June 16, 2023
This week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, gives us the story of the 12 spies sent by Moses at God’s command to scout out the promised land. Ten of them return with a report based on fear and lack of self-confidence. Though it is a beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, they tell Moses, we can’t possibly enter the land and live there – the inhabitants are far too powerful. They look like giants! Caleb and Joshua tell a different story: That this is a good land – a land that has been promised to us. No matter what it may look like, we need to have faith that the promise will come to be. Caleb and Joshua, who with this faith to see a different possibility from what they see in front of them, merit to enter the land, while the other 10 spies and the entire generation that left Egypt is condemned to wander the desert wilderness for 40 years and die there.
This Torah portion holds deep wisdom about the way that our perspective can be so narrow and constricting that it makes us stuck and stagnant; fear and anxiety born of a narrow perspective – an inability to see another possibility – can make us unable to move forward.
Our tradition teaches us that what we see in front of us and our assumptions about it are not always the full picture of what is true. The Israelites travel in tribes, in community – diversity of perspective is necessary for survival, for moving forward both geographically and spiritually. We need each other.
The rainbow has been a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community for a long time. Understanding the vastness and diversity of human identity and experience is fundamental to living by one of Judaism’s core values: Every human being is created in the image of God. The divine is within each of us, no less than at a physical level, we are all “made of stardust.” But, because the divine is a Oneness comprised of infinite multiplicity, so too is humanity. Each of us is a reflection of the divine, each in our own way. As the ancient words of the Mishnah teach us (Sanhedrin 4:5) “When a person stamps several coins with one seal, they are all similar to each other. But the Holy One of Blessing, stamped all people with the seal of Adam, the first man, as all of them are his offspring, and not one of them is similar to another.”
Let us reaffirm our commitment to see more expansively – to recognize that our assumptions and judgments can be narrow and constricting and that in each and every human being we encounter there is a divine spark, necessary to illuminate the world.
The Union of Reform Judaism recently published this statement responding to the many attempted and successful legislative attempts to remove the rights of transgender people. Please read it for an understanding of how our movement sees expansively and honors the life, experience, and identity of every precious human soul.
Rabbi Audrey Berkman