We are all strange(rs)
Excerpts from sermon delivered June 17, 2017
Each of us is tasked to scout into the “Promised land” for all who make up our tribe. How we perceive of what we are seeing and the impactful words we use to describe these moments, shape our reality moving forward.
The scouts of Shelach Lecha were seeking out, exploring something new. They were in search of a way to access this new frontier. But they got scared. The 10 Spies weren’t lying- they reported an accurate depiction of the land, but they saw themselves as grasshoppers, the text states
“and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13;33)
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk taught
‘You are certainly permitted to say that you feel like a grasshopper in your own eyes. But what right do you have to imagine how you appear to someone else? To them, you might have appeared as angels.”
Imagine you invite a friend to synagogue for the very first time. Or maybe someone visiting for a world religion class. If you had to pick one ritual experience that you might consider a “weird moment in judaism” to be their first exposure to Jewish communal practice, what would that be?
I distinctly remember a morning in high school when our interfaith encounter partners from a local catholic high school attended our chol hamoed succot service at school. Phylacteries, prayer shawls, chanting back and forth as we processed around in a circle with our lulavim and etrogim. The entire time I felt like the grasshopper, but afterwards I discovered that our visitors were fascinated by our rituals, and deeply respected our commitment to our faith. “But what right do we have to imagine how we appear to someone else? To them, we might have appeared as angels.”
In accepting his Tony for Best Actor in Musical, proud Camp Ramah alumnus Ben Platt stated the following as the music played him off stage:
“Don’t waste any time trying to be anyone but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”
Don’t waste any time trying to be anyone but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.
We hear something might be “different” or “strange” and we interpret as dangerous or in the wrong. But what if what is different, what is challenging, what is strange, empowers us as individuals and community.
When we journey through the unknown, when we see something different, we should remind ourselves that we all connect to the world in different ways. We all have different points of access. It’s important to acknowledge that fact. We are stronger when don’t label ourselves or others. We are stronger when all have access. We are strong because, admit it, we are all a little strange. As we remind ourselves throughout our sacred texts, for we were “strangers” in the land of Egypt. Doubling down, our text this week states:
For the generations to come, whenever a stranger or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the stranger residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the stranger shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.’” (Numbers 15:14-16)
It is who we are. Let it strengthen each of us for generations to come.