In the Hillel world, we ask a very fundamental question. Given that we have access to our Jewish students for just a four-year window in their young adulthood, what do we want to teach them? What do we want to inspire them towards? What skills do we want them to gain during their short time on campus? This week’s parsha gives us the beginning of an answer to that question.
There is a midrash that Rashi cites which describes how Jacob planted acacia trees when he was in Egypt. He told his children and grandchildren that in generations from now, when his descendants leave Egypt, they will have use for these acacia trees. Indeed in our parsha, the Torah tells us to make the planks of the Tabernacle out of this very acacia wood (Ex. 26:15), which Jacob presciently planted generations earlier in Egypt.
That in many ways is what our Hillel work is about. It is about planting seeds, planting young saplings, which will grow, thrive for years to come. It’s not necessarily to give our students hard and fast answers or prepackaged visions of how to live a Jewish life. It’s to inspire them, to make sure they’re asking the right questions, to challenge them. So that later in their Jewish adulthood when they’re thinking about marriage, when they’re thinking about raising kids, when they’re thinking about what professional lives they want to step into, they’ll remember a conversation they had at Hillel. They’ll remember a Shabbat dinner they attended. They’ll remember a trip they took to Israel.
They’ll then be able to harvest and use in their own lives those seeds that were planted. They’ll be able to use those young acacia saplings that they encounter to build the holy structures they will need to thrive and grow in their own Jewish adulthood.
We should all be blessed to plant seeds for the next generations and to harvest those living trees that we need to build the structures of our own Jewish lives.
Shabbat shalom. I look forward to learning with you more next week.
This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.