Gail F.

Nalven Dvar Torah Bereshit 2011

(sing) Bereshit Barah Elohim, Et HaShamayaim v’et HaAretz. And we’re off and running. The holidays are finally finished, and we hear the word “Bereshit,” in the beginning, at the beginning, when God began. So many interpretations to grapple with. So many questions to ask. This week’s portion includes so many of the stories that we have learned throughout our lives: the creation story, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel. And the portion ends with a warp speed jump through the ten generations from Adam to Noah, setting us up for the next portion. There’s a lot to choose from here! What I would like to concentrate on is just one line toward’s the end of the creation story. It’s chapter 1, verse 27, the very top of page 10 in your Eitz Chayim chumash. Vayivrah Elohim Et Ha-Adam B’Tzalmo, b’tzelem Elohim Barah Otoh translated here as And God created man in God’s image, in the image of God, God He created him. Hmmm. It sounds to me like it is the same thing repeated. And God created humanity in God’s image, in the image of God, God created all of humanity. When we see a construction like this an alarm should go off in our heads --- ding, ding, ding -- there is something special happening here. We know that it can’t be literal because we learn later on, in the 10 commandments that we are not allowed to make an image of God. So what could it mean that we are created B’Tzelem Eloheim, in God’s image.

In Pikei Avot, Rabbi Akiva would say, “Beloved is humanity for we were made in the image of God. And doubly beloved are we, for God made it known to us that we are made in God’s image.” Not only are we Godly simply by being ourselves, but according to Rabbi Akiva, all of us are doubly beloved because God told us so. It’s pretty clear that we individuals are special! So why do we keep hearing stories like this one: Barb Schroeder knew about her son Alec's struggles as an openly gay freshman in a rural Minnesota High School. But she didn't know that he had a knife. Classmates called Alec names, and pushed him around the bathroom during a homecoming game in 2005."I would take a knife out, hold it and think about how quick it would be, and how I wouldn't have to go to school tomorrow and deal with that," Alec Schroeder, now 20, says. Thankfully, Alec’s mother supported him and transferred him to another school. Nathan Johnson, 33, remembers hearing "faggot" and "that's so gay" from both students and teachers when he was in High School in the mid-1990s. Both of these stories come from Minnesota where there has been a rash of suicides -- 9 in the last 2 years-- of Gay and Lesbian children who have been bullied by their peers. This story doesn’t have such a happy ending. From NY: Taunted since grade school for hanging out with girls, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer told his parents things were finally getting better since high school started. Meanwhile, on a blog his parents didn't know about, he posted increasingly desperate notes ruminating on suicide, bullying, and homophobia. A few days later, he hanged himself outside his home in suburban Buffalo. Tracy Rodemeyer said, her son was hurt deeply by words from the time he was very young. Boys started picking on him in elementary school, she said. "People would say, `Oh my god, you're such a girl. What are you, gay? That kind of stuff"

By middle school, the bullying was overwhelming, she said. His friends would report the abuse, and school officials would pull the boy and the alleged bullies into the office. Rodemeyer also regularly saw a school social worker, who would call his mother after meetings. It seems like his family and the school administration were on the case and that this should have be a success story. "People would be like `faggot, fag,' and they'd taunt me in the hallways and I felt like I could never escape it," he said in a YouTube video as part of the "It Gets Better" project, which seeks to give voices and hope to bullied gay and lesbian teenagers. He had talked about suicide in the past, but denied recently that the bullying had carried over to high school, which he started shortly before his death, his mother said. He was making plans... His parents monitored his Facebook posts but they didn't know about a separate Tumblr blog, on which he identified himself as gay, filled with troubling posts like "Stop bullying people. Maybe they won't commit suicide" and "Ugh today makes me wanna kill myself." Unfortunately, I could go on. Just this week Jamie Hubley, a 15 year old in Ottawa, killed himself after relentless bullying. There are more horror stories than I think we can handle. B’tzelem Elohim, God created us in God’s image. Gregg Drinkwater Jewish Mosaic’s director and one of the organization’s co-founders drashes this portion as follows: “where the traditional view finds the climax in the union of a man and a woman, the queer-read sees the joining together of Adam and Eve as merely a vehicle for the real end point: love. More specifically, love as tikkun - as repair and as a solution to the ultimate loneliness of being.

This shift in viewpoint does not require one to disregard parts of Bereshit or to radically reinterpret the verses. It does not require a defensive posture. It simply requires a different perspective on the will and wisdom of God – a perspective that sees the truly radical nature of the idea that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).” He continues, “The truth of being created B’tzelem Elohim is radical because it comes without limits. In the infinite diversity of humanity – in each and every person – we find the spark of God. Gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex, each of us is created in God’s image, and the gift of love, of tikkun, is God’s gift to us all. From this perspective, an affirmation of same-sex love no longer seems like a stretch. It is but a reflection of the will and wisdom of God.” I could not have said this better myself.

So what are we to do? B’tzelem Elohim, Tikkun. While we may have many questions about the text, one thing is for sure, there is no question that this epidemic of bullying and suicide must be stopped! Three international Jewish youth movements have launched a campaign to combat homophobia.   The Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders, comprised of the presidents of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth and the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, has joined a campaign started by Keshet, a national organization working for GLBT inclusion in Jewish life.   The youth leaders have pledged to end bullying in their own organizations. They also have set a goal of getting 18,000 Jewish teens, their parents and those who work with them to sign Keshet’s “Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.” This is a step.

We’ve just spent a season saying Al Chets, things we have done to break down the world. I would like to suggest a new list, a TIKKUN list, a list of ways we can change the world. Tikkun. We can reach out to the Keshet youth campaign. Tikkun. We can reach out to the youth in your world, gay or straight. Tikkun. We can take a stand with the people around us. Tikkun. When we hear language that does not honor B’Tzelem Eloheim, " we will speak up. Tikkun. When we see behavior that is wrong, we will correct it, Tikkun. When we hear our leaders,and would-be leaders, speaking ill, we will tell them. B’Tzelem Elohim. Tikkun. I think that says it all! Shabbat Shalom.

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