Justin Yehuda (SSDS 2015), now a freshman at the University of Maryland, delivered this D’var Torah at Schechter’s Second Annual Erev Iyun [Night of Learning] on Tuesday, January 7, in which more than 50 alumni attended.
Welcome back everyone for our Second Annual Erev Iyun. Tonight we gather as a community to exchange experiences, catch up with one another, and relive our Judaic studies classes; what first brought us together years ago. It brings me great joy to see our alumni network so strong and so successful. We all know and respect our common past, a sentiment I deeply believe in.
In this week’s Parasha, Vayehi, Yaakov is an old man in his final stages of life. Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, to his father to receive a final blessing. Yaakov famously switches his hands, and gives Ephraim, the younger son, the more prestigious blessing: “The younger brother will be greater, and his children will fill the nations.”
There is a well-known Mishnah about Yaakov before he dies. On his deathbed, Yaakov questions his children whether their faith in Hashem will waiver after he is gone. Without hesitation, they say, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad [Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One].” Yaakov responds in kind, whispering, “Barukh Shem Kavod Malkhutoh Le-Olam Vaed [Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever].” Interestingly enough, this legend lives in our daily Tefillah experience: We emphatically chant the first line of the Shema, yet whisper the response in an effort to replicate Yaakov.
Though we all are in different places in our lives, what brings us together is Shema Israel. As Jewish people, this Tefillah reflects our shared sense of oneness, our unity, which is transcendent of location and of time. As different as we are, from Reform to Orthodox, we will always have the Shema to serve as our roots, as the bedrock of our identity.
Seeing over 50 people here tonight, attending our Second Annual Alumni Erev Iyun leads me to believe that we are all proud Jews and SSDS alumni – that we represent the values of our families and the values of our elementary and middle school classrooms.
No matter where we go, we carry these lessons from our foundational years with us. So look around, soak in the atmosphere, and remember what it feels like to be a student of Solomon Schechter for a brief moment. I hope you leave today with a renewed sense of pride and commitment to our amazing community.