Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tetzei
Every year, as we get to this week’s Torah portion, I get the feeling as though Moses knew he was running out of time (or scroll space). It’s kind of like writing a letter and you have five lines more to say, but only one line of space to write. Ki Taetzae contains more Mitzvot than any other Torah portion. Without a lot of explanation, we get the list fired at us, one after the other. We are not to mix foods, seeds, or animals. We must shoo away birds from nests, build railings and fences, and … well, the text throws 74 mitzvot at us. The good news is that, without any explanation or background, we get to interpret how to apply the text in our ritual and ethical lives. The bad news is that, without any explanation or background, we get to interpret how to apply the text in our ritual and ethical lives.
In the context of using faith for everyone’s blessing, my preference is to remember that we always have a choice – the blessing or the curse – life or death. In every case, the Torah commands us to choose life. I offer this reminder, because so many “religious” scholars use scripture as a battering ram to proffer their view of God’s myopia. We must make decisions on how to read the text and how to use it for blessing. Along the way, we must remember that we cannot crawl inside anyone’s head and cannot know their struggles. We must also remember that if we speak about a god of love, then our hateful judgment cannot be in line with anything holy. One of the great comedians of all time, Robin Williams put it best, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
One of the mitzvot we read this week is, “A woman must not put on a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination unto the ETERNAL your God.” Deut. 22:5. “Abomination (to-evah)” is a pretty-serious thing – speaking of moral disgust. Most often people use this to attack the LBGTQ community. Of all the other texts about mixing and matching, none bear the designation of to-evah. Pretty simply – people need to where the clothes of their orientation.
The problem is that precept isn’t an answer. Ok, it is, but one not fully understood. Because people pass judgements over other people’s sexual orientation, too often, we take the choice of blessing or curse out of other people’s hands – condemning or accepting them based on our version of God.
We know, throughout history, that men have worn togas (dresses) and kilts (skirts). So, we have precedent that this text is not so “black and white.” We also know that our great sages refused to read this text as a condemnation of an individual. Rashi (medieval scholar) argued that the reason one would wear the clothing of another would be to hide his/her true-identity and do evil. The Sages of the Talmud agree. The transgression is tied to the wearing of clothes, not the things one does while wearing them. The “evil” is tied to the hiding of one’s identity.
Several years ago, I wrote an article for the United Methodist Insight, arguing that homosexuality is not a violation of the Bible. In part, it spawned the debate that rocked the national conference. In part, I argued that the Bible’s role is to help us understand appreciate life. As such, as I read this text in the 21st century, I see it admonish people to be true to themselves – identify openly who they are. To hide and pretend is a to-evah. The evil is the harm one causes one’s elf when he/she has to walk through life hiding.
Whatever one’s physical appearance, we know, scientifically, that the brain is hardwired as it is. People in the LGBTQ world are created by the same God who created the rest of the world. The fact that there may be more cis-gender people does not mean that the rest are in any way less. In fact, one could argue that love – real love – transcends the boundaries that people place on each other. In that way, Torah argues that whoever you are, wear the clothing (live openly) of who you are. The text then also, by extension, forbids us from judging people who live in ways beyond our horizons. To use the Bible to bring hate and alienation violates the very premise of having such a book – a guide on loving and community building. Even where it does condemn behaviors or actions, there are humane rules by which we are to respond. In every case, we must choose life and blessing for ourselves and our community.