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Archive for : shabbat

Shabbat Service: Using Our Power Wisely and Compassionately

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Eikev, Moses gives a moving presentation to the Israelite’s about God’s power. He says:

“And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you? Only this: to revere Adonai your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and soul… Adonai your God is God supreme and Adonai supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”

In other words, Moses says, God’s kind of a big deal (except, for real).

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Rabbi David Singer, writes, “This is a provocative theological message, to be sure, and one that has crucial practical import for those of us who concern ourselves with the work of global justice.” Too often, he writes, our public discourse splits between people who want to show their power by force, and those who want to show a subtler type of power, offering “empathic aid as a means for influencing change in the world.” Many of us, he writes, are “uncomfortable with thinking of our social justice work as exercising ‘power,’ but by asking us to emulate a God who does so to overcome injustice, our tradition invites us to embrace our empathic force and not to be shy about using it.”

The “to-do”: When we help others – as volunteers, as educators, as activists – we exert a type of power in the world. Sign up for an activist training that teaches you how to lead with empathy and humility, listen to others and work with a community to help bring change for everyone.

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: Join in the Long, Hard Fight to End AIDS

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Dvarim, the Israelites gather on the steppes of Moab, waiting for Moses to deliver his final speech before they enter their new home in the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring moment, until Moses begins to speak and rebukes the Israelites at length about their sins in the desert.

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Leah Kaplan Robins, admits that “this oration stuns me every year…Why does Moses reiterate these facts when what [the Israelites] probably need is an inspirational message about how far they’ve come? I have always assumed that Moses simply lost control, succumbing to his bitterness that the people will enter Canaan without him.”

But, she writes, the big picture tells another story. “I’m seeing Moses’s speech in a new light this week, as my AJWS colleagues—and 49 of our grantees from around the world—are attending the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. For the 25,000 activists, scientists, NGO workers and policy makers gathering on their proverbial mountain top, it must be tempting to stoke feelings of relief at how far they’ve come since the first terrifying cases of HIV emerged in 1979. But emphasizing this progress obscures the devastating big picture.”

In other words, like Moses or today’s leaders in the fight against AIDS, sometimes one can lead best when they don’t let people get complacent, but continue to remind them exactly why they’re fighting. In the case of the AIDS epidemic, the reason for fighting is the memory of the 30 million people who’ve died of the disease, and in honor of the 33 million more currently infected.

The “to-do” Lend your support to the cause: sign this Declaration to End AIDS petition, which was created by major AIDS organizations in Washington DC.

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: Seeing Possibility and Life Amidst Suffering

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), Beha’alotcha includes the story of a group of Israelite men who encounter a dead body and, as a result, are considered ritually impure and unfit to participate in the first Passover festival. This pains the men and they ask Moses and Aaron, “Just because we are impure from a corpse, why are we barred from approaching to make an offering to God on this festival with the rest of the Israelites?”

As dvar tzedek author Guy Itzhak Austrian writes, “At first glance, these men are seen only as tainted with death. But the men themselves refuse to be defined by that stigma. Instead, they assert that they, too, are living people with a spiritual need to celebrate life and experience liberation.”

The takeaway: This aspect of the story, Austrian writes, reminds us of the importance of seeing “life and possibility in the midst of death and suffering” – especially when engaging in social justice and service work. Sometimes, when faced with the pain of the communities we work with – whether it stem from severe injustice, war, poverty, or something else – it can be hard to see anything but the pain. But, Austrian writes, sadness and suffering are not the only story.

Woven amidst even the most painful places, one can find moments of beauty and community. So while “some countries suffer more than their fair share, and we should hold ourselves responsible for alleviating their pain,” focusing solely on this aspect of the story is not the only way to engage.

The “to-do”: Austrian writes it best: “This week, sign up with an online news portal to receive every article about one developing country from many sources.” (Note: You can set up a Google Alert for that country to get started.) “Read for an entire week and listen to what voices emerge. Do you hear death or do you hear life? Cries of pain or cries of joy? And how will you respond to what you hear?”

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: Storytelling and Empowering Women

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Naso we come across a moment in the Torah where the words of the Jewish peoples’ most sacred text do not necessarily match up with our modern-day ethics. The parsha describes the law of sotah: the punishment given to a wife if a man has suspicions that she’s had an affair. The Torah reads, “If a man has suspicions…he brings her before the kohen (priest), who makes her drink a mixture of holy waters and earth. He removes her head covering and warns her that if she has indeed been with a man other than her husband, the ingested waters will cause her thigh to collapse and her stomach to distend.”

As dvar tzedek author Adina Roth writes, “Having heard the kohen’s warning and just before drinking the water, the woman must answer “Amen, Amen.” In this context, we realize that ‘Amen,’ despite its benign, comforting associations today, actually means to submit to God’s will. ‘Amen’ is sinister here, as the woman is forced to surrender her fate to forces beyond her control.

The takeaway: It can be difficult to reconcile passages in the Torah like this, when they seem so opposite to our modern day understanding of what’s right and wrong. But Roth writes that the passage – as difficult as it is to read – reminds us that, “the telling of women’s stories in their own voices can be a powerful antidote to oppression…stories can serve as activist tools to help women in all cultures move beyond ‘Amen Amen’—and into empowerment.”

The “to-do”: Roth writes, “Women across all cultures are working to author their own stories. Whether it is the sharing among Jewish women in a Rosh Chodesh circle or the oral narratives of women travelers in sub-Saharan Africa, stories are being used to make room for today’s…women’s voices to be heard.” Support this movement by supporting organizations – like Change.org and WITNESS – that give women, and all people, a chance to voice their side of the story.

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: Keep the Fire for Service Going Strong

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), Tzav, is a continuation from last week. It continues to lay out the many detailed instructions for the Isralite sacrificial rituals like, for example, that the priests must keep the fire for burnt offerings perpetually burning on the altar.

The takeaway: Jews no longer burn things on altars – and haven’t for a long time. So some Jewish scholars understand this commandment metaphorically, as an instruction to keep one’s enthusiasm and engagement burning like a fire. Historically, this referred to keeping one’s passion for Jewish tradition and observance going, but it can also apply to our commitment to service and changing the world.

As this week’s dvar tzedek author writes, “working for justice can be a daunting proposition. That is why it is so crucial for us to invest time in examining what we can do to keep our fires—of passion, energy, and commitment—burning, and to seek out the people and resources that keep us excited and primed for action.” We couldn’t agree more.

The “to-do”: Getting tired or discouraged sometimes while doing service and social justice work is common – and nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to absolutely everyone engaged in this work. So as you’re out there in the world caring for others, be sure to care for yourself as well. Maybe that means going on a retreat, or scheduling time with your friends where you don’t talk about service. Maybe it means reading inspiring books like The Impossible Will Take a Little While, an anthology of social justice activists all talking about keeping hope in tough times. However you like to recharge your spirit, go for it and keep the fire for service going strong.

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

Shabbat Service: Schedule in Time For Service

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), Vayakhel Pekudei describes the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in super specific detail. In exhausting detail it lays out the structure’s exact height, the materials used to build it, it’s colors and patterns – not a single thing goes unthought of or unrecorded. It’s as if the ancient Israelites were trying to make up for their inability to envision God by creating the most ornate, ungapatchka (look it up, it’s Yiddish!) physical structure for God possible.

The takeaway: According to this week’s dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, the ancient Israelite’s enthusiasm for creating a physical structure for God “makes perfect sense against the backdrop of last week’s parshah, Ki Tisa, which depicts the Israelites as a people whose desire to see God is both tremendously strong and fraught with difficulty…[their] desire for visual evidence of God is so great that they fashion the golden calf—a visible, if false, symbol of divinity that calms their fears that God and Moses have disappeared.”

Furthermore, she writes, “the story of the “ancient Israelites’ ambivalence toward representing God resembles our contemporary struggle to represent the realities of the developing world. While the Israelites yearned for but were wary of an image too awe-inspiring to behold, we are fascinated with but repelled by images too awful to behold.” The specifics of the Israelite’s hesitation might be the inverse of our own, but the end result is the same: sometimes it all simply feels like too much.

The “to-do”: Sometimes when we feel too overwhelmed by something – like the struggles in the developing world – we look away and disengage completely. Resist this urge by working to make service and philanthropy a regular part of your life. Build your capacity for helping others with the same energy and commitment the ancient Israelites had when building the mishkan. Schedule it in, the same way you schedule in trips to the gym or coffee dates with friends. If you make a monthly (or weekly) commitment to volunteer, donate to an organization doing world-changing work, or help spread the word about a cause, it removes some of the anxiety. Soon, helping others – even in an overwhelming world – might begin to feel natural.

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

Shabbat Service: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

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), Ki Tisa features the dramatic story of the Golden Calf. Moses is still up on Mount Sinai and has received the Ten Commandments. God breaks the news that the Israelites have panicked in his absence and begun to worship an idol. God is, understandably, angry and let’s Moses know that he plans to let his “anger blaze forth against them,” and “destroy them.” Moses pauses before answering God – perhaps listening, and perhaps not sure what to say. Eventually he responds by saying, “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand.”

The takeaway: Moses’ response is curious. Why does he not speak up right away? Is there doubt in his own heart? Does he care about the Israelites, but not know how to advocate on their behalf? Whatever the reason, Moses hesitates to make his voice heard on an issue he cares about. Sounds familiar, right? We have all had moments where we felt passionate about something, but failed to spring into action – or waited for an invitation to become involved.

The “to-do”: Learn to rise above your hesitations and speak up for what you believe in! Take a public speaking course or participate in a leadership training to learn tips and gain confidence in your ability to express yourself. Learn how to write an effective letter to Congress, or how to craft an op-ed for a publication. Then take a deep breath, focus yourself, and speak up!

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

This Week: AJWS’ Global Hunger Shabbat

Regular Shabbat observers and novices alike are invited to join the first annual Global Hunger Shabbat this week on March 19-20. Spearheaded by the international organization, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) as part of their Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up campaign, it offers an opportunity for local communities (AJWS estimates participation from 5,000 people) to raise awareness and solidarity around issues of unjust food access, poverty, and hunger across the world.

Participation can include anything from hosting a Shabbat dinner or lunch conversation around the issue of food access, giving a speech or sermon at your synagogue, JCC or in your house, bringing the topic into the classroom, or organizing a day of action in the fight against hunger.

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Weekly Torah: Parshat Ki Tisa 5770

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

The detailed description of the building and consecration of the Tabernacle, which spans several parshiot (Torah portions), is framed by a pair of financial appeals. The opening appeal, in Parshat Terumah, speaks to the generosity of the people—“Take for Me contributions from those whose heart moves them…” ((Exodus 25:2.)) Chapters later, in Parshat Ki Tisa, the description closes with the injunction that every member of the community over the age of 20 donate a half-shekel annually, in order to pay for the ongoing service in the Tabernacle.

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