March 24, 2017
Temple B'nai Chaim
Rabbi Rachel Bearman

The Levites as well as the priestly and rabbinic traditions that would eventually emerge as our tradition evolved were almost unbelievably fond of putting people, animals, things, behaviors, and more into neatly defined categories.  Everyone and everything was either appropriate or not appropriate depending on whether she, he, or it fell within strict categories.  Based on this preference for organization and clarity, it would be easy to assume that the construction of the Tabernacle, the sacred space where the Levites would carry out their duties, would be a highly regimented affair.  And yet, when we come to these last portions of the book of Exodus, we find a description of the Tabernacle’s construction that defies this expectation.  

From these last several chapters, we learn that the Tabernacle was constructed with materials brought by those whose hearts motivated them to contribute.  In the 35th chapter of Exodus, we read, "And everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Lord his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting, and for all its service and for the sacral vestments.  Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make a wave offering of gold to the Lord, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants, gold objects of all kinds ... Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord."

This weekend religious organizations and congregations around the country, including Temple B’nai Chaim, are participating in the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice.  One of the guiding principles of this weekend of prayer addresses the importance of this program: "We acknowledge that organized religion has often been an unsafe space for transgender people, and we commit to providing safe and sacred space to children, youth, young adults, adults, and elders of all gender identities and expressions, supporting each other in deepening our understandings of ourselves and one another in community."

Organized religious traditions, including but certainly not limited to the Jewish tradition have not always provided sanctuary to the people who needed it most.  Organized religion’s past ambivalence makes it even more necessary for leaders of all faiths to step forward and to celebrate the beautiful diversity that exists within our congregations and within our world.

When it came time to stop talking about building the Tabernacle and to actually set about constructing the sanctuary, it would have been easier and maybe even more logical for the leaders of the Israelites to divide the people into groups.  One group could have been in charge of dyeing the fabric, another could have taken care of the metal work, and still another could have crafted the wooden tools and furniture.  Instead, in this moment, when it was time to build the most sacred structure, the place that would allow God to dwell in the midst of the Israelites, there were no divisions.  Each and every person in the Israelite camp assessed what they had to contribute, and those whose hearts were moved and inspired, brought their very best to the project.  

This week’s Torah portions, Vayak’heil P’kudei, teach us that when it comes to the sacred, the heart is the only thing that matters.  On this Shabbat, we recommit ourselves to bringing the best in our own hearts to our community and to understanding that the spirit, the sacred, transcends any and all categories.

I’ll close tonight with the vision of how faith organizations can support the pursuit of transgender justice, as it was articulated by the organizers of the National Weekend of Prayer.  

They wrote:

THE ROLE OF FAITH

"Religion is being used by some to justify discrimination and spread false narratives about transgender people. As people of faith and conscience, we oppose the use of religion to harm transgender people, and we recognize our responsibility to articulate a different moral vision. We believe that ‘religious freedom’ means the freedom to practice our faith, not deny other people their rights or impose our beliefs on others.

We know that gender is a complex and sacred gift, and that the breathtaking diversity of Creation is to be honored, not questioned or denied. We know that gender diversity has played a role in myriad faith traditions and religious texts dating back centuries, and that transgender people serve as faith leaders in many traditions and bring forward powerful spiritual gifts."

To this, we add a chorus of agreement, saying together, "Amen V’Amen." 

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman
Temple B'nai Chaim