The Torah of Tapestry in Guatemala

Deep appreciation to R. Bennett Miller for his eloquent weaving of our
experiences with Mayan artisans and our Shabbat morning davenning,
only a few weeks ago in Guatemala.

The Torah of Tapestry in Guatemala
By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller

Recently, I joined a group mission to Guatemala, sponsored by Maya Works and Fair Trade Judaica. The mission was a very powerful experience, meeting with the Jewish community and with some remarkable
Maya women who perform extraordinary work with the gift of their hands and hearts.

On Shabbat morning I was asked to deliver words of Torah in the small but young and energetic Reform Temple in Guatemala City known as Adat Yisrael. (a few weeks later they would receive a Torah scroll given to them by a congregation in Pine Bluff Arkansas that had closed its doors and wanted the Torah to be welcomed by a young congregation). My words preceded the chanting of the week’s Torah portion which happened to be parashat B’shalach, consisting of the powerful words of
the Song of Sea, the poetic words of Moses as he and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea to Freedom, to begin their journey to the Promised Land of Israel.

As I looked at the words inscribed on the Torah scroll I could not help but see each letter as part of a tapestry similar to that woven by the many women we had met earlier in the week. The letters of the Torah appeared to me like every line of yarn woven into the fabric that the women were creating.

Thinking about it I found myself deeply moved by each of the thousands of letters inscribed on the parchment of the Torah. As each letter is joined to others words are formed into sentences that describe a picture of a journey of the Jewish people. This story is the most profound story in the history of humankind, a story of a people and its encounter with the Divine, choosing and being chosen to carry out a mission of becoming “a light unto the nations.” As each stretch of yarn is applied to the loom it forms a connection to the one before it and the one that will be applied following it. Some of the yarn is colored and some is not. Somehow, the artisan who works the loom understands and sees the larger picture that will be completed after all of the yarn has been applied to the loom. Like the words of Torah, the yarn in the loom represents lines (words)
that drawn together will form a tapestry depicting a journey of its own, similar to the journey of the Jewish people. Each artisan that I met represented a village or a family or a Mayan group (they speak no less than 26 languages in Guatemala). And each piece created on the loom, or prepared lovingly by the hands of the women I met becomes part of a liberating experience. You see, the work of these amazing women provides food for their family’s table, funds for their children to attend school (even college), and helps them sustain a simple but noble life in central America.

You might say that the work of the hands of the Mayan women serves as a song of freedom just as the Torah’s words uttered by Moses and the Israelites was the song declaring freedom from Egyptian oppression, a song that we continue to sing, not just for the Jewish people but for all people who yearn to be free.

I concluded my words and then we chanted the words of Torah. As I looked out into the congregation I could feel the power of liberation, the same power that our ancestors felt. And I could see tears of joy, remembering the women we had met, sitting with the young people of the congregation who were thrilled to celebrate Jewish life, and recognizing that freedom is a dream for all, a dream that can become a reality if we put our minds and our hearts and our hands together to do so.