D’var Torah: Ariel Skolnick ’20 (Beresheit)

We recently went through the holiday season with celebration, but also with reflection. These past holidays, we reflected on our past and tried to create a new path for our future. This year I did something a little different. I didn’t want to all together change my path, because whatever mistakes I made would be forgotten. I wanted to add on to my path or change the direction. Everyone has an unique path they take to their own future and they go in all different directions. They also intervene with each other in countless ways. How I remember to reflect is not by seeing someone’s path going in the wrong direction, but how they can correct it. We all start from a seed then grow into a root, and then make decisions like what to eat or drink, but we also make decisions on where we want to go to college or what our job would be.

Our paths are very personal to us, but sometimes we have to share them. We have to think about how we want to shape the future for ourselves, but also for the people around us and even our own children one day. When I was a kid a lot of my opinions were based on what my parents told me and what they did. They taught me how to help others in need, pursue what I love and work hard. They didn’t really have much trouble with the last one in the past few months. In all seriousness, I understand that I am only 13 and I am talking about the future. My thought and opinions will change and progressively develop into who I am. But it all starts as an idea. An idea can blossom into a passion and then into a creation, and finally a reality. The reality might take a while, but at least know that the idea will always be with me.

Let’s go back to the paths for a second. Let’s say one day, someone in front of you that’s in line for a store, drops a penny. So you pick it up and put it in your pocket. No big deal right, it’s just a penny, they’re not gonna miss it. But then the next day someone drops a dollar, again not that much, it’s fine. But it eventually progresses to 10 dollars then 20 then 100 and when does it stop? When is the point when we stop and  think to ourselves, that’s not right. I need to turn around and think about what we are doing. But which way is easier, is it doing something that at first is not harmful, or admitting a mistake and then gaining the trust that you lost. Cain and Abel for example. At first Cain is just a little jealous but it’s no big deal. All siblings have their fights and disagreements. But then he realizes that Able is his mother’s favorite, and he was always praised for being the good child. Then when the final test came, G-d was testing Cain. God told Cain and Abel to go bring him offerings. Abel being the good child that he was, brought his best and most ripe crops to G-d. But Cain brought a good, not great but good animal to G-d. Understandable, Cain wanted to have the best one, Ii mean he raised it, and took care of it, he did all the work. But when G-d chose Abel’s offering and disregarded Cain’s, that was his breaking point. It made him so mad, as to kill his own brother. His punishment, a wanderer. With all the time he needed to think about what he did.

Is that the only way for us to realize that something is wrong? Can’t we just stop at a dollar and call it a day? The farther we go down our paths, the harder it is to stray. So start with giving that one penny back, and the a dollar, and then 10. Because it will get you on a different path, one that will be hard to stray from, but it will be good rather than harmful.


D’var Torah: Shira Fischer ’92 (Sukkot)

On Sukkot we take up the four species: the Etrog (citron) and the lulav (palm), which is accompanied by the hadas (myrtle) and the arava (willow). Prescribed Biblically (Leviticus 23:40) and explicated rabbinically, what do these symbols mean?

One interpretation is from Vayikra Rabbah, a collection of midrash based on the book of Leviticus. This text (30:9) points out verses in which each of these words refer to God and thus these species represent dimensions of the divine:

  • The Etrog, based on Pslams 104:1: הוד והדר לבשת
  • The palm, based on Psalms 92:13: צדיק כתמר יפרח
  • The myrtle, based on Zecharia 1:8: והוא עומד בין ההדסים
  • And the willow, based on Psalms 68:5: סולו לרוכב בערבות ביה שמו

But Vayikra Rabbah goes on to offer other possibilities. In section 14 of the same chapter, it connects each of the species to a different part of the body, with the lulav representing the spine, the myrtle the eye, the willow the mouth, and the Etrog the heart.

And in one more interpretation (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12), the four species represent four types of Jews:

The lulav, which has taste but no smell, symbolizes those who study Torah but do not do good deeds.

The myrtle has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who do good deeds but do not study Torah.

The willow, which has neither taste nor smell, symbolizes those who lack both Torah and good deeds.

And lastly, the etrog has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and do good deeds.

These are quite varied ways to interpret a set of four plants. The similarity among these interpretations is the diversity and yet the interrelationship. Maimonides teaches in his laws of Sukkot (Hilchot Lulav 7:5) that the four species is a single mitzvah, and the absence of any of them renders the whole mitzvah undone (מעכב). If you just had a spine, but no heart, you wouldn’t have a working body. And if you just had one kind of person in the Jewish community, but not another, our variety would not be complete. We need all diverse kinds—bound together—to have a compelling understanding of the divine, to have healthy body, and most importantly, to have a healthy community. Each person contributes something and without any one—not despite their differences, but because of their differences—the mitzvah is not fulfilled.

As the midrash puts it, the lulav is Israel. And the myrtle is Israel. And the willow is Israel. And the Etrog is Israel. What does God do? Ties them all together into a single bunch and they atone for each other.

Wishing the whole community chag sameach as we enter this time of happiness (זמן שמחתנו) together.


D’var Torah: Dan Savitt (Ha’azinu)

Impermanent Things (Parashat Ha’azinu)

All these impermanent things

Well, they all add up to zero they make believe that they’re my hero

Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires

Why keep hangin’ on to things that never stay,

Things that just keep stringin’ us along from day to day?

“Impermanent Things” (song) (1991)

Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman vividly captures the transient nature of life itself in his song Impermanent Things. And despite life’s transiency, it can be difficult to always bear in mind what is truly important. In Parashat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:4) we catch a glimpse of permanence when we read that God is referred to as The Rock (ha-tzur). The image of God as a Rock symbolizes the Eternal as a “sure source of strength” and highlights that “[God] endures throughout every generation.” Moreover, God is depicted as a “strong refuge in which God’s people may take shelter from any difficulty.”1

God described as a Rock (tzur) is also found in traditional Jewish hymns. One of the Shabbat zemirot, Tzur Mishelo (The Rock from whom), is traditionally sung on Friday nights. Also, the well-known song Ma’oz Tzur (Refuge, Rock of my salvation) commonly sung each night after lighting the Hanukkah candles bears the title of God as the “Rock of my salvation.”

We are now in the midst of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance), and with the metaphor of life hanging in the balance this is an opportune time for soul-searching and self-reflection. “These are days of reflection and introspection when we stand in the conscious presence of Infinity, knowing how short and vulnerable life really is, and how little time we have here on earth.”2 Because of life’s ephemeral nature it can be steadying to have something permanent to grasp hold of. Whether we find stability through God’s sheltering presence or some other mode of support, may we all find some sense of permanence and consistency in the year ahead.


  1. Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody, 1980. <BibleWorks, v.10.>.
  2. Sacks, Jonathan. The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers, 2013, pp. xiii-xiv.
Rebecca Luire

D’var Torah: Rebecca Lurie (Vayeilech)

What a wonderful first week of school! As I reflect on Rosh Hashanah and this week’s parasha, Vayeilech, I am mindful of beginnings and endings. Summer has ended and a new school year has begun. 5778 is ending and 5779 is about to begin. And we are about to finish reading the Torah and start anew with Breishit on Simchat Torah.

In this week’s parasha, Vayeilech, G-d instructs Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) to remind themselves of all of G-d’s commandments during the shmitta year (7th year of harvest) on the holiday of Sukkot through the mitzvah (commandment) of hakhel (mass learning initiative when everyone gathers together to hear the words of the Torah). While the mitzvot of shmitta, Sukkot and hakhel may not appear to have anything in common, they in fact are all about coming together as a community and helping one another. While shmitta is about sharing our physical resources with one another, hakhel is about sharing spiritual resources with others. And on Sukkot we are commanded to welcome guests into our sukkah.

While the end of the Torah (in Vayeilech) emphasizes the need for community and helping one another, this is in contrast to how the Torah began (in Breishit) with the creation of Adam and Eve and the message that each of us in created in the image of G-d (B’tzelem Elokim). The Torah begins with the uniqueness and holiness of each individual and ends with the beauty in community and helping one another. Moshe, the leader of Bnei Yisrael, fully realized how he was created in G-d image, and his final message to the Jewish people was that their ultimate task is to take care of each other and come together as a people.

This beginning and end may be the most powerful and beautiful of all. We must first understand ourselves as individuals (how we are made in G-d’s image) before we can contribute to the community and care for others. As we enter 5779, I wish for all of us to continue on this journey of both self discovery and taking care of one another. Shanah Tovah!