Here is the D'var Torah I gave last week at the Jewish community's Pride Shabbat event. What cheered me up most about the gathering was that we had people from a cross - section of our wider community, so it might not have been as "radical" as previous years, but it was radically inclusive.
These were my thoughts for that evening:
Pride Shabbat 2022 - D'var Torah
At first, it must have felt scandalous. It probably felt radical to focus a prayer service on sexual imagery and longing, on the sacred power of erotic connection. On being infinitely at home with yourself and the universe.
I have no proof of this, I wasn’t alive in 16th century (CE.) Tzfat, when it’s Jewish Mystics created the Kabbalat Shabbat service as we know it today. Naming Shabbat “Queen” wasn’t new by that time, but these Mystics reimagined our relationship with Shabbat and made it one of deep love and longing, of physical / spiritual love, of a passion so deep it can heal a hurt and wounded people. This was quite new and very much needed for our ancestors.
Over the past 400 years we have become accustomed to the lush language of this ritual, we arrive at Friday evening every week singing Lecha Dodi and Yedid Nefesh to name only two of the most well-known pieces of liturgy, and we’ve stopped noticing the gift they gave us.
The gift of being fully at peace and intimately accepted in the world.
So, while the idea of Pride Shabbat is relatively new (if we count in Jewish time), and while the plethora of gender identity and expansive sexuality might cause some of us to feel confused, the deep message of Pride Shabbat ties in with the very roots of Jewish history and tradition.
In this short D’var, I could have gone down the path of shared oppression, of the pink triangle and the yellow star. I could talk about hidden lives and forced conversion / therapy, about instances where society’s sacred text and the name of our own Creator were used as weapons to punish and kill us.
But tonight I want to speak of beauty and of the strong spiritual, religious, healing power of sensual joy.
Here is one of my favorite images from the Talmud. Notice, they were drawing a picture for our minds eye, try creating this picture for yourself as I speak:
One who wishes to see something resembling the beauty of Rabbi Yoḥanan should bring a new, shiny silver goblet from the smithy and fill it with red pomegranate seeds and place a
diadem of red roses upon the lip of the goblet, and position it between the sunlight and shade. That luster is a semblance of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty. (Bava Metzia 84a)
It is interesting to me how often we forget to make this connection, but our rabbis were seekers of beauty, because they saw the sacred image of God within the wondrous diversity of our world. That is why they made the effort of portraying R’ Yohanan’s great beauty for us in detail. That is why they call upon us to perform mitzvot in beauty, in a manner deeply in tune with our senses, as a celebration of the gift of being here on earth.
We use wine to bless our sacred events because wine often allows us to expand our senses. We sanctify the Shabbat with fresh bread, we sanctify the new week with fragrant spices and a fancy candle - because our physical enjoyment of the world enables our connection to holiness. And to be in a state of heightened connection, a person must learn to listen carefully to their own body/soul - the two are one.
This religious understanding of ourselves goes way beyond words like “diversity”, “inclusion” or even “celebration of difference”. This is about respecting our God-given body to such a degree, that we learn to fine tune it and listen with all our might, with our heart and spirit, to what our body teaches us.
Pride Shabbat is one way in which the LGBTQ+ Jewish community is calling out to all of us to wake up and notice our sacred body. I sometimes forget this when dealing with the turmoil of language, pronouns, rights, wrongs, and justice. These are all important but they are an arrow pointing us in the direction of a truth we mumble every morning but might not always recognize: “Blessed are you Adonai our God, You have created the human body in wisdom…..”
Each of us sitting here was created in divine wisdom.
Learning to recognize our body’s needs and wants is part of learning Torah, it is us creating our own pathway to the Tree of Life.
In a way that echoes the now traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service, Pride Shabbat is not only a celebration of connection and belonging, but also a much needed ritual of healing. On this Shabbat I am reminding all our Jewish LGBTQ+ grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and friends - we are one Jewish community. We heal together, we celebrate together, we learn from each other.
I pray that our Jewish community here will feel more and more like the home so many Jews in our city deserve. I pray that our synagogues and institutions will become houses of peace for Edmonton’s very diverse Jewish population.
And I hope that next year it won’t be me, a rabbi and an ally giving this D’var torah, but rather someone who’s lived experience is celebrated and uplifted by this day.
I will end with a short remark: All the special readings you heard and will hear in today’s tefillah are taken from two books (Mishkan Ga’avah and Siddur Sha’ar Zahav). Queer Jewish liturgy and ritual are not a new thing, and I am happy to help any person interested in exploring this vibrant sphere as best as I can.
Rabbah Gila Caine,
Edmonton, AB. 19 Sivan 5782