Archive for : Dvar Tzedek

Shabbat Service: Who are We Responsible For?

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Va’etchanan seems to ask the question, who are we responsible to? Are we supposed to look out for just ourselves and our own interests? People in our family or community? Just other Jews, or the whole world? Where, in other words, are the boundaries of our obligation?

Dvar Tzedek author, Wendi Geffen believes that the parsha – at first – seems to argue for a narrow field of obligation, saying: “Be careful, then, to do as Adonai your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or the left: follow only the path that Adonai your God has enjoined upon you.”

But on closer inspection, she said, the scope is actually wider than it first appears. A little later the parsha reads: “You should surely keep the mitzvah of Adonai your God; God’s testimonies and statutes that God commanded you. You should do what is hatov v’hayashar (good and right) in the eyes of God.”

The “takeaway”: Geffen writes that most Jewish commentators see that commandment to do what is “good and right” as going beyond the specific commandments, to be just in all of one’s actions and interactions with others. She goes onto explain that the notion of hatov v’hayashar offers a “compelling argument that Jewish sources indeed endorse and mandate our global justice pursuits.”

The “to-do”: Doing service and helping others – both in your community and beyond it – is a “good and right” thing to do, no matter what your personal justification for doing so is. But to have backing and support from the Jewish texts makes the work all the more meaningful and powerful. While there’s no specific “to-do” action step for this week, the parsha serves as a reminder of the importance of examining why we do what we do, and the importance of helping others, no matter who they are.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Shabbat Service: Supporting Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Shlach tells the story of God instructing Moses to send men to the land of Canaan – the Israelite’s future home – to scope out the situation. Unfortunately they come back with a mostly negative report – of fierce people, fortified cities, and an inhospitable land. Not surprisingly, the report discourages the Israelites from entering Canaan and God punishes them with 40 years of desert wandering.

According to 16th century commentator, Kli Yakar, the tragedy might have been averted if Moses sent women spies instead of men. Why? As Dvar Tzedek author Sigal Samuel writes, “The Kli Yakar’s reasoning is simple: whereas the male Israelites show a lack of investment in the land, the female Israelites show great love for it. Had Moses sent female spies, the Kli Yakar suggests, they would have seen the same terrifying sights as their male counterparts; but, driven by their love for the land, they would have focused on long-term solutions instead of becoming discouraged in the face of difficulty.”

The takeaway: Samuel writes, the parsha reminds us that “like the Israelite women, the women of today’s world [ed. note: and particularly in developing countries] show a great aptitude for creating and implementing the future-oriented plans their nations need—when they are given equal opportunity to do so.” They tend to invest in education and long-term strategies for the health of their communities. (Read more evidence about that here.)

The “to-do”: Invest in the world’s shared future. Donate to micro-loan organizations that support the work of women (and men!) farmers, small business owners and entrepreneurs in the America and across the developing world. Orgs to check out: KIVA, WomenVenture, and Accion.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Shabbat Service: Standing Up for Girls and Women’s Full Inclusion in Society

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Tzaria-Metzora, talks about menstruation (yes, the Torah discusses *lots* of fascinating topics!). Particularly, it covers the uncomfortable-to-think-about notion that, according to the Torah, a woman is rendered “ritually impure” by her period. (Read the passage here in Leviticus 15:19-24).

As this week’s dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel writes, “In addition, women in Israelite society were likely forced to withdraw from the public sphere during their periods [in part] because of their impure status—which prevented them from entering sacred spaces or eating sacred foods.”

The takeaway: Thousands of years after the time of Torah, many girls and woman – especially in developing countries, still find that menstruation is a barrier to their inclusion in school and society. As Samuel writes – feminine hygiene products are not always available or affordable and, “for millions of girls, school attendance suffers as a result. According to an Oxford University study, in rural Ghana, many girls miss up to five school days each month because of their periods.” Meanwhile, menstruation is still considered taboo in many developing nations. For more information, check out this article in the New York Times and watch the video below:

The “to-do”: Support organizations that work for women’s health, education, and the full inclusion of girls and women in society. Checkout Sustainable Health Enterprises, the Alliance for African Women Initiative, The Fistula Foundation.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Torah Tidbit: A Taste of the Week’s Portion Vayetze 5772

This Torah Tidbit is brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Check out the full dvar tzedek on which this excerpt is based at AJWS.

What responsibility do we have to the Earth? Is it possible to value the earth as a sacred space? How do we balance our need for resources with the environmental degradation that too often results from our consumption? Are the stakes different when we’re talking about food or a smart phone?

This week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, offers insight into these challenging questions. It tells the story of Jacob fleeing form his home and encountering God through his dreams while in the wilderness. (Remember the whole “Jacob’s ladder” story? Yeah, that’s this one.) Jacob’s encounter sets up a binary that puts God and heaven in a sacred context and the earth below in a mundane context.

According to this week’s dvar tzedek author, Adina Roth, that binary can cause problems with how we view and respect the Earth. Read more from this week’s dvar tzedek author, Adina Roth, below the jump.
Read more

Torah Tidbit: A Taste of the Week’s Portion Chayei Sarah 5772

This Torah Tidbit is brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Check out the full dvar tzedek on which this excerpt is based at AJWS.

What do we do when tragedy strikes? How should we react – both to the tragedies we experience personally, and one’s we see from afar? Sometimes it seems like everyday the news has another sad story to share – of famine or war, injustice or environmental degradation. When we hear about these things, is it better to get riled up with anger and outrage, or numb ourselves to the pain and carry on?

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, asks just that. It tells the story of Sarah’s emotional death following the near-sacrifice of her son Isaac, and of her husband Abraham’s response (according to the sage Rashi) to marry Isaac so that his lineage lives on.

Read more from this week’s dvar tzedek author, Wendi Geffen, below the jump.
Read more

Torah Tidbit: A Taste of This Week’s Portion – Vayera 5772

This Torah Tidbit is brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Check out the full dvar tzedek on which this excerpt is based at AJWS.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, is the stuff of Hollywood movies – an epic tale of right and wrong, and the story of one man fighting against the odds to stand up for what he believes in. Vayera recounts the story of Abraham (played here by a bedraggled George Clooney, naturally) trying to convince God not to destroy the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for their moral corruptness. In doing so, he puts his own relationship with God – not to mention his own life – on the line.

Read more from this week’s dvar tzedek author, Leil Leibovitz, below the jump – but be warned, there are some serious spoiler alerts in there.
Read more

Torah Tidbit: A Taste of The Week’s Portion, Noach 5772

This Torah Tidbit is brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). For more info, check out the full dvar tzedek on which this excerpt is based over at AJWS’s website.

This week’s Torah portion, Noach, tells one of the Torah’s best-known stories. It’s as archetypal as stories get: people behaving badly, a flood comes, an ark is built, a dove flies, and a vow from God appears in the form of a rainbow. (No, not a double rainbow.)

But beneath all of the rich imagery, at it’s heart, the portion tells the story of covenant and holding up our end of a bargain. And it reminds us that we are partners in the work of making the world a just and beautiful place.

This week’s Dvar Tzedek author, David Singer, writes:

The rainbow is not merely a symbol of covenant and God’s promise not to destroy the world; it is a Divine invitation for humanity to deal hands-on with this world’s injustices ourselves. While some generations take up the call on their own, most—including our own—need the reminder. Each of us blessed with the privilege of witnessing a rainbow’s beauty is called upon to take personal responsibility for ensuring the eradication of injustice in our world…Parshat Noach is a call to action, to commit ourselves to the work of bringing justice to those corners of the Earth that lack it, and to inspiring the rest of our community to act hand-in-hand.

Read the rest of David’s inspiring dvar torah here.

Weekly Torah: Parshat Chukkat 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Dani Passow.

We read in Parshat Chukkat about the death of Miriam: “Miriam died and she was buried there. There was no water for the assembly, and [the Children of Israel] gathered against Moshe and Aharon.” ((Bamidbar 20:1,2.)) This odd and disjointed sequence of verses is puzzling, and leads the Talmud to connect Miriam’s death with the disappearance of water: “From here we learn that all forty years [in the desert, the Children of Israel] had a well because of Miriam’s merit.” ((Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 9a.))

The trauma of losing Miriam and the water is clear: the people become angry, and Moshe needs to act. But in his haste to try to help the community regain this essential resource, he fails to listen to the higher wisdom offered by God to speak to the rock and instead he hits it. Though he does manage to meet the people’s need, the waters that he supplies are called Mei Meriva—waters of strife.
Read more

Weekly Torah: Parshat Korach 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Jimmy Tabler.

“…and we argued passionately but always rested assured that our arguments were indeed ‘for the sake of heaven.’”

These words, used to close the graduation ceremony for my cohort from Brandeis University’s Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, struck me as especially thought provoking. The quote references a passage in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Ancestors, which reads: “Any dispute for the sake of heaven will have enduring value, but any dispute not for the sake of heaven will not have enduring value.” ((Pirkei Avot 5:17.))
Read more