With the recent murders of people of color and the injustice our friends in the black community have had to endure all of their lives, lends to the feelings of outrage. This on top of a global pandemic and subsequent lock down, disruption to our economic well being and the social unrest in our community. We are faced with the question: How can these events happen in a country that was founded on basic principles that all are created equal and are given the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Our country is capable of so much more. Many congregants have reached out to me with their feelings of powerlessness, rage, and sorrow. There is no wrong way to feel right now – the question is, how can we move forward and what can we do?
I want to offer a Jewish lens to help deal with these troubling times:
First, we have to acknowledge our sense of grief. We grieve for the sense of equilibrium we have lost with our world seemingly falling into chaos and disorder. Without acknowledging this grief, we can’t move forward. Even to take a moment to honor the sense of loss will help begin the healing process. Second, after acknowledging grief, which sometimes comes out as anger, pain and outrage, we have to become willing to take action. Although it feels like we are powerless to change anything, this is not true. After the shootings in Pittsburgh, our community was overcome with support from the larger world. Faith Leaders reached out in solidarity and became friends and allies. That is our job now. We must reach out to our friends and neighbors who may feel marginalized and angry, and become allies and better friends. It is incumbent that we understand their experience of powerlessness and fear. We will see that our communities share a lot of similarities. And we will understand that as Jews, we have work to do to heal our world.
Second, we have to get better educated as to how oppression is built into our current justice systems. Once we understand this – we can work as partners for change. And working for change, helps us feel motivated and alive – we see we are not powerless, but rather, empowered to work to bring equality for others and make their lives better.
The Torah portion this week, Behaalotecha, speaks of the cloud and fire that covered the Mishkan or Tabernacle. This represented the cyclical nature of life – that some days we have peace, and others have strife. The cloud reminds us of gray days, the fire represents the hope that like the Ner Tamid (eternal Flame) constantly burns to remind us of God’s presence, the fire reminds us to stay optimistic and get busy to work for change.
During these extremely challenging times, may we always remember that hope is eternal and this too shall pass. May we be blessed with strength to work for change, bring healing where there is pain, and be partners with God to work for Tikkun – for healing and peace. How we act today as Jews defines our character going forward both communally and individually.