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Toward Shabbat: Behar

.קָרוֹב יְהֹוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיעַ

God is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit God delivers (Psalm 34:19).


I turn to You this Shabbat with a broken heart, a heart that is shattered into pieces. I had the honor and privilege of spending last Shabbat in Alabama with 28 outstanding BJ teens. We made the pilgrimage there as Americans, as Jews, and as human beings to learn about the Civil Rights movement and to continue to witness the horrors of racismindividual and systemic, past and present. The horrors You, God, know all too well. 

In some ways, last Shabbat was like every other Shabbat I have celebrated with You. It was framed by the light of the Shabbat candles and the words of Kabbalat Shabbat, Kiddush; by Shabbat morning services; and by the taste, smell, and glow of Havdalah, which guided me into the new week. And yet, simultaneously, last Shabbat was like no other Shabbat I have ever experienced in my life.

Leading into Shabbat, the teens and I heard Your voice through Bishop Calvin Woods. He sang and preached Your love and kindness despite the evil and suffering he endured firsthand as a Civil Rights leader and activist in Birmingham, Alabama, and told us, “Don’t ever skip a day of being on speaking terms with God.” 

And, God, we saw You through Joanne Bland, who by the age of 11 had been arrested 13 times, who saw her loved ones beaten when marching and fighting for freedom in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. A freedom that she, as a child, defined as the right to sit at the counter of the drug store and eat ice cream just like all of the White children. 

We spent Shabbat afternoon at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, created by the Equal Justice Initiative and the first national memorial dedicated to “the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” A memorial honoring the lives of more than 4,400 Black and Brown people in the United States who, between 1877 and 1950, were the victims of lynching. Your children, God, who were brutally murdered for “reasons” such as looking at a White person the wrong way, defending their own children, and speaking when they were not spoken to. 

Later, at the The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, we were taught the history of the 12 million Africans who were kidnapped from their homes. The hundreds of thousands of them who died on the journey across the ocean and the millions who made it across only to be sold into the slave market, separated from their families, and dehumanized in the most gruesome and horrific ways. You, God, heard their cries, their last breaths, their tears, their songs, and their prayers. 

And the hate never ends. After enslavement came the Jim Crow laws and lynching; after lynching, segregation; and after segregation mass incarceration, police murders and brutality, and mass shootings. So I’m asking You, God, when will it be enough, when will it stop? 

My heart was already broken, and then it shattered when I turned on my phone after Shabbat to read the headline “Gunman Kills 10 at Buffalo Supermarket in Racist Attack.” Ten more innocent lives stolen. How, God, can we move toward Shabbat, our day of joy, peace, and love, full of grief and anger and so very broken? 

We find one answer to this within the Kabbalat Shabbat service, at the moment we pause to invite in all who are in mourning. At the peak of Kabbalat Shabbat, as we turn to the doors to welcome in the Shekhina, Your radiant presence, and the unity of Shabbat, we also turn and welcome in community members who are in the seven-day period of mourning and loss. The siddur (prayer book) Lev Shalem comments on this tradition: “Shabbat is both a sign of the God of creation and of the community of which we are a part. In honoring Shabbat as we mourn, we affirm…that weand those whom we mournare contained within a greater whole.” Together in all our brokenness, we step into a period of time that invites us to dream of what can be; we get a glimpse of wholeness. 

This Shabbat, we are all mourners. This week, God, as we walk into Shabbat with You, may we internalize one of the most powerful messages of Shabbat: that no matter how broken we are, we are always a part of a greater whole. 

 .קָרוֹב יְהֹוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיע

God is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit God delivers. (Psalm 34:19).