Sunday, March 6, 2011

Giving With Passion, Creating Community

D’var Torah Delivered at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, Yavneh Shabbat Services

March 4, 2011

28 Adar I 5771

מַיִם רַבִּים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת אֶת הָאַהֲבָה וּנְהָרוֹת לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ (שיר השירים 8:6)

Great waters cannot put out love, or passion, and rivers cannot wash it away

When I came across this verse, I immediately thought of my time over nearly the past four years as an active member of the Columbia and Barnard Jewish community. When taken as a metaphorically, I feel that this verse truly reflects the experience of being a committed Jew on campus. Each of us is inundated by great waters - seemingly endless amounts of classes, papers and extracurricular along with other temptations, both more and less beneficial. Yet we have all in our own way held onto our great love and passion for Judaism –whether running to and from minyan[1] in between classes, attending or giving shiurim[2] or any number of ways that we contribute to our proudly peer-run community.

Coming into Hillel and Yavneh, I was inspired by some extremely, overly passionate leaders who seemed to devote every moment of their time to planning events, chesed[3] and minyan times. A certain one of them managed to run the entire Hillel while terrorizing chemistry students. I was inspired by those devoted leaders who gave so freely of their time, and always have wished to fulfill the high standards which they had set on how to give and lead.

R’ Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Ger[4], better known as the Sefat Emet (or the sfas emes) used the above verse as a jumping off point for one of his messages, which seems to speak directly to us here at Columbia and Barnard, as well as to three occasions which we mark this Shabbat – Parshat P’kudei, in which we complete the book of Shemot and the construction of the Mishkan; Shabbat Shekalim, the first of the Arba Parshiyot[5]; and Rosh Hodesh Adar II (the real adar!), which begins at the end of Shabbat.

Going back to the beautiful words of Shir Hashirim about love or devotion being stronger than rushing waters, the Sefat Emet explains this verse in comparison with the building of the mishkan. After the sin of the golden calf, it was as if Israel had been lost in a rush of waters, of sinfulness and straying. Yet even this very sad state, the love expressed by Israel through נדיבות, willingly and voluntarily giving of themselves was able to overcome the sin which they had committed through not trusting God and creating an image. While some might make light of the repetitive and less exciting nature of these parshiyot – I’ll even admit I was a bit disappointed when reading my Torah Temimah[6] commentary last Shabbat, which had two whole pages without any explanations – we should keep in mind the underlying beauty in the way which B’nei Yisrael gave willingly, and even more that they were asked.

In the very same comment, the Sefat Emet also provides a beautiful explanation connecting Parashat Shekalim, in which we read of the half-shekel which every male adult Israelite was obligated to give for the mishkan, and later the Beit Hamikdash each year. He writes,

שפת אמת שמות פרשת שקלים

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה. הוא שמחת הנדבה שהביאו בנ"י בכל אדר השקלים. ואיתא מצות שקבלו עליהם בשמחה עדיין עושין כו'

When Adar enters, our joy is increased – this is the joy of giving shekalim willingly which happened each Adar…and they continue to uphold those mitzvot which they accepted upon themselves with gladness.

Even though we no longer bring shekalim to the Temple, this theme of giving still pervades the month of Adar for us today as we give mishloach manot[7] on Purim and even more importantly, matanot l’evyonim[8] to those who are less fortunate. In a beautiful connection, these acts which connect us to our friends and those in need were willingly accepted by the Jews of Persia after their deliverance from destruction, as it is written in Megillat (the scroll of Esther), קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ , הַיְּהוּדִים, the Jews accepted and performed these acts for their selves and their descendants (9:27) Even where we are commanded to give, the commandment can be performed at a much higher level when done with joy.

This idea brings us back to the Hillel and Yavneh communities and provides messages both for those of us who are sadly moving on and others who will pick up the mantle. To the underclassmen, I have complete faith that you will not let those many waters overcome your dedication to contributing though attending, planning programs and all types of events and keeping the warm special character of this place, most importantly achieved through chesed and welcoming all those who enter. And on the same note, I know that I and the other seniors will take the passion and dedication which we saw here at Yavneh and Hillel and place it into whichever communities we will enter next year in the future. But for all of us, may we never let the mighty waters overcome our passion, joy and dedication Judaism and community.

Shabbat Shalom and Adar Sheni Sameah!

[1] Daily services

[2] Classes on Jewish texts or other topics

[3] Programs of community service and assisting those in need

[4] 19th Century Polish Hassidic leader

[5] Four additional Maftir Torah readings read in anticipation of the holidays of Purim and Pesah

[6] Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, late nineteenth century Lithuania, which connects verses from the Torah with their citations in rabbinic literature.

[7] The commandment to give packages of food (minimally, two types of food to one friend) on Purim.

[8] The commandment to give to at least two needy individuals on Purim.

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