It is a great privilege to work with candidates for conversion to Judaism. What an honor it is to accompany and guide other human beings as they take significant steps along the way of their particular spiritual journeys! We rabbis are charged with the task of teaching the fundamentals about Judaism and, more importantly, the responsibility of assessing each candidate's sincerity, appropriateness and readiness to join the Jewish people.
Conversion to Judaism is a process. The process unfolds over time and is marked by Jewish learning, Jewish living, reflection and participation in the life of the Jewish community. The process then culminates with the life-cycle event called conversion ' which includes beit din, mikvah, and, for men, brit milah or hatafat dam brit. This culmination is a liminal moment ' a time of transformation ' in the life of the individual who converts, as well as his or her family, community and for all of the Jewish people. At this point, lives are forever changed, including the life of the Jewish people.
To participate in the process of conversion or to witness the unfolding and completion of this sacred process is to stand at Sinai in awe and wonder as the covenant between God and the Jewish people is renewed once again. Yet, it is important to remember that conversion to Judaism is not the only way in which we participate in the renewal of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
We welcome baby boys into the community of Israel with the ritual of brit milah. We welcome baby girls with the ceremony of simchat bat. The young people of our communities transition into full participation by becoming B'nai Mitzvah. And at each of these moments, we are blessed with the opportunity to witness the renewal of the covenant entered into between God and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
Each time we take the Torah from the ark and read from it, we remember the giving of Torah at Sinai. And on the festival of Shavuot, we celebrate z'man matan Torah, the time of God's giving of Torah, which is our time of becoming a people with a purpose. Through our choices and commitments, we have the opportunity to participate in the renewal of the covenant each and every day.
In significant ways, the spring season on the annual Jewish calendar begins and ends at Sinai. We are now at the beginning part of the season. This week, we read from parashat Yitro in the book of Exodus. In this week's Torah portion, we read of revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Liberation from Egypt brings us to this moment where the Torah teaches us about the birth of Israel as a people in partnership with God.
And then, weeks from now, at the beginning of June this year, as the spring season on our annual cycle reaches its conclusion, we arrive again at Sinai for the festival of Shavuot. The spring season gives us Purim, our celebration of Jewish identity and taking off our masks. This season also gives us Pesach, our festival of freedom, a time of rebirth and renewal. But our spring season begins and ends at Sinai.
But what really is Sinai, we might ask? What does it stand for, and what does it mean for us to stand there? Sinai is more than a place. It is a promise and a possibility. Sinai is our past and our future. It is also this present moment when we allow ourselves to go there.
In her book Standing Again at Sinai, Judith Plaskow writes, 'God did not establish the covenant at Sinai because it was easier to speak to the people when they were gathered together than to address them individually. God's presence constituted them a community, and it was as a community that they heard the voice of God.'
To stand at Sinai is to stand for community. Community is more than a collection of individuals pursuing their personal interests. Community connotes connection and relationship. To stand at Sinai is to stand for the centrality of Jewish community and the peoplehood aspect of Judaism.
We Jews comprise an extraordinarily diverse community. We are not all the same. We do not always agree. And yet, it is possible still to call ourselves one people. To see ourselves this way ' as one people, differences and disagreements included ' is an act of courage and commitment. It is also a sign of great vitality and possibility. One people in partnership with God, we remain charged with the sacred task of pursuing justice, alleviating suffering and advancing wholeness in the world.
This is the season of Sinai. Now is our time to stand together there ' and here.
Rabbi Cindy Enger is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Bellingham, a vibrant and growing synagogue community.