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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (Ki Tavo)

The new school year has finally arrived! We are concluding an invigorating summer of reflection, strategic work and planning as we eagerly await the arrival of our students. But in some ways it has also been a summer of heartbreak and sadness while we watched, like all of you,  news reports from Charlottesville and Houston. Though vastly different in many ways, both events have deeply shaken our national consciousness and have shown us the worst and then the best of American character and capability. These events remind us that our hearts have the potential to travel many hundreds or thousands of miles, across state lines, and connect with people we have never met.

Our empathy and our concern for the stranger is a core Jewish value that we see reinforced in this week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo. In this portion we find the famous verses from our Passover Seder that begin “My Father was a wandering Aramean…” (Deut. 26:5-8). These verses recall how far the Israelite people had come during their 40 year-long journey. They had been strangers, oppressed in the Land of Egypt, and now they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, preparing for a life of prosperity. God reminds them that every year, when it is time to bring the first fruits, the Israelites must make note of their gratitude for their good fortune, AND they must share their wealth with the stranger and the oppressed.

One of the most important lessons we can teach our children, and a lesson that we constantly reinforce with every student in every grade level at our school, is that the world is bigger than ourselves and that we are responsible for one another. That kindness and love for others is essential to our nature as Jewish people and human beings. We teach our students the prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving, but we remind them that prayer is only the first step and that action must follow. Which is why we encourage our Gan Shelanu students to share, and find tzedakah projects for our Lower School students, and promote citizenship in our Intermediate Division and create social action projects with our 8th graders. All of these initiatives reinforce what our Torah treasures the most and therefore, our priority as a Jewish community. We must give thanks for what we have and then remember to share with those most in need. Our faculty, staff and administration all believe the work we are doing with our students, your children, is crucial toward repairing our shared society and communities.

May we all have a blessed year of learning, love, compassion and growth in which we see the world become a better place! Shanah Tovah!

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