“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” — Maya Angelou
What do the Ten Commandments and the #MeToo Movement have in common? It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But as we approach Shavuot, we recognize the parallels between the revelation at Sinai and the #MeToo Movement. What lessons we can learn from our experience at Sinai that we can use to mitigate the damaging effects of toxic masculinity?
When G-d revealed G-d’s self at Sinai, it wasn’t the first time G-d tried to be recognized. In the beginning, we are told, it was with ten soft utterances that G-d spoke this world into existence. That is, from the very beginning, G-d wanted us to see G-d in the beautiful simplicity of this complex world. G-d, you could say, was being subtle.
When G-d created the world in B’reishit, G-d is אלוקים (Elokim) (Gen. 1:1 – 2:4). The name אלוקים alludes to G-d’s hiddenness and can be parsed to mean מי אלה – “To whom does this world belong?” “Whose is this?” and has the same numerical value as the word for nature, הטבע. G-d wanted us to see the beauty of the world and ask who created this? G-d also wanted us to see, hear, and understand G-d, to be in relationship with G-d. But we were not so astute. Over and over, humanity failed.
So too with the #MeToo Movement. Decades (indeed centuries!) before Tarana Burke launched the MeToo Movement, women and girls uttered softly and loudly. But, not so unlike the frustrations and outrage G-d experienced, they were often doubted, ignored, rejected, and went unheard. Toxic masculinity throughout the ages has damaged both women and men, rendering us unrecognizable to each other and to G-d.
It is sometimes challenging to learn something new but it is incredibly difficult to unknow it once you learn it. And it isn’t always easy to know what to do with that knowledge once you acquire it. But we cannot look away either. We are responsible for acting with the information we have access to. It may not be easy, but we are obligated.
There were always individuals, like Abraham, who were sensitive to the awkward privilege of existing in a world that was created by another. So they searched until they found G-d, meaning, and purpose. The broader society, however, didn’t hear G-d’s call for human dignity and it was only through the death and destruction of the ten plagues in Egypt that God was revealed to the world with a harsher Ten Commandments.
God gave the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. We are each meant to toil every day to try to understand what our unique responsibility in our relationship with God is, with the Torah containing the blueprint of that relationship.
There has been a similar struggle in our awareness of toxic masculinity. There have always been people who have recognized it and its consequences and tried to combat it. And, as there has been a recent communal revelation in naming at least some of the manifestations of the problem, we all now must be held responsible. And we all, especially men, must toil every day to understand our responsibility in relationship to women, girls, and nonbinary people.
Rashi writes that G-d presents as the groom, in the marriage to the Jewish people, at Mount Sinai. G-d asked us if we were interested in the Torah. We answered with enthusiastic consent.
When we say Kiddush on Friday night, the day of the week that the Torah was originally given, we say that it is a remembrance both of the exodus out of Egypt and the creation of the world ( זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם…זִכָּרוֹן לְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית). Although no one was there to witness the beginning of G-d creating the world, the divine revelation and miracles provide a basis to believe G-d’s Genesis story. We are meant to believe, even when we are not there.
What might it look like if we used Shabbos, a day of rest and return to a more spiritual existence, to listen and take notice of the microaggressions in sacred spaces of worship, the Shabbos table, and communal gatherings? How can we model a healing masculinity? Recognize how we take up space, from manspreading to mansplaining? How can we seek and offer enthusiastic, affirmative consent?
When we didn’t listen to the brokenness of the world, the destruction and shouting only amplified. Once again the cries of unholy inequality plague our society.
Just as at Sinai, despite our fears, it is our obligation to hear the voices and fulfill the promise of not just learning, but also doing.
This post was co-authored with Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, CBST’s Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies.