Every month I have tried to speak to students about some thoughts and what UJS have been getting up to. This month I thought I would do something different and talk about the weekly Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the last portion in the book of Shemot, the book of Exodus.
The book of Shemot ends with completing of the construction of the tabernacle, which really symbolises the culmination of the creation all the way back since the reading of the book of Bereishit - the book of Genesis.
One might even say that the book of creation ends in one place, but the story of creation ends this week at the end of Shemot.
At the end of each book of the Torah, Ashkenazim say “Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek” – “Be Strong, Be Strong, and we will be Strong”, whilst most Sephardim say “Chazak U’Baruch”, “Be strong and be blessed” after every reading.
The question arises here: Why the theme of strength?
The Torah is a book of guidelines, outlining what good deeds to do to make you a better person. Things like honouring your parents, giving to charity, and loving your neighbour.
And of course, on campus, showing strength in the face of adversity is particularly pertinent for me. This month, we have demonstrated a communal strength against antisemitsim in Bristol, hosting our online #hateoffcampus rally.
The idea of strength in the Ashkenazi phrase manifests in three different ways. The first “Chazak”, to state our commitment to improving ourselves as individuals, a second Chazak to reaffirm our commitment to strengthening our community. And a final declaration of ‘we will be strong’, to affirm our strength in the future.
UJS have now completed an entire year of weekly, peer led Divrei Torah. The first of this series was given by my predecessor, Esther, and a year later, we are here at our very own Simchat Torah – our rejoicing with the Torah! We are immensely proud that we have been able to highlight 52 Jewish student leaders in creating a meaningful Jewish experience on campus in this way.
Although this week marks the end of our Dvar Torah series, just like Simchat Torah, it also marks the beginning, the start of a new chapter in the building of UJS’s Jewish engagement and enrichment.
If you want to watch any of our Divrei Torah, please click here.
Looking forwards beyond this completion, and for every day of the year to come, we should continue to show absolute strength for ourselves, our loved ones, and our wider community both now and in the future.
Shabbat Shalom to you all