Love. Awe. Holiness. Wholeness.

by Becky Silverstein, SVARA Faculty

A learner studies Talmud at a large table in their home. Warm lights surround them, and an open masechet can be seen in front of them.

Over the past few months, ever since we published the wisdom of the Trans Halakha Project, I have wondered how long it would be until I stopped feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of this work and its impact. In every conversation I have had about the project—whether with creators, colleagues, community members, my family, or anyone else—there is a moment where the enormousness of this moment catches up to me, and I fall silent.

In Shemot Rabbah we learn that: 

א”ר אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן כשנתן הקב”ה את התורה צפור לא צווח עוף לא פרח שור לא געה אופנים לא עפו, שרפים לא אמרו קדוש קדוש, הים לא נזדעזע, הבריות לא דברו, אלא העולם שותק ומחריש ויצא הקול אנכי ה’ אלהיך

  1. Abahu said in the name of R. Yochanan: When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl fluttered, no ox lowed, the angels did not fly, the seraphim did not utter ‘holy, holy, holy,’ the sea did not roar, the creatures did not speak; the universe was silent and mute. And the Voice came forth: ‘I am YHVH, your God.’” (Exodus Rabbah 29:9)

From the depth of silence, the world opened up to revelation. In the depths of my silence, I have opened up to my own heart and found love, awe, holiness, and wholeness. Ahava. Yirah. Kedusha. Shleimut. These are some of the gifts of the Trans Halakha Project, and the place from which we offer updates to the materials we shared with you three months ago:

As I watch this body of work grow and evolve, shift and flow, I am reminded of how vibrant and alive it is. I am certain that this assertion of a halakha that reflects the joy and depths of being trans is a part of what Torah and Judaism need to truly reach their potential as the pieces of our living tradition. The deepening, the revisions, the edits, and the adjustments of this body of work inspire me to reflect a little bit more deeply on each of the emotions I shared above. Love, awe, holiness, and wholeness. Ahava. Yirah. Kedusha. Shleimut.

Love. I love Torah. I love Trans Jews and this community. 

In the second blessing before the Shema, we reflect on the Ahava Rabbah, the great love, that flows from the Divine to us and with which the Divine has: 

 וְתֵן בְּלִבֵּֽנוּ לְהָבִין וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל לִשְׁמֹֽעַ לִלְמֹד וּלְ֒לַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ בְּאַהֲבָה

… placed within our hearts the capacity to understand and to consider, to listen, to learn and to teach, to guard and to fulfill and to sustain, all the words of teaching in their Torah with love.

The authors and creators behind these Trans Halakha Project publications have brought this line to life in a new way for me. So have the folks who have gathered around this work to grapple with it, engage with it, celebrate it, question it, and journey through it. Yes, the capacity to live this liturgy has been implanted in our hearts since creation, but the divine that flows throughout the Trans Halakha Project community has strengthened its place within my heart.

Awe. I am in awe of the Torah we have brought into the world, of the power of blessings and ritual to connect us to ourselves and each other, to the depth of the wisdom that has been uplifted and brought into this world. 

We learn in the Psalms that “the beginning of wisdom is awe of the Divine.” Our work together has opened and uplifted new pathways for Trans wisdom to enter the world. What we have shared with the world is only the beginning of the wisdom that emanates from Trans experience and Trans Torah each day. 

Holiness. I believe that we can (and should) be vessels that allow holiness to flow into the world, that our work picks up the sparks of holiness throughout the world, and that this project increases our individual ability to access the holiness within us and in our lives. 

We are made holy through Gd’s mitzvot, קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו. This project has extended our community’s ability to name both the mitzvot through which we bring holiness into our lives and world, and the holiness itself. 

Wholeness. As the Jewish tradition offers us frameworks for how we might engage with the world and bring meaning into our lives, we should have the opportunity and experience of integrating our identities in ways that are not only mutually reinforcing but also mutually uplifting. 

Commenting on Genesis 18:33, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that “[Jacob arrived שָׁלֵם / whole] in full, harmonious undiminished completeness, not only physical completeness but also — and above all – moral integrity (The Hirsh Chumash, Sefer Bereshis, pg 675). 

The work of the Trans Halakha Project provides a pathway to integrity in my personal Torah and the Torah I help bring out into the world. 

Each time I open a chumash, a book of midrash, a masechet of Talmud, I experience a revelation of sorts. Sometimes this revelation comes in the form of learning, and sometimes it comes from the groundedness that engaging with our tradition provides. The silence of revelation at Sinai may ebb and flow, but the joy persists. May it be so with our work as well. 

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