I remember that first Shabbat after my first child was born. Cradling my newborn, I had lit an extra candle for Shabbat, as per a custom to light an extra light for each child one brings into a family. Now it was time to bless him. Overwhelmed with everything that young parents confront, I now realized that I had the Shechinah dancing on my finger tips as my husband and I rested our hands on our baby’s soft head and uttered the ancient words from this week’s Torah portion.
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
About Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
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I am still processing – and I’m sure many of us are – the outcomes of the Alabama and Missouri votes curtailing women’s reproductive freedom. What I want to do is to look beyond the legal mechanisms restricting reproductive healthcare and gaze into the heart of Patriarchy.
‘Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aaron is silent. It is strange that Moses spoke and Aaron held his tongue. After all, it was Moses who struggled with speech. It was Moses who was fearful of appearing before Pharaoh lest he could not find the words. It was Moses who was ‘heavy of tongue’. Aaron, presumably in league with Miriam, was the older sibling: the one rooting for Moses and coaching him. It was Aaron who, at crucial moments, did find the words. But not now.
I am proud to be part of the liberal Jewish project that seeks to pursue justice, amplify the voices of the marginalized and bring us its own rich spirituality – inclusive, open minded, critical – to our People. At the same time, there is virtue and value in being challenged in the views we often take for granted. Of course our community needs an inspiring Torah, and uplifting Torah. But we also need a dangerous Torah.
We are intimately familiar with such rabbinic practices such as lighting candles, Kiddush and singing zemirot, Sabbath songs, at the table. We have ingrained the notion of the home as a mishkan me’at, a small sanctuary, and the table at which we eat as the mizbe’ach, the altar. In our individual lives, we may or may not make decisions about what we do or do not observe. Be what may: in our tradition, Shabbat is a presence we cannot deny.
Brokenness is a universal human experience: everyone has encountered brokenness in their lives, their world or in themselves. Of course, while brokenness is the great leveler, our experience of brokenness is not a level playing field. Some of us are subjected to greater trauma than others; some of us may have more access or resources to heal from or repair the brokenness we face. Nonetheless, I’d wager to say that as I give this sermon, there will a number of you who are encouraged to reflect on what is broken in your lives. It seems as inevitable as death.
Engaging with difference should not be mistaken with accepting a doctrine of moral equivalency or finding ‘common ground.’ We do not need to paper over our differences. We can be strong in our moral convictions. Yet there is a distinction between moral courage and moral absolutism. We must invite shades of grey.
I started wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and laying tefillin (phylacteries) 15 years ago. It has taken me years to get over my internalized judgment as a woman wearing these items that are “traditionally” worn only by men. Even on the best of days, tefillin are a strange and uncomfortable feature of Jewish practice. I’ve had to consciously push myself beyond my own discomfort to own this mitzvah (commandment) that has come to mean so much to me.
We are all called to make Torah our own. This means letting the stories speak to our own lives and bringing our lives to the Torah. Part of being a fully-fledged Jewish citizen – which is what the Bat and Bar Mitzvah process is about – is taking ownership of that legacy. It is yours, mine, ours: the province of all who journey to her.