What makes a community worthy of standing at Mount Sinai, hearing the voice of God, and receiving the Torah? That is the question I ask myself nearly every day, especially when I read the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai, the centerpiece of this week’s Torah portion.
One of the most well-known answers to this question can be found in Rashi’s description of the Israelites when they arrived at Mount Sinai: After months of traveling through the desert with infighting and strife, they were “like one person, with one heart.” A community worthy of experiencing the Divine is one that is radically united and interconnected, spiritually and emotionally. Elusive as it can feel, achdut, or Jewish unity, has remained a value and aspiration of the Jewish People for thousands of years.
If you’ve heard the phrase “two Jews, three opinions,” you might be wondering about this idea of unity. And commentaries on the Sinai experience suggest that something else was going on as well. God spoke to the whole community in one voice, yet everyone heard the voice according to their own capabilities, their own unique experience and identity. There was extraordinary diversity among the Israelites, yet somehow each person heard exactly what they needed to hear. Revelation was a profoundly inclusive experience because the voice of God was universally accessible.
What a vision of community and society.
Unity does not mean uniformity. Everyone shows up as their unique self, yet feels part of a greater whole and takes part in a shared experience. Together, we are called to a higher purpose and to a shared responsibility for one another and the world.
These themes of community, diversity, inclusivity, and shared purpose feel especially meaningful as we begin both Black History Month and Jewish Disability Month.
Especially at such a divisive and polarized time, I am grateful to the Black leaders, colleagues, and allies with whom I have built relationships over the past several years. I am inspired by the ways that Black Jews contribute to the vibrancy of Jewish life. Unfortunately, in America we sometimes misunderstand the Jewish community to be racially and ethnically homogeneous; in fact, we are far more diverse than we and others sometimes realize.
Black History Month can inspire us to strengthen bonds and build bridges within and across our communities, work together for a common purpose, fight discrimination and hate, and build a more unified society that celebrates its diversity and honors the dignity of every one of its inhabitants.
As we recognize Jewish Disability Month, I am also deeply grateful to partners like the Ruderman Family Foundation, Gateways, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston, Yachad, and others who work every day to ensure that people of all abilities can fully access Jewish community and live joyful Jewish lives. Every one of us is enriched because of the presence of people with disabilities in our lives and their engagement with the community.
These special months are opportunities for us to elevate our awareness and to see the people, experiences, history, and culture that make our diverse communities so vibrant and strong. I cannot think of a time in my life when this vision of a Sinai community — one-out-of-many, a soulful society working together for a shared future — was more urgent and important, for the Jewish People and for America.
This is what we need to build together, now.
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