Shabbat Shalom to everyone.
At the outset, I need to express what an honour and a privilege it is for me to be able to deliver a drasha from the Bimah this Shabbat, held in honour of Pride, to a packed synagogue, where the seats are filled with friends, with family, with chosen family, and with people whose faces I do not know or whose names I do not recognise, but who I hope will find comfort and sanctuary with us, and who we will welcome as new friends.
This week, we read Parshat Terumah, which deals with the construction of the Mishkan, or the Tabernacle, a sanctuary while Bnei Yisrael travels through the midbar, the wilderness. The words that are used to refer to this are וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם – create for me a sacred space and I will dwell amongst you. Amongst you, amongst the people of Israel.
The mishkan is a temporary sanctuary, one that takes the place of the Temple until we will be settled and able to construct it in its permanence. It is a makeshift solution, perhaps even an imperfect solution, since it exists mobile within the wilderness and not in a designated permanent space, but it is not seen as inferior or lesser.
We know that the parsha details an extensive list of materials that are needed for the mishkan, including metals such as gold and silver, spices, woods, different threads of a multitude of colours. And we know that the materials for the mishkan are donated voluntarily, where everyone who contributes gives according to what that person values and sees significance in. Further, the work to build the mishkan itself is conducted by volunteers. The contributions of each person to this space are valued, regardless of their age, their background, their wealth. In fact, it is the diversity of these contributions that is necessary for the existence of the mishkan.
We also see, if we scrutinise the text, that the instructions for the mishkan, though in some ways exceedingly specific, are also lacking. The instructions are insufficient to build the mishkan, as they do not detail such specifics as to the thickness of the walls, or the direction in which the beams should run.
The sanctuary, the sacred space, the safe space, is created by the people, according to the needs of society at the time, so that it can fulfil the function of providing a sanctuary to those who need it most.
The mishkan as the safe space is one that is perfectly imperfect. Too often, when we think about engaging with diversity, and with our LGBTQIA+ community, we are held back by our fear or our concern over being perfect. We may not know all of the language, or all of the pronouns, or all of the theory or ideas, but we cannot let that prevent us from engaging and embracing and standing up for this group.
Further to this, we often hear talk in this day and age suggesting to us that because in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to worry about gender or language or inclusion, because we would all be seen as equal, concepts like sexuality shouldn’t make a difference.
The world in which we live today is an imperfect one. This is the world we occupy, and we must acknowledge its imperfections, and address them, and their effect on our community members. We are in the midbar right now, and we must create the safe space and the sanctuary within the wilderness; the goal of a perfect future is never attained if we do not engage and do the work now.
Too often LGBTQIA+ people in faith communities are told that we are an affront to God, or that we are abominations. The prejudice that we face is couched under the veil of religious belief. My siblings have been the target of these remarks. I have been the target of these remarks. I am quick to remind people now, when they say such things, that I am created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of the Divine. The Divine is comprised of diversity, of all sorts of facets and characteristics and nuances. Creating a sanctuary for the Divine in the wilderness is a goal we cannot achieve unless we create the same sanctuary for the divine diversity within ourselves and within those around us.
Pride began in Stonewall, New York City, in 1969, not as a party or a celebration, but as a rebellion. A rebellion led, in fact, by trans people of colour, against a system that would sooner have seen them dead than acknowledge their right to live. Today still, so many of the LGBTQIA+ community face violence, hatred, and marginalisation. They are guilty of no crime. They are persecuted for the fact that they love – whether it is love towards another, love towards the self, or both. Love has no victim. The hate that we face is driven by guilt and shame. Pride is the antithesis of guilt and shame. Pride is not a party; no, Pride is the refusal to be ashamed of the divine diversity within us. Pride is love, and love has no victim.
In closing, my plea to you tonight, and tomorrow, and in the weeks that come, and in the months that follow those, and the decades that follow those is that you will stand in line with your principles and values. That you will decide for yourself whether it is right to hate, or whether it is right to love. I hope that you will recognise that love is Divine, just as diversity is Divine, and that you will use that understanding to help contribute, in every small way that you can, even if it is imperfect, towards creating this safe space, this sanctuary, this mishkan.
Dr Anastacia Tomson is an LGBTQIA+ activist and a GP practicing in Sea Point.
Dvar Torah delivered on Friday 28 February 2020 at the 8th annual Pride Shabbat, held at Temple Israel Green Point.
To read or download the full May issue PDF of the Chronicle, click here
To keep up to date on COVID-19 related community news, click here
Portal to the Jewish Community: to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites, click here
To receive the Chronicle each month in your inbox instead of your postbox please email email@example.com and we will make it happen.
Follow the Chronicle: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn