In the beginning, God created ADOM – a being in God’s image, formed from the clay of the earth, neither male nor female. God hovered above Adom’s lifeless form, a cloud of light. God breathed a ruach elohim, a divine breath, into Adom’s body. In that moment, the very essence of God’s light entered Adom’s soul, a tiny sliver of God, and Adom awoke to life.
This beautiful story is a traditional teaching in Judaism. Later teachings explain how this first human came to be split in men and women. I love this midrash because in the beginning God created a being with all potentials within it. Into this being of all potential, God breathed life. God gave God’s own light into our souls. To be in the image of God is to be all this potential before our final form emerges.
As a Jew, I have questioned God -Why this disease? Why this waste of life? Why this tragedy? Why me? But I have never questioned the beauty of God’s creation. In my very soul I know the truth… we are each here because the beauty of who we are reflects God’s divinity. Each of us is unique, each with a role to play. To remove any of us would destroy the picture of God’s creation. To become our full selves, some of us must face terrifying prejudice. Some of us must transform our outer shells to reveal that within us which longs to be free. When we embrace our true selves, we embrace that light of God that sits in our souls. Our task is to find and nourish the gifts God has given us, to live our lives fully, and to help those around us do the same.
I am the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor. I know the evil that ravages in the guise of religion, of civility, of “social good.” These are the masks worn to bully and spread hate. All that evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing. And so I am honored to be here tonight, as a rabbi, as a Jew, as a woman, and as a mother, to commit as an ally for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights. We are the children of God, made in God’s image. Who is mere man to question God’s wisdom?
Our lives are made of struggle and challenge, trying to find our path in life, trying to connect with God’s light. A Jewish teaching recounts: For nine months an angel of God sat with us in the womb, a divine lamp shining, we studied all the wisdom of the world. In the moment of birth, the angel reached forward and touched us just above our lips, leaving an indentation, and we forget everything we have learned. We spend our lives studying, reaching for that divine learning that was once ours. Our lives are ones of transformation, like the caterpillar into the butterfly. This is God’s light within.
As a parent, I want my child to be all that she is meant to be, for all her potential to be brought into the light. The challenge for my husband and I is to support her and refrain from building boundaries that hinder her from finding her true self… to nourish that tzil of God’s light within her soul that guides her to fulfill her unique role in creation. We don’t know where her path will take her, but we know she will be fabulous.
At the time that equal marriage rights in America were first exploding in the media, my husband and I were on a waiting list to adopt. We had been through years of fertility treatment torture. We were volunteering at a home for severely neglected and abused children. The biblical quotes of hatred and judgement spouted against gays and lesbians who wanted to marry and have families made no sense to us. We were watching a nine year old simmer and explode after the abuse of his straight parents. We were witness to a child with permanent brain damage after neglect from her straight parents. A man and a woman do not make a family. Love, respect and care make a family.
Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher and theologian, taught that we can treat people as “it” or we can treat people as “thou.” We can interact with others as “it,” as though they are mere objects, ignore a cashier while we talk on a cell phone, distance our emotions from those in need because they are not like us, float past them without interest or connection. Or we can interact with our fellow human beings in an “I-Thou” relationship. This is a relationship of deep mutual respect… of seeking to understand the other, of being present for them and truly seeing them. In this relationship, the power of the connection and respect between these two people invites God into the relationship. This is our challenge in life: to seek “I-Thou” relationships with others… to find ways to understand our fellow human being, and through this mutual respect to bring God into our lives.
Judaism has a tradition of reciting blessings throughout the day to remember God’s hand in all of creation. There is blessing for seeing a creature or person of exceptional beauty: Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam sh-kacha lo ba-olam. Blessed are you God who has made this in your universe. There is a blessing for seeing that which is unique: Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam m’shaneh ha-briyot. Blessed are you God who makes creatures different. We all carry God’s light. Our challenge is to do the work needed to let it shine illuminating God’s world, and igniting the light in others souls. Deep respect for others while looking inward at our own growth is God’s path.
I will end my thoughts here tonight with a traditional Jewish blessing given by God to the people of Israel in the desert and said by parents to their children every sabbath:
Yevhārēkh-khā Adhōnāy veyishmerēkhā
May God bless you and keep you.
Yāʾēr Adhōnāy pānāv ēlekhā viḥunnékkā
May God deal kindly and graciously with you.
Yissā Adhōnāy pānāv ēlekhā viyāsēm lekhā shālōm
May God bestow [divine] favor upon you and grant you peace.