Student D'Vars Bring New Perspectives to Ancient Texts

Our Change the Culture Student Ambassador Program empowers students to be activists, bringing conversations about healthy relationships to their campuses. One way they do this is through Healthy Relationship Shabbats - where students are brought together over dinner for activities and discussion on the qualities of a healthy relationship in a Jewish context. These student d’vars show how students are engaging closely with JWI’s work, and framing their college experience through ancient text.


What Noah’s Flood Can Teach Us About Changing the Culture: A Student D’Var

By Molly Booth-Balk and Julia Saltzman, University of Miami

“Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

This week's torah portion is about Noah and the Flood. For the most part, we have all heard the story about how god created a massive flood to destroy the corruption of human beings. God allowed for Noah to take just himself and two of every animal onto his arc so they could be saved. It can often be hard to relate biblical text to things that are happening in current times. However, there is one thing that is constant throughout the Torah, other ancient texts, and current times: relationships. Humans need relationships; we thrive on interaction with one another. Nevertheless, it happens all too often that these relationships are not mutual or healthy. That is why we are glad to have the opportunity to be a part of the Change the Culture Internship through JWI.

The internship is based around the mission of empowering women on college campuses to create a community discourse regarding the perpetuation of gendered power dynamics and prevalence of sexual assault. The internship works towards ensuring women’s emotional and physical health and overall safety on every college campus. This is primarily achieved through education and awareness concerning the importance of healthy relationships, an exploration and further conversation concerning rape culture, supporting survivors, and engaging men as allies.

Now, back to Noah and the Arc.

“The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.”

Right now, I think our world is in a “flood state”. Currently, the culture of our country allows for movements such as “#MeToo” to flourish and for women all around the world to come out in support of survivors. This flooding of support is very positive. However, even with this support, culture has not yet changed. Even with all of the courageous women who have come out to share their stories of surviving sexual violence, perpetrators are not only face little consequences, but victims are questioned as if they are the perpetrators themselves. This is where I think we can learn from this week’s Torah portion. Sometimes, it is impossible for change to happen without a catalyst. God saw that humans were becoming corrupt, and he created a literal flood. Today, although our flood is not literal, we can learn that floods can create positive change.

We are so grateful to be part of a Hillel community that advocates for healthy relationship programming and fosters a safe, enlightened environment where this internship can exist and thrive. Tonight’s Torah portion involves the symbolic construction of healthy relationships and the need to generate change within a problematic culture. This relates perfectly to JWI’s ideology, this particular internship, and the larger Hillel community. Healthy relationships are not always created easily or naturally, but are imperative aspects of each person’s life. Engaging in healthy, safe relationships built on love, respect, peace and communication not only support and inspire the individual, but, consequently, cultivate larger positive networks and stronger communities.  Conversations like these are necessary for nurturing communities that have the ability to recognize and address oppressive features of college campuses and within relationships, and ultimately empowering us to change the culture.

A New Healthy Relationship to Emulate: A Student D’Var

By Jess Teich and Abby Adelman, Towson University

We have just spent the past couple minutes talking about the four big themes in a healthy relationship: Love, peace, respect, as well as trust and support. This week’s parsha (Torah portion), vayeitzei, is the best one we could have asked for this Shabbat. Vayeitzei tells the story of how the two sisters, Rachel and Leah, married Jacob, and goes on to tell a little of the life they led afterwards. Interestingly, the healthiest relationship in the portion is not between Jacob and either of his wives, but between the two sisters.

As the parsha teaches, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, and worked for seven years to be able to marry her. On the wedding day, Rachel’s father tricked Jacob into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Jacob then had to work for seven more years to actually marry his beloved Rachel. How is it that Jacob didn’t figure out at the wedding that he was marrying Leah and not Rachel? The story goes that Jacob and Rachel had special hand signs to prove at the wedding that they were who they said they were. Rachel, upon hearing her father’s plan to switch her and her sister, taught Leah the hand signs.

This one story, this one action by Rachel demonstrates all of our themes for a healthy relationship. She trusted Leah with the man she loved and supported her marrying him. Her teaching Leah the hand signs was also a show of respect because she saved Leah from being embarrassed at the wedding altar. Rachel is never shown in the portion to be angry with Leah. They are always at peace, on each other’s side and willing to work together. Their relationship is basically perfect. However, their relationships with Jacob… not so much.

The text definitely says that Jacob loved Rachel, but it repeats over and over that Leah was not as loved. It goes as far as to show how Leah struggled to win her husband’s love and support throughout her life, which is a telltale sign of an unhealthy relationship. Looking at this parsha from a healthy relationship perspective really changed the tone of this classic story. When looking at this parsha, we usually look at and are told to emulate the relationship between Jacob and his wives. I think we’ve been told the wrong relationship to emulate. The real loving, supportive, and HEALTHY relationship is that of the sisters, Rachel and Leah.

I hope you found our discussion tonight valuable and you continue the conversation about healthy relationships, boundaries, respect, communication, and supporting each other.