Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam matir asurim – Blessed are You, Adonai our God infinite Sovereign who frees captives.
Every morning we recite this blessing and since Saturday night when our siblings in Colleyville fought for their escape from terror, this ancient blessing’s meaning for us, the 21st century Jewish community, holds new relevance. We are so grateful to God that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three Congregation Beth Israel congregants could recite this blessing on Sunday morning and every day since then.
We are so grateful that we are able to come together as one Temple Beth Shalom community here in our Sanctuary in person and online to celebrate Shabbat, to proudly proclaim the words of our tradition old and new, to pray for healing for those we love, and, perhaps, to allow ourselves to connect with the panoply of emotions we have known this week, to name them aloud or privately, to begin our own healing from the trauma of yet another antisemetic terror attack.
Since last Shabbat, we have been reminded of the resilience of the Jewish people. That no matter how tired, fear-filled, or angry we may be, we will bounce back. That no antisemetic act, that no antisemetic trope will hold us back, will silence us, will close our doors, will keep us down. As Dr. Deborah Lipstadt wrote this week:
We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA. Without it, we would have disappeared centuries ago. We refuse to go away. But we are exhausted.Lipstadt, D. “For Jews, going to services in an act of courage.” New York Times. January 18, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/opinion/texas-colleyville-antisemitism.html?searchResultPosition=2
Resilience is a powerful and palpable part of our lives as Jews. And where does it come from? As Dr. Lipstadt says, it comes from our DNA, and it comes from the sacred narrative that binds us together that we read in Torah.
This week we, a newly liberated people, stand at the foot of Sinai and bear witness as our great leader, Moses, communes with God and receives the 10 Commandments on our behalf. From the moment at Sinai and every second since, we are no longer only a people redeemed, we are a people in covenant, in sacred partnership with God. And because of that sacred relationship with our Higher Power, with the Force of the Universe, with Avinu Malkeinu our Parent and Sovereign, with El Chanun v’Rachum, God who is merciful and gracious, we know even on a cellular level who we have been, who we are, and who we will be and that is am Yisarel, the people of Israel. It is at Sinai that we take responsibility for sacred obligations that define the way we as a Jewish people live, engage, and change the world.
Rabbi David Hartman taught:
The model of Sinai awakens the Jewish people to the awesome responsibility of becoming a holy people. At Sinai, we discover the absolute demand of God; we discover who we are by what we do. Sinai calls us to action, to moral awakening, to living constantly with challenges of building a moral and just society which mirrors the kingdom of God in history. Sinai creates humility and openness to the demands of self-transcendence….Hartman, D. “Auschwitz or Sinai?” Original publication 1982. https://www.hartman.org.il/auschwitz-or-sinai/
What do we do? We learn Torah, we light Shabbat candles, we celebrate lifecycles, we advocate for social justice, we welcome the stranger, we pray that stir our souls, we relentlessly pursue a democratic Israel, we teach our children, we support Jewish summer camps, we strive for a relationship with God to build a more just individual and a better world. We are resilient.
And our model for this resilience comes from another place in our Bible, from the Ketuvim, the Writings where we find the story of Iyov, of Job. The quick summary of this story is that Job is a blameless person with a partner and 10 children and considerable wealth. Job is a profoundly faith-filled person and in a complicated twist, everything is taken from him. He loses his wealth, and most horribly, his children all die as they are feasting and a terrible storm causes the house to collapse on top of them. Job’s life is completely up-ended and in 42 chapters of complex Hebrew and even more complex theology and narrative, he is visited by four friends who encourage him to curse God and his situation and Job refuses to do so. Even towards the end, when God comes to visit Job in a whirlwind, Job’s faith is steadfast. Even when considering the most profound losses imaginable, the most challenging theological ideas, Job is unwavering. Job is resilient. And finally, in the last chapter, Job finally speaks and he says:
I know all that You can do and no evil thought can be cut off from You. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge, tell me! I did not understand the wonders before me, I did not know. Listen! I will speak; I will ask of You and You will tell me. I heard You with my ears and now my eyes have seen You;…Job 42:2-5, translation my own
Job teaches us that even in the depths of difficulty, of antisemitism, of profound losses, we can turn to God and we can take comfort, and when our faith is challenged, we can find solace in the teachings of our tradition. That does not mean we deny our pain and trauma. Instead, when bad things happen, and sadly they will, as Jews connected to that Sinai experience, connected to God and one another through the covenant, we can fortify our hearts and spirits. We can mend our wounds, we can ask for help, and we can pick ourselves up, strengthen our alliances, and continue to do as we do.
The fourth of those 10 commandments reminds us to zachor et yom haShabbat l’kodsho, remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it (Ex. 20:8). This week and maybe every week, Shabbat can be a symbol of our resilience, too. As the world goes about around us, we pause and embrace the rhythm of Jewish time and Jewish tradition. Even after a week like the one we have had, we can fill our hearts and souls with space for prayer and for God just like our siblings doing just as we are in Colleyville. And then, perhaps, please God, we can create the world that fulfills the vision of the prophet Micah who taught, “and then each person shall sit under their vine and fig tree and none will be afraid,” (Micah 4:4
Ken y’hi ratzon, may this be God’s will.
Rabbi Ellie, I read this to my Dad Maury, Sam Scheer and Beverly Bernard at brunch at the Village at the Triangle and everyone loved your beautiful sermon and of course enjoyed your lovely writing. Thank you for sharing… Xoxo, Marianne