Shabbat Sukkot

Shabbat Sukkot

By Ilana Grinblat, Sept 29, 2018

Shabbat Shalom. Moadim L’simchah.

On Sunday, we bought our schach for our sukkah and put it in my car. The schach hung out through the right side of my car, such that Tal had to drive on the left hand side of the street, and I was thinking: Wow we have such a weird religion! Weird in the best possible sense of the term – wacky, wonderful religion. We built the beautiful sukkah, and decorated it with new lights. Zman Simchatenu, The time of our joy had come. But the world didn’t get the memo.

World: Is that too much to ask? To have one week of joy and peace?!!

Last year, the day before Sukkot was the Vegas shooting. This year the Kavannaugh hearings. To me, this was a deeply painful week.

I wish I could give a light sermon today – on the symbolism of the lulav in our wild and wacky tradition. Instead, I need to address the following questions:

What does our tradition have to say about sexual assault and harassment?

The bigger question – which I can’t yet answer, as events are still unfolding – is what message do the events of this week – and the next week going to send to the young people of our country? What are we to make what is happening in our country?

There are two stories from our tradition which inform what I want to say:

1) The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) recounts about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism, but would only accept Judaism if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot.

First he went to Shammai, who refused to answer this odd request. The man then approached Hillel, who said:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary—go and study it!”

I love Hillel’s answer. However, I would have responded to that question slightly differently. I would have answered with Genesis 1:27: And God created humanity in the image of God:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם

 If you understand the idea that human beings are created in the image of God, then you understand how to treat other people and how not to treat them.

This principle means that while there are gradations of offences, there should be no such thing as excusing behavior “boys will be boys.” There should be no behavior that treats someone as other than in the image of God. All sexual assault and harassment treats someone as not in the image of God.

2) The second story is from Bereshit Rabbah. When God was about to create first person, he was surrounded by angels who offered different options, some for and some against creating humanity.

The angel Lovingkindness was in favor of humanity being created, and said, “People will perform many acts of lovingkindness.” The angel of Truth argued against creating humanity, saying, “People will be full of lies.” The angel Righteousness was in favor since people would be capable of doing acts righteousness. Angel of Peace was opposed, because people will be full of strife.

What did God do? God took truth and threw it down so that it broke into many pieces, so that the vote would be 2 to1 in favor of creation, and then God created humanity.

This past year and the last few weeks, the truth really took a beating, but in other, powerful ways, people picked up the broken pieces of truth from the ground and at great risk to themselves, spoken deep, painful truths about their experiences.

When I asked myself leading up to the holidays, who has inspired me the most this past year, the first on I wrote on my list of inspirational people was anyone who spoke their truth about sexual assault and harassment this past year.

This was particularly inspiring to me because it was in such stark contrast with the silence and shame that surrounded this topic when I was younger.

I am from Maryland, the same area as Dr. Ford and though she’s a bit older than me, I am basically from that time and from that place.

In college, my closest friend at the time was date raped. She didn’t tell me at first. She didn’t tell anyone. She said something vague on the phone and I asked a question which led her to me. Since she didn’t report the rape immediately, she had no evidence and no witnesses. I supported her through the process of whether to report it. I was gently encouraging her to report it, but she decided not to. She knew that if she did report it, she would be interrogated, etc. She had been through one trauma and didn’t want to go through another one.

Although we’ve been out of touch lately, I called my friend this week, as because I though the President’s statement would surely be hurtful to her. To me, one of the most painful moments of the past week was when the President indicated that if what happened to Dr. Ford was so bad, then she or her parents would have reported it at the time.

Incidentally, I also called my best friend from high school this week, just as we always do this time of year, to say Shanah Tovah, and she mentioned that she had also been in a situations where she barely got away, but didn’t report, because she thought there was nothing to report since nothing occurred. She now understands that attempted assault is a category worth reporting but didn’t have that vocabulary at the time.

If talking about this issue from a Jewish perspective, we have to wrestle with the idea of Shalom Bayit, and ask about how this concept has been applied in these types of situations. Shalom Bayit us a wonderful idea in Judaism of peace in the household. I’m in favor of this idea. Sometimes this concept is used to withhold some information for the sake of peace in the house. For example, maybe we don’t have to tell daddy that we broke that plate unless he notices. Or maybe we don’t have to tell daddy that you drew in magic marker of the floor, since we succeeded in cleaning it up for the sake of shalom bayit.

Yet, when the concept of Shalom bayit become problematic when it is applied in cases of sexual assault and harassment. For example: when I was 15, I went to visit relatives and while there we visited distant relatives. While there, the father in the family that we were visiting would say inappropriate sexual things to me and make gestures when others left the room, but stop when other returned into the room. When we left, I confided in a female relative that I was staying with. She said: ‘let’s not tell anyone because it’ll ruin their marriage. I was relieved by this answer at the time.

However in retrospect, I wonder: were we really helping them by keeping quiet? They did eventually get divorced. Were we really helping them by delaying that? Did that silence foster shalom bayit or just the appearance of shalom which prevents true shalom from immerging? With this silence and millions of other silences like it, were we unwittingly helping to contribute to the proliferation of such behavior by keeping it from having consequences?

In Ecclesiastes, it states that “there is a time for silence and a time for talking.” We’ve tried a lot of silence on this topic and it hasn’t served us well. Now is the time for talking.

To me, there a measure of simchah (joy) and inspiration from the piercing of the silence on this issue over the past year. During Dr Ford’s testimony, calls to the sexual assault hotline rose 150 percent which is positive. I’m afraid that the events of this week and of the coming week may contribute to the increase in that silence, but I hope that it will inspire others to share their truths, no matter how painful. This sukkot, I find myself torn between fear and hope.

My sukkot wish is that next year I hope that the world gets the memo. I hope that next year, we get a sukkot which is less painful, where I can give you a light, uplifting drash about the meaning of the lulav in our wacky, wonderful tradition. This year, Right now, I pray that every person REALLY gets and internalizes the memo – the Memo which says:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם

God created humanity – male and female in the image of God. The rest is commentary, and let us say Amen.

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