Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
June 26, 2020
Tonight is a celebration. It is not the celebration we hoped for. There is far less glitz, less glamor, less color in this room. Yet it is a celebration. CBI is a synagogue whose members are Jews of color, interfaith families, men and women, LGBTQ individuals, adults and children. Our annual Pride Shabbat has grown each year, gathering Jews (and non-Jews) in our sanctuary to celebrate. Too many LGBTQ individuals still must remain closeted for their physical safety in so many countries around the world. t is a blessing to be in one where marriage equality has succeeded, where just last week the Supreme Court banned discrimination against LGBTQ employees.
There is still much work to be done. That decision was 6-3. Votes on the fundamental rights of people should not be partisan or split decisions. They should be unanimous!
This week we read from Parshat Korach, in the book of Numbers. Korach, a relative of Moses and Aaron, a member of the Levites begins a rebellion. He is jealous of his relative’s power and wishes to consolidate it under his own leadership. The third verse of our parsha is telling:
וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם ה' וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ה'׃
They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?”
Looking elsewhere in the Torah, we can spot the fallacy of Korach.
Many, many times, we hear Gd tell Moshe:
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.
The tense is different. It is a tiny change that makes all the difference. Gd tells the people that they WILL be holy, not that they are. Through making positive choices, through following the commandments they will BECOME holy. There is still work to be done. Korach closes the door. He said we did the work, we are ready for the reward.
In our own lives, I wonder how often we can settle on our laurels. This is a welcoming congregation. We have Pride Shabbat. We are done. We are all set. Nothing more to do. Yet those would be false statements. We have so much work to do. We are not done. We are not done within these walls and we know that we are not done outside of them.
This evening, I would like to share some moments of growth in our community and in my own experiences.
A little more than two years ago I had a signed contract with CBI, but I had not begun serving this holy community. Pride Shabbat was on its way and I wanted to make a statement that I was supportive and proud to be part of a forward-thinking congregation. I bought a rainbow strap for my watch. I shared it on facebook. I received many kind words. Pride came and went. I had a decision to make. When do I go back to my other watch band? There never seemed to be a “right” time. It simply became part of my identity. Wherever I went, wherever I go, I hear from people that are surprised and excited that “the rabbi” or “a member of the clergy” is wearing a symbol of Pride throughout the year. This watch band has started conversations in so many different places, supported so many young people, that when I broke my watch a few months ago, I ordered a new rainbow band before the replacement watch even arrived! This band has been a means of connection to members and guests that I want to engage people positively. I want people not just to feel welcome, but to BE welcome, to see that this shul is their home, their community, their sacred space. I want to affirm that we are ALL created in the image of Gd, and that Gd truly loves all of us. That is progress. It may not be holiness, but it is working towards holiness.
For this year’s Pride, we have added to the flag on my wrist with a flag in front of our house. Previously we had a flag with our address and a pineapple, a sign of welcoming, yet over the last couple years it had slowly disintegrated. We wanted to show that when we gather together again, all are welcome. Again, the rainbow flag came into play. Now we will be the home with the rainbow flag on our street. I have seen studies that Pride is not only good for the soul, but can literally save lives. Young people in non-affirming homes commit suicide far too often. If they know people that support them, no matter what, those terrible suciide rates drop. I pray that my flag, or my watch, are never necessary to stop a child from making a decision of such consequence, but if they do...what more could I say? That flag is staying on my lawn until such time that every house has one, too! Today I noticed another flag. That is progress. We may not yet all be holy, but we are working towards holiness.
When I began studying to be a rabbi, JTS did not yet admit openly gay and lesbian students. I went to JTS knowing and advocating for a change in policy that did occur the following year. A generation earlier that would have been shocking, but today it is expected. The rabbinical students now are an incredibly diverse mix of races, genders, and sexualities. That is progress. That is creating kedushah, holiness in this world.
In a recent class, we talked about Judaism as a faith of belonging and becoming. We have our tribal connections, our shared histories, our shared experiences, but we also have actions we must take, choices we must make. On a regular basis, we must affirm our faith. Standing here today, we are doing that. We are being machmir on וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ, we are being strict on loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are all neighbors. We are all in this great big, beautiful and sometimes terrible world together. Let us work together to create holiness. Let us bring light into this world. Let us be worthy of being a holy people, just as our Gd is a holy Gd. In this way, we will be fulfilling the words of Gd and Moshe, striving to be a holy nation, rather than making the assumptions of Korach that we have already succeeded.
The Kabbalat Shabbat service can be viewed below. My sermon is at the 29 minute mark.