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Scattering Light: Shabbat Sermon August 18, 2017

08/18/2017 09:41:41 PM


Rabbi Elisa F. Koppel

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It’s been a challenging week in the world. A week full of hatred. Full of violence. Full of fear. A week in which torch wielding Nazis rallied in the streets. A week which brought injury to many and death to one who opposed the white supremacists. A week in which Boston’s Holocaust Memorial was vandalized for a second time this summer. A week in which multiple vehicle attacks led to one of the most violent days in Spain’s recent history, injuring hundreds and killing more than a dozen individuals. A week in which reports on those attacks indicate that even worse violence had been planned. A week for which I have no words, and yet for which silence doesn’t seem to suffice either. 

A week in which, the world felt smaller. Drawn together through sympathy and through empathy. Drawn together around scattered computers and televisions and smart phones—hanging on to bits of news as they came in, and sharing in a diverse chorus of prayers for the well being of all who have suffered from the events of this week. Drawn together through fear of what comes next, and what this all means. Drawn together by shared emotional shock, and the need to respond, and not knowing how to even begin.

A week in which many of us bought glasses to safely view the coming solar eclipse, as we watched an unfiltered moral eclipse form around us. In the face of the reality of evil, theologian Martin Buber suggested that there is an Eclipse of God. That God is present, but hiding. Rabbi Jeff Salkin, my colleague, mentor, and friend, who will visit us in February for our Scholar in Residence Weekend, wrote a piece this week in which he (in his words) picks a fight with this theology. He writes: 

"As compelling as it might sound, and as powerful the image might be, I do not believe that God is in eclipse when evil happens.

What went into eclipse in Charlottesville, and in the days after Charlottesville?

Yes, it was a coming attraction of the solar eclipse.

What went into eclipse was:

    •    The human conscience.

    •    Human decency.

    •    The ethics of historical memory

…It is not human sinfulness that creates eclipses (as the sages taught; that is why there is no Jewish blessing for the sighting of an eclipse).

Rather, human sinfulness pushes our own humanity into eclipse."

As we watch the eclipse this week, perhaps we can use it to remind us of what is eclipsed in our world—and as a call to us towards action. To right that which is wrong—to bring the light of justice and righteousness to a darkened world. 

Rabbi Neal Gold wrote this week about Charlottesville. He notes that,

“In this week’s Torah portion we read two seemingly contradictory verses:

אֶ֕פֶס כִּ֛י לֹ֥א יִֽהְיֶה־בְּךָ֖ אֶבְי֑וֹן

There shall be no needy among you (Deut. 15:4)

כִּ֛י לֹא־יֶחְדַּ֥ל אֶבְי֖וֹן מִקֶּ֣רֶב הָאָ֑רֶץ

There will never cease to be needy ones in your land (Deut. 15:11).

Which is it? Will there be people in need in the future or not?”

Citing the commentary of Richard Elliott Friedman, he continues: 

"Verse 11 doesn’t mean that there will always be people in desperate straits; the Hebrew word yehdal ("cease") means that it won’t come to a stop on its own. If you want suffering to disappear, you’ve got to do something about it, reaching out to hurting brothers and sisters.

So it is with extreme hate. It isn’t just going to go away—not unless people of good faith come together and clearly articulate our vision of a decent and just society, and demand that elected leaders make it so."

That must be the vision towards which we rise.  That vision of a world that is brightened as the eclipse fades into memory is what we must work towards.  And while we cannot complete this task on our own, the rabbis remind us that it is still our responsibility to begin this work.  This is our mission: to stand up against hatred with messages of love, of justice, and of righteousness.

Exactly 227 years ago (to the day), President George Washington wrote his famous letter to the Jews of Newport, RI. His words hearken as true today as they were likely read in their original time. He speaks of the United States government, “Which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  And in the final lines, he offers the following hope:

"May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. 

May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."

May we know a time in which all citizens of this country, of this world, know a world of peace in which none are made to be afraid. May this week, as we usher in a new month, leading up to a new year, bring renewal, hope, and light. May light be scattered upon each of our paths, and our collective paths—and may we be among those who scatter that light. 

Ken Y’hi Ratzon

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784