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.
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.