I offered my farewell address last week. Two years ago I was elected President of the Washington Board of Rabbis. Back then the Covid pandemic already seemed interminable. What a challenging time for all of us, especially the clergy. The challenges of spiritual leadership were magnified by our disorientation and alienation. Rabbis needed peers to help them through that wilderness. I stepped up to lead the way.

This week in Torah, we read a story that encapsulates the angst of separation. Moses’ father-in-law, Hobab (also known as Yitro) accompanied the people after meeting at Mt. Sinai, about two years time. Hobab was the high priest of the Midianite people. He was an ally but not a “convert.”

The cloud lifted, the trumpets blared and the Hebrews readied to march. Moses said to Hobab “We are setting out for the place of which God has said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will be generous with you; for God has promised to be generous to Israel.” (Numbers 10:29).  Instead, Hobab turned to leave. Commentators suggest that Hobab understood there was no place for his Midianite clan in Israel. Moses pleaded with Hobab to stay, again offering to share the land. There the conversation ends. Exit Hobab stage right.

The text says that Moses hoped that Hobab would be a guide through the wilderness. I believe that a deeper connection had formed. Moses longed to continue the personal relationship with a fellow spiritual leader who had also served as a mentor.

Through the lens of this story, I thought about changes in the way we work and the effect on relationships. From home offices, we don’t have a personal experience of the people with whom we work. Zoom only offers limited interaction configured in boxes. Between the safety of staying at home and the conveniences of technology, our work lives are similarly encapsulated. Yes, we may get more time to hike and bike, binge watch, and binge drink, but less quality time with our professional peers and workmates. As work is often the greatest daily source of stress, camaraderie can be a source of comfort. As we near the end of the wilderness of this pandemic, we might reevaluate the benefits of sustaining a collegial and mutually supportive work environment. Moreover, we can appreciate our leaders’ need to be supported by peers.

Moses knew the challenges of leadership and understood the benefit of having colleagues. Whether examining the life of the first “Rabbi” or leading a group of 157 local rabbis, my admiration for religious leaders has grown. Send some love to a rabbi you know who has had to pivot and persevere through a challenging time. Especially those that lead us through the wilderness on their own.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Joe Papp, the great theater impresario, produced plays about outsiders. His devotion to the outcast or interloper helped create a new era on Broadway. To champion the underdog, it helps to feel like an underdog.  Joe Papp was such an outsider, a product of his Jewish identity.

To be Jewish is to step into a tradition of being an outsider. Torah had its own mechanisms of creating outsiders. In parshat Naso, we read various ways Torah created “othering” categories. Favored persons might be priests or those who are pure. The priests placed impure people outside the camp.

If you wanted to achieve greater purity, you could expand your “otherness.” In Torah, you might become a Nazir. A Nazir demonstrated tremendous commitment, living an ascetic life in pursuit of a new “insider” status. Joseph Papp was a modern-day seeker of holiness, in the lineage of a Nazir. While not an ascetic, Papp was wholly devoted to a holy cause.

Papp understood that every person has had their nose pressed to the glass, looking inside and feeling like an “other.” The more obvious reasons might be sexual identity, skin color, or immigrant status. Papp intuited that if we approached the world from our own place of differentiation, he could foster understanding and thoughtfulness.

Joe Papp hid his Jewish identity as a young man. Yussel became Joe and Papirofsky became Papp. In his early career, he told no one he was Jewish. A notorious workaholic, Papp began building what became the Public Theater in Manhattan, far off-Broadway, operating as a non-profit organization. That stage showcased the stories of outsiders because of Papp’s worldview. In particular, the Public was a venue for actors of color to embody roles traditionally played by white actors. The theater-going public learned to appreciate the world through the eyes of an “other.”

Papp turned to Shakespeare early on. His first Shakespearean play in 1962 was The Merchant of Venice. Shylock the moneylender is the quintessential outsider. A Jewish man limited by his identity trying to protect his family and his capital. But Shylock is also portrayed as sinister and craven. The Jewish community of New York protested the choice of play. It was then that Papp made public his own Jewish identity, declaring he would personally direct the play and that he would not produce a play that betrayed his own Jewishness.

The Merchant of Venice, featuring George C. Scott, was a triumph for the Public Theater and a turning point for Joe Papp. Shylock’s anger was portrayed not as the arbitrary venom of a congenitally spiteful man, but rather as a product of Jewish suffering inflicted by anti-Semites and their allies. In Papp’s hands, the scornfulness morphed into an appreciation of the outsider.

Papp was the “nazir” of the New York theater world. He elevated his outsider status, with devotion to a holy cause – to connect every theater goer with the fullness of society. His success can be measured by the broad public awareness his plays gave to racism, the Vietnam war, homophobia, and sexism. The Public theater first brought us The Normal Heart, Hair, and For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

The lesson for us today is to seek out the stories of others. We can begin by acknowledging our own sense of being other. From knowing our own frailty, we can better hear their stories – trans people, new immigrants, our African-American neighbors, and our Asian co-workers. We too can expand understanding and kindness if we allow ourselves to be challenged to see the world through other eyes.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

I am trying not to shut down emotionally. The sense of overwhelming pushes on me like a bully’s knee on my back. The crush of despair begins with numbers, compresses with names, and swamps us with images.

The current wave started to crash with the war in Ukraine, continued through the shootings in Buffalo, and flattened me with the murder of school children in Texas. As is my practice, I tried to think about these episodes through a Jewish lens. The opening of the book of Numbers, BaMidbar, which we read this coming week offered some framing.

The book begins with the requirement of a census.  We count people. Thereafter, we group people with names. The numbers of Hebrews counted are associated with the names of clans. Only after some framing does the book of Numbers veer off into some of the most colorful depictions of people we have in all of Torah.

Each morning, as if a ritual, I watch Morning Joe. One commentator followed another. First, they offered numbers.  More children die in this country from gun violence than by any other means. Over 100 people die from gun violence each day in America. Then there was a discussion of the individuals who died, we shifted from Ukrainian names and then the names of people in Buffalo to this week naming teachers and children in Texas.

I was able to hold onto my emotions through numbers and names. But the images, the color commentaries, and the personal stories had the effect of shutting down my emotional response.  Then I watched President Biden exhibit bitterness and sadness during his comments on the Texas massacre. Senator Chris Murphy pleaded with his Republican colleagues to enact gun control laws. Deep emotion can be directed toward action.

On the other hand, emotion can impede action. When I was in Israel recently, our group met with a Palestinian journalist. He shared the tortured path of his family, disconnected from each other by borders and walls. Yet, he shared that he was no longer wedded to his anger. He described anger as an impediment to progress and a detriment to his own health.

In the United States, too many are operating from a place of anger. It is the anger of displacement.  It is the rage of oppression. The fury is most often directed at unnamed others – people with other skin colors, people who follow different faiths, and people from other countries. Yet, the anger doesn’t stop with the other. The anger becomes antagonism, leading to confrontation rather than cooperation.

I am learning that shutting down emotionally is counterproductive. But indignation and anger, on any side of an issue, will not bring peace anywhere. Emotions must be applied in a productive manner. And because emotions are so powerful, each of us will be challenged to take a breath, notice our emotions, and select those that help us resolve differences and which can motivate positive change. The numbers, the names, and the stories are now ours to carry forward. Let’s do so with productive emotional energy. Tamp down the anger and bring on the holy.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

Jews are voracious judges of other Jews. We critique each other’s foods and fashion. Sometimes we discriminate and denigrate each other. But if any other person, group, or nation endangers a Jew, we are united in purpose. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Israel had the opportunity to demonstrate unequivocally that all of Israel cares one for the other. This week, I’m on a mission to determine if Israel seized the opportunity or left it knocking at the door.

In Torah this week, God instructs us to redeem a fellow Jew who has been indentured. In the ancient economy, when an individual could not pay their debts, that person would lose their freedom. Torah offers an economy of belonging. Our anointed group is built on a foundation of mutual responsibility.

The modern global economy of ideas reimagines responsibility. Humanitarian concerns are less particular to any group or faith. For example, Israel has an international emergency response team. Israel’s team is always ready to fly off to help at the site of any disaster. Locally, our Jewish Federation has relief campaigns raising funds for hurricane victims, people imperiled by economic downturns, and war refugees. We know how to transform concern into active caring.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Israel’s special teams arrived to distribute medical supplies. Israeli teams quietly rescued and recovered injured and ill people. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Israel would  “embrace” Jews fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and allow refugees who aren’t eligible for citizenship to stay until the situation has “calmed.”

Those who read Torah understood that the first obligation as Jews is to take care of each other when in dire straits. Prioritizing our pledge as Jews to redeem each other, sets us in opposition to modern humanist approaches. Critics questioned the morality of Israel’s preferential treatment of Jews from Ukraine.

I’m off to Israel for a few days. The Jewish Federation has subsidized a trip for rabbis to meet with Ukrainian refugees and learn more about Israel’s response to this war. We will also discuss efforts to bring additional Ethiopians of Jewish heritage to Israel. Finally, we will meet with residents of Lod and Ramle to discuss tensions in towns with mixed Jewish and Arab Israelis.

Foremost in my mind, I will be trying to find balance. We will experience how we Jews honor Torah’s directive that Jews care for each other, in the creation of a Jewish state and in the law of return. At the same time, I will ask if we are also successfully recognizing that every single person is a child of one Creator, all deserving of life and dignity. As I report back, I will offer my analyses of how Israel is both a nation of priests that cares for each other and for every person in jeopardy. I’m hoping to find that all Jews are defined not merely by our caring but by how well we act on our responsibility to honor all human life.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

I was about to write a thoughtful essay about finding spiritual strength in troubling times. And then I went to the kitchen to grab a snack. I split an English muffin and place it in the toaster. Just then I had an insight. My search for transcendence began in my kitchen.

I had been reading Parshat Emor. Aaron, the High Priest, was told to collect oil to keep the lamps continuously burning. Also, Aaron was directed to display twelve loaves of bread each week. I thought about how we always leave a light on in our kitchen and the food on the counter. Two under-appreciated blessings were in front of me. First was the luxury of lights being ready and always available. The second was the display of English muffins, neatly arranged and packaged. Our kitchen was a modern replica of the holy temple.

The Priests lit the oil lamps and displayed the shewbreads of the bet Hamikdash solely to honor God. They were not on public display. Yet, these holy accouterments required collaboration and effort. The oil for the lamps and flour for the bread were contributions from many people. The lighting of the lamps and the baking of the bread required the work of the priestly hands. So too, the electricity we enjoy and the foods we eat reach us only after the efforts of many. We can undertake the priestly role. When we turn on lights or set out food to eat,  the priestly act is to remember God as the true source.

An additional instruction to Aaron was to place the candelabrum and shewbreads on “pure tables”. Curious, I wondered what makes a table pure? In Talmud, the Rabbis explore the purity of objects. Movable items, like a table, can contact impurity. Moreover, the tables were not Ikea pressboard, but solid wood covered with gold. Even ordinary items like a table can be made worthy of God’s notice. Then came my next insight.

What is ordinary, even in a kitchen, has the potential for holiness. Only two things are required. First, keep the kitchen pure. I don’t merely suggest cleaning surfaces. We wash hands before eating, compost scraps, buy healthy foods, avoid food waste, and recycle plastics. Waste, pesticides, and excess packaging are the impurities of today. While engaging in essential daily activities like shopping, food preparation, and eating, we should be mindful of these impurities.

The second is to treat our possessions as if they should be pleasing to God. We don’t have to display our possessions for the world’s approval. Rather, consider if your belongings are worthy of God’s notice. Do you buy free trade products? Or prefer something cheap made by underage labor over items made in safe work environments? Do you treat your possessions with respect or as disposables? How we engage in commerce is a daily opportunity to bring Godliness into our homes.

I found holiness in my kitchen, eating an English muffin. I elevate my spirituality when I avoid the impurities in this world and make purchases worthy of God’s notice. If we all did the same, we would be a nation of priests, just as the Torah desires.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

Back in the ‘Nineties, the slogan of American Express was “membership has its privileges.” Just pay your dues to join a community of card-carrying consumers. To emphasize your participation in a relationship with Amex,  your card (in green or gold or the most precious black) states the year you became a member. Today, Amex does not focus on connection. “Belonging” is less important in the 21st century. The same societal pattern can be seen in  Judaism today.

Marketing adjusts to the times, and the emphasis on the collective has given way to focusing on the individual. American Express offered a new slogan for the 2020s: “don’t live life without it.” Meanwhile, ads for the green card encourage us to say, “I got this.” With Amex, you and your hard plastic card are living your best life! And if you are looking for the American Express community, you can find it as an online forum.

The shift from membership to individualism reverberates through the ways we “do Jewish.” Foundational principles of Judaism reflect our responsibility of one person to another.  Parshat kedoshim, in the middle of the Torah, emphasizes the holiness of caring for others. The Jewish innovation was to create a relationship with God by accepting our personal responsibility to other people. When we honor parents, offer food to the poor, stay honest in business, and pay our debts, we connect with God.

Knowing that every Jew is responsible, one for another makes clear that Jewish membership has its privileges. The currency for credit in this holy community is the loving-kindness we offer. Judaism is a global network, and the only transaction fee is your willingness to expand goodness in the world.

The challenge is that modern society emphasizes efficiency and individualization. We rely upon the internet for information more than we discuss ideas with other people. People are free to move to Bay Ridge or the Bay Area, diminishing lasting attachments to a local community. Values are shaped by what we view on Netflix, perhaps more than by what we read in Torah. Accordingly, Jews are desensitized to the Jewish membership structure which builds on personal connections.

In addition, two years of covid lockdowns and masks broke the back of community spirit. Zoom and YouTube could not sustain a veritable sense of belonging. I don’t feel a part of the Jewish community while sitting in pajamas watching Shabbat service on a laptop.

Our challenge is to remember that Jewish membership is a privilege. Unlike American Express, you can be a member even if you don’t pay any dues. A healthier Judaism will focus on the benefits of membership. Taking on the responsibility of caring, we activate the purchasing power of the Jewish membership card. Your participation in a caring community prompts a network of holy transactions. You can log in to your account for a statement of transactions when you study Torah.

That is the Jewish enterprise, being of service to others. And Torah instructs us to carry that membership card and remember, “don’t leave home without it.”

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Television news is disturbing. The reports from war zones make me particularly uncomfortable.  I’m not worried about the sensationalist style of reporting. While the newscasters are breaking headlines, my response is what I find most troubling. Too often, my response is silence.

Silence is a critical part of the stories we share this week. In Torah, we read Parshat Acharei Mot. We also honor those murdered in the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah.  Each of Acharei Mot and Yom Hashoah have elements in common. Acharei Mot completes a story from earlier chapters. Two sons of Aaron offered strange fire, acted improperly, and were consumed by fire. Their death is inexplicable. In similar fashion, Yom Hashoah recalls inexplicable deaths.

Another element in common is silence. Aaron’s reaction to the death of his sons was silence. Despite his grief, Aaron’s duties as High Priest require his continued service. Aaron’s devotion is beguiling if we only notice the silence. While Aaron’s cries are muffled, his actions speak of devotion to both God and His people. Aaron acts with a higher purpose.

This Holocaust Remembrance Day the world is still confronting its unflinching silence during the Shoah. Recent studies have again condemned the United States leadership for failing to bomb the railways leading to the camps. While some Jews advocated for help, our government was mostly silent. But we gather each year to remind the world that silence is not acceptable.

Recall Elie Wiesel’s summation of how we must react to oppression. “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Wiesel’s words have not moved the needle of public opinion.

Silence is not the absence of words. Silence is turning off the television so that we won’t be bothered by the news. Silence is worrying about the cost of gasoline while war is fueled by oil. Silence is gratitude that the bombs are falling far away from our homes.

I am struggling to find my voice. I’ve donated money. I’ve protested outside of the Russian Embassy. And now I am silent. Silence is pervasive. We’ve celebrated earth day but our continued silence denies the ravages of climate change. We’ve bemoaned anti-semitism and racism, yet our continued silence gives bigots a platform. Silence elects craven and power-hungry politicians. Silence throws a sheet over dead bodies in Mariupol.

At the core of America is a new silent majority. This is not the silent majority of the Nixonian era. The silent majority today are decent people with relatively comfortable lives. Rescuing a burning planet or rebuffing white supremacists are extremely difficult tasks, and so overwhelming that we avert our attention. Instead the new silent majority bitches about the price of tomatoes and turns the newspaper over to hide the headlines.

As we enter an election cycle here in the US, don’t be silent. Talk about ending the war, saving lives, and rescuing the planet from destruction. Otherwise, politicians will fill our silence with nonsense about critical race theory and pedophilia.

Like Aaron, we must find the greater purpose so that we are not silenced by grief but calling out with conviction. Like Elie Wiesel, we cannot let grief or complacency keep us from calling out injustice. Should you encounter bad news, pause and wonder if you can be inspired to speak out.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Jewish world typically divides on the final day of Passover. On the seventh day of Passover, Israelis say “dayenu”, it is enough for us. At the same time, American Jews are still munching matza on the eighth day. This year the calendar worlds coincide as all Jews continue the foods of freedom for eight days. Rather than despair, another day of matzah can inspire you.

Passover ends on a Friday this year. As the seventh day ends, the sabbath begins. An observant Jewish family in Israel cannot pack up its Passover dishes and switch back to challah with its Shabbat wine. There is no time between Passover and Shabbat to leaven up their lives.

Meanwhile, those of us wandering in the diaspora debate when to end Passover. The tradition is that Passover lasts eight days outside of Israel. Some progressive Jewish movements have called it quits on the extra day of the holiday. The rabbinic reasoning of the Talmud does not resonate today. And yet, this year, if one is sabbath observant or even sabbath adjacent, the holiday of matzah must persist for one more day.

What does this calendar conundrum have to do with faith? In our Jewish mystical tradition, the end of Passover is a time to acknowledge the most spiritually potent moment of time. In the crossing of the Red Sea, every individual Israelite was in a transcendent state of being. The prior miracles of the Exodus story were brought about to affect the Egyptians. The miracle of the sea parting was God’s outstretched arm guiding each Hebrew to safety.

At that moment, each one had an experience of God. The miracle was personal. All the Hebrews needed to do was step onto dry land where there had been water. Imagine for a moment the sensation of safe passage in the world when the troubled waters are roiling on either side of you. Looking down you would see the muddy seabed. Looking up you would see a miracle.

Inspired by the crossing of the sea, the mystics dedicated the seventh day of Passover to welcoming a messianic time. The Jewish ideal is a space where roiling waters part for an era of peacefulness.  In fact, each week we rehearse for that messianic time. That is the essence of Shabbat. We stop working, we rest, and we take time to appreciate the gift that is our lives. The eighth day of Passover coinciding with Shabbat doubles down on the utopian dream that has sustained generations.

At our seder table, we talked about our enslavement to work schedules and electronic devices. Some shared their hope to slow down in time just long enough to appreciate life. Thankfulness is a skill to cultivate, whether grateful for a patch of dry land that is our backyard or a passage to freedom.

This year, instead of bemoaning the eighth day of dry matzah, I will consider the dry land beneath my feet. Moreover, I will redirect myself toward the treasures in my life – a safe home, a supportive community, and a caring family. The end of Passover, for one day or two, is my “dayenu” moment. I have many blessings. Those blessings are enough.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Many Jews feel compelled to update their Passover seder each year. You might make your seder more entertaining with a new au courant theme. Other seder updates take on the issue of freedom where people are in danger. Topical seders can make Passover more relevant to our modern lives. That is why I’ll be talking about Ukraine this year.

Last year’s seder conversations included freedom from Covid. The year before that the popular theme was . . . Covid. Over the years seders have highlighted important issues like civil rights, Muslim refugees, the labor movement, and Soviet Jewry. Some themes are represented by additions to the seder plate. We honor women’s rights at the seder by placing an orange on the seder plate. If you aren’t familiar with the symbolism, it has to do with a juxtaposition of competing ideas of excluding and including women in Jewish religious life.

Reflecting on a current issue through the lens of the seder is an important tool. Starting with our liberation from Egypt, we can better empathize with other enslaved or imperiled people. As the Haggadah says, we are supposed to feel as if we ourselves were set free. We can amplify that understanding when also considering a modern story of a people in peril.

On the other hand, some feel pressured to create an entertaining Passover seder. I saw new Haggadahs created around themes like the Disney movie Encanto and the television show The Golden Girls. These will be added to the pantheon of the Schitt’s Creek Seder and the Mrs. Maisel Seder. These leitmotifs make the seder enjoyable. Yet, they detract from Seder’s best feature, the opportunity for family and friends to express gratitude for the freedom we enjoy.

This year the world is more imperiled than last year. The war in Ukraine has disrupted the lives of 44 million people. Many Ukrainians have emigrated or escaped. Many more are trying to reach safety. There is no liberty when sirens are blaring the warning that bombing raids are upon your city. There is no freedom when your family is hiding underground to stay alive.

This year, I want to reflect on Ukraine at our Passover Seder.  I will add an icon to the seder table in honor of Ukraine and I urge you to do the same. Perhaps you can use a blue and yellow flag or sunflowers which are symbols of Ukraine. You might add an olive to your seder plate, to remind us that the olive branch is a symbol of peace. When you reach the part of the seder where we discuss the symbolism of matzah, maror, and the bone, point to the symbol of Ukraine as well.

This Passover let’s focus on the core reason for the Seder. We should take time to appreciate our freedom and commit ourselves to liberating all people from oppression.

Rabbi Evan Krame

Remember Ivory Soap, claiming to be 99 44/100% pure? That soap slogan began in 1882, at a time when Americans expected women to be pure. Purity tests remain part of our culture. However, the application of purity tests has corrupted and concretized the concept of purity into classifications of good and evil, an approach damaging to society and religion.

Purity tests of the late 19th century focused on women’s virginity. Women’s sexuality was subject to harsh judgment. Virginity until marriage was expected. That purity test has harmed women ever since.

The temperance movement emerged, equating the consumption of alcohol with impurity.  From 1919 to 1933, the United States banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages.  Instead of reforming society, banning alcohol caused an increase in lawless behaviors. These examples of striving for purity demonstrate the dangers of equating purity with goodness.

In 15th Century Spain, purity of blood was an obsessive concern. During the inquisition, Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or be expelled or be put to death. Fanatical Catholic leaders continued to have hatred for these new Christians because of their belief in the unfaithfulness of the “deicide Jews” (God-killing Jews). It was believed that this unfaithfulness persisted and was transmitted, by blood, to their descendants, regardless of the sincerity of their conversion to the Christian faith. Consequently, Old Christians “of pure blood” considered New Christians impure and therefore morally inadequate to be members of their communities. Author Jerome Friedman explains that medieval anti-Judaism became modern anti-Semitism through these concepts of purity.

Purity tests in our times abound in politics. Activists on the extremes of the political spectrum demand adherence to ideologies or philosophies. Absent their strict devotion, leaders are subject to alienation and denigration. Even more dangerous is the cult of personality that demands 100% faithfulness to a given leader. The application of purity principles has stratified and calcified political positions. The ability to compromise has given way to the opportunity to demonize.

Purity tests have stratified discussions about Israel in the Jewish community. Advocacy for Israel has given way to the condemnation of those who disagree with you about Israel’s policies. The discourse about the Holy Land has become most ungodly.

In this week’s Parshat Metzorah, purity principles are applied to houses, to women after childbirth, and to men after seminal emissions. In none of these instances are people making choices to be impure. The dichotomy between purity and impurity is part of the rhythm of living. The Torah’s purpose is not to vilify the impure but to lift us up to holiness. God asks that the Israelites be put on guard against impurity, not suffer because of it.

Impurity transfers from person to product, whether it is the sheets of a bed or a tent we enter. The quality of being impure is both tangible and intangible. The task of shedding impurity engages the mind in the duty to seek holiness. Purity and impurity are not opposites. They are different aspects of holiness.

More recently in Jewish history, there is a movement to reclaim purity as a spiritual practice. Mayyim Hayyim was founded in the Boston area over twenty years ago to elevate the ancient practice of mikveh. Inspired by author Anita Diamant, Mayyim Hayyim seeks to update the ritual of immersion by creating a very appealing physical structure and attending to innovation in its spiritual approach. Dignity, modesty, and inclusiveness are paramount to Mayyim Hayyim. This one mikveh has become a “living waters” movement around the globe to reclaim the concept of purity as a striving for holiness rather than as a measure of goodness.

Immersion in the mikveh is not only for women. As noted in Parshat Metzorah, men need to cleanse themselves in ways that purify the soul, with mikveh being one such modality.

Jewish life should also be a striving for purity of intentions. Our tradition demands that we care for the stranger, help the widow and orphan, and follow paths of peace. Nowhere are we directed to opine on the purity of others, whether it is their sexual or political proclivities. The meaningfulness of our lives should not be about testing others. Instead, we should be challenging ourselves. As history demonstrates, purity tests are harmful to individuals and to society. Similarly, our approach to purity is an essential element in the future health of Judaism.

Rabbi Evan Krame