This past weekend, I had the unbelievable pleasure of attending the first every LGBT Orthodox Shabbaton, known as Eshel. This shabbaton featured discussion of sexuality and religion, what it means to be LGBT and Jewish, and how to build and develop a community. It was really one of the best weekends of my life. As Shabbat ended, I had the pleasure of giving a Torah thought from that week's portion, and the blessings of Havdallah. I wanted to share with you (a summary of) my words:
This week is Parshat Yitro, which contains the 10 commandments. While so many look at this as a burden of our religion, I look at it as the essence of our people. There’s the moral code- how to treat one’s parents, neighbors, what one can or cannot do in regards to others as well as a spiritual code- how to keep Shabbat, and honor God. It's not one or the other, but both.
Next, the Haftarah refers to Isaiah’s vision of God and sent by Him on a mission. Isaiah feels he’s from a nation of sin and not worthy to be talking to God, at which point an angel touches his lips with coal to purify him of sin. But what sin was he guilty of that he committed with his lips? The commentators explain that the sin of Isaiah was calling God’s nation impure. He had no right to say he was from an impure nation and God cleansed him of that sin before sending him on any mission.
Growing up a gay Orthodox Jew is not easy for anyone. I just wanted to be accepted. And why? Because too many people decided it was their place to decide what does or does not constitute a sinner, like Isaiah erred. I made up my mind in senior year of high school to give it all up, and leave Judaism forever; it was the only option. But after a year and a half of studying in Israel while ignoring my sexuality, I understood how to develop my relationship with God without worrying about one aspect of who I was. In addition, I learned that there are so many interpretations and understandings of the Torah, that no one person could ever tell what exactly the precise understanding of the text is. No one could ever claim that we are a nation of sinners, because no one could ever know that- except God.
When I came out two and a half years ago, I knew my sexuality was a bigger part of me than I had ever realized. However, I also realized that this balancing act of sexuality and religion was not unfamiliar. It was just like trying to figure out how to approach God but still fit in with the rest of the world. Life is a balancing act, especially as a Jew. We have an obligation to the Torah and we also have an obligation to every one around us. Does this mean that one thing should override another? No. Never. Our time on Earth is not just about our relationship with God, or just about our relationship with man- it’s about both. It’s about the balancing act of how we can do the best we can in this religion.
No one else in the world has the right to tell us who we are or how we should behave. All we know how to do is our best; is balance this complicated Torah with our complexities as human beings. Isaiah was wrong for judging God’s people, as so many like to tell us that it’s not possible to be religious and gay- but as God taught Isaiah- they have no right to tell us what is or is not possible, it's simply up to us to do the best balancing act that we can.