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The Shabbat That Heals


There is a saying in Judaism that we are never more than 3 days away from Shabbat. Either Shabbat is just a few days away, or was just a few days ago, or both. Well, I desperately need a Shabbat right now. Last week’s was taken away.

We are a week past a moment of profound tragedy. A man with a gun went into a room full of Jews and killed them because he refused to live in a world where people believed differently than he. A day of rest and prayer turned into a day of tragedy and pain. The Pittsburgh Jewish community was assaulted and the global Jewish community reacted, because all of Judaism was under attack.

In a country where incidents of gun violence and mass shootings have become entirely too common place, it was no surprise that eventually a place of Judaism would become the target. Ask any Jew in America, and they can tell you pretty clearly that the temperature of today’s country is running high on issues of racism, bigotry, and animosity toward the other. It was already a hard time to be an “other” in America. Now, it feels like a dangerous time to be just about anyone.

In the aftermath, Jewish communities all across the country came together to grieve, to cry, to feel. My own city of Cincinnati had many moments of coming together, most significantly through a vigil on Sunday night. So many people, both Jews and supportive neighbors, filled the Jewish Community Center that we hit the building‘s maximum occupancy number, and were forced to have a second, parallel ceremony held outside. It was easily the largest collection of Jews I’ve seen in one place in my time in the city. We said our prayers of mourning, discussed our feelings of sadness and anger, sang songs of hope and peace.

I was reminded of the story from our Torah that tells of Balak, king of Moab, who commissions Balaam, a sorcerer, to curse the Israelites, who have begun to scare the powers of Moab. Three times, Balaam seeks to utter a curse, yet all three times, only blessings come out. Three times Balaam tries to hurt, to damage, to destroy, and three times he fails, instead strengthening and beautifying the Jewish people.

A man with a gun walked into a synagogue looking to destroy Jews and, in turn, Judaism. Instead, he brought together hundreds of thousands of Jews in solidarity and in support. He wanted to blot us out of existence. Instead, the world has seen the Jewish people and has seen how significant and vibrant we can be.

But we can’t let this be the end of the news story. We have seen how beautiful and strong the Jewish community can be when we all come together in tragedy. Now, we need to remind everyone that the beauty is just as sweet when we come together in celebration.

When the world outside is dangerous and overwhelming, we turn to our Judaism, to our institutions of Jewish life, to make sense of it all. Yet or Judaism has something to contribute to all aspects of life. It is the way we, as people, track time, acknowledge milestones, and make meaning. When given the chance, Judaism can be a lens through which we see the greatest texture of life. So why would we only look when bad things happen?

We can’t change what has already happened, much as we wish we could. We can only try to find the best of the world that we have right now. We have a chance to use this act of violence as a way to re-engage with Jewish community, to re-engage with our tradition, so that we can keep our faith alive, even in the face of evil and destruction.

We need this coming Shabbat. We need it because the last one was stolen away from us, a moment of peace taken away in an act of war. We need it because we need to show Jews how wonderful it is when we come together to celebrate life, rather than only when we mourn death. And we need Shabbat to show the world that Jewish Americans will not be scared away from our homes and ours spaces in the face of anger and hatred. We are here, we are engaged, and we are home.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.” “You shall be a light unto the nations.” Judaism offers us a language by which we can fix the bitter evils that face our world. We get the chance to use this tragedy to remind us of Judaism’s place in our lives and how we are going to use it to fix the world around us.

Oh, how beautiful is our community, house of Israel. May we find the strength to take the curses thrust upon us and turn them into blessings of community, of engagement, and of life.

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