Dust from Four Corners
*This was written in honor of Pride Shabbat being celebrated at the synagogue at which I work.
When my sister first came out as gay, the reactions in my family were varied. As a 13 year old at the time when I finally heard the news, as teenagers are wont to do, I shrugged, said ok, and went on with my life. For a young person coming of age at the time I was already in social circles with those who had come out, so I was not very surprised.
For my parents, coming from a different generation, it took them a little bit longer. Soon after, they became active members of an organization called PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It is the first and largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families. One of the roles they served as members of PFLAG was going into local public schools and talking about their journey in a family with a child that came out.
In their talks, they would always bring a portrait of all four of their children and ask the students which of them they thought was gay. It was the launching point for talking about the many stereotypes we all carry and how we can educate ourselves to combat them in our lives. The students would always guess and my parents would then lead a discussion about how no one person’s sexual identity is visible.
It also allowed them to talk about how their own mental “pictures” of their children shifted when my sister came out to them. How they dreamt of my sister’s adult life became something new but even more authentic to her true self. It was an opportunity for them to broaden their view of seeing the world and recognizing the beauty and multifaceted nature of life.
In the world of religion, those in the LGBTQ community have long felt ostracized. Our texts have been weaponized to exclude, demean, and even bring violence to those in that community. That feels to me to be a perversion of our tradition and a misreading of the love that God has for all of God’s creations.
In our parshah this week, we read again of God’s many attributes (Bamidbar 15:18), including being slow to anger and abounding in kindness. It is on these characteristics that the following beautiful midrash was written:
When the Holy One contemplated fashioning humans, God said to the Torah: Let us make humanity (Gen. 1:26). It replied: Master of the Universe, the person You wish to make is of few days, and full of trouble (Job 14:1), and they will sin…it would be better that they should not come into the world. God retorted: Is it for nothing that I am described as slow to anger and plenteous in loving-kindness (Num. 17:18)? Whereupon God began to collect the dust for the body of the first human from the four corners of the earth, so that no one part of the earth might say: “The dust of the body of humanity is mine.” If God took the dust from the east and the person wished to travel to the west, the earth of the west might say: “The dust of your body did not come from me, I will not welcome you.” Therefore God took the dust from the four corners of the world, so that wherever humanity traveled the earth would welcome them, as it is written: For dust you are (Gen. 3:19)-Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 3:17
God’s kindness is manifested here through the act of creating humanity that is representative of all parts of the natural world. God recognized the potential harm that we could do and wanted us to remember that no one way of being or doing is better than any other. We all come from the same place and end in the same place. We are all made of godliness. Anyone who argues otherwise in the name of religion perverts the Torah.
Our world has made so many strides in being more welcoming. Even still, anti-LGBTQ legislation is pervasive and violence against the LGBTQ community has been on the rise. On this Pride Shabbat, I hope that all can receive the reminder from this midrash to live out God’s kindness in reaching out to be more welcoming, calling out harmful speech when we hear it, and stepping out when the opportunity arises to actively make the world a safer place for all.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend