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  • Hillels of Georgia

Kendall Kalmans - 8/14/2020

Hi all, it is Kendall Kalmans, a rising sophomore at Emory giving the D’var Torah on August 14, 2020 on this week’s Portion Re’eh. I’m so happy to be here with you all virtually and I truly cannot wait until we can all be together eating shabbat dinner at the Marcus Hillel Center – whenever that may be!

In the words of Rabbi Posen of Congregation Neveh Shalom, “Life as a rabbi can be hard. Life as a parent can be hard. Life as a woman can be hard. Put them all together, and it makes for a fairly challenging journey at times.” Posen then goes on to write that while this is her personal combination of experiences and identities, we all have our own struggles and challenges that were facing at any given moment.

Perhaps I’d like to offer my own take on this idea. “Life as a student can be hard. Life as a Jew can be hard. Life during COVID 19 can be hard. Put them all together, and it makes for a fairly challenging journey at times.”

In Parasha Re’eh, Moses gives a long speech in which he outlines the blessings and curses the Jewish people will receive as a result of the mitzvot we are given. An example of these mitzvot are the laws he lays out about kashrut – the rules and restrictions about which foods are to be and not to be consumed in Jewish tradition.

Even though not everyone follows the rules and traditions as set out by the Israelites with respect to keeping kosher, we are all familiar with the importance of why rules are set out for the safety and happiness of our communities.

I’d like to take a moment now to recognize that I have not given a d’var torah since my bat mitzvah 6 years ago and was anxiously awaiting the day someone from Hillel asked me to give the weekly d’var. All of that being said, I really enjoyed doing research, connecting with Jewish mentors and rabbis, to gather information about this week’s Parasha and am more anxious excited than anxious nervous to share my findings with you all.

The first main take-aways I have from this weeks torah portion are the idea of “blessings” and “curses” and how these two extremes can actually work together to help us find a more fulfilling balance in our lifestyle. When reading interpretations and meditations on this week’s portion, I came across Sforno’s analysis of Deuteronomy verse 11:26:1 in which he writes “I present you this day with the choice of two extremes, two opposites. The blessing is an extreme in that it provides you with more than you need, whereas the curse is another extreme making sure you have less than your basic needs.

It is easy sometimes for our lives to feel like a set of extremes. A set of choices that can lead us down drastically different paths, or in completely different directions. However, if we break this verse down to a micro-level, we can also discover that there are both blessings and curses every single day. These days it seems easy to reflect on blessings and curses and the intersections of the two. With COVID-19, many of us have been home for 5 months – longer than we have been since before we left for college our freshman year. For some of us, this is a blessing or a curse and for most of us, a combination of the two. From personal experience, I can say that I miss being on campus and the proximity to all my friends; however, there are definitely an abundance of blessings to my life at home. My mom has long said that this time of having us home is truly “bonus time” for her. I am lucky that I get to have family dinners with my parents and sisters and have my own room and a bit more space. Other blessings of being at home include my backyard pool, and the Peloton I can ride at any hour of the day, granted that no one else in my family is on it. However, there are certainly curses of being home as well. For starters, it has literally been over 100 degrees with ALL. OF. THE. HUMIDITY. Since the end of June, and I was supposed to spend my summer in Maine as a summer camp counselor enjoying the beauty of a New England summer.

COVID has also forced many of us to make difficult decisions about how we chose to return to college life this fall. For some of us, it means returning and moving into an apartment in Atlanta, for incoming first-year students it means moving into an on campus dorm room, and for others it means taking classes remote from home or taking the semester off entirely. But what’s important to emphasize here is that despite all of our varying choices as individuals, we all have to find balance. Balance also manifests itself in a myriad of forms. It means baking cakes from the Momofuku cookbooks, or going on walks with friends. Finding balance can also meaning taking value in consistency, like a familiar podcast, baking a weekly batch of challah and delivering it to friends and family, or a weekly zoom call with those we cannot be near.

Just as Moses warned the Israelites that there would be blessings for their mitzvot, and curses for their sins, we too must make difficult choices that have varying consequences. This idea of our actions having consequences also ties back to the current pandemic we are living through. The second take-away I have from this week’s portion is that rules are ultimately laid out for our safety and comfort and are meant to be followed.

There are rules set out by the federal, state, and local governments outlining laws for the people of our communities to follow. For example, in Houston, there is an order requiring people to wear masks when out in public, including but not limited to restaurant spaces. This law, though difficult for some to abide by, is important because by wearing a face covering, we can work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If we wear our masks and maintain social distance; hopefully, we will be blessed with health and not be cursed with illness from the virus. However, if we continue to gather in large groups or do not wear face coverings, many of our loved ones and members of our community will continue to get sick, and we will likely have to continue wearing masks and maintaining distance for a longer period of time. I know you are all probably tired of hearing people give spiels about wearing a mask, but just in case you haven’t heard or read it yet today WEAR YOUR MASK because I promise you its comfier than a ventilator.

At the end of the day, we all have to work together and only as a community will we continue to benefit from god’s blessings or be punished by god’s curses according to our collective actions.

I hope you all learned something about the parasha Re’eh and I encourage you all to look into online resources such as the Jerusalem post, Jewish standard times of Israel, or my jewish learning if you have further questions or seek more information about this week’s portion.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!

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