“‘Woodchoppers and Waterdrawers’: Towards Diverse Jewish Community”

Good morning, Kehillah!

Today I have the privilege of sharing a Dvar Torah, a word of Torah, about my Bar Mitzvah portion, Parshat Nitzavim.

The question we’ll explore is,

What does it mean to be a Kehillah, a community?

To begin, I’m going to read from the beginning of Nitzavim, in which Moses is giving the people a speech, just before they enter the Promised Land.

He says to them, and this is in English translation,

You stand this day, all of you, before the Ultimate Source — your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the people, your children, your partners, even the stranger in your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer — to enter into covenant.” (Deuteronomy 29: 9–11)

For me, what is striking is this idea of e pluribus unum. The idea that “out of many, one.” The idea that we are stronger together- that our diversity makes us a stronger and better community.

You might think that the people to whom Moses speaks are basically all the same, and lacking in diversity. And sort of monolithic.

But it seems that actually they are diverse and they are recognized and seen in their diversity. That is, they are seen for being young and old, short and tall, woodchoppers and waterdrawers.

(See woodchopper and waterdrawer images to the left and below)

This is all the more interesting because the language that Moses speaks to the Israelites is military language. When it says “standing” it basically means, like, “standing at attention.” (The biblical text could thus be translated as, “You stand at attention, this day, all of you…”)

“Standing at attention”

Armies are often regarded as successful precisely when they stamp out the individuality and uniqueness of the people who are in them, when they get their recruits to give up something of their personality for the sake of the identity of being a part of the group, the military unit.

Here, however, they are recognized and celebrated precisely in that diversity.

I want to make the case that it was precisely that diversity- precisely their being both woodchoppers and watercarriers (and so much more)- that allowed them to stand.

To stand for something beyond themselves.

We stand together, and if we do not stand together, then we all fall down.

We too have made a covenant- a sort of a contract- with one another — to support one another if one of us begins to fall down.

To see and recognize the diversity of our community- as well as our shared purpose.

It is because we stand together- because we bring ourselves fully for who we are- into this space of learning and because we help our friends (who sometimes teeter) … that we can go forward.

And so, this is an invitation to “bring what you got,” bring the you that makes you you into this space. Bring it out. If you allow yourself, your full self, to come out of your shell here, what a blessing that will be for this community. Our community will be stronger for your having shown up in the way that only you can. And we will all be stronger when we see each other for what we each have to bring.

And so I end with a bit that means to evoke the statement made so long ago:

“Today, in this space, you- we — are standing at attention, all of us- frosh, facilities team, sophomores, teachers, juniors, administrators, seniors, gay and straight, trans-gender and cis-gender, observant and secular, Jewish and Jew-ish, and Christian, and Buddhist and confused, white, and Asian and Latino, and Black, politically conservative and politically liberal, American and French and Mexican and Israeli and Russian. This is Kehillah! We are stronger for our diversity.

L’shana Tova!

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