איזהו מכובדת המכבד את הבריות
Who is he that is honoured? He who honours all living creatures.
Pirkei Avot 4:1
What does it mean to be honoured? Our tradition teaches in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, that one is respected and honoured when they treat others with respect and honour. While many of the translations of this text understand the meaning to be “one who honours his fellow human beings,” I believe that the Hebrew is a bit more expansive. Indeed, the word “ha-briyot” stems from the word for creation itself. Taking us all the way back to the beginning urges us to explore the meaning of the word on a foundational level. In the very beginning all of humanity was created ‘b’tselem Elokim, in the image of God.” In other words, even if we take the path of those who translate the phrase narrowly, still we are pressed to recognize fundamentally that we are all created in the image of the divine.
With this in mind, we return to the original question: What does it mean to be honoured? Honouring and respecting demands that we approach others with humility, to recognize that while we share the same essence, we are not all the same. We do not all look the same, act the same, have the same preferences and yet each of us is holy. Each of us deserves to be treated with dignity, to be looked in the eye, and shown consideration and compassion. As members of the same community, we recognize the importance of each person on a different level. Each individual brings their unique flair and has a place in the overall tapestry woven together by our talents, strengths, drives, offerings and synergy. Each member has a vital role to play in the overall body of the congregation. Communities will flourish when each person has the space and drive to reach their potential, when flexibility exists for shifting realities and authentic expression.
As members of the same community, we recognize the importance of each person on a different level. Each individual brings their unique flair and has a place in the overall tapestry woven together by our talents, strengths, drives, offerings and synergy. Each member has a vital role to play in the overall body of the congregation. Communities will flourish when each person has the space and drive to reach their potential, when flexibility exists for shifting realities and authentic expression.
Within Jewish community these concepts are coupled with offering various opportunities to bring people in close. Leading prayer, reading Torah or Haftarah may not be within everyone’s comfort or skill level as may be said for anything in Hebrew. On the most basic level the idea of coming close to the Torah expresses our love for our tradition, identity as part of our people, appreciation for our history, or physically placing ourselves within the chain of tradition. Each time the Torah is taken out of the aron hakodesh, the holy ark, we are re-enacting revelation on Mt. Sinai. This time (each time) however, unlike at Sinai where we were admonished to stay at the base of the mountain, now we come near, we are active participants. Like at Mt. Sinai this may feel scary. And yet the intention is one of invitation, of drawing near to God and Torah, and being one chosen on that occasion to do so.
Bringing these ideas full circle, Beth Tikvah will be embarking on a journey of honouring those who enter the sanctuary from a different perspective. For most, this will look and feel as it has for years. You can choose to be honoured as you may have in the past. So what will be different you may be wondering? While unnoticeable to most, we have adjusted the formulas for calling people to an honour to be about the honour itself as the focus as opposed to reflecting an individual’s gender. More noticeable, each person being bestowed an honour, will receive a laminated card explaining a bit of the honour itself. On the other side there will be listed different ways one might be called up for the honour using gender neutral language or gendered invitations. Moreover, the card offers the various available pronouns and asks for the individual to share their Hebrew name as they wish to be called. It is our fervent hope that by making these options available and standard, we are indeed heightening the experience of honoring individuals.
-Rabbi Susan Tendler