It’s been a long couple of weeks, bracketed by the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue and Kristallnacht tomorrow night, the commemoration of the massive pogrom in Germany that happened exactly 80 years ago and pretty much kicked off the violence of the Shoah (the Holocaust).
In between were the election, lots of anti-Semitism across the US and around the world, and another mass shooting.
Even an eternal optimist like me can begin to lose hope. So when I came home from the Kristallnacht observance this evening, I looked to this week’s Torah portion for inspiration. Which may have been a mistake.
Because of all the family stories in the Torah, this week’s is perhaps the most poignant. It traces the story of Isaac and Rebecca from her pregnancy with Jacob and Esau all the way to Isaac’s old age and his final blessings to his grown sons.
The brothers struggle with one another their entire lives, beginning in the womb. They are as different as night and day, and each parent has a favorite. That it will not end well is virtually guaranteed from the outset.
But since I am an eternal optimist, I needed to find something hopeful. And it was right there, at the beginning of the Torah portion, when Rebecca feels the twins struggling with each other in her belly. She asks an existential question – “Why do I exist?” and goes to inquire of God. And God answers her. (See Genesis 25:22-24)
In our tradition, as in most patriarchal societies, men get to commune with God, not women. In fact, male commentators over the centuries were so uncomfortable with this passage that they said she didn’t really talk with God, she spoke through a male intermediary.
But that’s not what the text says. It’s quite clear; Rebecca inquired and God answered.
As a woman rabbi, I’m often asked if I wanted to be a rabbi when I was growing up. How could I? Women didn’t even wear tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, much less lead a service. It never occurred to me that Jewish women could be equals with Jewish men.
But the Torah teaches otherwise.
Equipped with that reminder, I am entering into Shabbat this week with a renewed sense of purpose, ready to begin – once again – to do whatever I can to make this world a better place, to help the people in my community be their highest selves, to reach beyond my grasp. Yes, most of my rabbinic colleagues are men, and it is still a man’s world. But I know that God listens to my voice too.