This week, the week our community buried the Rabbi Emet Tauber, z"l, is also the week when Aaron learns of the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu. The words that follow have been taught to me as the most important words in all of Torah. "Vayidom Aharon, And Aaron was silent/stilled" (Lev 10:3). These words echoed for me all week. In the moments after Emet died, I was sitting with his mom and sister. Naomi, his mom, said "I just feel silence and absence." Vayidom Naomi. And Naomi was silent. Our initial responses to grief and loss are infinitely varied. And yet, our tradition records, that in the case of tragic loss, there is an ineffable void.
What followed in the hours and days that followed was utterly stunning. Out of that void, there was so much life. And I found myself thanking Emet, for he once again reminded me that God is trans. I'm not quite a full believer in the capital R, Reconstructionist school of Mordechai Kaplan, God as the force that makes for salvation. But I do believe that there is a presence, a force, an experience beyond language. I believe in the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush, and when pushed to identify, says: "אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה / I will be what I will be, I will become what I will become." God is force of transformation in our lives. I believe in the God of transcendence who hovered over the waters during the first days of creation, as it says: "Ve-ru'ach elohim merachefet al pnei ha-mayim – ורוּחַ אֱלוֹהִים מרחפת על פני המים. And the Divine Spirit hovered above the waters" (Gen 1:2). And I believe in the God of transition, the God who appeared to Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites as they crossed the sea on dry land. As we sing in Mi chamocha, "Zeh eli, That is my God" (Ex 15:11).
At his funeral I shared that Emet was Queer with a capital Q. He was also Trans with a capital T. Over the past four months he taught so many of us about how to face the greatest transition of all, with courage, honesty, and love, as he crossed over from this world to the beyond. For those who were not able to be at the funeral, here are some of the words that were shared in his honor.
I will be in New York for Shabbat leading services at a convening for trans Jews, carrying the glittery sparks of Emet's Torah forward.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.