Halakha: Honoring the Past, Finding Our Way
Another year, another batch of etrogcello

This week's portion: Inclusion and service

Here's the d'var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul. Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.

After the first seven plagues, Pharaoh's courtiers advise him to let Moshe and his notables go to worship Adonai. Pharaoh says: fine, just tell me: who's going with you?

And Moshe replies: We will all go, our children and our elders, our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds. Some translations say: We will all go, regardless of social station. Rich and poor, upper-class and lower-class and everything in between.

Pharaoh replies -- in effect -- hell no. Perhaps he's beginning to realize that the Israelites' request to go and worship God a three-day journey away is a ruse, and the real intention is to pack up and depart.

I also wonder whether Pharaoh's anger also arises from distaste at Moshe's inclusiveness. Pharaoh is the epitome of top-down power. He's the kyriarchy. But Moshe's insistence that we will all go -- regardless of age, gender, social station -- negates that worldview.

When it comes to avodat Hashem, all of the community is needed. In order to serve the Holy One of Blessing, we all need to be present. Serving God is something we all do together.

If only the men are empowered to serve God, we're doing it wrong. If only the wealthy are empowered to serve God, we're doing it wrong. If only those who are cis-gendered, or heterosexual, or able-bodied, or neurotypical are empowered to serve God, we're doing it wrong.

Avodat Hashem (serving God) requires all of us. Maybe because each of us is a reflection of God, and only when our entire community comes together can we can see God mirrored in our infinite variability.

Pharaoh says no. The plague of locusts follows, and then a darkness so thick Torah tells us it was palpable. Pharaoh relents and says fine, take your women and children -- but not your herds and flocks, I have to draw the line somewhere. Moshe's answer is: we shall not know with what we are to worship Adonai until we get there.

In a simple sense, he's saying: you have to let us take our animals, because we don't know in advance what we'll be asked to sacrifice. But on a deeper level, I hear him saying that when we enter into service, we have to bring everything: everyone in our community, all that we have, all that we are. We won't know what parts of ourselves will be needed until we get where we're going.

And in a sense, we never "get there" -- we're always going. When we wake up each morning, we don't know what opportunities, what challenges, what blessings lie ahead. We won't know with what we are to worship Adonai in this moment until we reach this moment. And then the next.

I bless each of us: that we be able to bring all of who we are to our service, whether we think of it as serving God or serving our community or serving the world. That we trust that whatever is needed will arise in us. That we find comfort and sustenance in serving the One, together.

(And let us say: Amen.)