Rabbi’s Corner: Liminal Space

Parshat Mishpatim – Darius Gilmont, Artist

This week, I am focusing on the concept of “liminal space.” The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, transformation, a time of waiting, and not knowing.

Liminal space can be a powerful, creative and energizing time, if we learn to wait and recognize the beauty, significance and gift of the moment. It can also be terrifying, anxiety-provoking and stressful either because we came from an insecure past or because the future is unknown.

Author and Franciscan friar Richard Rohr describes this space as:

Where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.

These thresholds of waiting and not knowing our ‘next’ are inevitable and most are incredibly disruptive.

This applies to us, Temple Beth Sholom, as we move forward on our journey toward healing and wholeness after a difficult and challenging week of loss and grief. It also applies to the Israelites in this week’s parshah, MishpatimMishpatim takes place when the Israelites are in the liminal space of receiving Torah and other laws at Mt. Sinai. They grieve for what they left behind, even if their lives as slaves in Egypt were harsh. They continue to experience profound loss and longing for the past throughout their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to an unknown future in the Promised Land.

The Israelites travels through this liminal space give them the opportunity to transform from a rag-tag group of slaves into God’s covenanted people. Included in this transformation are behaviors about how we treat others.

We see this exemplified in Exodus 22:30 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Rabbi Hilly Haber teaches us about this text in a commentary about Mishpatim in ReformJudaism.org: “the stranger within our sacred texts prompts us to ask larger theological and ethical questions about patterns of immigration today: How did this person come to sojourn among us? What is their story? How can we understand their presence here as a testament to their ability to survive and nourish networks of support? How is it an indictment of larger historical, economic, social and environmental forces? What role did we play, wittingly or not, in their border passage? And most important: how are we called to enact justice?

These questions, born of the wilderness experience and informed by contemporary theologies of immigration, provide a Jewish lens through which to not only care for and welcome those seeking refuge within our borders, but also to interrogate current policies and advocate for a humanizing and accountable immigration system. Because we have historically been wanderers, the experience of estrangement, the sense that we are outsiders, is etched into the soul of the Jewish people. It is both our inheritance and our call to just action.”

What does Rabbi Haber’s have to do with our own journey through liminal space at this point in time? She reminds us that when we focus on caring for others, along with caring for ourselves simultaneously, we’re able to move forward on our journey toward our own healing and well-being, toward wholeness and an envisioned future.

With the ideas from our Torah portion in mind, here are some actions to help us transition from our own liminal space:

  • For those who wish, we will have a facilitated gathering with a trained grief counselor to process our grief and emotions over the loss of Monica and Irv Engel on Thursday, March 16that 7:00 pm. (Please watch your email for more information at the beginning of March and to RSVP). If you wish to speak with someone more immediately, please contact me in confidence and I will facilitate that connection for you.
  • Volunteer and/or make a donation to Mitzvah Meals
  • The crisis from the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria will have lasting implications. Consider making a donation to one of these worthy organizations for earthquake disaster relief:

JDC (https://fal.cn/3vHfh) This is a Jewish organization: The Joint Distribution Committee
IsraAID (https://fal.cn/3vHfg) This is a phenomenal Israeli Rescue and Relief Organization (usually the first on the scene of a natural disaster)
Red Cross (https://fal.cn/3vHfi)

  • In the coming months, I hope to establish a TBS Refugee Resettlement subcommittee. If you are interested in joining this endeavor, please let me know: rabbisobel@tbsoc.com

As “there is no way to get from here (liminal space) to there (the Promised Land) except by joining hands, marching together.” (Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur: p. 157. CCAR Press, NY).

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom


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