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Toward Shabbat: Vayak’hel-Pekudei

Early in my rabbinate I met with a bat mitzvah girl who declared she was born at the wrong time. The roaring ‘20s would have been a better fit, she said.

I remember telling the board about this young girl when I announced that I was pregnant at a board meeting in October of 2009. Unlike her, I felt so blessed to have been born at the right time and to fulfill my calling to become a rabbi and a single mom by choice. What I couldn’t say then but I can easily say now is that I am blessed to serve a community alongside spiritual partners who support my path and honor my dual role of rabbi and mother. I take none of this for granted.

On Monday I received dozens of emails celebrating International Women’s Day. That same day, an email arrived in the inbox from a man who attends minyan. He wrote that it “bothered” him that two female rabbis lead the minyan. He thought one of the leaders should always be a man.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her own response to this thinking. She is famously quoted as saying:

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.

Some stories, leaders, voices go unquestioned and accepted while others are constantly being interrogated. Justice Ginsburg not only exposed the discrimination and inequity that exists in our society; she imagined a world liberated from it. She didn’t live to see the day when the Supreme Court was even half female, but she did live during a time when prayer services could be led by an all-women clergy team.

This Shabbat, Shabbat HaHodesh, we announce the arrival of the month of Nisan, the month we celebrate. Many commentaries separate the word Pesah into two words, “pe” and ”sah,” translated as “the mouth that speaks.” Pesah is a holiday of speaking—of telling and expanding the story. The haggadah states:

כָל הַמַּרְבֶּה לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח
And the more one tells about the Exodus from Egypt, behold it is praiseworthy.

With the word, we ask and tell, we expose, we question. We tell the truth about what keeps us oppressed and constrained in our own lives and we give voice to all the ways our society and our world continue to operate in systems and structures that oppress and hold back some, while advancing others. We speak to liberate.

We have no choice about the time into which we are born. I am indebted—we are all—to those who came before us in every generation who carried forth the Divine call, “Let my people go.” I think about the daughters of Tzelophehad in the Torah and Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Dolores Heurtes, and Bella Abzug in the story of America. Their voices made my voice possible. How will we each speak on this Pesah, to tell a story that brings us one step closer to redemption?

Shabbat shalom.