This week is a thrilling time in Torah: rivers turn to blood, fiery hail falls from the sky, a dictator’s heart hardens to the pleas of an oppressed people. In all the noisy excitement of the first seven plagues, who has the patience to pay attention to a list of names in Parashat Va’eira’s opening chapter?
This week is a thrilling time for being on campus: we return from winter break, find our groove, leaders step up to inspire. But in all the noisy excitement of reuniting with our favorite personalities, who might we be missing?
If we did pay attention to that seemingly dull list of names, we might notice a few familiar ones: Nachshon, Korach, Pinchas. Bound to play significant roles in the book of Numbers, each is present here and now, before we’ve recognized their importance, but lost to us among the crowd. Perhaps this is why the sage Ben Azzai cautions us: “Do not disparage anyone…for there is no person who does not have their moment” (Pirkei Avot 4:3).
We never know who may suddenly take the spotlight. The senior who realizes she wants to learn more about her Judaism in her final weeks on campus. The freshman who surfaces, ready to lead his peers. The student who never comes to Hillel but leads a rich Jewish life. They are already here, whether you notice them or not. And they will all have their moments.
The question is: can we recognize and value them even before they shine too brightly to ignore?
Brandon Bernstein is the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern Hillel.