D'var Torah by: Willemina Davidson As given at Avi Schaefer Interfaith Shabbat
February 17, 2017
Shabbat Shalom and Assalam Alaikum. I’m Mina, and I’m a Bachelor of Integrative Studies student with concentrations in Anthropology, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies.
This week’s Torah portion is Yitro. A few important things happen, such as the receiving of the Ten Commandments and the creation of Jewish law as we know it through the delegation of duties by Moses. It’s actually Yitro or
Jethro in English, a Midianite priest and Moses’s father in law, that tells Moses how to create the format of this legal system. There is a very short interaction at the beginning of the portion where Moses and Yitro catch up on one another’s life, and while we hear about Moses’s experiences, and really have most of the Torah to hear about them, we never hear about Yitro’s. There are midrashim, stories from outside the Torah, about Yitro, but I got wondering: If the Torah doesn’t say anything about his time as a Midianite priest, does the Quran?
It turns out it does, although it calls Yitro “Shu’ayb” and considers him a prophet. Before catching up with Moses and allowing him to marry his daughter, Shu’ayb was a prophet sent to the people of Midian to convince them to stop worshiping idols of trees and stones. They don’t listen to him and are eventually destroyed by G,d. The thing that caught my attention wasn’t the story itself, but the point it’s making in the Quran. Throughout the story and afterwards in the Quran, it discusses not letting your current position in life and society make you forget where you came from and how you got there. The Midianites became a wealthy people through Allah, but they turned their backs on him and became greedy and cheating and were destroyed as a result.
In next week’s portion, we are commanded to remember the stranger, which includes feeding them and treating them like you would your own people, because we were also strangers in a strange land. The Jewish people have been in a state of refuge, being expelled from one location after another, for over 2000 years. The majority, if not all, of the people in this room are in some way descended from immigrants or refugees. I myself am a first generation American. The main point of difference between immigrants and refugees, however, is that immigrants want to leave their home, while refugees are forced to due to violence and persecution.
The majority of Jews currently have a level of privilege that allows us to disassociate with the stranger, because we are now considered white in American society and no one is currently trying to kill us for being Jews, at least in the majority of the United States. If the story of Shu’ayb tells us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t become corrupt and forget the commandments we were given, despite how much we’ve gained. It’s our duty to welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms. Our duty as Jews and Humans. After all, Yitro was an outsider who came in to improve the Israelite legal system. Jews were refugees when they left Europe during the rise of Nazism. They were denied access to the United States and several other countries and sent back to Europe to be persecuted and murdered. We have the power to help modern refugees avoid a similar fate by opening our homes and lives to them.
This means helping Congolese, Somalian, Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, and Palestinian refugees, among others. Because it’s not only the right thing to do, but our obligation. One way of helping the refugees is by volunteering with various organizations that help with getting refugees settled. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an example of a Jewish organization founded in 1881 whose mission is to rescue people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Or you can call your representatives whenever the ability of refugees and immigrants to enter the country is threatened, which has happened recently. One small thing that you can do on your phone or laptop, and takes only a few seconds and you don’t even have to talk to another person, is sign the petition to make our campus a sanctuary campus.
During dinner, share with one another the story of how your family came to be here, because we must remember where we were, how we got here, and continue following this commandment.
We were refugees coming out of Egypt. We were refugees coming out of Nazi Europe. And we don’t know if we’ll be the refugees again anytime soon.
D'var Torah by: Becca Dennis
As given at Pajama Shabbat
February 3, 2017
Shabbat Shalom, everyone.
My name is Becca Dennis and I am the VP of Shabbat Events on the Hillel Student Board. Today’s Torah portion is called Bo, and it basically talks about the final plagues upon the Egyptians. When Pharaoh refused Moses’s demand to free the Israelites from slavery, Moses warned him of the plagues that would come. This parsha (or Torah portion in English) emphasizes the final plague that struck the Egyptians at midnight – death of the first-born son. A mere 12 hours later, Moses led the Hebrews into the desert, journeying to the “land of milk and honey”, their home, Israel.
Now, the Israelites were excited to finally be free, but they were petrified of the unknown. Who was this Moses who was leading them out of Egypt? Could they put their trust in G-d? Where was this land of milk and honey? How long would it take to get there? Was Israel truly their home? What obstacles would they face on the trek to the holy land?
One scenario that came to mind comes from a film most of us have seen, The Wizard of Oz. After a twister blew her into the foreign, strange, and colorful land of Oz, the protagonist, Dorothy, was terrified and wanted to find her way home. She is greeted by the Munchkins and Glinda the Good Witch. However, at first, Dorothy is hesitant. Who was this Glinda? Was she really trustworthy? And who were this strange, small people surrounding her? All she was told was that they yellow brick road to Oz in order to ask the Wizard how she can get home. As the film progresses, Dorothy becomes more and more curious about this foreign land. Ultimately, her goal was to find home.
Like Dorothy following the yellow brick road, the Israelites were just told to follow Moses through the desert. They knew this was the path to home, the land of Israel, but they did not know what obstacles they would face, or if they could even fully put their trust in Moses and G-d. Dorothy was told by Glinda to follow the yellow brick road, as she was told it would lead her to Oz, where she could ask the Wizard to help her get home.
We were all like Dorothy at some point in our lives. For example, in fall of 2015, I first came to Kent State University. I remember how hesitant I was about my academics, finding my classes, meeting new people, and ultimately finding my “home” on campus. Eventually, I found my home at Hillel, landing a position on the student board and being around so many great people.
I did not always feel like I had a home at Kent– there were certainly many times over the past three semesters when I’ve felt lost, lonely, scared, heartbroken, depressed, and hopeless here. There were times where I said, “can I really trust what my advisors/mentors/parents are telling me? Should I continue to blindly following their command? They say this path is good for me, but is it really?”. Once I became more involved at Hillel, I did not feel this way quite as often. But the journey to get to this point was not easy – and the journey certainly is not over.
The Israelites were just beginning the trek to the land of Israel, nervous, apprehensive, and excited. For their journey is just beginning to find their way home. Some of you are at different stages in this journey. Whether it’s just joining multiple clubs and seeing which one is right for you, trying to pick a major, getting deeper into your major, or rushing a fraternity or sorority, we are all trying to find our “home”. And eventually, you will. Shabbat shalom, everyone.
D'var Torah by: Mara Cash
As given at Welcome Back Shabbat
January 20th, 2017
Welcome back, everyone. My name is Mara Cash, I’m a sophomore Psychology major with a double minor in Jewish Studies and Human Sexuality. I’m also the VP of Engagement and Outreach here at Hillel and the President of KSU’s Feminist Club on campus.
This week’s parsha, named Shemot, is an action-packed one. It encompasses the beginning of Exodus, telling the story of Moses’s childhood, his flight from Egypt, the encounter with the burning bush, and G-d’s demands to Pharoah, which were delivered through the mouth of Aaron.
Much like this Torah portion, we are living in very action-packed times. This weekend is the inauguration and celebration for our new president, as well as a weekend full of protests, marches, and tears.
I will be joining in the latter, after a hard semester of passing out pins and stickers, doing interviews, and talking to individuals- encouraging people to vote for feminist values.
And I find myself feeling a little bit like Moses, with a desire to flee my own home.
The late and wonderful Elie Weisel has an interpretation of this part of the Exodus story that I strongly relate to in our country’s political situation.
After Moses killed an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew, Pharoah found out about what he had done. Weisel reasoned that there were only three people present to this crime- Moses, the Egyptian, and the Hebrew. The Egyptian obviously couldn’t tell anyone, being dead, and Moses obviously didn’t tell anyone, being the perpetrator. That left the Hebrew to be the one who snitched on Moses and informed Pharaoh about what he had done. Weisel argued that the reason Moses fled Egypt was not because of fear of Pharoah’s wrath, but because of his complete disappointment in his fellow Hebrews- that Moses had understood this conclusion and ran away from home, horrified by the betrayal.
This election cycle has left me feeling very betrayed by my country. There have been many times when I have felt like running away, but this week’s parsha also teaches us that ignoring our problems will not make them disappear.
G-d eventually comes to Moses and forces him to return to Egypt and help his people- to demand that Pharaoh let his people go. Because even with this betrayal, the Hebrew people are still Moses’s people. And even with the division that this election has unveiled, this country is still our country, and this Jewish community is still our community.
When I look around this room, I don’t see political parties or candidate loyalties. I see friends. Loving faces. People that have every capability of caring for their neighbor and simply being kind to one another.
And I don’t want us to be the Moses that asks “Mee anohchi kee elech el paroh v-chie ohtsee et b-nee yisrael meemitsraem” "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
I want us to be the Moses that says “Shelach et ahmee” “Let my people go”
So with all the chaos and emotion that is this inauguration weekend- remember where your true loyalty lies: to love, to family, to friends, to one another.