah read this week, as the year takes its leave, is called by the name “Vayelech,” which translates as “and he went.” Who is he? Moses. Where did he go? He went to tell the tale of his passing (in an epic overshare) saying “I am one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer go forth and come in.” He is to leave this world on the day he came into it 120 years ago. It is on this day, the 7th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, that Moses writes the Torah scroll and instructs that it should be read at the end of every shmita year. It is this merging of coming and going which is at the core of the deeper Torah of shmita. As the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, states about the mysteries of creation that “their end is in their beginning and their beginning is in their end.”  A closer look at the text will reveal […]





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Nitzavim: Keep It Real – Don’t Overthink It! by Rabbi Benjamin Shalva

“The shmita year is nearly ended, but not quite. There is still time. Time to pause. Time to pray.”  “And in the night My father came to me And held me to his chest He said there’s not much more that you can do Go on and get some rest.” – “Think Too Much (b)”, Paul Simon Moses is soon to die. He gathers his tribe to him and says: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your reach. (Deut. 30:11) But, of course, we know that’s not true. The Torah is too hard for us. It has always been too hard for us. We never get it right, this life. The very existence of the High Holy Days, of an entire season devoted to repentance, testifies to our forever missing the mark. It must be that Moses means something else. That, or he’s playing the part of the underdog coach, offering a pep talk to his hapless team. But that doesn’t seem right; Moses is a tough love prophet. Moses does not do so much “pep.” Then what does he mean: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your […]





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Ki Tavo: Property, Shmita And Learning To Fly, by Aharon Ariel Lavi

“You can only give what is yours.” Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the commandment of bikkurim. It continues with related agricultural commandments and a commandment to inscribe the Torah on large stones. The sages add that this was made in 70 different languages, to be accessible to all nations. The parsha concludes with a long speech detailing the blessings the nation will receive if it follows the Torah, and the calamities which will befall it if it does not. Bikkurim means bringing the first fruits to the Temple and reciting a special prayer. It is valid only under certain circumstances: (1) physical presence in the Land of Israel; (2) well-established political status in the land; and (3) building the Temple. There is an additional precondition, which is complete human ownership of the fruits a person brings, according to the verse: “the first fruits of your land.” Even one who has planted a tree in their own land but has layered it into another person’s land cannot bring the firstfruits (layering is taking a branch and bending it to the point of planting it in the ground while still attached to the original tree so it grows new roots). Nevertheless, the […]





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Hakhel

Hakhel Newsletter: September 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, We have now entered the month of Elul – a time of introspection, where we review our deeds and our spiritual state this year and prepare for the upcoming “Days of Awe” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has your community achieved this year? What is its spiritual state currently? Where do you hope to take your community in the next year? Elul is the time for teshuva (“returning” to G-d; repentance), for self-improvement, for thinking about one’s relationship with oneself, one’s family, community, and G-d. There are many Jewish conceptions of teshuva, how the concept of “returning” is relevant to us and plays itself out cosmically in our world. The mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria connected teshuva with tikkun olam, healing the world, since through teshuva and spiritual healing, Jews can improve and perfect G-d’s work. Teshuva is a process that only begins during the High Holidays. The real work will carry us through the coming year (at least!). We hope you and your communities are currently busy planning a meaningful High Holiday experience. If you are looking for resources, please check out Hakhel’s Resource Library, and if you would like to consult and think together, […]





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Ki Tetze: Mitzvot To Combat Bad Habits And Destructive Behaviors, by Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair

“Shmita too can loosen the sway of addictive patterns of consumption.” Parshat Ki Tetze begins with two mitzvot that the rabbis characterize as countering addiction. The first, of these, the laws of the female captive, challenges and attempts to moderate the abuse and dehumanization of women that is endemic to war. The second, the law of the “stubborn and rebellious son” deals with a child who is set on a bad course in life. The talmud (Sanhedrin, 69-71) defines the conditions to qualify as a stubborn and rebellious son. He must habitually steal a certain quantity of red meat and good wine from his parents (or steal the money to purchase these ) and then consume them outside his parent’s home. The penalty – death –  is extreme, and the majority of rabbis say that in fact there never was a stubborn and rebellious son who was put to death. Why then is it in the Torah? So that we might “study it and receive reward.” So let’s study it!   The talmudic discussion drills down into the kind of meat (red meat, but not dried out, and not chicken) and wine (old wine that has matured, not the stuff that […]





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Elul, Shmita, & Culture Change

Friends, We find ourselves in the month of Elul, a time for introspection and checking in with ourselves, a time to confront all the ways in which we missed the mark this past year, and a time to reflect upon who we want to be in the year ahead. We prepare with anticipation of the holy days coming soon, and we begin the work of teshuvah, tfilah, and tzedakah–repentance, prayer, and justice–so that we may transform ourselves and our world. But this is not just any Elul. This is the end of the Shmita year, and as Rav Kook teaches us, “What the Sabbath does for the individual, Shmita does for the nation.” So now is the time to ask ourselves both individually and collectively, communally, and globally: What does repentance, prayer, and justice mean for all our people, and for all our planet? Hazon-Pearlstone’s mission is to lead a transformative movement deeply weaving sustainability into the fabric of Jewish life, catalyzing culture change and systemic change through Immersive Retreats, Jewish Environmental Education, and Climate Action. Through education, we seek to create the culture change that Shmita beckons of us, changing lives and building a new kind of Jewish culture […]





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Shoftim: On the Spiritual Tension of Shmita, By Dr. Tamar R. Marvin

“For is the tree of the field like a human?” Shmita is riven with tension. On the one hand, it is introduced to us in Parashat Behar as a Shabbat of the land: ve-shavta ha-aretz Shabbat la-Shem—“the land shall abstain in a Shabbat of God” (Lev. 25:2). This brings to mind a deliberate, restorative pause. What we presently know about agriculture accords beautifully with this ancient wisdom, confirming that regular periods of fallowness enhance the production of nutritious food.  And yet there is a traditional counterpoint to this rarified mood in the form of the principle of bal tashchit, the imperative to steward resources respectfully, not allowing them to go to waste. What about the wasted potential of all the food that could be grown to feed people but will not be? This charge became all the more poignant in modernity, when Jewish farmers faced again the very real problem of sustaining themselves and their community while observing shmita. Rabbis were tasked with finding a solution, which they did, albeit messily: it entails legal fictions and wasteful importation.  This week’s parasha, Shoftim, includes an intriguing statement that acknowledges this dualistic tension of shmita. We’re now in the midst of Moses’ […]





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