Student perspectives

Terumah, Michael Simozar's speech


This week’s parsha is “Terumah,” in which God gives Moses instructions on how to build a specific type of house - a mishkan, also called the Sanctuary. God tells Moses that the Jewish people will build the mishkan so that God can dwell among us. It will be built so that it can be easily dismantled, transported, and reassembled. This is the first we are told of Moses upon his arriving to the top of Mt. Sinai. We are told to contribute 13 different materials to this sanctuary and build two chambers. The inner chamber, the ark, was to contain two tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments; the outer chamber would contain a menorah.

We build the mishkan as a semi-portable sanctuary so that God can continue to dwell among us as we wander in the desert for the next 40 years. From, this, we take two big takeaways. The first being that we do not leave God behind when we move. As Jews were persecuted throughout the ages and were forced to leave their homes, God came with us. With each step and stop of the way, God was right alongside us, and helped us get through our arduous travels. We also take this to remember that God is with us through each step of our endeavors. Whether we face slavery, exile, or genocide, God dwells among us and gives us the strength to persevere as a people and as individuals.

So for those of us here tonight who may be struggling to live away from the homes we lived in for most of our lives, for those of us getting accustomed to new homes, and for those of us saying goodbye to our homes in Austin, we remember that through each step of travel and of hardship, we will always have a home here at Chabad and that we will always have a home in our hearts for God.





Mishpatim, Koby Sokoloff's speech



This week’s parsha is Mishpatim, meaning laws in Hebrew. This is what I would consider one of those boring Torah portions or at least one where you have to dig a little bit deeper to find any meaning for us today. In this Torah portion we read about all of the laws G-d wants us to follow as a part of our covenant with him. After receiving the Ten Commandments in last week’s parsha these laws seem small and less important. Additionally, many of them seem out of date. For example, we no longer have slaves, and if we did I’m pretty sure we would not let them free after six years of labor. That being said there was one law in this week’s parsha that stuck out to me.

It read, "Do not oppress the stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger since you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Upon reading this law I immediately realized how important this was to our daily lives as Jews even in the year 2016. Let me explain.

Over this winter break I went on Birthright. It was my first time in the Jewish holy land, and I was a little worried. Not for my safety, as the security in Israel unfortunately is always something to worry about no matter when you go, but rather the concern that my whole bus of Jews would have such vastly different definitions of what it meant to be Jewish that it would be as if we were strangers to each other and our homeland. How was a bus full of 38 college students ranging from 19 to 26 years old from across the US going to possibly feel connected in their Judaism at a time when the Jewish diaspora is so divided. In the states in 2016 one of the first questions someone asks you after they find out you share your Jewish faith is: How to you associate yourself? Are you Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or non-practicing? Immediately, whether we like it or not, it becomes a game of who is the better Jew. Do you keep kosher, do you go to temple every Friday or only on the holidays. The religious aspect of Judaism has seem to conquer the entirety of what it means to be Jewish and share a common culture and memory.

However, to my pleasant surprise over the ten days our bus of 38 became one tight knit misphucheh (family) bonded together by our Judaism. We did not look down upon one another as strangers if some of us kept kosher and others did not. We did not look down on one another if some had had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah when we were 13, and others had not. We did not look down on one another if one could sing all of the prayers, and another could hardly read a word of Hebrew. Instead, we realized that we were all family experiencing what it meant to be home. We all realized we had a special connection to the land of Israel that we previously did not know existed. Most importantly over the ten days we realized that if Israel and the Jewish people are to continue on we must be united as a people.

We are already a small group who have been and continue to be hated by many. Further our homeland is surrounded by enemies who would like nothing more than to wipe Israel from the map. Therefore, we cannot afford to be divided. We cannot afford to treat each other as strangers just because some of us go to Shabbat services every Friday night and others might be here for the only time this semester. We cannot treat each other as strangers just because we have all Jewish friends and grew up in a mainly Jewish town and others made their first Jewish friend once they came to UT. Like this week’s Torah portion teaches us we cannot treat each other as strangers because we know firsthand how that feels, and what happens as a result.

It creates apathy. It creates a world where Jews do not care about what is going on in Israel because they do not look at the Jews living there as their brothers and sisters. It creates a world where Israelis do not care about how Jews in the U.S., Europe, and all of the world are helping lead the fight for Israel’s survival away from the battle lines. It creates a scary world where the Jews are no longer united as one amazing group of people.

So my challenge to all of you is to never treat your fellow Jew as a stranger, even when it seems almost impossible to find any similarities between you. Because behind all of the differences is a shared history, culture, and value system. If we are all able to foster that connection with each other, the Jews with their unmatched ruach will continue on strong amidst all of the hatred and chaos in this world today. Shabbat shalom. 


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