If you have have wondered how to show up for trans* folks, how to be an ally, or “chaver up,” the good news is that Shabbos offers us important lessons and insights. Consider it a blueprint for allyship.
On Friday evening, we greet the Shabbos Bride as She presents Herself to us, regardless of our own sexual orientation or gender identity. We don’t question Her identity and it doesn’t challenge our own. On Saturday we escort Her as a Queen, because that is who She is.
Look also at the language of the special Shabbos additions to the amidah which incorporate a gendered arc from the female, to male, and then to the plural pronoun. Friday night the liturgy reads “And in her Israel will rest…” then shifts on Shabbos morning to “And in him Israel will rest…” and concludes Saturday afternoon with “And in them Israel will rest…” Even as G-d’s identity expression transforms from Bride to Queen, from she, to he, to they, we continue to honor G-d’s identity.
Shabbos invites us to meet and experience different aspects of G-d, in whose image we are all made. It is a weekly invitation to better understand not only G-d and ourselves, but also ourselves in relationship with G-d. Although Shabbos, as we know it, is but a 25 hour island of time, its source is in that first Shabbos found in the creation story.
Shabbos is the culmination of all of the physical aspects of creation coming together in unity and purpose. It presents a unique opportunity for us to be present with all of the many parts of ourselves in a heightened awareness of the source of so much of what makes us who we are.
Shabbos supports an exploration above and below the physical limitations of many of our weekday experiences. Although the commandments for the day fit neatly into the binary of positive and negative mitzvot, we are taught that “‘To remember and guard’ were said in a single utterance, something the [human] mouth cannot speak and something the ear cannot hear.” (2) The Rabbis explain that Shabbos is experienced in a supernatural way, with its source in a plane that holds space for things not to be constrained by the physical. We also see this in our ability to accept Shabbos upon ourselves, beginning Shabbos even before the sun has set on Friday evening, and extending Shabbos after nightfall on Saturday.
Day and night, male and female, and all in between are held together in one, like the One who created it. The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to the great love song to G-d, Song of Songs, explains how Shabbos invites us to be intimate with G-d in an androgynous way. The word for “mouth – פיהו,” if masculine, should be פיו and if feminine, פיה. By writing it as it does, it presents as both, simultaneously. Additionally, our verse “The sixth day – יום הששי is understood by the Zohar, as the day of “5 and 6”. ה is 5 and ו is six. It is an allusion to the masculine and feminine, the written 5 books of the Bible and the oral 6 Orders of Mishnah, and the positive and negative all coming together on Shabbos in a romantic covenantal partnership of reunification.
At the beginning of the Friday night meal we welcome and introduce ourselves to the angels that visit. This is, perhaps, another exercise to expand our ability to recognize things beyond our own embodied, lived experience.
G-d has many gendered attributes and names, but no body. When G-d introduces G-d’s self to Moses, G-d identifies as “I am who I am.” All of the things, all of the time, without tension. The verse that testifies to our Divine image, does so in the plurality of gender, before a split into the binary of Man and Woman. The tradition of gender based spiritual practice supports the idea of gender existing, at least in part, on a soul level. The spectrum of gender that we witness today might be attributed to the fragmentations of souls described in Jewish tradition. Perhaps it is for this reason that we are given an extra soul on Shabbos, to better meet and understand G-d in gendered ways.
If we take the opportunity to show up for G-d on Shabbos, if we have the capacity to experience G-d, whether G-d is Queen, King, She, He, or They, we are well on our way to appreciating those different from ourselves. By showing up for God, we learn to show up for everyone.
This post was co-authored with Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, CBST’s Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies.