Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Nov. 20.   For the last 18 years this day has been dedicated to the memory of all those transgender men and women who have been murdered because they were hated.  Many transgender people have experienced violence and hatred directly.  Many are victims of society’s misunderstanding of their lives.

I learned long ago that God loves everyone.

In Jewish tradition the Mishnah in Sanhedrin teaches us:

“…to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow.”

Though we are all human beings each person is unique created from the original human being ADAM–not a man’s name in the Torah but a word that means human.  For the very first human creature was created both male and female. (See Genesis 1:27)

So God created mankind in his own image,
 in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Our Rabbis taught that the first human being was Both Male and Female and it was only in the second creation story in Genesis chapter 2 that humanity became two separate beings.

On this Transgender day of Remembrance we mourn for the lives destroyed by hatred and violence.  And we remember we each came from the first human being –both male and female.

How do we feel God’s Presence?

Parshat Vayetze

Genesis 28:10–32:3

Jacob is on the run.  He is on the run from his brother Esau who is upset with him because he “stole” their father’s blessing.  At their mother’s urging, Jacob is to go to Haran to her brother’s home.  Jacob begins his journey with a dream.  The dream he has is as vivid as life itself.  He dreams of a ladder that connects heaven and earth and he encounters God!  Upon his awakening he knows he has had more than a dream –he has had a prophetic vision.  It changes him.  The feelings linger with him.  And he marks the very spot with a monument of stones calling the place Beth-El.  This spot does become important in subsequent generations as a holy place of connection between God and the Israelites. It becomes a worship site much later in Jewish history.  So Jacob is clearly seeing the future of this holy place in his dreams.

Although he began his trip in fear of his brother, his fear is transformed into awe before God.  Ironically, the Hebrew word for fear and awe are the same, trh.  Jacob says, “God was in the place and I did not know it!”  He is changed by his dreams and although he continues on his journey toward his family he believes God’s presence is with him.

And indeed, Jacob receives all kinds of protection on his sojourn in Haran. Not every moment is easy. He tries to marry his cousin Rachel and is deceived by his uncle Laban.  He marries both Leah and Rachel, sisters but has to work more than 14 years for his uncle!

But Jacob’s blessings continue through the birth of children and acquire additional wives and wealth.

“God was in this place but I knew it not!” exclaimed Jacob.  It is a moment of gratitude that continues throughout his sojourn and his return to Canaan.

As we Americans sit down to our Thanksgiving tables, united with family again as Jacob was in this week’s Torah portion, our challenge is to recognize and give thanks for the many ways God’s presence blesses our lives.  The Thanksgiving holiday asks us to reflect on and share aloud the gratitude we have for family, friends, work and life itself.  These are blessings the Jews gives thanks for each and every day.

So as you sit down together, be reminded of Jacob’s dream and his willingness to acknowledge God’s blessing and presence in his life.  And do the same.

Here is a prayer you might share:

As Jacob felt your Presence, O Holy Blessed One, help us around this Thanksgiving table to feel Your nearness.  Bless this home and all who gather at this table. Let us share in the abundance we know flows from You.  Grant us health and wellbeing and peace of mind and world.  O Holy Blessed One let us acknowledge Your Presence in our lives.  Help us make Your Presence manifest in the world by the actions we taken to perfect your creation.  Let us be able to say, “God was in this place and we knew it not.”     Amen.

ppy Thanksgiving

In the Beginning -Bereshit

Simchat Torah/Parshat Bereshit

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Rabbi Denise L. Eger

 

With the arrival of the holiday of Simchat Torah, we come once again to begin the cycle of the reading of Torah.  We end our reading with Deuteronomy and then immediately begin with the opening words of Genesis, “When God began to create the universe…” (Gen. 1:1).   Now most of us are more familiar with the translation-“In the beginning God created “ but the former translation is preferred according to the great teacher Rashi who  said that if it was “In the beginning”- the first word would have read “Birishona” not Bereshit.  (see the Revised Plaut commentary p. 19)

 

In truth Judaism has a lot to say about creation. This week’s Torah portion, Bereshit contains two different versions of the creation story.  The first story is begins at chapter 1 and continues through the beginning of chapter 2.  It describes the first six days of creation, culminating in the Shabbat, the day God ceased from creating and rested. Humanity is created but the first being is both male and female and later according to the tradition divided into genders.  While the second creation story in Genesis describes the making of the first man, Adam and then subsequently, the first woman, Eve from the rib of Adam. Thus there are two different versions of creation.

 

The Kabbalists had their own view of the beginnings of the universe.  And to even create room for the universe God had to withdraw into God’s self. This act is known as tzimtzum in the kabbalistic tradition. But this is even before the point of light (Let there be light!) opened up!

 

In our Midrashic tradition, the rabbis also had a lot to say about what existed prior to creation.   In Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 we read the following:

 

When God Began to Create: Six things preceded the creation of the world; some of them were actually created, while the creation of the others was already contemplated. The Torah and the Throne of Glory were created. The Torah, for it is written, Adonai  made me as the beginning of God’s way, prior to God’s works of old (Prov. VIII, 22). The Throne of GIory, as it is written, Your throne is established of old, etc. (Ps. XCIII, 2). The creation of the Patriarchs was contemplated, for it is written, I saw your ancestors as the first-ripe in the fig-tree at her first season (Hos. IX, 10). [The creation of] Israel was contemplated, as it is written, Remember Your congregation, which You have gotten aforetime (Ps. LXXIV, 2). [The creation of] the Temple was contemplated, for it is written, Your throne of glory, on high from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary (Jer. XVII, 12). The name of Messiah was contemplated, for it is written, Your name existed before the sun (Ps. LXXII, 17).R. Ahabah b. R. Ze’ira said: Repentance too, as it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, etc.  (ib. XC, 2), and from that very moment, You turn a person to contrition, and say: Repent, you  children of mortals (ib. 3). I still do not know which was first, whether the Torah preceded the Throne of Glory or the Throne of Glory preceded the Torah. Said R. Abba b. Kahana: The Torah preceded the Throne of Glory, for it says, Adonai made me as the beginning of God’s way, before God’s works of old,’ which means, before that where it is written, ’Your throne is established of old.’

 

 

Thus according to the Midrash the six things were: The Torah, God’s Throne of Glory, the Patriarchs, the People Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem and the name of the Messiah. For the Rabbis each of these were touched by eternity. Each of these were beyond human and earthly explanation.  But as you can see from the above part of the style of the rabbis is to provide a proof text-a verse from somewhere else in the Bible to “prove” that their assertion is correct!

 

Obviously this is neither science nor the theory of evolution. And it doesn’t need to be.  The Torah and the rabbis contemplation of the origins of the universe, God and creation are the mythic stories that try to help us understand the theological and spiritual framework of values that are important in Jewish life: a respect for the earth, a respect for all life, and imagining humanity’s connection in the ongoing preservation and renewal of our planet.

 

Gilad and Simchat Torah

Get your dancing shoes on! Trip the light fantastic!  It’s Simchat Torah Wednesday night and Thursday.  We will end and begin the cycle of reading the Torah again with much rejoicing.  Just as Moses’ soul ascends to heaven we will quickly read again about the beginnings of the Universe.  Simchat Torah as a hyper-time machine-leading us back to the moment of the creation itself!

We await the safe return of GIlad Shalit who has been held hostage for 5 years by Hamas in isolation.  Let us hope the Torah we dance with is not just the scroll of our people’s journey but let us hope that we can rejoice is Gilad’s safe return.  May God bless Gilad and his family. And let the Jewish people rejoice.

Existence: Why is there a universe? – something from nothing

This is a fascinating article from New scientist magazine about the origins of the universe. It asks scientific questions that religious folks have been asking for millennia! Wondering what came before creation and how the universe came into being are questions that have been asked by our sages and rabbis as well. Even the Torah alludes to this in Genesis. Calling the universe before creation of the universe. “tofu vavohu” chaos and void. There is much to contemplate here.

The universe is definitely something from nothing. “Let there be light. And there was light”

Existence: Why is there a universe? – space – 26 July 2011 – New Scientist.