Menachem Creditor

A Spiritual Reflection on the Sanctity of Pride

Building love and equality in our world requires the recognition that God’s image includes people of all genders and all orientations, and all sexual identities. This has been an evolving part of what it means to be part of a faith community, no question. But this is Pride Month, and a fine time for naming the inherent dignity of every human being, each one a beautiful refraction of divinity.

I learned the difference between tolerance and pride in a conversation I had once with a well-known rabbi in Jerusalem. In his Orthodox community, this rabbi was striving to build a bridge, so he convened a group of his students and a few of their family members, among which I was blessed to be counted. He spoke about the future for LGBTQ Jews in the Orthodox world, and I remember being in awe of his bravery for having the conversation within that context. For a long time, and still in many sectors of the Jewish world, there isn’t a place created for this conversation. Many young people and many adults have suffered because their community has not affirmed their humanity. It really is that simple and that terrible, and not limited to Orthodoxy.

I remember this rabbi saying that he was trying to find a way to show tolerance. I recall someone in the crowd, who I knew was still in the closet but struggling because of their Orthodox upbringing, standing up. They said, “Rabbi, I appreciate you having this conversation, but I don’t think we want to be tolerated. We want to be celebrated.” This was their public coming out, and an incredibly important moment in my own Jewish journey to hear in person about the love that was possible between two men or two women, and to hear about it in terms of sanctity and celebration.

As part of Pride Month, we must ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of using language like “tolerate” to talk about our children, our siblings, our parents, our family members, and our neighbors. In this moment, we are called to be part of the Jewish community’s love of all our children and all our adults.

There are trailblazers from within the Jewish community, including Harvey Milk of blessed memory, and countless other leaders and modern faith leaders such as Rabbi Denise Eger, Rabbi Aaron Weininger, and Rabbi Steve Greenberg. In their respective worlds—the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox worlds—they have shown the synthesis, even with struggle, of being who they each are in fullness. While that burden is theirs, it is a test of our community’s capacity for love to see what we can do with the model these brave teachers have shown.

I focus on all this, friends, because we don’t focus on it enough. This coming Sunday is Pride. I have been blessed to be there a few times. I cannot amplify the importance enough of the Jewish community affirming respect for our LGBTQ descendants and our LGBTQ ancestors. We have always sought to grow our circles of belonging and to evolve our consciousness to understand that the image of God looks like all of us and loves like all of us.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, there is a famous section where spies are sent to the Promised Land to scout it out, to see what it looks like, what’s possible, what challenges lie ahead. When they return, they bring a critical incident report: this is what the land looks like, this is the topography, this is who lives there. They talk about the Nephilim, the fallen ones, saying, “We were grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we must have seemed to them. (Num. 13:33)”

Let’s talk about the deep wound this language signifies: when we looked at them, we felt so small, and so we must have looked small to them. This is where the problem really lived—in the spies not understanding that they were not small at all. They were the leaders of our people (Num. 13:2-3), each chosen for their capacity to stand tall, strong, and faithful. Their courage would inspire the community.

The two outliers of the group of spies, Joshua and Caleb, didn’t deny the challenges ahead, but affirmed the capacity of the community to journey on with the now-famous promise, “We shall overcome. (Num 13:30)”

When our ancestors, these biblical pioneers and beautiful modern torchbearers we are blessed to know, stand up and say, “I see a world where all love is affirmed, where two human beings can build a holy life blessed by God and community, where pride is sanctified,” we grow, as does Jewish tradition itself. We must all learn from them what it is to not see ourselves as grasshoppers. We’re not too small to champion love. We’re not too small to know that we’re worthy of love.

We should never consider ourselves grasshoppers. It’s appropriate and very human to have doubts and to be reflective, but when we do see ourselves in self-diminishing ways and then imagine that misperception in the eyes of others, we miss the obligation of every human being to recognize divine dignity, the core Torah truth that every human being is created in the image of God.

I remember the first time I officiated at a same-sex kiddushin, a same-sex Jewish wedding. It was new. I had never done it before. I stood under the chuppah and just did the traditional liturgy, replacing the language of groom and bride with bride and bride. It was so powerful, but not for the reasons I expected. I thought it would be powerful because it was something new, an expansion of holiness. That was true, but after that moment under the chuppah someone asked me afterward what it felt like, and my answer was the holiest feeling I know how to express: it felt like a wedding. It felt like love. It felt like God pouring through. It felt like two people who found each other in a world of billions. It felt like God was smiling.

Yes, tradition often has a long way to go, but isn’t that part of God’s process too? Isn’t that part of what it means to be part of a divinely inspired trajectory of human beings just trying to make peace and life? Isn’t it so beautiful to know that love is love? No one should feel like a grasshopper because every one of us has God’s glowing heart embedded in our souls. The way we love is God’s Love pouring out from us. The way our family members love, the way our neighbors love, is holy. If we don’t see that, that’s some work we need to do on ourselves because pride is the natural state loving and being loved.

So this Sunday, in honor of Pride, let us amplify the infinite beauties of the human heart: vibrant color, inner peace, and profound love.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor serves as the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York and was the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. An acclaimed author, scholar, and speaker with over 2 million views of his online videos and essays, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. His 31 books and 6 albums of original music include "A Year of Torah," the global anthem "Olam Chesed Yibaneh" and the COVID-era 2-volume anthology "When We Turned Within." He and his wife Neshama Carlebach live in New York, where they are raising their five children.
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