WWOT – Weekly Words of Torah: Parashat Nitzavim

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative JudaismOur Torah reading this week, Parashat Nitzavim, has something very unique found in the actual Torah scroll – dots. One of the reasons why leyning, or chanting from the Torah, is so difficult, is the fact that there is no punctuation or vowels found on the words in the Torah. However, on the words, “Lanu oo’l’va-ney’nu,” in Deuteronomy, Chapter 29, Verse 28, the words which mean “for us and for our children,” there is a dot above each letter of those words.

There are different explanations as to why there are dots on these words. Some say it is because of the perplexity of the verse and its meaning. According to an explanation in the Etz Hayim Humash, G-d will punish secret sins, but society must punish sins committed openly. We cannot comprehend God’s will. Furthermore, we must not judge others, for only G-d knows what is inside a person’s heart, and knows a person’s motivation, and humans can only see a person’s deeds.

As I read this interpretation, I thought about the #MeToo movement, and how many hidden sins have surfaced recently because people have begun talking about their physical, mental, emotional, and sexual violations, which were often kept under the surface. The following script was written by Merissa Nathan Gerson, through the auspices of the group Ken Means Yes. This a modern-day Viddui, a confession, written to acknowledge and inform people that consent is indeed a Jewish value, and the violations that have taken place should no longer be hidden.

Please check the website www.KenMeansYes.org for more information. This script originally listed the intended leader as clergy, and group as congregation, but I did not want anyone to feel they needed a formal clergy to be able to read, or a congregation.

CONSENT IS A JEWISH VALUE

Leader: Reflecting on this past year, we realize the need to shine a light on physical safety when it comes to intimacy in our community, something the ancient rabbis also considered.

Group: When one person strays, when one person misses the mark, we all miss the mark. We are only as high as our lowest rung. Together, we speak to raise awareness of these vital community standards.

Leader: We stand today to set a standard together for the future, not to absolve the past.

Together:

• Forgive us for the times we did not ask permission before touching another person’s body.

• Forgive us for the times we sensed someone’s fear and persisted with our own pleasure anyway.

• Forgive us for the times we heard a “no” and ignored it, persisting with our own pleasure anyway.

• Forgive us for the times we reached to touch another when we were filled with hatred.

• Forgive us for the times we were so inebriated we could not decipher whether the person we touched was saying “yes” or “no.”

• Forgive us for the times we turned a blind eye when we knew boundaries and bodies were being violated.

• Forgive us for not teaching these boundaries to our children sooner.

• And forgive us for not believing those that spoke up, their stories echoing ancient tales of transgression.

(Derived from “Mishneh Torah, Forbidden Intercourse (Issurei Biah), Chapter 21.”)

Group: (Optional) For all the times we missed the mark, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, give us atonement. V’al Kulam, Eloha Selichot, Selach lanu, M’chal lanu, Kaper Lanu.

Leader: This is not an act of pardon. It is a call to highlight our communal expectations of one another.

Group: Together we strive for all to feel safe, and to help others to feel safe in their bodies. This year may we all be written in the book of life. Amen.

WWOT, Weekly Words of Torah will be a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.

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