Did you know that at every Hillel Shabbat our students share their own words of Torah? Sophie Polgar, UNC-Chapel Hill '22, shared the following personal message at the beginning of the school year, a message about being a minority and changing the world that is equally relevant today:
The portion this week is Va’etchanan in Deuteronomy. It contains a LOT of good material, including the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta, but one singular quote stood out to me:
“The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you are the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7).
Basically, we’re tiny. In the times of the Torah and even now. Currently, Jews are less than 0.2 per cent of the world's population.
My research suggested two reasons. One, the heavy toll taken during exile and persecution, massacres and pogroms. The Jewish population is a mere fraction of what it might have been had there been no Crusades and no antisemitism. Secondly, Jews have not historically sought to convert others. Maybe if we had, we could be closer in numbers to Christianity (2.4 billion) or Islam (1.6 billion).
So what? Why is it important that we are a minority? I think everyone here has experienced that feeling of being small, insignificant, or an outlier in their community.
But at Hillel this past year, I somehow didn’t feel insignificant. My freshman year in a strange Southern place taught me something about being Jewish. You do not need numbers to impact the spiritual and moral norms of mankind.
Jews have achieved amazing feats that testify to a force beyond ourselves. Whether it is a collective responsibility to heal the world -- tikkun olam, or the very Jewish commitment to higher learning and law that put three Jews on the Supreme Court at the same time.
Looking at the numbers makes me a lil shaky … I feel like a teensy speck of dust in a large, complex world. Yet standing here, reflecting on history and our shared values, I feel small but mighty. On this very first Shabbat of the school year, remind yourself of that strength and tradition. Shabbat Shalom.