Between the fire and thunder of Sinai, a moral voice rang out clearly with a principle that would be echoed in our tradition time and again: You shall love the stranger for you were strangers in Egypt.
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
About Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
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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.
As I was typing this sermon, my two beauteous children were chasing each other with foam swords, the living room looks like toys exploded all over it and an ever-insurmountable pile of dishes is guilt-tripping us into washing them. These are of course not the images that make it into the family album or onto the social media account. It is not the story we are comfortable telling about ourselves.
As we contend with complex issues of polarization, hatred, the call for increased security, the inability to speak to difference and the myriad reflections on our American Jewish identities, one thing stands out clearly for me as a non-Orthodox, ‘Reformative’ rabbi. This is the hour of our Judaism.