It does not surprise me that there are thousands of Jews in support of Planned Parenthood. Despite all conflicting opinions regarding abortions, conceptions, and safe sex, it does not faze me that nearly 93% of American Jews support a woman’s right to make decisions over her own body. It is simply in our nature. The Jewish people today are a people of choice. We strive to make choices that link us to an endless chain of heritage and faith. Most importantly, however, we come from a pro-choice covenant, one in which our ancestors were given a life-changing choice: to commit to a movement much larger and greater than themselves or to abstain. Their decision to join, for better or for worse, is one that we continue to encounter today.
Our Torah begins with perfection. Gan Eden, or the Garden of Eden, served as celestial sanctuary on earth, one in which no suffering, fear, or strife could ever exist. After one bite of a forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve, the first two people created in the world, crack the flawless paradise that surrounded them and find themselves thrown into a harsh reality, where happiness comes at a demanding price. The Book of Genesis chronicles the journeys of the world’s first children and descendents, as well as the turmoil, grief, and punishment that accompany their lives. Genesis is a recording of the greatest first experiments with families and relationships, the price of love and the quest for identity. Perhaps the single defining moment in Genesis history, however, is the eternal covenant that God promises to Abraham:
“I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12)
It is at the moment where we are introduced to God’s unconditional love for humanity, a trait that will then be challenged, threatened, and rewritten in the books to come. This covenant was prepared, delivered, and wrapped with a bow; it was granted to our forefathers with full guarantee, bereft of any conditions or standards. This covenant separated, secluded, and humbled our Genesis Jewish ancestors; they automatically became a part of a project larger than themselves, one that was simply thrust upon them—out of unconditional love–by a God who seemed more distant and authoritarian than the one we pray to today. Luckily, our story continues.
In the midst of slavery, plagues, and a downward spiral of the Jewish people, we see the Book of Exodus. In this book, we witness great leadership overpower tyranny, quenching anti-Semitism in the Sea of Reeds. We marvel in the miracles that occur, including the transformation from slavery to freedom, dehumanization to dignity, fear to hope. While Genesis experimented with family ties, Exodus creates and pushes the boundaries of community. Exodus is the light at the end of the tunnel, the shining beacon of hope during a time of darkness. At the zenith of all events, however, our people experienced the single greatest opportunity on the bottom of Mt. Sinai: an optional covenant.
“Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.” (Exodus 19)
In these few words, God redesigns the original model of a Jewish covenant and creates a standard. This change of dialogue, simply through the word “if,” reflects God’s change in nature. God’s unconditional love and support now has an unavoidable condition: you, Bnai Israel, must choose to be a part of it. Unlike the Genesis model where Jewish membership was guaranteed at the door, Exodus invites the Jewish people to choose to either accept it or divorce it. According to this liberating encounter at Sinai, a covenant with God is offered at the other side of the door, but you and your children must choose to open it.
We are an Exodus people. We see every form of covenant–Jewish, Christian, gender, familial, and ethnic alike—as the one that we must choose to accept rather than instantly given. In the words of Rabbi Avraham Kook, we strive to ensure that “the old [Genesis covenant] shall be renewed, and the new [Exodus covenant] be made holy.” We strive to approach our relationships with our families, faiths, and communities as blessings that we chose to be a part of and contribute to. As a global Jewish community today, we are not guaranteed a strong Jewish future but rather faced with the potential to build and strengthen one. To live in a world where such security and success was already guaranteed without our effort would be like living in the Gan Eden of Genesis—perfect, flawless, passive, and meaningless. Every opportunity that lands in our hands, similar to the Exodus covenant, is one that we could easily divorce from or ignore, but the choice is ours. Our commitment to the Jewish covenant comes from a very genuine and personal place—our own decisions. Today, tomorrow, and every day following we will be a people with a Judaism of choice, one that we can passively ignore or one that we can renew and make holy.
-Inspired by Rabbi Mishael Zion-email print