Tetzaveh 5774

Tetzaveh

Elyssa Steinberg- Tzafon USY

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, goes into detail about what the kohanim should wear, and about the sacrificial offering they perform. The first few verses give some detail to lighting the Ner Tamid, the eternal light. Then it goes into extensive detail about what the priests should be wearing, from material to coloring, and every detail in between. About halfway through the parsha, it switches gears to the procedure for the sacrificial offering, including what needs to be done beforehand and how it is carried out.

But let’s look at something that isn’t even in this parsha: Moshe. This is the only parsha in the last four books of the Torah that does not contain Moshe’s name. The reason for this is that when the people of Israel disobeyed G-d with the Golden Calf, Moshe said to G-d, “If You do not forgive them, erase me from the book that You have written.” From this, Moshe saved the Jewish people, but it cost him his name in the parsha as a punishment. Another explanation is that this parsha tends to fall around the 7th of Adar, which is Moshe’s yarzheit. Because of this, his absence from this parsha is symbolic of his absence from the world. Another reason given is that Moshe is stepping out of the spotlight so his brother, Aaron, can be given credit where needed and be appreciated for what he has done.

In the beginning of the parsha, there are only two verses spent talking about lighting the menorah. Two verses out of one hundred and one, less than two percent of the parsha. This isn’t the only time the Ner Tamid is mentioned, but this little part has a huge significance in Judaism. God commands “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually…it shall be a statute for ever throughout their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel” The olive oil has been a part of Jewish ritual since the days of the Torah, and often symbolizes peace in the Jewish world. But let’s focus on the light and the Ner Tamid. For thousands of years, the Ner Tamid has been burning above the ark in synagogues throughout the world. This emphasis on it has become a symbol of the connection between us, God and Israel, continuous and ever-lasting. We welcome in Shabbat every week by lighting candles. We also light candles to welcome in the Shalosh Regalim, the three major holidays in Judaism; Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot. We light candles all eight nights of Hanukkah. We light them on a loved one’s yahrzeit, and on Yom Hashoah. Keeping this light burning is something that connects us to our religion continually. But that isn’t the only flame that should be kept burning. Some scholars suggest that the Ner Tamid is a symbol to remind us that when we study Torah and follow its mitzvot, we are making the world a brighter place. It reminds us that we should expand our knowledge continually, and keep the flame within all of us alive.

So keep that flame alive, and Shabbat Shalom.

Vayishlach 5774 (Drawing)

Vayishlach as interpreted/drawn by Carly Rosener, Hanegev USY

Vayishlach as interpreted/drawn by Carly Rosener, Hanegev USY

USY Operation 54,000: Standing Up to Change the World

Operation 54,000 is a revamped volunteering initiative stemming from the incredible success of USY’s Operation 18,000! Our goal is to have all USY members collectively reach a total of 54,000 volunteer service hours for the 2014 year. We will accomplish this massive goal by utilizing our chapters, regions, and synagogues to develop engaging social activism programming that encourages going out into our communities and making a difference.

Nitzavim 5774

Nitzavim-Vayelech

By Andrew Goldwasser

Shabbat Shalom Hagalil!

Change. No, not the metal coins that clink in our pockets as we walk by during the week, rather, the variations and deviations which occur in our daily lives. Every morning I wake up, shower, use the facilities, brush my teeth, get dressed, eat a bowl of apple cinnamon cheerios, and start the new day. Here in Starlight, Pennsylvania we have new routine, Berry Cap’n Crunch, and many people. Personally, I am not too keen on change and I’m sure you can relate, but it’s not always as bad as we think. In fact, change can be a good thing. Hagalil, fasten your seatbelts because we are going on a long journey to the eastern hemisphere.

This past summer, I, along with 44 other USYers, flew across the Atlantic on Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage Group 6!! It was legen- I hope you’re not fleishig because the next word is- DARY! We toured through a well-known country by the name of Poland. Now Poland is not the most happy and cheery of places in the world after an event which occurred 70 years ago. After a few days of touring, “cold” and “depressing” were two words that formed in everyone’s mind. Looking to the bright side, I had 44 loving pairs of open arms, waiting for me if I needed. USYers are the most caring people you will ever meet. We don’t care about how someone acts, looks, or feels; we will always be there for those people who need us.

Together, we learned about the horrors of the Holocaust by walking through the ghettos and camps, once filled with people. The dual concentration and death camp Majdanek left a huge impression on me. Not only was this day draining emotionally, but also physically because it was extremely hot outside. Upon arrival, one of the first rooms we went into was the gas chamber. As I peered inside what once meant death and destruction, I was not coupled with the emotions I thought I would feel. When we walked out of the barrack, I strapped on an Israeli flag to my back to show my pride and to help me get through my experience.

While I fiddled with the straps on my flag, we entered another barrack. When I looked up, I was surrounded by rows and rows of old shoes. I felt chills race down my spine and I started to tear up. After looking at these shoes for quite some time, we moved on to the rest of our tour.

This was not only a saddening experience, rather, a powerful one. As Jews living in the 21st century, we are the ones to carry on the legacy and remembrance of what happened. No teacher, no textbook, and certainly no Wikipedia page can transmit the feelings and knowledge that visiting these places can. Growing up through Solomon Schechter for 10 years, I had learned much about the Holocaust. I never truly understood how the actions and events I read about in Anne Frank’s Diary and in the countless other Holocaust novels were actually carried out. The processes and sights are now forever engraved in my mind.

As depressing as it sounds to tour such dreadful areas, you also gain a sense of pride afterwards. I am proud to pass down the stories and memories to the future generations, and should you take a similar journey like I have, you will be able to understand my point of view. After a week of seeing, reliving, and understanding, Group 6 and I traveled to the land of Israel.

When we touched down in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion International Airport, I instantly knew that we would have a different outlook on the trip. It was a huge CHANGE in mindset, a revelation if you will! Here, we would ride on camels, there we rode on a bus for 7 hours at a time. Here, we would walk down the streets of Jerusalem, there we walked through museums. Here, we would be happy and joyous, there we were not so happy and joyous. I didn’t like this change, I loved it! And just like one plane ride can change one’s outlook on life, so too can parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech.

This week’s portion discusses a variety of topics about Moses and people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. Hashem recaps the 40 years spent by the Israelites in the desert with new warnings for the future. He also discusses how Moses’ time as leader has come to an end and a change in management is set in order. The gavel is handed down to Joshua during this huge transformation. During all of this action in the parsha, Hashem describes how the laws and commandments should be kept. As I read through the holy Hebrew scripture, one phrase struck me more than the others. לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ which means “for us and for our children.” The entire verse talks about concealed and open acts that a person performs. Some acts are good, while others bad, but that is not what is interesting about the verse.

Above each letter in the phrase I just mentioned is a black diamond which in the world of Torah trope is labeled Revia. I opened my trusty pocket sized edition of the world-renowned Etz Hayim to look for further insight. The reason for the extra markings over this phrase can be attributed to the importance of practicing and explaining Hashem’s teachings and mitzvot to our children. The text reads that role models are necessary in order for us to learn. So it says right there in the Torah to pass down information to our children and future generations. Not only will we pass down the laws and mitzvot, but also the stories of those who perished in the Holocaust. We will actually be reading this exact phrase in today’s portion, so keep your ears wide open!

As I said before, I am not apt for change, but the world around us is constantly changing. We join here together in the celebration of Shabbat, a time of peace and rest, a time unlike any other during the week. Very soon, Shabbat will end here in Starlight and we must shift gears to a mood which is foreign to us at this moment. In fact, I think it’s time for a change in mood. So, whether flying in an airplane to a distant country, eating something new for breakfast, or even accepting a new Facebook layout, you can’t get rid of change. So, the next time a new idea or different perspective stands in your path, I want you to face it head on and say “Challenge accepted” because eventually, it will become the standard. Shabbat Shalom.

Vayeshev 5774

Vayeshev

By Andrew Goldwasser

Shabbat Shalom Hagalil

I want each and every one of you to look at the people sitting to your left and right. Are they your friends? If I asked you to think of your favorite memory with them, would one jump into your head immediately? Do you know their parents and if so, do you like their parents better? Hagalil, we are constantly surrounded by our friends and Shabbat services certainly is no exception. We sit next to our best friends because, well, they are our friends! We don’t care how they act or look, we just feel comfortable being with them. Now, I want you all to look at the people sitting in the row in front and in back of you. Do you know their names? How about their grade and chapter? Would you feel comfortable taking a bite out of their perfectly crafted deli sandwich at lunch? Just because you may not know them, does not mean you cannot be friends. With time, you may grow to the relationship level that you have with your best friends. All you need is an open mind.

One needs to have an open mind to see the positive aspects in people and make new friends. If you don’t open your mind to the possibilities, you will not make new relationships and you may be able to relate to the stories from this week’s torah portion.

This upcoming week, we read from the portion Vayeshev where Joseph has his famous dreams about his brothers. In the opening lines of this parsha, we learn that Joseph’s father Jacob, or Israel at this point, loves him best of all his sons.

וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו–וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ

And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than any of his other brothers, they hated him. It was this one action which leads to Joseph being thrown into a pit and sold to the Egyptians, only to become a leader for them all. Did Jacob show favoritism, yes, but that does not mean that the actions of the brothers were justified. The other brothers were so quick to judge Joseph and instantly closed their minds to the outcomes of their decisions. Ultimately, the brothers realized that what they had done was wrong and reconciled with Joseph. We are able to learn two messages from this passage.

As teens , we tend to act rashly and make decisions quickly and all too often, regret them. Suppose you and a friend get into a small, trivial fight which enlarges and becomes a serious dispute where you both separate completely. As time passes, the emotional bruises may still hurt and may never be healed completely, but if Joseph could forgive his brothers for throwing him in a pit and selling him away to strangers, then you should be able to reconcile with your good friends. Any argument with the people sitting next to you or anywhere in this room can be absolved because they care about you and you care about them, but what about the people in front and in back of you?

As you look at these people sitting with their friends, you may feel like Joseph’s brothers. They already have good friends and therefore, they won’t accept me. YES THEY WILL. Here in Hagalil USY, we have something like that of no other community. We share the friendly attitude and ruach which cannot be found anywhere else. I know that if I step into a conversation with a group of strangers, I won’t feel left out. This community, this Kehila, is far more open minded and accepting than my school or any of our schools. Here, you’re not judged on the way you look, your religion, nor for the bond that you may share with your father. Meeting new people is not as tough as it sounds. It’s fall Kinnus and the year is just beginning! I encourage each of you to introduce yourself to someone new this weekend, and start a new friendship. If you don’t, you’ll never know where the places you’ll go!

Shabbat Shalom

Ki Tissa 5774

Ki Tissa

By Andrew Goldwasser

Shabbat Shalom Hagalil,

Let’s not dilly dally with an introductory paragraph for this dvar torah. We live in a world where information is wanted ASAP within the form of a text message, tweet, or even an instagramed photo. So, why not delve straight into this week’s portion head-on?

In the upcoming week, we read from parshat Ki Tisa, or “when you take” as defined by the Etz Chayim, which begins with the counting of the Israelites in a census. This jam-packed portion continues to delve into the creations of a copper washing station and anointing oil for the Ohel Moed, or tent of meeting. It also discusses keeping the Sabbath, a very important mitzvah, but a far larger event happens within the confines of this text. The famous golden calf is created in the midst of this parsha while Moshe is atop Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. While our protagonist Moshe is speaking with hashem for 40 days and 40 nights, the people of Israel are losing their patience and seek out Aaron, Moshe’s brother for guidance. He collects and melts down gold from the people and molds a calf to which the people sacrificed and danced.

Hashem told Moshe what the people of Israel had done, the people he had brought out of slavery in Egypt. So, Moshe took the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments and rushed down to see what had happened in his absence, only to find chaos among the people. The people of Israel had not waited for Moshe because they were impatient. Like in the parsha, patience is not always found in modern times.

In a society where technology is rapidly evolving, we tend to become absorbed in our small handheld devices, rather than the people around us. With the advent of the internet, knowledge is at the tips of our finger. Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, and all other popular social media sites allow each of us to explore everything about anyone, anything, and any place at any time of our choosing. Fifty years, no… fifteen years ago, this kind of technology was still being fantasized! As we plow through day to day life, immediacy is always wanted: like when we have a terrible Wi-Fi connection and we switch to mobile 4G to scroll through twitter faster or when dinner doesn’t thaw in time so, we stick it into the microwave. We live in the age of computers, cars, and credit cards, an age where we can have anything that we could ever want instantly, but we need to slow down every once in a while. As William Langland once wrote, “Patience is a virtue,” and modern society may have lost touch with this specific attribute, but we as Jews have a very unique way to reconnect with the slow-moving world: Shabbat.

There is no coincidence that the law to keep the Sabbath and the golden calf issue are both read in the same parsha. After the rush and hub-bub of the week, we are finally able to settle down and rest during shabbat, a time to power-down and view our world from a new perspective. There is no rush, there is no hurry, and there is nothing that we need to do on this one day to regain our patience. Shabbat allows us to reconnect with to the world without our devices. On a normal weeknight, dinner out with friends can mean sitting at a table together, but everyone is staring at their phone. On Shabbat, we laugh, listen, and marvel over the stories of the week told by our friends in person while devouring that delicious Friday night meal. On this special day, which happens to be today, we don’t have to worry about what activity comes next, all we need right now is to go with the flow of the day.

All too often, I hear that davening and going to services are the most boring parts of convention, but what would convention be without them? As one of the most integral parts of the day, I can’t imagine any USY convention without davening, whether it be here in a sanctuary, on a bus, or at some random rest stop in Virginia! With a little patience, time will fly by before you know it.

Looking at the quote, “patience is a virtue” to heart, we realize that we should live in the moment and not stress over the worries of tomorrow. Yes, havdalah is coming, a magical moment at convention, and yes, the dance tonight will be totally groovy, but have patience. I urge you to live right here right now! Today is tomorrow’s yesterday and it will never come again, so how will you make the most of it?