June 19, 2024 |


Posted on March 20, 2016

Last Tuesday, we explored Vayikra, the first parasha in the third book of the Torah.  We discussed sacrifices and the obligation for witnesses to give testimony.  Gesher students developed Torah study questions including: (1) The ancient Israelites gave sacrifices to feel closer to God.  They gave sacrifices for many reasons: Sometimes spontaneously to tell God that they love God, at other times when they were distressed, felt guilty, thought that they had cheated somebody, or thought that they may have sinned, or when they felt gratitude for their well-being, or for being saved from something (illness, accident or injury.) What do you do to feel closer to God? What is happening in your life when you feel that you would like to feel God’s presence or to acknowledge God?   (2) According to Jewish texts, the testimony of certain people is not acceptable in court.  Who do you think should not be able to give testimony? What do you think should disqualify a person from giving testimony?
On Sunday, we began with The Purim Super Hero a children’s book with important messages about the variety of family models, peer pressure and making your own decisions.  Students were clear about their expectations that a person’s choices should not be dictated by his or her gender.  We learned about the difference between gender identity, gender expression and sex. Since all human beings are created b’tzelem elokim (in the image of God) there is no preferred image and every image requires respect and compassion.  Hence, one’s gender and gender identification are the choice of that individual.  This led to a new perspective on the Jewish wedding ceremony.  While our tradition is beautiful, it is also highly gendered:  The bride has a Kabablat Panim(reception) the groom has a Tisch (groom’s table) where her talks words of Torah, agrees to the Tanaiim (conditions of betrothal) and signs the Ketubah (marriage contract.)  It is the groom who veils the bride, marries her by reciting the traditional formula (Be consecrated unto me according to the laws of Moses and Israel) and placing a ring on her finger, and gives her the Ketubah.  What happens if the couple is not a man and a woman?  What happens if it is two men or two women?  We also examined the Sheva Brachot (Seven Wedding Blessings) and realized that many of them are gendered as well.  We weighed the value of tradition against the value of a gender-neutral wedding ceremony and wondered if some day, many Jewish weddings will adopt a gender-neutral model.
“The Garden”, a story about the first couple provided a segue from Jewish wedding to Pirkei Avot.  What does this story teach about the value of work and even struggle?  Then we learned two short verses from Pirkei Avot:  4:16, “You’re not required to finish the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”  And 1:10, “Shammai taught, love work.”  What is work?  What is expected of us?  Students compared these texts to Yoda’s words “Do. Or do not.  There is no try.” Does Yoda agree with the rabbis of the Mishna?

The Garden
by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Dancing on the Edge of the World: Jewish Stories of Faith Inspiration and Love collected and edited by Miriyam Glazer, Ph.D.
Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden.  And they lived together east of Eden, tilling the earth, raising children, struggling to stay alive.  After the years of struggle, when their children were grown, they decided to see the world.
They journeyed from one corner of the world to the other.  Wandering from place to place, in the course of their journeys, they discovered the entrance to the Garden of Eden, now guarded by an angel with a flaming sword.  Frightened, they began to flee when suddenly G-d spoke to them:
            “Adam and Eve, you have lived in exile these many many years.  The punishment is complete.  You may return now to the Garden.”
            As the words were spoken, the angel with his flaming sword disappeared and the gate to the Garden opened.  “Come in, Adam.  Come in, Eve.”
            “Wait,” Adam replied.  “You know, it has been so many years.  Remind me, what is it like in the Garden?”
            “The Garden is paradise!” G-d responded.  “In the Garden there is no work.  Neither of you need ever struggle or toil again.  There is no pain, no suffering.  No death.  Life goes on forever, day after day.  Come, return to the Garden!”
            Adam and Eve listened to G-d’s words—no work, no struggle, no pain, no death.  An endless life of perpetual ease.  And then Adam turned and looked at Eve.  He looked at the woman with whom he had struggled to make a life, to take bread from the earth, to raise children, to build a home.  He thought of the tragedies they had overcome and the joys they cherished.
            And Adam shook his head, “no thank you, that’s not for me… Come on Eve, let’s go”
            Adam and Eve turned their backs on Paradise, and hand in hand, they walked home.