Belonging, Othering, and Acceptance

By Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Chair, ALEPH Board of Directors

and SooJi Min-Maranda, ALEPH Executive Director

Where is the Place of Meeting? 

We used to meet God, in the days of the Bible, in a tent named the “Tent of Meeting.” Out of Divine encounter came planning, deciding, and building. Out of sacred connection came listening, sharing, and perhaps unburdening. We can imagine it as a holy place of connection, and perhaps too, a space for holy connection. 

Where is our Tent of Meeting today? Perhaps it is time to construct a new tent—one that is fashioned out of the multicultural, multiracial cloth of our times. For ours are times of broken hearts, of distance and isolation, of mutual suspicion, of unseen pain and hidden hurt. If we want to create space to heal, to repair, and to begin to grow together again, it is time for us to create a new Tent of Meeting.

Each of us has our share of pain and longing to belong—to be seen and held. The tired and worn binary paradigm of ‘Us vs. Them’ lacks not only luster but is seriously broken. We must befriend ourselves and each other in our struggles, for we are all in this experiment of living life together. 

There is a beautiful story about a so-called “Field of Meeting,” from our Aggadah. Two brothers live on opposite sides of a wheat field: one married with a large family, the other alone. Each night, as the harvest was coming in, the brothers would contemplate each other’s circumstances. 

The married brother thought, “My poor brother lives alone, without help for the harvest.” Out of concern, he carried a bushel of his harvest across the field that night, and left it at his brother’s doorstep. 

Meanwhile, the brother who lived alone thought, “My poor brother has so much responsibility and little time to harvest. Out of concern, he carried a bushel of his harvest across the field that night, and left it at his brother’s doorstep.

Night after night this happened. Day after day, the perplexed brothers would open their door, to find a bushel of freshly harvested wheat on their doorstep. Finally, in curiosity, they ventured out one night, when the moon was full, where they met each other in the middle of the field. They hugged, and laughed, and cried with delight and caring and love for each other. 

It is said that the Holy of Holies was built upon that very spot, where love and mutual concern were met. As Psalm 85 says, 

קָרוֹב לִירֵאָיו יִשְׁעוֹ; לִשְׁכֹּן כָּבוֹד בְּאַרְצֵנוּ: חֶסֶד-וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ; צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ 

“Divine rescue is close-at-hand to those-who-know-awe, that Divine glory may dwell within our land; Loving-kindness and truth are met; justice and peace kiss.” When parts of us feel vulnerable, it makes a lot of sense to protect those parts by keeping them away from those who might hurt us. But as this psalm reminds us, it may be those very parts that are needed to build something entirely new, something extraordinarily holy. 

A midrash about Amalek, the universal “enemy,” suggests that Amalek’s evil seed got scattered so thoroughly amongst humans that all of us today, disturbingly, bear a sliver of Amalek within ourselves. Our challenge is to see the holy in each other, too, just as God saw the holy in us, in that Tent of Meeting, so that we can build safe spaces together, places wide enough and supple enough to contain all of us in our wide-ranging diversity. 

Hillel and Shammai, our ancient teachers, are our role models for this, for in all of their differences, they still understood that, at root, their disputes were l’Shem shamayim, for the sake of God’s glory. In fact, Shammai and Hillel readily officiated at weddings for each other’s students, teaching us that they practiced affection and camaraderie between them, fulfilling the words of Zechariah, “love, truth and peace.”

It will take quite a lot of holy courage on our part to venture out into that new field of meeting, because we don’t know who or what we’ll encounter there. And yet, our fractured times are calling on us to do just that. May we work with joyous effort to sow a field of true caring and acceptance. May it be a space/place where even those remote parts of ourselves longing to feel safe and accepted will find themselves belonging and welcomed. May we befriend ourselves and each other.