Over the past few years, it has become more and more common to see rainbow colors in the month of June. Business and corporations, schools, and organizations like ours have made it a common practice to draw attention to Pride Month by changing their logo color, selling rainbow versions of products, and highlighting members of the LGBTQ+ community of their staff, leadership teams or other stakeholders.
We celebrate Pride in June as a remembrance of the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, when gay and lesbian patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village fought back against the police who became violent while trying to arrest them. Stonewall is seen by many as the beginning of the gay rights movement, a movement that continues to this day.
Throughout our country the fight for equal rights and equitable treatment, and these public displays of support for the LGBTQ+ community are wonderful examples of how so many in our nation have grown to cherish and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
But as the displays of Pride have become more common, so has the reaction. We know that in Florida many LGBTQ+ people and those who love and care about them are concerned by new laws that have been passed that affect our public education policies, the opportunities for trans girls and women to compete in athletics, and for the ongoing lack of employment protection. Despite these concerns, some have begun to wonder whether changing a logo to a rainbow palette or raising a banner have become so ubiquitous that they have lost their importance, or worse, that they are an empty gesture.
Interestingly, in this week’s Torah portion we are told of another raising, the raising of the lamps of the menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, in the Tabernacle. God tells Moses to instruct Aaron to raise the lamps onto the branches so that they will give off light. The rabbis tell us that this reminds us of a verse from the Psalms (18:19), “For You [God] light up my lamp.”
Why, if God is the ultimate source of light, do we need to light a menorah before God, the rabbis wondered. The answer, the rabbis say, is not because God needs our light, but because we are called upon to share our light with the world.
“There is darkness in the world,” God says, “places where the right and the good are not found. Places where there is no love, places without kindness or compassion, places with war and not peace.”
Despite the power of God’s light, so the teaching goes, we have been put onto this earth to use our ability to shed light into those places, to illuminate the path for those who have struggled and help them find the just and equitable treatment that each of God’s creations deserves.
The rabbis compare this to a story of a blind person and a person with sight walking together. During the day, the person with sight can lead the person who is blind. During the night, however, the blind person, more in tune with their other senses and accustomed to navigating in the dark, becomes the leader, guiding the sighted person. Each, because of who they are, have something to offer and to gain from the other.
The beauty of this parable is that it reminds us that diversity is a beautiful thing, something that we should cherish and celebrate. It teaches us that as a community we are stronger when we recognize the unique gifts that everyone has to offer, especially from those who differ from us.
The “rainbowed” logo or the banner flown may be a simple gesture of acceptance, a statement that LGBTQ+ folk are welcomed. But as we enter into a weekend where members of our community will celebrate Pride Shabbat this evening at 7:30 pm and march in the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade as Shabbat concludes; I see those colors as a clarion call not only to accept and welcome LGBTQ+ folk in our community and society, but to celebrate and recognize that a community that celebrates reaps the benefits of the unique gifts of all.
God called upon all of humanity to bring light into a universe that God had already illuminated. The person with sight relied on the person without sight- and vice-versa- to make their way.
We need to recognize the unique blessings that all… especially those historically marginalized… offer to our communities. When we do, the brilliant light, made from all of the colors of the rainbow, will shine brightly upon us all.
Rabbi Greg Weisman