Joshua Caruso
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My daughter’s bris and the mystery that reveals itself

In Genesis, chaos is transformed into order – and yet change, disorder and the unexpected are the constants in our lives
'A world that God found in chaos.' (iStock)
'A world that God found in chaos.' (iStock)

Back when I was in seminary, I got an invite to a much-anticipated public reading of a new translation of the Torah by the scholar, Everett Fox. This was a big deal because Fox was considered a legit translator, but perhaps, more importantly, the great James Earl Jones was tapped to read the very first verses of Genesis. This would be the James Earl Jones who voiced Darth Vader, the animated Mustafa from The Lion King, and the familiar sound behind CNN promos. The event occurred in a church, and I bet you can imagine what it is like to hear Jones’s iconic voice read the Creation story with his deep bass, as we, the listeners, were surrounded by stunning stained glass windows.

Here are the words Jones read:

At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and earth,
when the earth was wild and waste,
darkness over the face of Ocean,
rushing spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—
God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
God saw the light: that it was good.
God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light: Day! and the darkness he called: Night!
There was setting, there was dawning: one day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

For Jewish professionals of every stripe, this was a geek-out moment. Here we were listening to Jones’s dulcet tones paired with the timeless cadence of the Creation story. 

There is something so satisfying about hearing these first verses of Genesis. A world that God found in chaos transformed into a place of order. The contentment of hearing these words, written thousands of years ago, is reflective of our need to find order in our own chaos. Change, disorder and the unexpected are a constant part of our lives. Our days are grounded in facing unforeseen developments – some good, some bad, and some we must untangle to discover what they were meant to reveal for us.

Earlier this summer I found the certificate from my oldest child’s bris – more than 25 years ago. As first-time parents, Leah and I were feeling especially joyous that day in the courtyard of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, surrounded by friends and family.

We were bringing our boy into the Jewish covenant, participating in the ancient ritual of circumcision; a mysteriously resilient and holy rite that has survived thousands of years. This covenantal moment felt timeless, as if a cord were connected to the generations that preceded us. After all, Abraham performed the ritual on himself, and then did the same for his son. Ouch!

There is comfort and satisfaction in adhering to the rites and rituals that have marked our faith for generations. A Jewish boy getting circumcised felt right; everything was in order, and as it should be. It’s as if James Earl Jones had said, “On the eighth day, he was circumcised, and it was good!”

But as we know, life never presents as a binary: order and chaos, darkness and light. Rather, we spend our days trying to maintain order as the sands constantly shift underneath us. While we may aspire to find order, chaos will predictably show up and test our assumptions. Change is actually the constant, and perhaps there is some wisdom to gain from leaning into that, into the mystery of our lives that is yet to unfold.

In Mishkan Tefila, the Reform Jewish movement’s weekly Shabbat prayer book, one passage in particular calls out to me:

As you taught Torah
To those whose names I bear,
Teach me Torah, too
Its mystery beckons,
Yet I struggle with its truth.
You meant Torah for me:
Did you mean the struggle for me, too?
Don’t let me struggle alone;
Help me
To understand,
To be wise, to listen, to know…
Lead me into the mystery.

When my oldest child came out as a transgender woman, it was at first a mystery to me. I knew I loved her regardless of her gender, but I didn’t understand. I struggled with what it meant to have been present at her bris when she was only eight days old, to have consciously raised her as a boy, and ultimately to reckon with the reality that I must have missed something somewhere along the way.

As parents, Leah and I certainly believed that we were rearing our child in a context that was open and accepting, but I could not anticipate that my child would come to a deeper understanding that the sex assigned to her at birth was not how she would ultimately identify.

In the moment that my kid revealed her true self to me, I questioned everything about my parenting. Deep within the fiber of my being, I wanted to understand. I wrestled with my own preconceived notions of gender and identity, and a repositioning of how I understood the makeup of my family. The words, “Lead Me into the mystery,” took on new meaning for me.

In time, I grew to understand how little I knew – and how little I was open to knowing – even though I thought I was. At this very moment, I am keenly aware that my present assumptions and expectations of how the days ahead will unfold may very well turn out to be outdated.

My transgender daughter recently performed at a JCC fundraiser for Playmakers Youth Theatre, the group where she discovered her talents in the world of musical theater. It was an emotional night for my wife and me, seeing her out and proud, a transcendent light performing a scene in a role written for a female-identified person to play. Following the program, a female-presenting girl of early elementary school age approached my daughter and told her how much it meant to see her in the show. The girl told my daughter, “You see, I’m transgender, too.”

God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
God saw the light: that it was good.

When I hold the bris certificate in my hands, I smile thinking about how much I didn’t know about my kid on that joyous day. I smile thinking about how much that little baby had to teach me. Today, I delight in the mystery that revealed itself to me.

About the Author
Rabbi Joshua L. Caruso serves on the clergy team of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, Ohio.
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