Parashat Beha’alotecha 5777

Rabbi Monique Mayer, 9 June 2017

It may surprise many of you to learn that I love superhero movies.They are the ultimate escapism. The more our world is plagued by some of the darkest expressions of human depravity and brutality—I am grateful that for a few hours, I can immerse myself in a world in which the villains can choose redemption, innocents are saved, and good generally triumphs over evil. But I’ve noticed that the after-affects are increasingly short-lived, as I build up resentment that 99.9% of these blockbusters are male-dominated, replete with gratuitous fight scenes, and usually present 2-dimensional, overly-simplistic view of the world. I have tired of the same old formula, longing for a movie and a superhero that speaks to me more than on a superficial level.

Enter the new Wonder Woman, beautifully played by Israeli Gal Gadot (pronounced gah-dote). Wonder Woman is smart, strong, sensitive and—most importantly—she does what she needs to get the job done…not out of anger or trying to prove herself to anyone, but it’s what she has to do. Her actions spring from genuine concern for others. She is a force for good, fiercely protecting those who cannot defend themselves.

As I watched this character’s story play out on the screen— I not only rooted for her, I wanted to BE her. I admired her grace, her power, and her unflinching devotion to what is right and true, shining light where there is none.

In this week’s parashah, Beha’alotkhah (Num 9:15-22) we are told again of the cloud which rested on the Tabernacle, a manifestation of God in smoke by day and fire by night. The cloud evokes our communal experience at Sinai; it is a portable yet no-less-concrete reminder of God’s power and presence among us.

Today the fire no longer burns on the mountain, nor does the Eternal’s cloud rest on the Tabernacle. But as we retell and revisit the biblical story, we carry the light of the Divine presence with us. Even in receiving the instruction to elevate the seven lamps of the menorah (Num 8:2-3), the lamps become a symbol of how we can shed light in the darkness through our actions as guided by our inner light.

Wonder Woman jolted me to acknowledge that my effectiveness is constrained by the limits of my own imagination. And suddenly, out of the general impotence I’ve been feeling about what I can’t change around me, this fictional character reminded me of something I’d forgotten: that we all carry within us the potential energy, skill, and passion to shift this world in a positive direction.

Within Wonder Woman burns a passion for justice, and she sees her mission to restore peaceful order and coexistence to the world. Her superpowers (which I won’t enumerate here so as not to spoil it) give her the means to achieve her goal.

Liberal Jews have a superpower, too–our steadfast commitment to building a just and kind society for ourselves and future generations. Our strength is our tireless work in the conviction and celebration that each and every human is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. We express our dedication to and belief in these values by engaging at the political level in order to achieve equality and dignity which is the right of every human being. Our ability to use the political process toward those ends is how we express our superpower.

This Sunday, at the Liberal Judaism Day of Celebration, join us as we engage our superpower and explore the question, “Is Liberal Judaism Political Judaism?”
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