By Rabbi Eliana Kayelle
“When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and be at peace with myself…
Anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community.” –Ta’anit 11a
These words have been on my mind during the uptick of anti-trans legislation passing nationwide, most recently with the unprecedented restrictions on gender affirming care in Missouri. Our community is suffering.
As Jews, we have an obligation when faced with injustice that we must not stand idly by (Vayikra 19:16). So what can we do when the cracks in our society become seemingly irreparable? I believe the answer can be found in this week’s Torah portion.
In the second half of this week’s double portion, Tazria-Metzora, we are given the protocol for if one’s house is afflicted with a plague. God gives the instruction, “The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, ‘Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’ The priest shall order the house cleared before the priest enters to examine the plague, so that nothing in the house may become impure; after that, the priest shall enter to examine the house.” (Vayikra 14:35-36)
What first strikes me is the fact that one must acknowledge that there is something sorely wrong and needs to be looked at through greater perspective. The second thing I find interesting is that the plague itself can be many things. When it says “something like a plague,” the word for plague has several definitions and has been interpreted as physical, spiritual, and metaphorical affliction. Even the use of the word “house” can be applied more broadly, as we’ve seen “House of…” in reference to whole communities. The chapter goes on to relay the steps that should be taken until the house becomes safe for dwelling.
If all people are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Bereishit 1:27), and if we should all be able to say, “for my sake the world was created” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5), then is it not an affliction on our society when we cannot all truly feel this way? Is it not an affliction when children have to look injustice in the eye as they testify in legislative hearings instead of spending time with their friends and families? Is it not an affliction when there are people in our communities who have to continuously defend their right to merely exist?
We must keep taking steps and examining our house until it is safe for all to dwell.
In Jewish tradition, there is a practice of teshuva, a process by which someone can repair harm, let go of what is no longer serving, and return on their righteous path. What would collective teshuva look like for our communities to become holy spaces for trans, nonbinary, and all LGBQ+ people?
Looking back to the text from Ta’anit, we can’t rid ourselves of the suffering of another. When we rise alongside each other, pushing the movement for liberation forward as one, we will see change happen. We have the tools, and maybe even more importantly, we have each other.
As gutted as I sometimes feel for my trans and nonbinary siblings, I am even more inspired by the strength each one of us has to keep living our truth and loudly proclaiming that we will not be erased. And I continue to be moved by all who so fiercely show up defending LGBTQ+ rights.
So let us repair the cracks. Together we will build a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace, for all to live safely and authentically as we were meant to.