Friday, March 29, 2013

Religious Trauma/Religious Freedom


Hol haMoed Pesah
18 Nisan, 5773
March 29, 2013
3rd Day of the Omer

Consider a Jew.

Said Jew walks into a Jewish space – a synagogue, or some such institution. While in the aforementioned space, our Jew has an interaction of the worst sort: another Jew, either through word or action, invalidates or demeans the Judaism of Jew #1. Perhaps the insult was intended, perhaps it was simply thoughtless – it does not matter. Our traumatized first Jew leaves, bearing bitterness that may last a lifetime.

Every Jew I know has had this experience. Every single one. It has happened to me many times. I have nursed my full share of resentment.

But I believe that I, and many others, made a mistake: we let other people write the story of our Judaism. To place the quality of one’s personal experience of Judaism into the hands of other people’s idiosyncrasies and mistakes is to invite misery. If our rejection defines our Judaism, we have not seen the fundamental freedom of the Exodus, and have not been personally redeemed.

Moshe said more than, “Let my people go.” The whole sentence goes, “So says HaShem, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go so that they will celebrate Me in the desert.’” (Shemot 5:1, italics mine). And Pharoah’s response: “Who is this ‘HaShem’ that I should listen to his voice, to let the people go.” (5:2)

The freedom of Passover is more than, “Let My people go;” it is, “Let My people go so that” – so that they may celebrate as they see fit, so that they may self-determine, so that they may write their own stories.

To accede to religious rejection is to give Pharoah’s voice primacy. Hurt though we may be, to never cross the threshold of Jewish life again is to acknowledge that all the power lies with him, and none with us.

And the funny thing is that, when one moves past moments of rejection and engages Judaism and Jewish life on one’s own terms, Pharoah’s voice sounds…well, a lot less like Pharoah. Rejection and invalidation have less sting, less bite. We see that rejecting voice as that of a flawed human, just like we are, and not as a monolithic entity. We even see how we might have misinterpreted those moments as rejection – sometimes Pharoah’s voice actually comes from within.

God does not reject. The Holy One is always waiting for us. It’s just that sometimes we get in each other’s way on the path to divinity. No matter what’s been said to us, let us remember that each of us left Egypt, free.

For an extraordinary example of a refusal to accede to religious freedom, read the story of the Women of the Wall

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