Shabbat Commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance

Using a piece of text from the Zohar, Renewal Rabbi SaraLeya Schley reminds us that each of us has a unique soul-journey to discern and follow. The path of transgender people is one of learning the deepest lessons about how to find your truth and live as your true self.

November 21, 2008

By Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

Parashat Hayei Sara Genesis 23:1-25:18
November 21, 2008 (23 Cheshvan 5769)

“V’Avraham zakein, ba bayamim, va-Adonai beirakh et Avraham bakol. And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and Hashem had blessed Abraham with everything” (B’reisheit 24:1)

The Holy Zohar interprets the words “ba bayamim” literally, saying that Abraham was old and “came into his days”. The Zohar considers of the days of human life, according to D. Matt, Ph.D., as “living entities, preceding one’s earthly existence and enduring afterward.” If our days are alive, then we are called to deeply experience that life in each moment. Abraham, as he was preparing to die, was blessed with all – blessed with the fullness of days and fulfillment of mission.

The Zohar continues, telling us that throughout all of Abraham’s days, he drew closer to the Holy, rung by rung, step by step, drawn inward (and upward). “Happy is the one whom You choose and bring close” (Ps 65:5). The Ein Sof desired that Abraham come into his particular place, so Abraham attained his ultimate rung of knowing the mystery of faith “raza d’meheminuta”. From this place of timelessness – which is beyond days – all blessing and goodness flows. And thus Abraham (and we, too) receive the blessing of the spiritual path. The text begs us to ask ourselves, “What is the mystery of my own faith, what is my personal secret to a spirit-infused life? In the Zohar text there is a to-and-fro movement, Abraham always reaching for the next step and the Divine extending a hand, as it were, in aid. At times it is we who might initiate the movement, at times it is the Infinite calling us closer.

Further the Zohar continues, “Happy are those who are masters of returning”. Through teshuva we can each approach the special place, and take hold of the special mission, that is particularly designed for us. And, thus we are blessed. Each day is a new returning, a new rung on our soul- ladder. With each conscious moment and each conscious movement, we get closer to intuiting our life’s purpose.

This Shabbat, the day after Transgender Day of Remembrance, has been set aside for especially remembering those who did not live out the fullness of their days because of being transgender. I was blessed, this past week, to read and study the writings of and about the transgender members of our Jewish community.

In my naiveté, I didn’t realize the extent to which gender identity can provoke violence and murder – but it has. And, so, this Zohar teaching is so appropriate for this time because it reminds us that each of us has our unique soul-journey to discern and follow. The practice of teshuva is a path to discovering our soul-essences. Each of our lives’ paths and stages has its own special blessing. For many of us, gender has not been an issue of concern (in this lifetime), but for some of us, it is the essence of our spiritual path. In the words of Chochmat HaLev’s beloved Maggid Jhos Singer “Maybe some of us were selected to take on this work. Perhaps it’s not just about me and my comfort.”

The Holy Zohar teaches us that every day is an opportunity to get closer to understanding the secrets that are only to be revealed to you, to move up, metaphorically the rungs of soul growth – actually I think less of a ladder and more of a complex jungle gym of rungs, moving sideways, up, down, inward and outward. Each day – each rung in the language of the Zohar – is an opening into eternity, a petah olam.

And what else do our mystical texts tell us? This opening into eternity is none other than Shekhina, the multi-faceted, jewel-like lens that contains every color of the spectrum, all of the openings through which the infinite Divine Light is channeled into physical manifestation as human bodies and souls. Shekihna is not only Rahel the mother crying for her children in exile, but also King David. Shekhina contains both male and female archetypal energy.

We have spoken before that we have unique sparks to raise, unique missions, unique tikkun, unique tasks. Shekhina is the totality of all our sparks, is complete only because of diversity – she contains all of manifestation.

In our post-modern world, gender is another one of the previously-sacrosanct polarizations that is being transformed into a nuanced and rich spectrum, rather than the old-paradigm, impoverished binary poles of black-and-white thinking. What a gift our transgender community has given to those of us who are not thus identified. And yet, even though I have practiced the languaging all week, I find myself slipping into default gendered language – should I be saying “transgender brother and sisters – or transgender siblings?”

And, I want to really bless you, for whom this transgender path has been placed before you. Yours is not an easy path, nor one embraced without social cost, but it is a path of richness. It is a path of learning the deepest lessons about how to find your truth and live as your true self. You are my teachers about what it means to live in integrity.

You are my inspiration to move further along the path of activism for social justice.

You remind me that it is not acceptable that anyone should be killed or persecuted for their gender, their skin color, or any other aspect of their appearance, or for beliefs. We must all have equal access to marital rights and protection of the law.

Let’s pray that all of our trans siblings will find it easier and easier to live as their true selves.

Let’s be a community with a very open heart. Ask the questions that beg to be asked: “What pronoun do you prefer? Please help me learn how to make our community more comfortable. Please forgive me for unconscious lapses.” And hold back from asking the questions about bodies and medical choices that could be hurtful. Let’s create space for transition and movement. Let’s stretch our binary habits of thinking.

I pray that we each embrace our uniqueness. In closing I would like to borrow a teaching of Magid shir ‘Az when she commented on Deuteronomy’s prohibition on cross-dressing. She said that what the deeper meaning of this verse might be: may our insides and outsides match.

I bless you with making the tikkun that is uniquely yours to make…. to fix that place in the universe that only you can fix.

Let’s bring intention and integrity as we come into every day with consciousness. We remember the importance of every life and every day of our lives. We honor the memories of those who did not live the fullness of their days, those who have lost their lives in following their soul-paths. (This Shabbat we also remember the 45th anniversary of JFK’s assassination!). Let’s pray together for the end of interpersonal violence.