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After El Paso and Dayton: A service of Remembrance, Reflection and Recommitment

August 7, 2019

L’Fi Dati: As I See It

As Jews, we observe this week the “Nine Days”, before Tisha B’av, the saddest period of the Jewish year. These days anticipate the mourning of Tisha B’Av (Saturday night, August 10 through Sunday night, August 11). On that day, we fast and recall the destruction of both ancient Temples and the exiles which followed, as well as other catastrophes in our history. Although it is generally a sin to be sad on Shabbat, on the Shabbat before Tisha B’av we allow a measure of melancholy even into Shabbat prayers, and on Friday night sing L’cha Dodi in a somber chant.

The most famous Psalm connected to the first destruction and exile is Psalm 137, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat, and also wept, as we remembered Zion” (verse 1). A Rabbinic Midrash imagines Jeremiah—prophet of the exiles and author of Lamentations—retorting, “If you had only wept one hour in Jerusalem, you would not be here to weep over her now”. Before the destruction, Jeremiah and other prophets warned the people of the disaster looming, but the popular defense mechanisms were too entrenched. So, the people failed to see the relationship between their deeds, or their inaction and possible outcomes. Soul-reckoning, especially on a national level, requires a brave, unusual readiness to challenge basic assumptions and awaken broad resistance.

In prophetic literature, leaders are called the “eyes” of the nation. It is their job to sense impending danger, and alert, educate and organize the people in response. When the leaders are corrupted, distracted, or asleep, that responsibility falls more directly on individual citizens. So, the redemption from Egyptian slavery—the prototype of liberation—began with heroic, individual acts of resistance, by Miryam, sister of Moses, the Egyptian midwives Shifra and Puah, Moses, and Nachson, who jumped into a raging Reed Sea.

Our souls are once again shattered by gun violence, now with the massacres in El Paso and Dayton. We mourn with our country, and pray for the n’chamah, consolation of the bereaved and for the r’fu’ah, healing of the injured.

And—following the generally accepted definition of a mass shooting as an incident in which at least four people are shot—we know that these savage acts, even with the terrible loss of 32 innocents, were only two of 255 mass shootings in our country so far this year.

The time to weep and to organize is now, before any more destruction. There is a moral rot in our country which I have not seen in thirty five years of Jewish and general community leadership. We and other religious communities must come together in new and vigorous coalitions of conscience. We can fight the related evils of gun violence, white supremacy, racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry. Together, we can return our country to its founding moral and democratic mission.

Please join our community this Friday night, 6:30pm for Shabbat services. We will share special prayers and reflections for the victims of the past week, and consider our response now as G-d’s Shutafim, partners and moral agents, at this time of trial.

This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision. May G-d help us to gain renewed vision, strength and hope.


Rabbi Sam Weintraub

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