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Parashat HaShavua

Parashat HaShavua - Noach

How do the choices we make in life determine whether our contributions to the world around us are positive? The first two books of Genesis seem to lay out this choice before us, reinforcing all the while how difficult it is to choose the path of productivity and sustainability over utility and destruction. In the beginning, humanity is told that our relationship with nature is to "fill the land and subdue it / וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ, and to "subjugate / וּרְד֞וּ" all living creatures. (Gen. 1:28) Soon after, though, we are told that our responsibility towards the Garden of Eden is "to tend and protect it / לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ." (Gen. 2:15) Ultimately, when we falter in that responsibility, we are cursed with hard labor and expulsion from Eden. (Gen. 3:16-18)

A similar tension inheres in the story of Cain. When he is born, Eve names him Cain because "I created (ka'niti) a person with the Lord / קָנִ֥יתִי אִ֖ישׁ אֶת־יְהֹוָֽה." (Gen. 4:1) In other words, the child that Adam and Eve conceived is just as much God's creation as it is theirs. Yet what was the defining moment in Cain's life? Murdering his brother; and, again, the punishment is hard labor and exile. (Gen. 4:8)

And now the story of Noach. We are introduced to Noach at the end of last week's reading. His father explains his name as follows: "This one will give us rest (yenachamenu) from our work and from the suffering of our hands from the ground, which the Lord has cursed / זֶ֞ה יְנַֽחֲמֵ֤נוּ מִמַּֽעֲשֵׂ֨נוּ֙ וּמֵֽעִצְּב֣וֹן יָדֵ֔ינוּ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽרֲרָ֖הּ יְהֹוָֽה." (Gen. 5:29) There is a bitter irony in this explanation; while Noach is in fact the harbinger of rest from working the land, that rest arrives in the form of a flood that destroys the world.

After the flood this tension persists. When Noach is again able to plant crops, his first, the vineyard, precipitates a breach with his son Cham and his descendants. (Gen. 9:25) Then when the world's people are united in language and purpose - seemingly the antidote to what ailed the world before the flood - God instead finds fault with their intentions in building a tower. (Gen. 11:4) And, yet again, the consequence is wandering. (Gen. 11:8)

Is there a bright spot in this maddeningly repetitious chain events? I think there is: the yonah, the dove. It is not just that the yonah finds dry land, it is how that land was found. The first time, no luck, the mission of the yonah is thwarted by the persistence of flooding. (Gen. 8:8-9) The second time, a sign of hope: the dove returns with an olive branch. (8:10-11) The third time, finally, the mission of the yonah is complete and it does not return. (8:12) Then, and only then, does Noach know that the flood waters have abated, and he uncovers the Ark to encounter the world again (interesting that he did not do so earlier, when the rain stopped).

Much is inspiring in the mission of the yonah. The previous bird sent by Noach, the raven (orev - עֹרֵב), flies back and forth to no avail and never returns. The yonah, by contrast, returns not once but twice. The first time there is still no dry land, and it returns to Noach's outstretched arm. The second time, when the yonah returns carrying an olive branch, it seems that it could have stayed away; where there is an olive branch presumably there is also a resting place for a bird. The yonah returns nevertheless, "towards evening / לְעֵ֣ת עֶ֔רֶב." (Gen. 8:11) Note the echo here from the word for raven, orev (עֹרֵב), in the word erev (עֶרֶב), the time of day that the yonah chose to return. The yonah could have easily followed the example of the orev and chosen not to. Instead, it brought back concrete evidence of dry land rather than leaving Noach to speculate.

This was not, however, the successful completion of the mission! Only after the third excursion of the yonah did Noach know that the world was dry enough to disembark. Yet that second flight, the yonah with an olive branch, has become an enduring symbol for peace. What we remember is when the yonah could have stayed away, having saved his own life, and instead chose to return to save the others.

This message is brought home in a poem by Yehudah HaLevi (1075-1141, Spain and Israel) that has become a beautiful Shabbat song. When the yonah returns that second time, the Torah tells us that "the dove found no resting place / וְלֹא־מָֽצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ." (Gen. 8:9) (As an aside, it might be fun to play with this last word "מנוח / rest," and read it as "מה נוח / what Noach was.") Yehudah HaLevi takes this line and essentially reverses its meaning: "The yonah found a place to rest / יוֹנָה מָצְאָה בוֹ מָנוֹחַ," he writes, jumping ahead in the story. And then he adds: "and there shall the weary rest / וְשָׁם יָנוּחוּ יְגִיעֵי כֹחַ." The word "weary" in Hebrew is plural, not singular; it was not only for the yonah itself that a resting place was found, it was for all the weary of the world.

This Shabbat, may we follow the example of the yonah and choose to make positive contributions to the world around us, and discover restfulness and peace for ourselves and for the benefit of others as well.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8

Parashat Hashavua - Simchat Torah & Bereshit

כָּךְ הָיָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַבִּיט בַּתּוֹרָה וּבוֹרֵא אֶת הָעוֹלָם

The Holy One blessed be God gazed to the Torah and created the world

Three weeks ago, when we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, we sounded the shofar and sang the words – hayom harat olam – today the world is birthed. Indeed, on Rosh Hashanah, we mark the anniversary of Creation. Connecting this celebration to the sounding of the shofar specifically, and to the season of teshuvah (repentance) more broadly, provides us with a sense of optimism and hope. Hayom harat olam – today the world is birthed - pregnancy and the birth of a child opens up a world of hidden possibilities.

And here we are, three weeks later, preparing to roll our Torah scrolls back to the beginning and read from the book of Bereshit. The juxtaposition of the day where we celebrate the Torah (Simchat Torah) and Shabbat Bereshit are all the more meaningful when we consider the very first midrash in Bereshit Rabbah (collection of midrashim on the book of Genesis). Rabbi Hoshaya teaches that when God created the word, God gazed to the Torah. Just as a king does not build a palace on his own, says Rabbi Hoshaya, but rather by consulting the architectural plan, God looked to the Torah before creating humanity. Torah here is elevated. It has an existence of its own. It not only pre-existed the creation of the world, but provided inspiration and guidance for creation.

In another midrash, Rabbi Simon shares a story of the service angels quarreling in God's presence as God contemplates creating humanity. The angels of Hesed (compassion) and Tzedek (righteousness) argue that God should create human beings as they will perform acts of kindness and righteousness. The angels of Emet (truth) and Shalom (peace) argue that God should not create human beings as they will be liars and quarrelers. God responds to the angels by throwing the angel of Emet (truth) out of heaven and to the earth. The midrash suggests that Emet (truth) then grows from the land as humanity is created. One way of interpreting this midrash is that Emet represents Torah law. When God throws Emet to the ground and out of heaven, the angels understand God to be degrading the angel of Truth. However, perhaps by quoting the verse from Psalms: "Truth will rise from the land," Rabbi Simon is suggesting that Truth/Torah is elevated when it is shaped and tended to by human beings.

As you prepare to dance and celebrate Torah and all the myriad of ways it has shaped the Jewish people, consider the role you play in shaping Torah and in ensuring her ongoing growth.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Dahlia
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life

Word of Torah - Sukkot

As we put up our Sukkot, in order for them to be kosher, we have to check to make sure that there are enough gaps in the skakh (the ceiling covering) that we can look up and see the stars in the sky. To me, most years, this rule is a sweet if poignant symbol of the importance of remaining open to vulnerability instead of attempting to wall ourselves in behind an illusion of perfect protection.

This year, on Sunday, as I read the newspaper and looked at devastating images from Puerto Rico, the skakh took on a new dimension. It became a reminder of the many people who are currently facing the reality of a lack of shelter and protection rather than a metaphoric re-enactment for the sake of celebrating a holiday.

And then I woke up Monday morning. The skakh took on a darker meaning. Now the gaps were an opening large enough to allow bullets to enter into the sukkah. The skakh became a painful metaphor for the ways the people of this country remain unprotected, vulnerable to a gunman raining bullets down on a group of innocent people who had no place to run for shelter.

We have begun the tradition in the Lower School of beginning each day with a song, and yesterday morning we taught the students the refrain שמחת בחגך והיית אך שמח -- you shall be happy and rejoice in the holiday. Soon I know that they will be up in the Sukkah, shaking the lulav and dancing happily during the Sukkot assembly. I envied them. As for the rest of us, I think we will be shaken up in a different way this Sukkot. The question is, what can we do with that feeling besides shake it off?

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek

Words of Torah - Yom Kippur

.לְמִי נוֹשֵׂא עֲוֹן? לְמִי שֶׁעוֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע

Whose sins are forgiven? One who overlooks transgression.

To what degree are we reluctant to forgive out of pride or the fear of being played for a fool; as the saying goes in Hebrew, of being a freier?

The story is told in the Talmud that Rav Huna was once very ill, and Rav Pappa said to those around him to prepare the shrouds for his death. (Rosh HaShanah 17a) Rav Huna thankfully recovers, and Rav Pappa asks, "What did you see?" In other words, did you learn something in your near-death experience, perhaps something that saved you? Replies Rav Huna, "I was indeed almost dead, but God said to the angels coming to take my soul, 'Because he does not stand on his rights, do not be exacting with him.'" As it is said, "Whose sins are forgiven? One who overlooks transgression."

Rav Huna in the moment is actually living out this value, because he does not begrudge Rav Pappa the premature declaration of his demise. Rav Pappa therefore is reassured when he hears Rav Huna relate this lesson.

It is invaluable, as we anticipate Yom Kippur, to take this lesson to heart. As the Talmudic passage continues, we see it played out again, this time by God. In a remarkable allusion to Rav Huna's shroud, we are taught that when God passed before Moshe to provide God's "Thirteen Attributes" (Ex. 34:6), God was wrapped in a Tallit like a shaliach tzibbur, a prayer leader. God is teaching Moshe this formula because, "Whenever Israel sins, they shall recite this prayer and be forgiven." (Rosh HaShanah 17b)

These Thirteen Attributes of God's compassionate side, which first manifest themselves when the Israelites are spared after the Golden Calf, are what we recite innumerable times on Yom Kippur based on this notion that it brings forgiveness. But what is the significance of God teaching it to us wrapped in a tallit reminiscent of Rav Huna's shroud?

Like Rav Huna and Rav Pappa (and others), God was in a position to either forgive or begrudge the Jewish people their sin. Rav Huna's life was spared because he forgave others. Perhaps it can also be said that, though God is eternal and omnipotent, God's life or light in the world would have been diminished if forgiveness had not been granted the Jewish people. In other words, forgiveness doesn't only revive the forgiven, it revitalizes the forgiver, even when that forgiver is God. But as long as that forgiveness is withheld, whether out of pride or fear of being played for a fool, both sides remain diminished.

Finally, I can never resist noting that the Thirteen Attributes are an incredible example of interpretive sleight of hand. In the original Torah text, the thirteenth attribute, "וְנַקֵּה - God cleanses" sin, is followed immediately by the opposite declaration, "לֹא יְנַקֶּה - God does not cleanse" sin. However, we choose - on Yom Kippur especially - to focus on God's forgiveness and ignore the rest.

Each of us has the choice whether to forgive another or not, whether to cleanse the other of some offense against us or let it linger. The choices we make about others redound upon ourselves as well. May we, like the God of Thirteen Attributes and Rav Huna, choose to forgive, tempted though we may be to stand on our rights; and may we all - giver and receiver of that forgiveness - be thereby revitalized this Yom Kippur.

Gmar chatimah tova, may we all be sealed in the book of life.

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8

Word of Torah - Rosh Hashanah

עָלָה אֱלוקים בִּתְרוּעָה ה' בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר:

Elohim (God) has ascended with acclamation (tru'ah),

Adonai (God, My Lord) ascends with the shofar blast (Psalms 47:6).

When we begin the shofar service on Rosh Hashanah, we recite this verse from Psalms. Noticing that this short verse incorporates two names for God, Rabbi Yehuda son of Nachman (in a midrash) connects the two names to the sound of the shofar and to Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Yehuda teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, God ascends and sits on the throne of judgement (din). The name Elohim usually refers to God as judge. And then, when God's people sound the shofar, God stands up and moves from the throne of judgement to the throne of compassion (rachamim). God's name Adonai is understood by the rabbis to be connected to God's attribute of mercy and compassion.

At our High School assembly, I posed the following question for our students: as you prepare for judgement day, do you want to approach a God sitting on a throne of judgement or a throne of compassion? How does (if at all) your answer change as you imagine those who have wronged you or those you love approaching the same God. In the midrash, God gets up from one chair to sit in the other. God transforms the attribute of din (judgement) to rachamim (compassion). Must the chairs, or these Divine attributes, be exclusive?

At our High School assembly, two faculty members – Ruth Fagen (Co-Chair of the HS Limudei Qodesh and Hebrew departments) and Rick Munn (Athletics Director) – shared personal reflections on their experience of the relationship between judgement and compassion. Ruth offered us another understanding of the attribute of din – accountability. Ruth reflected on how important it is to her that others hold her accountable – particularly when she is in a relationship that is immersed in compassion. It is a given to Ruth, that family and friends will always be full of compassion and ready to forgive. If they, and she, seek change, there must be a sense of accountability – an expectation of din.

At the end of the fast on Yom Kippur, we sound the shofar and proclaim: Adonai is the Elohim! Perhaps, through this short verse (quotes from 1 Kings chapter 18), we declare that God's judgment, God's holding us accountable for our actions, is a manifestation of God's compassion and love.

Rick suggested that we understand din as law and order. In order for society to function, we must have rules, and we must expect there to be consequences when rules are not followed. Teachers must grade students according to their performance, explained Rick, however, they still offer many opportunities to improve and to learn. Compassion is not in tension with law, compassion is the behavior that accompanies the consequence.

At the center of the musaf service on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the U'netaneh Tokef prayer. In this prayer, we very much evoke the image of God as judge who will write and seal our destiny. Following a list of possible decrees, we proclaim:

וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רֹעַ הַגְּזֵרָה

Repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.

May we all be inscribed for a year full of accountability and compassion. May we find moments and opportunities to fill our world with love and kindness.

Wishing you a year of health and peace,

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - Nitzavim Vayelekh

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (דברים כ״ט:ט)

You stand today, all of you, before Adonai Your God.

The Kedushat Levi comments on the word לִפְנֵי ( lifnei), which means in front of or facing (from same root as פנים panim, face), that on Rosh Hashana, God's greatest wish is for us to face towards holiness and goodness. At this time of year, Kedushat Levi teaches, God is waiting for us to turn (לפנות, same root) towards goodness in the year to come, which will enable the shefa, the fullness of blessing, to pour forth. The alternative, when we turn our backs (אחור ahor), creates a barrier in the flow of blessing.

I have been thinking a lot in the past few weeks about what I am facing and what I am turning my back on as we move towards Rosh Hashana. In my new role as Director of Hesed and Tzedek I have been doing a lot reading and talking to people about how to approach issues of justice and equity at Heschel. There is one essential question that has emerged and stayed with me throughout all of my explorations. If I believe, as I do, that I personally benefit from societal systems which work in my favor because of of my social class, my economic resources and my skin color, then it is also incumbent on me to see myself as personally responsible for -- to face -- the inequities that emerge from that system. To be honest, this has not been an easy truth for me to absorb. I am still working on it. I like to see myself as one of the good guys. Seeing myself as part of the problem rather than part of the solution doesn't come easily for me. And what makes it even more challenging is that it is not at all clear what there is for me to do to become part of the solution.

Victor Frankl taught that "when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." I am taking that quote as my kavannah, my intention for 5778, to find the courage to face difficult truths, to listen with resilience to unfamiliar and challenging perspectives, and most of all to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing what to do next. I am also mindful of Rabbi Heschel's famous words in the shadow of the Vietnam war: "In a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible." What would it mean for me to really those words to heart, to work from a perspective of seeing myself as personally responsible for the many inequities and injustices in our county and our world today? I have to admit, it feels a bit overwhelming to me at the moment. Which is why I will need to keep in mind my very favorite words in the entire Torah, from this week's parasha:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. וְלֹא-מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲבָר-לָנוּ אֶל-עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.

For this commandment is not too hard for you. It is not in heaven, that you would say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us hear it, so we may do it?' It is not beyond the sea, that you would say 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?' No, the word is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Tzedek

Parashat HaShavua - Ki Tavo

The amen of calm waters,
The amen of calm waters,
The amen of calm waters.

I recently came across these closing lines from Derek Walcott's "A Sea-Chantey" in a tribute to him by Ishion Hutchinson, who reflects that he has recited this passage "to bring calm to some of my most troubled times."

Where are our calm waters? Do they still exist? Of late, it seems that the sun, wind and water have joined forces to remind us of the fine line that sometimes separates order from disorder, safety from danger.

On the seven Shabbatot between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashanah, the Haftorah portions are called shiva de'nechemta, "the seven of comfort." It is difficult to imagine readings more appropriate than these from Isaiah to prompt reflections upon the natural phenomena we have recently experienced.

"Darkness shall cover the earth - הַחֹ֙שֶׁךְ֙ יְכַסֶּה־אֶ֔רֶץ," says Isaiah (Is. 60:2), and we can recall not so long ago that we experienced exactly that with a solar eclipse. The Book of Genesis makes it abundantly clear, and our knowledge bears out, that daylight is meant for daytime while darkness is for night. Negating this order raises the specter of returning to "undefined disorder - תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ" (Gen. 1:2). Add to this the feeling that the dark is threatening. In fact, during the eclipse, the sun actually somehow became more dangerous because of the temptation to look. This hidden sun, as intimated in next week's reading, was not meant for us but for "the Lord our God - הַנִּ֨סְתָּרֹ֔ת לַֽי-הֹוָ֖ה אֱ-לֹהֵ֑ינוּ" (Deut. 29:28).

Thankfully, Isaiah reassures us that there is an antidote to that darkness: "you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall be startled and broadened - אָ֚ז תִּרְאִי֙ וְנָהַ֔רְתְּ וּפָחַ֥ד וְרָחַ֖ב לְבָבֵ֑ךְ." (Is. 60:5) Even amidst darkness we are told that light is present within each of us, light from God, light that can guide us and also be shared and inspire others. And, somehow, fear can help open us up rather than shut us down. We must not be defined or defeated by a darkness that envelops us, because "even the smallest amount can prevail - הַקָּטֹן֙ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָאֶ֔לֶף." (Is. 60:22)

And now the water. Isaiah reports that God's kindness towards us is as reliable as when God "swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth - אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִשְׁבַּ֗עְתִּי מֵֽעֲבֹ֥ר מֵי־נֹ֛חַ ע֖וֹד עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ." (Is. 54:9) He continues: "Though the mountains may depart and the hills totter, My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of My peace waver - כִּ֚י הֶֽהָרִים֙ יָמ֔וּשׁוּ וְהַגְּבָע֖וֹת תְּמוּטֶ֑ינָה וְחַסְדִּ֞י מֵאִתֵּ֣ךְ לֹֽא־יָמ֗וּשׁ וּבְרִ֚ית שְׁלוֹמִי֙ לֹ֣א תָמ֔וּט" (Is. 54:10).

In our current condition, the references to Noah and mountains and hills that move are chilling rather than reassuring. Where, amidst so much natural upheaval, is God's kindness? According to Isaiah, no matter how it might appear, God's kindness is always present: "with everlasting kindness I have compassion for you - וּבְחֶ֥סֶד עוֹלָ֖ם רִֽחַמְתִּ֑יךְ" (Is. 54:8), Isaiah quotes God as saying. This common understanding is based on translating the word עוֹלָ֖ם as "everlasting."

There is another, more compelling way to understand this phrase, according to Rabbi Chaim Marder. The word עוֹלָ֖ם can mean "humanity," the world's inhabitants, rather than "everlasting." Thus it would read: "through humanity's kindness I show compassion for you." God's compassion, in other words, is manifest in the kindnesses we show one another. May this be our blessing now and always: that even in the most difficult times, when we feel especially vulnerable to God and the forces of nature, may human kindness overwhelm the challenges we face.

The amen of calm waters,
The amen of calm waters,
The amen of calm waters.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8

Parashat HaShavua - Shlakh

שְׁלַח-לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי נֹתֵן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:(במדבר י״ג:ב)

Send men to investigate the land of Canaan which I am giving to b'nai yisrael. (Numbers 13:2)

At Heschel, our children begin learning Humash with the words לֶךְ-לְךָ. This week, we come to the end of the school year with the words שְׁלַח-לְךָ . In both cases there is an extra word used, the word לְךָ. God could have just told Avraham to leave his land, and told Moshe to send spies into the land of Canaan, without need for the word לך. What is the purpose of this added word? Rashi says that in the case of Avraham, the לך, which means literally "for you," indicates that Avraham must undertake the journey "for your own good and for your own enjoyment." In this week's parasha, Rashi explains that לך is intended to clarify to Moshe that he should send spies "of his own free will, not just because he is being commanded to do so."

WIshing our students a summer full of time for activities they have freely chosen that will be enjoyable and maybe even good for them too. See you in the fall!

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director &Director of Hesed and Tzedek

Parashat HaShavua - Be'ha'alotcha

The Menorah as a Symbol of Spirit

The Haftarah (selection from the prophets) for this Shabbat is taken from the book of Zachariah. This Haftarah is read both on this Shabbat when we read the Torah reading of Be'ha'alotcha as well as the Shabbat that falls during Hanukkah. Parshat Be'ha'alotcha begins with instructions for Aaron about how to light the Menorah as well as a reminder about how to build it. In the Haftarah, Zachariah describes a discussion with God in which God asks Zachariah "what is it that you see" and the prophet responds: "I see the golden Menorah with a bowl on top of it and its seven lamps... and two olive branches by her side..."

Gavriel and Maksim Shamir, who in the winter of 1949 designed the national symbol for the newly established state of Israel - quoted this verse as part of their explanation of the symbol. The national symbol features the Menorah with two olive branches by her side.

As a child growing up in Israel, while I always knew the Menorah was at the center of our national symbol, the Hanukkiah seemed to play a far more central role in our national story. The Hanukkiah told the story of the Maccabees, who similarly to the early pioneers, actualized a miracle. Both were miraculous victories of the few against the many. Why then did the Shamir brothers not choose the Hanukkiah to be the focus of their design?

In their explanation as to their choice to use the Menorah as opposed to the Star of David, the Shamir brothers explained that they chose the Menorah because it is a more ancient artifact with a richer history that is unique to the Jewish people. Furthermore, the Shamir brothers specifically chose to design their Menorah according to the image portrayed in Titus' Arch. This symbolized a return to Jewish sovereignty. That which had been taken from us was now being returned.

Later in the chapter (not included in the Hafarah selection), the angel explains to Zachariah that each olive branch represents one branch of leadership – the priest and the king. However, before this explanation, as the conclusion of the Haftarah, the angel shares a message from God: "not by might and not by power, but by My spirit." By evoking the image from the verse in Zachariah, perhaps the Shamir brothers sought to assert the role of king, priest and Spirit in the newly independent state of Israel. The image of King represents the political and independent sovereignty; the image of the priest evokes their focus on the historic role of the Menorah as providing illumination in the Temple; and the Spirit is that which inspires us.

The Haftarah for this Shabbat reminds us that the symbol of the state of Israel is not only about military victory, as it might have been were it to have featured the Hanukkiah, rather it is an eternal reminder of the spirit of the Jewish people that guides us as we continually shape and build our homeland.

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
High School Director of Jewish and Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - Naso

With leadership comes responsibility. It requires faithfulness and commitment without any promise of privilege or special opportunity. A key to understanding this is found in the title of this week's reading, "Naso - נָשׂא." (Nu. 4:2) While this word can be translated to mean "count," more profoundly it connotes the lifting or elevating of our leaders into and as a result of their roles. As mentioned above, though, this is not a status of privilege. It is, instead, one of responsibility. When the children of Kehat and other Levites are "lifted" into their leadership roles, they are given a detailed list of tasks regarding the Ohel Mo'ed, the Tent of Meeting. (Nu. 4:4-33) And later when we are told that each tribe has a "nasi - נָשִׂיא," a leader or "lifted one," every individual is tasked first and foremost with making an offering to God. (Nu. 7) They are the people's designated givers, not receivers.

One verse more than any other emphasizes this point. It prescribes that all designated Levites are "to do the work of the service and the burdensome work in the Tent of Meeting - לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה וַעֲבֹדַת מַשָּׂא בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד" (Nu. 4:47). The root עבד - to serve or work - appears four times, with the word "masa - burden", added for good measure. This is what our leaders are committed to. It does not sound very appealing, right? However, as Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher (Spain, 1255-1340) explains, avodah - serving God and the people - is undertaken with joy. In Psalms we read, "Serve the Lord with joy, come before Him with praise - עִבְדוּ אֶת יְהֹוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה" (Ps. 100:2). And there was singing as well, as is described in the Book of Chronicles: The singers, the sons of Asaph were in their place...; there was no need for them to depart from their service, for their brethren the Levites prepared for them - וְהַמְשֹׁרְרִים בְּנֵי אָסָף עַל מַעֲמָדָם...אֵין לָהֶם לָסוּר מֵעַל עֲבֹדָתָם כִּי אֲחֵיהֶם הַלְוִיִּם הֵכִינוּ לָהֶם" (II Chron. 35:15).

Lest we think that these are the expectations of humanity alone, God gets in the act as well. We read in the priestly benediction that "the Lord will raise His countenance - יִשָּׂא יְהוָֹה פָּנָיו" towards each of us and grant us peace. (Nu. 6:26) The root "nasa - נשא" is conjugated here to apply to what God will do towards or for us. Yet the staging seems a little off; how is it that God is in a position to be raising God's proverbial face towards us? Wouldn't God more likely be looking down on us? Emphatically, strikingly, this text teaches us no. And how much moreso would this therefore apply to people who might think they are above others?

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter (Poland, 1847-1905), in his commentary Sefat Emet, provides an insight into this blessing that can further deepen our understanding of leadership. The notion of God raising God's face, he says, is that God responds to each of us "be'sever panim yafot - with a pleasant countenance" (Naso Ch. 28). And with this openness, God draws out the happiness that is deep within us all; this, he says, is where the shalom referred to in the blessing's closing phrase originates.

May we find in our own leadership roles, and in the leadership of others, the desire for joyful service - for responsibility without entitlement, for giving more than receiving - and may we as a result merit more peace in the world.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8