Sacred Resistance: Parashat Bo, February 3, 2016


By Rabbi Heather Miller

Shabbat Shalom. It was someone’s birthday in the congregation earlier this week– our dear board member, Jackie Lara.

And on her Facebook page, there was this great photo of her. It was just the kind of photo I needed to see this week.

Would you like to see it? It was this:

What I love about this photo is that Jackie is here, in her element, on the front lines of societal change, making it known to the world that the work she does, in all kinds of capacities, and including here putting one foot in front of the other at a march, is sacred.

Her resistance is sacred. And that’s what I want to speak with you about tonight. Because our tradition, the Jewish tradition, feels that resistance to hatred, fear, and unholy things, is sacred.

Afterall, Torah teaches us: TZEDEK TZEDEK TIRDOF–
Justice, justice you shall pursue. And we do that anytime we stand on the side of the widow, the orphan, the stranger, or anyone in any targeted group, as the Prophets urge.

In our Prayerbook Hebrew class on Monday night, our member, Marsha Epstein shared with us a teaching that Rabbi Benay Lappe taught her:
You know that song:
Etz chayim hi lamachazikim ba,
Vetomecheha me-ushar.
Deracheha – d’rechei no-am,
Vechol netivotecha shalom…

That means:
It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it,
and all who cling to it find happiness.
Its ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all its paths are peace.

According to Rabbi Lappe– that’s the whole point– The Torah is a teaching of PEACE. To read it any other way is to pervert it. Therefore, if we are not living Torah to make peace in the world, to not bringing inclusion in the world, we are not holding true to the core Torah values.

This simple teaching is quite radical.

This week, our Torah portion, Parashat Bo, concludes with the last three of the ten plagues. Remember at the beginning of the story of the Exodus, we learn that the new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph had condemned all of the male Israelite newborns to be killed? But, two midwives named Shifra and Puah resisted– and instead of killing them, they actually hid the baby boys– among them, Moses.

Their sacred act of resistance was ultimately responsible for the redemption of the Jewish people. And, what made this act sacred? It was a sacred act because it was rooted in love. It was rooted in standing against hate, bigotry, violence. It was a generative act.

Sacredness comes from the Hebrew word for holy– kadosh. We use this word A LOT in our tradition. Kaddish, Kiddush, Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh in the prayer called the Kedusha, marriage is Kiddushin…. these are all moments when we lift up gratitude, blessing, and joy.

Resistance is sacred when it is rooted in these things.

It follows a through line that began with Abraham’s quarrel with God– when he tried everything in his power to persuade God not to wipe out Sodom and Gemorrah. Some religious traditions would balk at a human’s chutzpah at arguing with a diety. But, not so in Judaism. That kind of sacred resistance is honored.

It is the same kind of sacred resistance that women scholars and LGBT scholars applied when, despite enormous societal and structural pressure, they studied Torah, and applied to rabbinic school or cantorial school and became leaders in our communities.

So many of us have been engaging in sacred resistance over the past two weeks. Some of us have been engaging in that over the past few years or decades. Some of us are more fired up now than ever. Some of us are more exhausted now than ever.

But even if we aren’t actively resisting, isn’t our existence is a kind of resistance in an of itself?

For instance, consider what is happening just down Pico, at Temple B’nai David Judea, tomorrow morning.

Here is how their senior Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky describes the situation (he said in an email earlier this week):

“This Shabbat morning, with God’s help, Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn will be offering the drasha at B’nai David – Judea, the Orthodox shul of which I am the senior rabbi. As I am presently on a study trip in Israel, this is not really news. Rabbanit Alissa is the only other member of our clergy. The news is that this is the first time that her words of Torah will be not only inspiring, but they will also be of historic importance. Though not intended or designed as such, they will constitute an act of sacred civil disobedience.

The Orthodox Union issued a policy statement today, forbidding its member shuls from employing women like Rabbanit Alissa as members of the clergy. They based this policy statement upon the findings of a panel of very distinguished rabbis, which determined that women in the clergy was contrary to the “Halakhic Ethos”, in that tradition provides no precedent for ordained women clergy, and in that – in their opinion – women serving in clergy is inconsistent with traditional Jewish gender roles.”

He continues why halachically the opinion is wrong and then concludes with these appropriate words:
“I do not know what action the Orthodox Union will take against us. But I do know that we will be strong, and that we will be resolute, because that’s what you do when you are right. That’s what you do when your driving value is the service of God and of the Jewish people.”

This proves that sometimes, speaking your truth is an act of sacred resistance.
Likewise, for us to claim our identities, in their full array of LGBT or Jewish or Black or female, or immigrant, etc. etc. etc.– to exist as such plainly, or even joyfully or even proudly, is a type of resistance. To survive as any of the targeted classes of people in the face of enormous pressures is a type of sacred resistance.

That means that self care is an act of sacred resistance. Self care physically, mentally, spiritually– like what we’re doing here tonight. Here, spiritual resistance takes the form of Shabbat — once a week– taking time out to pause, unplug, rejuvenate, refresh, meditate, contemplate, think, introspect.

So, however you are standing up for Torah, for the Torah of peace, whether in the streets, in the shul or even just in your own skin, know that others join you and may you have courage and strength in your promotion of Jewish love and peace. Amen!

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