D’var Torah for Pride Shabbat

June 23, 2017
Temple B’nai Chaim
Rabbi Rachel Bearman

Most Shabbat evenings, as we gather to pray and welcome the Sabbath, I can feel the strands of tradition that link everyone in our sanctuary to the millions who have gathered in sanctuaries across the globe over the last two thousand years. Sure, some aspects of our worship are different from our ancestors’ services, but on most Friday evenings, I am more aware of the commonalities than the differences.

And, then there are some evenings when I stand on the bimah and my first thought is that our experience of Shabbat could not have existed a century, a decade, or even a day before that exact moment. Tonight is one of those evenings. As I prepared for our Pride Shabbat service — gathering prayers and readings, discussing musical choices with the Cantor, and then sitting down to write this D’var Torah — I was struck over and over again by the fact that the responsibility of preparing a service that celebrates the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities in our community and our world is not something that generations of rabbis have had the privilege to accept. And, that is what I believe this responsibility is — a privilege.

I feel lucky to live in a time when and a place where I have the opportunity to prepare a service that honors LGBTQ Jews, their friends, families, and allies. And, while I know that the existence of a Shabbat service that marks and celebrates Pride is not something that we can trace back centuries within our tradition, the fundamental value that exists beneath celebrations like ours tonight could not be more ancient or more central to our tradition. In the first chapter of Genesis, the first book of our Torah, we find the principle that is meant to shape the way that we approach every person on this earth.

And God created ha-adam (the first human) in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created ha-adam (the first human). (Genesis 1:27)

To my mind, it is as simple and as profound as that. Our tradition tells us that in the moments of creation, when the world was shifting from unfashioned waste to something solid and real, the first person was created in such a way as to reflect the beautiful, complex, unknowable being that we call Adonai, our God.

Celebrating complexity and diversity within ourselves and others is a way of honoring God. The Jewish tradition often focuses on categorizing people and choices, but it also teaches us that underneath all of that structure is the most fundamental truth of human existence: that we were created as reflections of the infinite. As reflections of God, we have the ability to push beyond all limitations whether we created them for ourselves or inherited them from others. As reflections of God, we have the responsibility to see and to honor the holiness that exists in every person that we encounter.

Tonight is our first annual Pride Shabbat. Our service has included blessings and prayers that celebrate LGBTQ Jews, the people who love them, and their allies. For the most part, these prayers do not come from Talmudic or medieval sources, but I would argue that each of them fits squarely within the central tenets of our ancient tradition. The rabbis believed that each verse of Torah has 70 facets — each of which would shine brightly when exposed to the light of study.

If each verse of Torah is so beautifully complex, how much more so then are our individual spirits which contain the reflections of the infinite number of facets that makes up the divine. Tonight, we shine light into the facets of ourselves and others that make each of us unique. We shine light into the facets of our hearts that allow us to love deeply and honestly. We shine light into the facets of our souls that allow us to know who we truly are.

On this Shabbat, we shine light into ourselves and others because we know that it is only by shining light that we will be able to make rainbows.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman
Temple B’nai Chaim