Shabbat VaYikra, coming up on Purim: Nurturing the little Alef of our Future

אָח֣וֹר וָקֶ֣דֶם צַרְתָּ֑נִי וַתָּ֖שֶׁת עָלַ֣י כַּפֶּֽכָה 

You formed me before and after, You lay Your hand upon me – Psalms 139.5

Rabbi Yohanan recalled the verse Let us make the earthling in Our Image and Our Likeness (Genesis 1.26). Rabbi Yirmiyah ben Elazar said, “at the moment when the Holy Blessed One created the first earthling, HaShem created them androginos, as it is said: Male and female they were created.” (Genesis 1.27).

What kind of society destroys its future? One that underfunds education and child care. One that sends young people to wars decided upon by elders who will never fight them. One that denounces a young person’s dysphoria as a sin against nature. In Jewish terms, one that does not discern, nurture and protect the small alef which signifies its future.

Our parashat hashavua is the first part of VaYikra, Leviticus. The appearance of the first word is poignant to see: the letter alef at the end of the word written so small, by scribal convention. Why? Each generation develops midrash upon that little alef. The first word of the alef bet, which by itself may mean beginning or future or self; the rest of the word without its alef, meaning “expensive” or “dear”. The separation between them looking like selfishness and greed on the one side, and the diminishment of future promise on the other.

The heart of every compassionate person must go out to the trans kids of Texas and the parents who seek to keep their children alive, much less happy. As a gloriously diverse congregation with a Rabbi who considers Torah Study to be improved by the application of a Queer lens, we of the Shir Tikvah community are appalled by legislative attempts in Idaho, Texas and other states to criminalize and persecute what they do not understand. 

There are those who long for a “normality” which closes its eyes to the diverse, hard to categorize, impossible to fully order, true vitality (and confusion!) of life. 

A Torah Study lens brought to the question of how best to understand – and not to condemn out of fear – diverse gender identities helps to remind all of us that the narrow definition of gender and sexuality taught in the West is ridiculously ignorant of millennia of human life. Our ancestors observed in the world around them the truth that human beings are fashioned in many diverse ways; there are discussions in the Talmud that pick up on ancient words of the Tanakh that we don’t generally know about – but it’s time we did.

Mordecai nursed Esther

Rabbi Yudan said, “he went to all the wet nurses but could not find one for Esther, so he nursed her himself.” Rabbi Berakhiah and Rabb Abbahu said, “Milk came to him and he would nurse her.” It is a teaching in the Mishnah: the milk of a male is tahor (pure).” – Bereshit Rabbah Noakh, 30.8

A Woman May Receive the Soul of a Man

She will not be able to conceive and get pregnant….the woman is male. – Hayim Vital, She’ar haGilgulim 9.2

A Trans Man is Halakhically a Man

Do not be surprised by this question, since all things are possible and there is nothing new under the sun. Rabbi Hayim Avraham Miranda of Salonica describes several cases like this, including one young woman who transformed into a man at the hour that she was being led to the huppah..and so it seems to me that now that he is not a woman but a full man, he should not say in the morning blessings “who has made me a woman” but rather “Blessed are You HaShem ruler of the Universe, who has transformed me into a man.” – Rabbi Yosef Pallache of Izmir, 1896, Yosef Et Ehav, Even haEzer, paragraph 5.

When the little alef of the first word of Leviticus is joined to the rest of the word, these two ideas – the future and that which is dear – come together to create the word “calling” or “naming.” May we learn to see that which can only occur when we bring together those who carry the future with that which is most important right now; and in honor of Purim, let a little chaos open the heart to a less settled, more vital life view.

מה גדלו מעשיך יה מאד עמקו מחשבותיך

How great are your works HaShem and how glorious, how deep Your thoughts! (Morning prayers, Psalm 92.5)

May this Shabbat bring rest and joy, peace and hope, and the affirmation that every variation of human being is an equally precious part of the Eternity in which we dwell.

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