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Sermon for March 15, 2019

03/14/2019 10:44:24 AM


Rabbi Robinson

I don’t know about you, but I have been grieving this week, for people I never knew. Perhaps you have too, since the news came out of the home invasion and murder of two young people, Christian Coffield and Janiya Henry only a short distance from this very sanctuary. Two children, teenagers, themselves the parents of a three-month-old, senselessly gone, killed in their own home, putting paid the text from Exodus 12 and our haggadot, that somehow being in our homes provides a measure of safety from death. And how many of us are grieving for our fair city, having hoped that the decrease in violence last year was a portent of things to come.

What shall we do in this moment? What is our task? What is our responsibility, we who feel somehow insulated and protected from Christian and Janiya’s experience? What are we supposed to do? I ask this because I think, as Jews and as people who count Wilmington as their home, we have a moral imperative at play in their deaths, as with all deaths in our city. And, if you can’t hear it in my voice, I ask this out of a sense of weakness, of helplessness, out of a profound and deep sense of the brokenness of our world and our community. I guess I’m expressing a moment here of shared guilt, of despair, and God knows we’ve had a number of those moments. I know as close as we are to Purim we’re supposed to rejoice, but in this moment, on this Shabbat, this week, the thought of rejoicing feels monstrous. There is so much hurt, there is so much pain. What am I—what are we—supposed to do, we who are not police or lawyers or elected officials or activists or social workers or even residents of this neighborhood? And even if we spent every moment of every day, every last red cent in our bank accounts, every ounce of energy we had, trying to eradicate the myriad of pains in our community, would it matter? I ask again, in this moment of despair, what are we supposed to do?

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

The Eternal called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:


So reads our text as Rabbi Koppel just read for us so wonderfully. We are used to the idea that God speaks to Moses. Sometimes it’s moments of terrible pronouncements, sometimes it seems like two old friends chatting over a cup of coffee. But how they talk to each other is as important as what they said. As many of you know, God usually addresses Moses by saying vayomer or vayidaber, God spoke, or even vayitzav, God commanded. But here the word is Vayikra, God called. At the risk of splitting hairs, a call is a different kind of speech act. The medieval commentator Rashi picks this up, and tells us that all oral communications from God are preceded with a call, and gives us a pile of prooftexts, which is very nice of him!  So what? How does this help us understand our task in the face of our grief?

Well, I think—I think—it has something to do with where the call is emanating from. We read: God called Moses and spoke to him from the ohel mo’ed. We normally understand that to mean the so-called “Tent of Meeting”, that tent at the center of the Tabernacle, where great pronouncements of mitzvot are made, the place where the cloud representing God’s presence descends each day. But as my teacher Rabbi Ethan Tucker reminded me this week, we know that there are two ohalei mo’ed, two tents. There’s the one that we spent the last several months reading about in the back-end of Exodus, part of the Tabernacle. But then there is the tent that Moses, after descending with the new tablets, schleps chutz lamachane, outside the camp, to have, shall we say, more personal conversations with God. And the later rabbis, being close readers, affirm that, while we might think the first tent kind of gets phased out for its shinier, new-fangled replacement, in fact it appears that both tents are still around for the rest of Torah. That Moses keeps his busted old tent for those more personal encounters. That not every pronouncement, not every call by God, is made from a place of grandeur, or perfection, or wholeness. Sometimes the call emanates from a place of profound brokenness as well, from outside the natural order of things.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. In no way shape or form am I suggesting Christian and Janiya’s death is for the good or God’s will, or some other equally horrific theological idea. But we can say that their death, that the orphaning of their child, that the violence in our cities is a cry, a cry from God toward moral outrage. We are called, called, from the brokenness in our city. And dare I say it, God is waiting for our answer.

So, what is our answer? It must be to love this city and the people in this city more, to love with a radical love. A love that calls us to action, to serve this city, to make the difference we can make, even if the work seems overwhelming, the pain too much. But we must love. Love through tzedakah, through the just giving that we do through our pantry and so many other ways. Love through action, through volunteering and tutoring organizations that directly help our neighbors. Love through our voices, advocating for policies that will support the city, reduce gun violence in our state, and improve everyone’s lot. And love, frankly, through love. To see the folks beyond our bubble as being our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters, as well. To stop seeing them as other, as if their lives and experiences have nothing to do with our own.

All words and actions are preceded with a call. God is calling, and we must answer. We may not be experts, we may not even live in this neighborhood, but this is our home, we have skin in the game, and our response is needed. Our love is needed. Leviticus goes on to describe the offerings of the ancient Temple. May our response to the call be our offering, healing our city’s grief and pain. Amen.



Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784