Transitions can be difficult. They often occupy the uncomfortable space between the given of where we were and the unknown of where we are going. Whether it’s adolescence, retirement, or a change in relationship status, it takes time to reorient and get used to who we are in our current reality.
Our tradition speaks frequently to this challenge. On Shavuot we transitioned from Hebrews to Jews, individuals to a nation, and broken fragments to a healed whole. In preparation for those epic changes our ancestors transitioned incrementally, from a deep level of spiritual impurity, to being worthy of divine revelation.
Shavuot offers us reminders to be accepting of change. We celebrate the power and invitation to transcend by reading the Book of Ruth, which speaks to her conversion from Moav to the Jewish People. King David, a descendant of Ruth who was born and died on Shavuot, is offered by the Talmud as the example to encourage others to transition from sin to righteousness. Even the cheese cake, a dairy product, reminds us of the transformative change that the body goes through in order to produce milk.
Our tradition acknowledges the fluidity of the human experience in that we have the ability to affect change in ways that seem to contradict the physical by the spiritual. The sun can be shinning and still we can make it shabbat on Friday afternoon. A person can dedicate something to the Temple, making it holy, and then redeem it back to the mundane. When we repent out of love, those sinful actions of the past are retroactively converted to merits. Traditionally, when it comes to the transition of people, time, objects, and actions, we accept, without any hesitation, the legitimacy of the change.
Change is part of life and our faith. But in one category there seems to be a lot of resistance. When it comes to gender, some find it hard to acknowledge the elasticity of human identity. Some see it as fixed, with an unnatural rigidity of permanence that is completely non-malleable. The concept of transgender is too lubricious for many to grasp. In truth, it’s hard for me to understand because I’ve never felt any tension in my own gender identity. Yet, we must listen and try to comprehend. It is part of the journey towards understanding God’s wisdom.
When Tal, my son, assigned female, sees pictures of himself before he transitioned, the contrast and conflict for him are unmistakable. Who am I, really?
As I’ve evolved I’ve learned that if we amputate our past identity, we risk experiencing phantom pain for life.
We, unlike God, occupy a physical and finite space. By necessity, we have a dominant expression of a limited body, but it is just a superficial shell. Below the surface we are able to see and hold all of those contradictory and mutually exclusive aspects simultaneously.
The greatness of God is displayed in that we are all equally created in the image of God and still we all look different. It is those differences that provide insight into the Divine, as they are a reflection of it. According to tradition, there are 600,000 letters in the Torah and ישראל, Israel, is an acronym corresponding to a head count at Mount Sinai. The individual is to the nation what a letter is to the Torah. If even one is missing, it is incomplete.
The Torah was not given to an individual, but to a nation. However, that nation was unified like one person with one heart. It is this space of holding both simultaneously that allows and contributes to divine revelation. I’ve observed that the phrase כלל ישראל כאיש אחד בלב אחד is equal to יש הרבה דרכים למקום. “The Jewish People as one person with one heart” has the numerical value of “there are many ways to reach God”.
The verse testifies that the entire nation saw the sounds by the mountain. I am not synesthetic nor am I transgender, but I believe both come from an expansive awareness of areas that most can’t perceive.
It was exactly at that moment of awareness that all of our souls were being reunited as one, that the artificial limitation of the body was overpowered and could no longer confine the true expression of soul. We were our truest selves in our most natural habitat; one of spirituality.
It is that perspective and sense of belonging that I want to give over to Tal. Son, you are an infinitely beautiful and unique blend of all that which is holy. You are way too deep for pictures or words to define you. Like the seasons and corresponding festivals, there is an expressed texture to time which we experience as real in the moment but is guaranteed to change in the future.
This year when we accept the Torah, let us do so like it was done originally, by also accepting each other.
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