D’var Torah: Rabbi Benjamin Samuels (Tazria-Metzora)

Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Turning A House into a Jewish Home

Just the other day, a contractor friend of mine was telling me how lumber prices and other construction costs are going through the roof. It seems that being forced to spend much of the past year sequestered in our houses has led many to better appreciate “Home! Sweet home!,” thereby inspiring a glut of home improvement projects. Home improvement happens to be a favored Jewish practice, and one of the themes of this week’s double Torah portion.

 In the second portion, parshat Metzora, the Torah describes a situation in which a house gets sick: “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess…” (Lev 14:34).  Our Sages in the Talmud (Arachin 16a) teach us that a house gets sick when it stops being a Jewish home. To maintain the health and wellbeing of a house, we must turn our house into a Jewish home. But what exactly is the architecture of a Jewish home? How do we structure the spaces and organize the flow of our habitation to orient and nurture our family’s Jewish values and identity? I would suggest that we look to three categories of form and function.

Jewish Symbols: A mezuzah on our doorways; proudly displaying Judaica, like Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush cups, havdalah set, seder plate, shofar, etc.; featuring wall artwork with Jewish themes or images of Israel; a tzedakah box and siddur in our children’s room; building a foundational library of Jewish books.

Jewish Time: Finding family-friendly ways to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays within our homes, like lighting Shabbat candles and sharing Shabbat and Yom Tov family dinners together with songs and words of Torah. Morning and bedtime rituals including Jewish story-telling and singing the Shema. Putting coins in the family tzedakah box at regular intervals and fixed times.

Jewish Space: When Covid-safe, inviting family and friends into our homes to share Jewish rituals, observances, and especially Shabbat and holiday meals.  Using Hebrew and Jewish words for items, foods, and activities in our homes. Hosting an evening of Torah learning or a parlor meeting for a Jewish and/or social justice organization.

Jewish symbols, time flow, and space usage do indeed create a home environment of Jewish form and flow.  Jewish home improvement is interior decorating for our family’s inner spiritual world, moral universe, and Jewish identity. We best educate our children by turning our houses into Jewish homes. Indeed, the past pandemic year has made us better appreciate our houses and be more aware of health and wellness. Per the parashah, let us also work to improve the health of our houses by turning them into Jewish homes.

Benjamin J. Samuels has been the rabbi of Cong. Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Centre, since 1995, and teaches widely in the Greater Boston Community.

D’var Torah: Dan Savitt (Tzav)

Sacrifices & Contemporary Society: Never the Twain Shall Meat? (Parashat Tzav)

It is customary to begin a child’s Torah studies with the matter of sacrifices: “Rabbi Asei said: Why do we start children in their Torah studies with Leviticus and not Genesis? Since children are pure and the sacrifices are pure, the pure ones (i.e., children) come to occupy themselves with pure ones (i.e., sacrifices)” (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3).

And yet, there is no doubt that countless Jewish parents ask each year, “Why does my kid’s bar/bat mitzvah portion have to be about sacrifices?” With Pesaḥ only a couple weeks away, the topic of sacrifices comes up yet again when we sit at our seder table and point to the zero’a (the shank bone which symbolizes the Pesaḥ offering that our ancestors ate).

References to sacrifices make up a sizable portion of the Torah, with the majority of appearances in Leviticus and Numbers, but what is it about sacrifices that troubles so many of us? For some people it’s difficult to contextualize or relate to sacrifice as the means by which our ancestors used slaughtered animals to connect with and worship God. In fact, Rambam (Maimonides, 1135–1204, Cairo, Egypt) in The Guide for the Perplexed, speaks unenthusiastically about the sacrificial system claiming that this was not God’s primary desire for humankind, but only allowed this practice to continue because such a significant change to the status quo “would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that which he is used” (3:32). Additionally, people needed something to counteract the attraction of idolatry.

That being said, one of the positive outcomes of many sacrificial offerings is that they functioned somewhat like block parties. According to Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, The Effie Wise Ochs Professor of Biblical Literature and History at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, “Sociologically speaking, sacrificial rites in antiquity served to bind community by providing a common meal that made scarce and costly meat available to many. Certain sacrifices functioned like a neighborhood barbecue celebrating a modern holiday: an opportunity to socialize and to eat well” (1460).

While meat is probably more affordable and certainly less scarce than in Temple times, perhaps we have lessened how we value what we eat and have also lost out on the communal meal opportunities. Admittedly, I have not eaten red meat in almost 14 years, but I know that eating meat is still a part of many people’s diet. Yet this should give us pause as to how we relate to what we eat. In Many Waters, the fourth book of Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, we hear about a powerful hunting scene in which the hunter would “always stop to thank the animal he had killed, thank it for giving them the food necessary for life” (204).

As we turn toward Pesaḥ and our s’darim (seders) where the symbolic nature of food is taken to a whole new level, we are obligated to point out the zero’a. For some, the zero’a is one of the more difficult items on the seder plate to relate to, and can seem so out of place with contemporary society. Whether or not we would like to restore the sacrificial system, we can at least appreciate the value and importance that sacrifices had for our ancestors. Along with expressing gratitude to God, perhaps it’s also necessary to have some acknowledgement that a living creature gave its life so that we could eat. After all, as we say in the first blessing before the morning Shema (yotzer or): the Creator of everything . . . and everything includes all living creatures.

Ḥag Kasher v’Same’aḥ!

Bibliography

Anderson, Gary A., “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings: Old Testament”, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman 

(New York: Doubleday, 1992). 871.

Eskenazi, Dr. Tamara Cohn. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. CCAR Press. Kindle Edition.

Jewish Publication Society (2008-09-15). The Jewish Bible: A JPS Guide (Kindle Locations 5249, 5312, 5323, 5367-5368). Univ of 

Nebraska – A. Kindle Edition.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Many Waters. Holtzbrinck Publishers, 1986.

Maimonides, Moses. The Guide for the Perplexed. Trans. M. Friedländer. Second Edition, Revised. London; New York: George 

Routledge & Sons Ltd.; E. P. Dutton & Co., 1919. Print.

D’var Torah: Rabbi Rachel Silverman (Vayikra)

Last Friday marked 365 days of this pandemic. My kids’ school closed on March 12, 2020 and, like schools all around the country, did not reopen for the rest of the school year. As I scrambled with my family to figure out living, working, and learning all together at home, I kept being reminded of the fact that human-beings thrive on predictability. We are our rituals in many ways; most of us are creatures of habit that cannot succeed without a regularity. 

So it’s not a surprise that, when the world upended that for us, we tried to recreate a sense of stability in other ways. One of the very first things my family did was to create a schedule for our day, mirroring our familiar preschool routine as much as possible. 

While we didn’t stick to the schedule for all that long, merely having it helped set a rhythm for those early days of lockdown and provided a sense of order for our lives. Life was nothing close to pre-pandemic, but we were able to create a “new normal” that made our situation that much more bearable. 

A similar sense of predictability is on display in this week’s parsha. Vayikra opens with a lesson for the priests on sacrificial offerings that are to be made, and continues into a discussion of inadvertent sins – in particular, what happens when something doesn’t go as one expected. 

I’m drawn to this last piece. When someone sins, even accidentally, our sense of being is disrupted. Something didn’t go as planned. Instead of letting the situation spiral out of control, the Torah gives us explicit directions on how to restore order. Like the Israelites of the Bible we are comforted by rituals and a sense of knowing what to do next. 

Last Passover, our communities were reeling from being shut down and struggling to figure out how to do Pesach while in quarantine. It turned out, it was quarantine we didn’t know how to do – Passover was easy. It was a ritual that we had done hundreds of times before, and, like God’s instructions in Vayikra, the order of the seder provided a sense of order for all of us feeling unbalanced. 

May this year’s Passover provide a similar sense of familiar ritual and order – and may our lives go back to “normal” soon. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Temple Israel of Sharon

D’var Torah: Rabbi Marcia R. Plumb (Vayakhel- Pikudei)

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיהוָ֑ה כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃ 

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

לֹא־תְבַעֲר֣וּ אֵ֔שׁ בְּכֹ֖ל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּי֖וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃ (פ 

You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.

During this pandemic and election season many of us have been watching the news non-stop. I know I was. I checked every morning  and every evening to find out what bad news had emerged during the night, or while I was working. Every day, it seemed that there was another crisis or disturbing political drama. The news created an internal fire for many of us. It has been as if what we read in the paper added fuel to the fire of our pandemic anxiety. 

Also, we have all been struggling with Zoom fatigue,the tiredness and neural stress that comes from extreme computer use. The dedicated Schechter students, teachers, administrators, and parents have all been using the incredible technology that has enabled us to learn, teach and work while in lockdown. While we are grateful for it, we also know that Zoom fatigue is a real experience, studied by Stanford University. One of the things researchers suggest is turning off Zoom regularly. 

We Jews already have a system in place for following this scientific recommendation. We have the mitzvah from our double parasha this week, Vayakhel- Pikudei. Stop working on Shabbat. Rest. Kindle no fire. Let go of anything that kindles our anxiety or inner psychological burning. 

Shabbat has been my salvation from news and screen overload. It is the only day I avoid the TV and computer. I do lead Shabbat services online, but I still find that taking an extended break from headlines, and looking at people up close, sitting all day and staring at myself on a screen is a huge relief. It feels like putting out a fire.

The commandment to keep Shabbat is a gift I have always treasured, but this year, it has been crucial for my well-being. I hope that this Shabbat will bring you peace of mind, a restful soul, and healing for your heart. 

By Rabbi Marcia R. Plumb, Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Brookline

D’var Torah: Cantor Michael McCloskey (Tetzaveh)

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses receives the following instructions: “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” [​Exodus​ 27:20]. Our sages wrestle with a couple of difficulties in this verse. Why is the pronoun “you” necessary? We already know that Moses is being addressed with very detailed and voluminous instructions about building the tabernacle for God’s indwelling Presence. Why didn’t the text use the command form, “tzav”, which doesn’t require any pronoun, as with so many of the other charges given to Moses?

Our oral tradition gives many meaningful and penetrating answers to this question. However, one particularly resonates with me. According to this midrash or explication, Israel and the Holy One are compared to a blind and seeing person, respectively. The seeing person (the Holy One), guides the blind person, (Israel) to their home. Once they enter the house, the seeing person asks the blind person to go and light a lamp so that they may see in the darkness of the blind person’s home. Furthermore, the seeing person explicitly states their purpose in doing so: so that the blind person doesn’t feel beholden to them for escorting them.

First and foremost, this parable is an empowering narrative about human agency and the efficacy of those living with disabilities. Though the blind person appreciates the escort of their companion, upon reaching the darkness of the interior of their house, they become the escort, providing light for their guest who is not used to entering a space with this level of darkness, and thus might fumble and trip through the space. Moreover, it is the sighted person who encourages their companion to provide this guidance in order that the blind person feels the relationship to be mutually beneficial.

Looking closely at the nimshal, the lesson of the parable, we learn profundities about the relationship of the human and the Divine. When Israel enters their house, the mishkan, having been lead through the wilderness by the Holy One, they are instructed to make illumination, not because God needs it (unlike the human guest mentioned earlier), but because doing so invests them with a spirit of welcoming and symbolizes their ability to “kindle” a continuous relationship and partnership with God.

May we, during these difficult days, light the way for peoples of all abilities and strive ever to welcome beings human and Divine.

Cantor Michael McCloskey, Temple Emeth

D’var Torah: Shira Fishman ’91 (Mishpatim)

This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, opens in the middle of the story of the Israelites receiving the 10 commandments. It is almost as if you entered a play that was already half-way through.

The parsha begins, ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם These are the rules that you shall set before them… (Shemot 21:1) and continues for three more chapters with rules that range from how many years a slave should serve, the consequences of stealing sheep, and what happens when one insults parents (it is a good thing we no longer follow that particular rule). Out of nowhere, these laws interrupt the story of receiving the commandments. While some commentators, including Rashi and the Sforno, argue that these laws are a continuation of the 10 commandments, there is a clear break in the story. And then, just as quickly, the story resumes: ואל-משה אמר עלה אל-ה׳ Then he said to Moses, come up to the Lord… (Shemot 24:1).

In some ways, this break in the narrative of the Torah feels like our lives for the past year. Last March, our stories were cut off and interrupted by new rules (social distancing, mask wearing) of which we were totally unfamiliar. Fear of the unknown kept us secluded and alone and I imagine that B’nai Yisrael also felt similarly after leaving Egypt.

But by fall, our community had come together again. We learned that even while we kept our distance, we could still see each other, care for each other, and feel part of one community. To that end, we had to abide by a new set of rules and we all pledged, as a community, to keep to these new rules.

B’nai Yisrael makes a similar pledge to follow the new rules. כל אשר-דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do (Shemot 24:7). On three different times, B’nai Yisrael say נעשה, we will do. But in two of these times, the Torah says that the people responded, יחדו, together and, קול אחד, in one voice (Shemot 19:8, Shemot 24:3).

In the same way, we came together as a community and, בקול אחד, in one voice, responded that we would follow new guidelines in order to keep our community safe. Like B’nai Yisrael, we took a leap of faith that these rules would allow our community to function effectively and safely. While this year has certainly not been easy, I am honored to be part of a community that responded together to support each other through the difficult times while looking ahead to happier times.

Shira Fishman ’91, Schechter parent

D’var Torah: Stephanie Fine Maroun (Beshalach)

Humans are creatures of habit and instinct, both good and bad. There is profound freedom in knowing what to expect, having dependable food and shelter, being able to plan and rely on order. It is hardly original to say that 2020 offered few of those cherished comforts. It was of a year of unknown territory, unthinkable losses and unforgiving realities.

The question upon us in 2021 and beyond is whether we can make our way out of this wilderness with a fresh understanding of ourselves. Can we rethink what matters and what we need and do not need? Can we adapt and improve our norms and behavior? 

In Parashat Beshelach, we read of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines although it was nearer. God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.” Moses instructs the people to “stand firm” and to realize a different and better future. Following their escape, the Israelites are soon troubled and unsure, calling out for food and water. They are instructed to gather just what they need for their household and not excess. Some obey while others collect more than they require, leaving it to waste only to be covered with maggots by morning. The fear and lack of choice while in bondage had been replaced with free will and communal accountability.

Over the coming year, let us hope that we emerge from the claws of the pandemic with lessons learned. We have seen that many do not have access to sustenance, let alone manna, while others have created personal stockpiles. Can we reevaluate what we are taking with us as we eventually return to a familiar order? If we leave this wilderness with our families, health, homes and jobs, let us be grateful and remember that others will not. While 2020 constricted our lives logistically, financially and socially at a minimum, it expanded our choices morally and collectively. It is time to recognize that caring for ourselves does not preclude a commitment to mutual responsibility and the larger good.

Stephanie Fine Maroun, Schechter alumni parent, Assistant Director of Admission

D’var Torah: Anna and Matya Schachter (Bo)

In his 2015, 2018, and 2020 Divrei Torah on Parashat Bo, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l highlighted the uniquely Jewish nature of the Exodus story. The Jewish People had been in exile for between 210-430 years, toiling in slavery for much of that time. Suddenly, their prospects turn with Hashem unleashing nine plagues upon Egypt, and Moses warning of the final plague. At this point, all but Pharaoh realize that it is time to “send out the men that they may serve Hashem, their G!d! Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?” (Exodus 10:7) Moses was known as “very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh and in the eyes of the people.” (Exodus 11:3) When he gathers the Jewish People to give one last speech before they leave Egypt, Moses does not speak about freedom, or leaving for a Land flowing with milk and honey, or about nursing grievances against the Egyptians. Instead, he looks to the future, speaking to the necessity of educating our children, a central theme of Judaism and for Jewish continuity.

One of the highlights of our family Seders has always been the story of the Four Children. The text for three of the four children come from the speeches that Moses delivers immediately before and after the Exodus in Parashat Bo: “And it shall be that when your [wicked] children say to you ‘What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is a Pesach feast-offering to Hashem, Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when Hashem smote the Egyptians, but Hashem saved our households.’” (Exodus 12:26-27) “And you shall tell your child [who doesn’t know how to ask] on that day, saying, ‘It is because of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8) “And it shall be when your [simple] child will ask you at some future time, ‘What is this?’ You shall say to him, ‘With a strong hand, Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage.’” (Exodus 13:14) Families have recounted these instructions around the Seder table for generations, a sign of the importance of children asking questions, being answered, and learning to tell their people’s story. 

Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles’s Sinai Temple teaches that Judaism’s focus on the importance of educating our children goes all the way back to Abraham. The Torah teaches that Abraham earned Hashem’s love and was chosen to be the first monotheist and father to many nations “because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem.” (Genesis 18:19) The Shema emphasizes this, as well: “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise.” (Deuteronomy 4:7) Where other societies might establish a courthouse, pub, or house of worship when they first establish a new outpost, Jews have always started by establishing a house of study. (Rashi on Genesis 46:28, Bereishit Rabba 95:3)

Without such a strong emphasis on childhood education, it is unlikely that the Jewish People could have survived almost 2,000 years in Diaspora, often as a very small minority of the population. As Rodger Kamenetz recounts in his book The Jew in the Lotus, documenting the 1990 visit with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala by a group of multi-denominational Rabbis, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z’l advised the Buddhist leaders to choreograph their own version of the Pesach Seder to prepare their children for life in Diaspora. Without intergenerational ritual surrounding education and storytelling, he saw assimilation as all but guaranteed.

May the teachers, staff, and parents at Schechter (and throughout the Jewish world) continue in this holy task of re-telling our story and preparing the next generation of Jewish leaders.

 

Anna and Matya Schachter, Schechter parents

D’var Torah: Eytan Luria ’21 (Va’era)

At the beginning of this week’s parsha, God tells Moses that God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and established a covenant with them. God adds that God heard moaning from the Israelites, who were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. God tells Moses that God will now lead the Israelites out of their bondage and that Moses should be their leader.

As I studied this parashah, I was immediately struck by the leaps of faith that are present in the text. First, why does God have faith in Moses to lead the people? What’s unique about Moses?

Second, why does Moses have faith in God? And third, how could Bnei Yisrael have faith in God or in Moses? They have been suffering for generations, and God had been absent. 

I want to begin by sharing my thoughts on the relationship of faith between Moses and God.

How did they come to trust each other? The story of Moses began in last week’s parashah, Shemot. Moses was a shepherd, and as he was tending to his sheep, he saw a bush that was burning but was not consumed. Moses felt compelled to look at the bush. When he did, God called out to Moses, and Moses responded, “hineni.”

Our rabbinic tradition teaches us that that word hineni means, “I’m ready.”

This language is not the language of greeting or location, but rather is the language of faith.

It is the same word that Avraham used when God asked him to take his son Yitzchak and offer him as a sacrifice.

When Moses answers this way, it tells God something important about Moses. God knows that he has that same intensity or quality of faith that Avraham had generations earlier.

There is a Midrash that there were many people who came to the burning bush and God called out to many of them. Some saw it and looked at it but couldn’t hear God. Some could hear God but didn’t respond. Only Moses saw it, heard God and declared his readiness to enter into a relationship of faith.

What was the core quality that God was looking for in order to establish a relationship with Moses? I think it’s about Moses staying true to himself. Moses was raised as royalty in an Egyptian palace with power and culture and luxury. After he was told he was born to an Israelite, I think he felt a connection and let go of all he had. God needed Moses to lead with a strong sense of purpose.

The story was different for Bnei Yisrael. They weren’t ready to be a people of faith. If God had appeared to them in a burning bush, I am not sure they would have even been able to say, “hinenu.” We are ready. They had no proof of God’s existence, and they probably thought that if God did exist, God would’ve helped them already. 

The text says their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage. In contrast to Moshe, Bnei Yisrael were not able to listen. Their slavery had oppressed their ability to have faith.

As I thought about these questions, I’ve wondered why certain people can easily have faith and that, for others, faith can take time. 

This topic of faith is really interesting because faith has no rules or boundaries. You could ask go on your phone and say, hey Siri, “define faith,” and she’d probably give you an answer, but the truth is that the qualities that we need to have faith are very different for all of us. There’s not just one way of being faithful.

I believe that there is so much to learn and understand about faith. 

I really love situations where events can turn either way. There’s no set formula for faith. Our experiences can lead us down different paths. We can’t predict the moment we will become aware of faith.

This feels important to me because trust and faith feel mysterious. In some ways, they are  similar but in other ways very different. With faith, you don’t necessarily have experience with a situation or person. You can take what we call a leap of faith.  Trust, on the other hand, is a concept that grows over time, and is not necessarily established right away.    

Personally, I have trouble giving and accepting getting others to have faith in me.

I have done some things in my life that have affected other’s faith and trust in me.

At times I have acted in a way that has strengthened others’ trust in me. Especially when I am caring for my siblings and taking my school work seriously and being accountable. I’ve also had times when there was a breakdown in trust. For example, there have been times I haven’t shared the whole story of what needed to be told.  Earning trust takes a long time to rebuild after breaking it. 

Knowing how important this concept of faith is to our ancestors, I think our question now becomes how we can become people of faith in God, and be trusting of others and ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

Eytan Luria ’21

D’var Torah: Dr. Dalia Hochman (Shemot)

Naming and Anonymity, Suffering and Redemption in Parashat Shemot (Exodus)

What I love most about Jewish learning is that I am able to return to even the most familiar of texts and derive new meaning from each encounter. 

I first learned the Exodus story right at our very own Stein Circle at some point in the mid-1980s. I remember well how, in third grade, we staged a Pesach play all in Hebrew and delved deep into a plot line that easily captured our childish imaginations. 

Today, over thirty years later, after living through a year of mass suffering and senseless death, I read the story of Exodus in a new light. 

Shemot in Hebrew means “Names.” The parasha opens with the recitation of the names of Jacob’s sons. The Rabbis note how the text vacillates between nameless characters, such as Pharaoh, and very specific names attributed to more minor characters, such as the midwives Shifra and Puah. The suffering of the Hebrew slaves is both specific and named, and, at the same time, vast and anonymous.

I think about this past year, and how, at some point I decided to stop watching CNN because the constant ticker on the screen listing the number of COVID-19 deaths felt too anonymous and too vast. There is something particularly senseless and tragic about anonymous suffering. As a counterpoint to a year filled with vast and unnamed deaths, I think of the compelling memorial on the Boston Common entitled “Say Their Names,” which honors 300 lives lost to racial injustice. I understand now, that “saying their names,” helps the human spirit feel comfort in times of deep suffering. This year, I read the opening lines of Exodus as a moment of redemption and hope. 

Once I start seeing Shemot through the lens of redemption, I see it everywhere in the text; in Yocheved’s defiance of Pharaoh’s edict, in Moses’ striking down of the oppressive Egyptian overseer, and in Aaron’s role as his brother’s ambassador. This year, I am less impressed by the big, heroic miracles, such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and find more hope in these small moments of human free will. The human actions remind me of the times over the past year when I have felt so free despite the restrictions of our everyday life. I think about a particularly exhilarating hike or an outdoor playdate or how hard we have worked to keep our schools open and safe in the midst of a pandemic. While I do pray that our modern day crossing of the Red Sea comes soon, this year, when I reread the sacred text of Exodus, I take comfort in the fact that the human spirit can still feel free and alive while awaiting a miracle. 

Dr. Dalia Hochman ’92, Current Parent, Head of School at Gann Academy