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Topic: Holidays

Choosing our History | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Henry Schmidt – Shalom Institute Parshat Devarim The Torah may be our past, but Devarim, the shared name both for this week’s Torah portion and for the fifth book of the Torah, is our history. What is the difference between past and history? Our past is simply a chronology of events, one after another, that bring us to the present. It is what one may observe if they traveled back in time and watched things unfold. History, on the other hand, adds important layers; history is the past we choose to tell and how we tell it. The establishment of history is an inherently political process. Whoever has the most access to public discourse or public thought typically gets to shape the narrative of the people. In the case of Devarim, this power rests solely with Moses. Though he shall not see the promised land and must cede this honor to his successor, Joshua, he still possesses the most powerful role of this period for the Jewish people: he gets to tell them their own story. After all, Devarim translates to “the words,” and these are “the words” of the Jewish people. We already know that the Jews eventually receive […]

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Why Do We Wander? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Eliezer Weinbach – Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon  Parshat Maasei Earlier this year, Isabella Freedman hosted a Moishe House retreat called “Wandering Jews.” Led by New York Times contributor Eli Reiter, twelve people in their twenties and thirties got together to discuss their experiences and wisdom regarding travel as a Jewish person. They discussed things like kashruth and shabbat observance while abroad. The question is: Why bother? When the Torah lists all the stages of the journey through the desert, as per the text from Numbers above, it really does discuss each part. All forty-two stages, in fact! The question is: Why bother? God commands that when the Jews do finally enter the land, they are to travel three times a year to Jerusalem. Wasn’t the journey to the land long enough?! Why bother?! Travel is hard. Sitting at home is easy. Hiking is hard. Watching Netflix is easy. Adventures change you. Inaction keeps you the same. Wandering is change. On a very basic level, you are moving from one place to another. But it’s so much more than that. I could quote Emerson on “roads less traveled” or Kerouac on basically anything, or any of the myriad formulations regarding […]

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Fear and Donkeys | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Henry Schmidt – Shalom Institute Parshat Balak I thought Balak was a story about a donkey. That is to say, when I sat down to write this blog post, I expected to write about the talking donkey we’ll soon meet. Understandably, a talking donkey tends to get a lot of attention. However, this time I found the ending of the parsha (Torah portion), an ending I had always overlooked, to be what especially spoke to me. Let’s start with an overview. Balak, King of Moab, sees the growing people of Israel and how they have conquered all of Moab’s neighbors, leaving Moab directly next to the potential threat of this dynamite group of nomads who seem to be on a roll. Worried about the Israelite’s winning streak, he summons Balaam, a pagan sorcerer, to come and curse the Israelites. “‘There is a people come out of Egypt; it hides the Earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed […]

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Mayim Chayim and Honoring our Mother | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Alex Voynow – Jewish Farm School  Parshat Chukat In Chukat, our mother dies. “Miriam died there [at Kadesh] and was buried there. The people were without water and they joined against Moses and Aaron.” ~Numbers 20.1-2 Miriam’s death gets one line, and then the narrative is quickly redirected back to the patriarchs. I was amazed at the amount of lines the Torah takes in Chukat to explicate the condemnation of Moses, the laws or ritual purification, and the military proceedings of the Israelites, while one verse is all we hear about the death of Miriam the Prophetess. Miriam provided the water. And just as in the central focus of the movement at Standing Rock, “Water is Life.” Mayim chayim. If you say mayim repeatedly, you also begin to say ima — mother. In the Torah, we lost our mother Miriam, our life source. She is barely mentioned again. So, the central question for me and for us that comes up is: whose story is this? Who wrote this book? There is an obvious reality that women were centrally important to the life and culture of the Israelites, yet they are seldom mentioned, celebrated, or mourned. I see this as the Torah’s infidelity […]

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Korach: Disruptive Visionary or Disgruntled Rabble-Rouser? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Eliezer Weinbach – Hazon, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center Parshat Korach וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, חַיִּים–שְׁאֹלָה And they and all their belongings went down, alive, into Sheol Numbers 16:33 I was traveling once, and my tour guide, a wizened Arab, asked me if I wanted to see the pit that swallowed Korach’s followers. Intrigued, I followed my guide through the desert. After some time, through a haze of heat and mirage, we saw smoke billowing from a fissure in the ground. My guide doused a towel with some of his water, and tied it to the tip of his staff. He cautiously approached the fissure, and held his staff over the smoking vent. To my surprise, the wet cloth began to burn. As he was walking back to me, I could hear voices carried on the warm desert wind. Faint voices, singing, or perhaps chanting. Softly enough that I wasn’t sure if I was hearing anything at all. “What are those voices?” I asked my guide. “Those are the children of Korach,” he replied. “They are slowly lowered into the hellish heat of the Earth and then raised back out, rotated like a roast on a spit. When they finish […]

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Wrestling With Darkness | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jacob Weiss – Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center  Parshat Vayishlach This week’s Torah portion — Vayishlach — is jam packed with complex and significant plot lines that the reader can surely glean valuable lessons from. The parsha opens up with Jacob preparing himself and his family for their eventual encounter with his twin brother Esau, who he has not seen in quite a long while. We then read about Shimon and Levi’s attacking of the city of Shechem, followed by Rachel’s passing away, while giving birth to her youngest son Binyamin. I want to further examine the relationship of Jacob and Esau — and how that presents in this week’s parsha — as well as exploring Jacob’s nighttime meeting with the angel. In the first chapter of Vayishlach, Jacob says to God: “Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, and strike a mother and children.” We see here very clearly just how anxious Jacob is in anticipation of encountering his twin brother. Jacob and Esau are the perfect twin foils for one another. Since the time that Jacob came out of Rebecca’s womb clutching onto Esau’s […]

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“Down To Earth” Judaism | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Chayei Sarah Darya Watnick | Edlavitch DC JCC – Washington, DC  This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, literally “The Life of Sarah.” The title is a bit of a misnomer, as Sarah dies in the second verse. This portion instead focuses on Sarah’s legacy — specifically Abraham and Isaac, those most influenced by her incredible life. It’s a legacy all about family life and connection to tradition – a story that mirrors much of my work here at the DC JCC as a JOFEE Fellow. Here’s what happens in Chayei Sarah, in a nutshell: Sarah dies at age 127 and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron, which Abraham buys from Ephron the Hittite. Abraham then sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. In order to find the right woman, Eliezer devises the “camel test”:when he asks for water at the well, which woman will also offer to give his camels a drink. Rebecca passes the test and returns with Eliezer to Isaac and Abraham. Isaac and Rebecca get married. Then Abraham takes a new wife, Keturah, and has six more sons. Abraham dies at the age of 175 and is buried next to Sarah, […]

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Gender Identity, Oaths, and Inheritance in Matot-Masei | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Darya Watnick – Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center – Washington, DC Parshat Matot-Masei This week in the Torah we see a double portion: Matot-Masei. Combining Matot and Masei, the two chapters at the end of Numbers/Bamidbar, allows for the need to start the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av. Matot and Masei are both rather long portions but in the interest of brevity here’s a condensed summary: We start Parshat Matot (Numbers/Bamidbar 30:3-32:42) with a discussion of vows and oaths and the differences in fulfillment for a man and a woman. Moses and the sons of Israel start a war against Midian. It was a brutal war and many of the Midianites are killed (on Moses’ orders). Reuben and Gad want to stay where they are – rather than cross over to the land of Israel. Of course, Moses was furious that they wanted to tend to their herds instead of going with their brothers. Parshat Masei (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:1-36:13) starts with Reuben and Gad promising to help the other tribes settle in the Promised Land before settling themselves in the land across the Jordan River. Moses apportions the land to the tribes and sets up cities of refuge. […]

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When a Donkey Speaks Truth to Power | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Hannah Slipakoff, Jewish Farm School – Philadelphia, PA Parashat Balak In this week’s Parasha, Balak (Numbers 22:2- 25:9), we read a tale about the ways in which kindness and gratitude contribute to justice and G-dliness, and an allegory relating systemic patterns of oppression to land: King Balak of Moab, a ruler whose name means devastator, empty, or wasting, desperately attempts to curse the Israelites. He despises the Tribe of Jacob so deeply, that he attempts to hire Balaam to damn the Israelites for him: There is a people that came out of Egypt; it hides the earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed. ~Numbers 22:5-22:7 Balaam mounts a literal WISE ass (inciteful female donkey) and sets out on his wicked task. The Divine however, has a different plan. G-d sends an armed angel to disrupt Balaam’s path, and each time the donkey attempts to avoid danger, Balaam fiercely beats her. […]

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Calling the Congregation – D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jacob Weiss – Hazon at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center Parashat Beha’alotcha “Make thee two trumpets of silver; of beaten work shalt thou make them; and they shall be unto thee for the calling of the congregation… And when they shall blow with them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto thee at the door of the tent of meeting.” Bamidbar perek yud, pasuk bet (Numbers 10:2) I recently recalled to a friend— just after our festival of Shavuot — that I had now been in attendance at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center for all three of the Shalosh Regalim, which are the three main pilgrimage festivals. Shavuot, Passover, and Sukkot all took on very different energies at Isabella Freedman. There remained a constant, though: the spirit, joy, and sheer heart that was poured into those festivals by everyone who attended, and by everyone who worked so tirelessly to make those retreat and community gatherings manifest. An incredible sense of community occurs during Jewish holiday retreats at Isabella Freedman, where I am currently a JOFEE Fellow. After spending the seven weeks of the Omer preparing ourselves, the Jewish people traditionally celebrate the festival of Shavuot to commemorate the receiving of […]

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