Jewish Life at Duke welcomed our students to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year on August 14, 2020 with our first virtual Shabbat of the semester during Weeks of Welcome.
Dan Crair ‘21 shared this thoughtful d’var Torah with his fellow students:
As some of you might know, I moved into a new apartment in Durham this week after spending the last five months at home with my family in Miami. For anyone who has moved into an apartment or house would know, it has been extremely stressful. Ordering all of the furniture, coordinating things to buy with my roommate…and all in a time span of about two weeks. On top of all of that, there’s the elephant in the room; there’s still a pandemic. And though I’m finally back in the same city as many of my friends, figuring out how to actually see them has been… a bit messy. On top of general health guidelines, those like me who plan to come on campus for classes have gotten a long list of rules from Duke of where you can go, who you can see, and what you can do.
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, the Israelites are also given a long list of rules. Moses reminds them of the laws of kashrut, or proper eating, instructs them on how to celebrate holidays such as Passover and Sukkot, and a whole lot more. The portion begins with a description of how the Israelites must eliminate any traces of idols when they arrive upon the land, destroying them completely. “Abed teabdoon et kol hamkomot, you are to utterly destroy all the sites” where other gods were worshiped. As French medieval commentator Chizkuni remarks, “the Torah… speaks of vessels used in the worship of idols, [not the earth itself on which the idol stands].” It is important for the Israelites to eradicate anything used by those before them to behave improperly, but the ground can stay.
For those of us returning to campus this semester, it may feel unfamiliar, and almost like a different place. Like the Israelites, we must navigate the difficulty of adjusting to a new land and following a long list of rules that will keep us safe. But still, not everything will be different. Though we may need to eliminate certain practices that are not safe for our community, like large gatherings, the ground, the foundation that our community is built upon can and will remain.
What brings us together as Duke students – our classes, student organizations, Jewish Life at Duke – may have many of their familiar landmarks removed, but our community will remain strong. We will still be able to meet, be it in person, on Zoom, or through other means. Shabbat at Jewish Life at Duke will live on. We will still develop new friendships and strengthen the bonds of our Duke community. The spirit of Duke, which challenges us to be the best we can be, has not gone anywhere. And for first years who may be arriving at Duke for the first time – bear with us as we rebuild Duke from the foundation up. Though the work is messy, and the rules may be confusing, we have our relationships as the base upon which our community will grow and flourish.