Parshat Vayera 5779: Make for/of Yourself a Teacher

During my first week in Jerusalem last year, feeling tight from the 15 hour plane ride, I decided to set out on a mission to find a yoga studio. Not knowing exactly where to start I turned on my phone, opened my google maps and simply typed in “yoga” in English into the search area. Completely to my delight and surprise, there lay a place on the map only one block from my house called “Flow Power Yoga Studio.” The next morning, I set out to see what the place was like. I approached the spot on the map, which didn’t look like a yoga studio at all, but a run-down white building with a big fence around it.

The gate was open, and I walked in. “Shalom?” I called, as I wandered around the outside of the building, looking through the open doors to empty rooms with various knickknacks and supplies of all kinds--but nothing that would indicate “Flow Power Yoga Studio.”

I called again, “hello?” This time, I heard a voice. “Ken? Yes?” Out from one of the rooms came a big Israeli guy with a friendly face. In my broken Hebrew I hadn’t used in ten years I asked, “Shalom...ze studio shel yoga?” The man’s face morphed to match my confusion, and he motioned for me to follow him. Our conversation switched to English as we walked towards what seemed like an office,“There is a yoga teacher here, yes...I don’t know if she is teaching now. You do yoga?” “Yes, well I actually used to teach yoga. But I just want to take some classes now.” As we approached the office I asked, “ this place?” “Community Center,” he said. “And...who runs it?” I asked. “I do!” He said emphatically. He then handed me a small piece of paper and a pen and said “I will email you, what is your email?” I wrote down my email for him, and we parted ways. I left just as confused as I had arrived.

Days later, I got an email:

“Hi. How are you. Do you want to come to the club and talk of your position as yoga teacher that maybe will be good for club. If it is ok with you. Please connect with me. Thanks, Yoav.”

I never ended up meeting with Yoav, nor did I figure out what Flow Power Yoga was, or if it existed, but I learned something. I finally understood the ambiguity of the famous line in Pirkei Avot “Aseh lecha Rav” “Make yourself, or for yourself, a teacher.” Is the text asking us to make ourselves a teacher, or make a teacher for ourselves? I think the ambiguity is intentional. There are times we need to make ourselves a Rav, to stand in our power and confidence as leaders and teachers. And, there are other times we need to make someone else a Rav, humbling ourselves before another’s brilliance and leadership.

In my new role here as intern at Nehar, the place that I’ve been lucky enough to call my home shul for the past 4 years, I am excited to live out this line from Pirkei Avot--being both a leader and teacher, and humbling myself before the wisdom of this community. I am excited to stand here and lead prayer some Friday nights and shabbos mornings, and to sing together. I’m excited to bring what I’m learning as a Svara Queer Talmud Teaching Fellow to Nehar Shalom through a “Traditionally Radical” Beit Midrash that is in the works, where we will be eachothers teacher through hevruta study, finding our place within the text. And I’m excited to lead mid-week Kabbalat Shabbat workshops to help people feel empowered to lead and facilitate (what I believe to be) the healing power of Shabbos. And, with that vision as strong as it is, the truth is that you all are my teachers, and I can’t wait to keep learning from you.

There is another way that I feel called to humble myself right now--and that’s regarding the horrific and inhumane statements that our current administration has unleashed this week against the Transgender community. Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, was quoted in the NYTimes saying, “Transgender people are frightened, at every step where the administration has had the choice, they’ve opted to turn their back on transgender people.”

As a cis-gendered person I offer myself as an ally, lovingly bearing witness to the pain that many in our community are experiencing.  Holding this teaching “Aseh lecha Rav/make for yourself a teacher” tightly, I am making you my teachers, eagerly ready to follow your lead and walk by your side as we fight. I am ready to protect you fiercely, to vote, to work hard.  I do believe that together, making rabbaim (rabbis) out of eachother and truly listening and learning, we can protect each other and work towards a day that is “yom shekulo tov”--a time that is completely good, where the world reflects our goodness, and we can see the goodness in the world.

Shabbat Shalom.