This coming Shabbat, we are presented with two holy paths. Both are expressions of core Jewish values; both are opportunities to be in solidarity with your Jewish community; both are in-line with Kavana's purpose of "empowering each of us to create a meaningful Jewish life and a positive Jewish identity." And, we hope that we will have solid Kavana community representation at each of these two important events!
Last week, I participated in two different batei din (rabbinic courts) for conversions to Judaism. Working with conversion candidates is some of the most powerful work a rabbi gets to do, as through it, I am always privileged to hear people's personal stories and learn about their journeys towards Judaism. Interestingly, one theme that kept coming up last week at the mikveh was how each of the candidates appreciated one key feature of Jewish tradition: that embedded in our texts and culture is a deep appreciation for interpretation and debate.
This rhythm of back and forth, or "shakla va-tarya," is core to the Talmud. Through the expressing of different opinions and clarification of the rationale behind them, the rabbis of the Talmud articulate their values and principles, and help us developed nuanced ways of prioritizing them when they come into conflict. (If you're interested in further examples of this rabbinic back and forth, look no further than the text of the traditional Passover Haggadah, where various rabbis debate the meaning of biblical verses about the Exodus from Egypt, playing with ideas like God's role in history and the true meaning of redemption.)
In a famous passage from Masekhet Eruvin 13b, the Talmud talks about one of its most famous pairs of teachers, Hillel and Shammai:
"For three years there was a dispute between the house of Shammai and the house of Hillel, the former asserting, 'The law is in accordance with our views" and the latter contending, "The law is in accordance with our views.' Then a heavenly voice issued forth, announcing, 'These and those are the words of the living God, but the law is in agreement with the rulings of the house of Hillel.'"
This is such a radical passage! Of course, the Talmud acknowledges that at the end of the day, it's important to have the ability to make decisions. Still, the phrase "eilu v'eilu divrei elohim chayim," "these and those are the words of the living God," teaches that our tradition understands more than one opinion as holy; there is a place in Judaism for different voices and different expressions.
Why am I thinking about this passage this week? Because this week, we each have a choice to make!
This Saturday, March 24th at 10am, our Adult B'nai Mitzvah class will celebrate the learning they've done over the course of many months. The whole community is invited to celebrate with them -- to join together in a Shabbat morning service featuring prayer and song, Torah and teaching. We'll also be honoring Rabbi Sydney Danziger and the role that she's played in her time as Kavana's Rabbinic Fellow. Of course, I'm sure that everyone in the Kavana community would want to join in such a joyous celebration of learning... and this Shabbat service has the opportunity to provide precisely the opportunity for reflection and spiritual recharging that we all need on a weekly basis!
This Saturday, March 24th at 10am, Seattle's March For Our Lives will begin at Cal Anderson Park. All over the country, "kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today." Here at Kavana, we've been talking about the issue of gun violence and the need for sensible gun legislation literally from Kavana's inception (when this issue hit very close to home with the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation). We know that many Kavana folks will want to put on their Kavana t-shirts and show up to march this Saturday... and if you do, we recommend that you plan to join the Jewish community meet-up at Cafe Solstice at 925 E. Thomas St at 9:30am and go from there. (If anyone wants to volunteer to take Kavana's banner, please let us know.)
Given the timing of the Adult B'nai Mitzvah service and the Seattle March for Our Lives, we know that it won't be possible for an individual to be at both events at the same time. But, in this pluralistic Jewish community, we do have the liberty of saying "eilu v'eilu divrei elohim chayim" -- "these and those are the words of the living God." This coming Shabbat, we are presented with two holy paths. Both are expressions of core Jewish values; both are opportunities to be in solidarity with your Jewish community; both are in-line with Kavana's purpose of "empowering each of us to create a meaningful Jewish life and a positive Jewish identity." And, we hope that we will have solid Kavana community representation at each of these two important events!
So, where will YOU be this Saturday? Eilu v'eilu divrei elohim chayim... whatever you decide, we hope that you will show up in community to raise your voice for a holy purpose.
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.