Parshat Vayak’hel-Pekudei. Inclusion
The more I reflect on this week’s Torah portion, the more insights emerge about my recent trip throughout Israel and the West Bank. The themes of sanctuary; of responding to a call that is so deep that it seems to come from the godding energy and spiritual teachers; the theme of the perfection of giving– Giving just the right amount, a giving that restores balance and thus uplifts; and the theme of wholeness, of being part of the Kol, the whole people, that are called to contribute to building a dwelling place for balance and wholeness right in our midst.
And I’ll start with yet another theme in this Torah portion, a theme we find throughout Judaism, the theme of atonement. For me, an American Jew with deep generational ties to Israel, as I visited friends, colleagues and students in Arab villages inside Israel and the West Bank, the theme of atonement is very strong.
And today I also want to link this with what comes to me as a white- identified person living in the US, and for the last three years living in the South that enforced Jim Crow laws during my lifetime. In this too, the theme of atonement calls to me loudly.
“Let the gold of the Mishkan atone for the gold they brought toward the making of the golden calf.” I found this midrashic reflection on the overflow of gift giving to the building of the Mishkan- the sanctuary for Godding that this week’s Torah, portion Parshat Vayak’hel-Pekudei describes- in Aviva Zornberg’s reflections on Exodus.
What is so important about atonement? Because as Jews, we like to distinguish Judaism from other religions that say that humans are born as sinners. So this emphasis on atonement must be pointing us to something else. And for me, as an American Jew deeply committed to opening up the conversation in Jewish community about the Occupation and the lack of equality and dignity toward Arabs and Palestinians living inside Israel, and the increasing stranglehold of the religious narrowness that wants to set back women and people who don’t practice Judaism a certain way, atonement speaks to me very differently than the notion of “Original Sin.”
Atonement means to me that we the Jewish people will focus our attention and our actions on how we are contributing to the violence and separation and worsening situation in the West Bank. That instead of pointing the finger at an “other, ” we will look at ourselves as individuals and as a collective and root out racism and root out the stranglehold of trauma and fear that blocks us from seeing the humanity of the other people with whom we share the land. As my Rebbe, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi said, atonement really means at-one-ment. The state of overcoming otherness, and otherness is so much the face of finger-pointing and blaming others for the situation that we find ourselves in.
As I read this week’s parsha, it seems to me to be saying that what we want to bring forth from our open hearts is that which will up lift –that is the root of the word Terumah- to uplift, an uplift- and the journey for each of us through the wilderness is to find the contribution that we bring as the upliftment, the atonement,
As I traveled through Palestine and Arab villages in Israel this winter I asked myself and contemplated, over and over, what is the uplifting I am here to contribute. The word Terumah is used in the Torah for the name of what the Godding force wants from us to create the space for perfect balance and harmony to dwell in our midst. Terumah ( Rashi said there is no translation fort this) is often translated as the elevation offering. ( I believe Terumah is only used in the context of an offering to the Godding force so the offering that we are called upon to make is an uplifting.) So as I traveled through Israel and the West Bank I walked with this question- what is the uplift I am called to bring?
And right now, as I stand on shabbat before this congregation, my congregation, I pray that what I’m offering is uplifting and I fear that it isn’t . And I’m not sure what to do about that other then to stand in my truth and authenticity and trust that this is what makes the Kol, the wholeness of the people, the balance that is necessary to contain the divine balance in our midst.
Last Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem.
I have celebrated six of the last seven Purims with a very religious community of women in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Often I’m introduced loudly into the circle by the women exclaiming, this is Roberta, she’s doing holy work, she meets with the Palestinians. Privately many of the women thank me year after year for the way I’ve been sharing nonviolent communication with them and with Palestinians and between Jews and Palestinians.
This year, Purim was celebrated on the Friday leading into Shabbat in the Old City because it’s a walled city and this is known as Shushan Purim.
As we gathered at the Shabbat table, our host, someone who has year after year greeted me as a peacemaker, and expressed gratitude to me for that, proclaimed, Roberta I love you but a lot of your Facebook posts drive me crazy. And she added, Roberta you are really unique. Don’t you think so? And she turned to our friend and teacher, asking her that? I don’t remember hearing an answer.
At first I felt some discomfort because I heard “unique” as possibly questioning whether I belong in her vision of the Jewish people. And as I reflected on that, what came to me is a deepening clarity that I, like each of the 25 or so women gathered at that table, (I’m guessing almost all of them Jewish born in North America and now living in Israel) had been called to that moment at that table in that place to bring their own unique offering.
And this is the meaning of the”kol” – The whole–over and over in this week’s parsha the Godding force and Moses exhort the people that the building of a sanctuary—a place in our midst where the Holy Blessed One can dwell and be satisfied, can dwell and have a Shabbat, dwell and have a sense that everything is so perfect , so uplifted, that no work can be done, nothing can be added or everything will fall apart- and that prohibition to retain the perfect balance is so important that anyone doing work will actually die to the Godding force–
For this Perfect Balance to dwell in our midst- at least for 25 hours a week during Shabbat -at least for that time, each of us Is required to bring in full force our life energy gift into the kol, the whole.
Realizing this at the shabbat table was, I think, the first time that I felt a complete peacefulness to be exactly who I am among these religious women in the Old City of Jerusalem. As I experienced the energy of inclusion from the kol, a sweet sense of freedom, peacefulness and belonging arose in me. A sense of comfort , and purpose, maybe a sense of balance, exactly as I am ( significantly, after removing the masks of Purim) , among these women. I felt an energetic empowerment and trust filling me, that I brought something there. No longer that I’m an outsider because the Occupation is tearing me apart. But rather that my voice is essential for this kol to fulfill its meaning and purpose.
So right now I will conclude these words by bringing someone else into the kol. The 90 year old voice of one of my Israeli in- laws. Batya wrote this at Kibbutz Sasa, on the Israeli-Lebanese border in January 1949. Batya’s husband,Aharon, born in the Arab village of Lifta outside Jerusalem 95 years ago, was a member of the Haganah, the Jewish liberation Army which destroyed the Arab Village of Sasa in October 1948, three months before this poem was written.
Sasa, January 1949
We have climbed steep hills today
And passed through stone horizons
And everywhere we walked
They were before us or behind us
Their village fits the contours of the hills
Stone houses built back into the stone [.]
Like sightseers in a foreign city
We go through their rubble
Picking up here a shoe, there a coffee -cup
Still whole amidst the ruins
Their figs were preserved to perfection
But their green and golden olives
Were bitter to our taste
And every where we walked
They were before us or behind us
The man whose father built these houses
And brother card these terraces
And planted these big trees to rest in the right spaces
Slanting, leaning towards the sun.
March 10, 2018