Like many of you, words could not describe my excitement last week as I heard about the New York State Senate’s vote to finally legalize Gay Marriage in New York. Clearly overdue, this was a monumental moment, in allowing equal rights to a faction of our community that has long been discriminated against.
I was moved by reading Manhattan Senator Thomas Duane’s words following the vote. He said, “[LGBT] New Yorkers will no longer be denied the right to marry the ones they love. For the first time in New York's rich history they will be granted equal protection under the law...the paradoxical truth is that what already exists and will not change, but for true legal recognition, is the commitment and love that is already the reality in so many of New York's families.”
This will hopefully be a beautiful new beginning for the LGBT community in New Yorkand hopefully lead to more equality in other states around the country.
Of course, for all of us, this is a time of new beginnings as well. As I prepare to spend my first Shabbat with you at CSI, I must admit I am excited, anxious, and nervous all in one. Just like this new legislation has brought about so much renewed hope, it is my vision that through Torah, through Kehillah (community), and through Avodah (hard work), I can help all of us bring Tikvah (hope) and Emunah (faith) for what the future can bring together. I believe it is appropriate that our first Shabbat together is during Parashat Chukkat as well.
Our Torah portion this week tells us of what will become the inevitable transition of leadership and the forced new beginning for the Israelites. Miriam and Aaron both die within 20 verses of each other and Moses is told that he will not be escorting the Israelites into the Promised Land. This entire course of events in Bamidbar (Numbers) chapter 20 is perplexing in many ways, mainly with the much debated question: how could a simple transgression be punished so severely that Moses is no longer allowed into the Promised Land (which he has been leading the people for many years). Come to shul this Shabbat morning when I will be speaking about: Did Moses’ punishment fit the crime?
We may not know the reason Miriam and Aaron die so close to each other or why God puts an end to Moses’ life. We do, however, know God is ready for the Israelites to transition into a new era. God seems to be trying to wean the Israelites from one kind of perception to another: from dependence on the visible and tangible, to reliance on speech in connecting with God. At Sinai, all their senses were engaged, but the revelation itself was auditory. When Moses retells and reframes the story in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:12, he reminds the people, “The sound of words you did hear, but no image did you see except the sound.” There is a grave danger in relying only on the visible. Judaism gives us many essential concrete items to see, for example: a tallit or Shabbat candles. But is it really the visual image that connects us, or the hearing of the blessings or words we say when wearing or experiencing these “items” and more?
Just as God wanted to wean the Israelites from only the visible and tangible, we too need to take the time to not only rely on what we may see on the surface as a community, but attempt to build our connections in a deeper way. My goal again is to get to know each of you, obviously visually, but as the Torah says, to listen to what your needs are, and, of course to dig deeper.
Please don’t hesitate to be in touch!
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham