• August 13, 2021

    Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shoftim
    By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13)

    I’ve been studying a lot lately about trees. Dr. Suzanne Simard has spearheaded research showing that the trees of the forest communicate with each other through an elaborate system of fungi attached to their roots, which has been dubbed the “Wood-Wide Web”. Through it, trees of the same and different species can warn each other of danger, share resources back and forth according to need and circumstance, and bequeath carbon to their neighbors when they are dying. This understanding could change the way we harvest and replant forests for lumber, to maximize preservation of these networks.[1]

    Our parashah this week also shows concern for trees:

    “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding Read More >

  • January 1, 2021

    Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

    A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayehi
    By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13)The Smothers brothers had an ongoing routine in which Tommy (the older brother), complained to Dickie (the younger brother), “Mom always liked you best”. It was funny because their squabbles reflected the sibling rivalry that was present, to some degree, in every family.

    I didn’t realize at the time that it also reflected almost the entire book of Bereshit (Genesis) in the Torah. Parental favoritism – especially of the younger child over the older – and sibling rivalry is a theme that runs throughout. Brothers vie for position, for approval, for birthright, for blessing, and time after time, it is the younger, rather than the elder who is favored. Here are some examples.

    Jacob and Esau struggle with each other even in the womb. Esau, the firstborn, is favored by his father, Jacob Read More >

  • February 24, 2010

    By Jill Hackell

    “And you will command B’nai Yisrael that they bring to you oil of olives, pure, beaten, to draw up a ner tamid.”

    Several years ago, at the annual Purim Ball, I won a set of tallit clips in a raffle. These were beautifully hand-crafted in silver by a jeweler in our congregation in the shape of our synagogue’s ark. And in the center, just above the doors of the ark, a little red gemstone sparkled – representing the ner tamid. This week’s parashah, which we will read on Shabbat Zakhor, the Shabbat just before Purim, continues the description of the meticulous craftsmanship that went into the building of the Mishkan and the vestments of the Kohen gadol. And it opens with the commandment to raise a ner tamid – the source for the eternal lamps that burn before the ark in our synagogues today.

    In the days of the Mishkan, Read More >

  • November 24, 2009

    By Jill G. Hackell

    In Parashat VaYeitzei we read, “When Rachel saw that she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob was incensed at Rachel, and said, “Can I take the place of God, who has denied you fruit of the womb?” Rachel cries out from the depths of her anguish, and her husband, who loves her, is angry, and hurtful to her. What is going on here, and what can we learn from this interaction?

    Some commentators, over the centuries, have sought to exonerate Jacob for his reaction, placing blame on Rachel; others, more in keeping with our modern sensibilities, have rebuked Jacob for his insensitivity.

    Rashi tells us Rachel wasn’t literally asking Jacob to give her a child – she was asking him Read More >
  • July 14, 2009

    By Jill Hackell

    After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites are poised to cross the Jordan River, and to enter the Promised Land. In the previous parashah, Pinhas, a census of all individuals is taken, and Moses begins the transfer of authority to Joshua, who will lead the people in this next part of their history, the settlement of the Land, the grand finale to the Exodus from Egypt.

    But, in our parashah, Mattot, the descendents of Reuben, and Gad look around, and see that the land east of the Jordan is perfect for their needs. They ask Moses, “Is it okay if we stay here to raise our cattle, rather than crossing the Jordan and being assigned land on the other side?” As Nehama Leibowitz points out, the ensuing interchange speaks volumes Read More >

  • January 28, 2009

    By Jill Hackell

    Parashat Bo is the climax of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh seems on the verge of letting the people go; indeed his courtiers are already convinced that Egypt is lost. Yet, heart-hardened, he refuses permission again, and three more plagues are unleashed – locusts, darkness, and the most terrible plague of all, the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. The remainder of the parashah recounts the events of that night, when the Israelites prepared for their departure from Egypt, and ensures that this pivotal moment of our history will be recorded forever in the collective memory of the Jewish people.

    How do we remember? Through signs and symbols, through conscious action, and through retelling. In my family, there is a ring that belonged to my grandfather’s sister, marked with the numbers 1913 (This is a sign). My mother received it when she graduated high school, Read More >

Rabbi Jill Hackell M.D.

Rabbi Jill Hackell M.D. (AJR '13) is the rabbi of West Clarkstown Jewish Center in New City, N.Y. She also serves on the AJR Board, as liaison to ARC (Association of Rabbis and Cantors), and teaches bioethics in both secular and Jewish settings, including as an adjunct faculty member at AJR.