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Toward Shabbat: Bo

It seems hard to believe that, a little over two weeks ago, a mob of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol intent on overturning an election, subverting our democracy, hurting our elected officials, and desecrating our sacred institutions. Confederate flags waved, vicious racist and antisemitic paraphernalia worn, heinous words spoken and actions committed. This Wednesday, amidst a clear blue sky and over 200,000 American flags blowing in the wind, in that same place, President Biden and Vice President Harris took the oath of office. The will of the people prevailed, democracy affirmed. As I watched this historic moment of the first woman, Black and Asian, elected to national office, tears of relief, elation, and hope streamed down my face. In an instant, I could breathe more deeply. The tears, however, weren’t only happy tears. They carried all the pain, rage, anxiety and brokenness we have been living with.

נֹדִי֮ סָפַ֪רְתָּ֫ה אָ֥תָּה שִׂ֣ימָה דִמְעָתִ֣י בְנֹאדֶ֑ךָ הֲ֝לֹ֗א בְּסִפְרָתֶֽךָ׃

You keep count of my wanderings; put my tears into Your flask, into Your book.

Psalm 56:9

Oh how we as a country have wandered in these years of our existence, whether you count from 1619 when the first slaves were brought to this land, or from July 4, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence. How much blood has been spilled, how much hatred sown, how much injustice woven into the very fabric of our existence. How many dreams imagined, how much progress made, the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. The inauguration restored dignity, humility, truth, and—please God—moral leadership to our nation. What a difference a day makes. Yet our wanderings have filled flasks of tears with 400,000 people dead from this pandemic, 400 years of slavery and systematic racism, a floundering economy, a burning planet, and significant questions about the effectiveness of our political institutions to address our problems.

Alicia Garza writes in her book, The Purpose of Power, “Movements are the story of how we come together when we come apart.”

With the hope that arrived this week, let us not become complacent. Let us build a movement of justice and dignity for all and take the risks necessary to do so. Let us not only tell of the glorious wandering of our past or the moments of redemption in the American narrative. Let us not say these past years have been an aberration of who we are. Let us tell the truth of all the tears that have been shed on our very soil. Let us read the books that tell the history that we would rather bury and listen to the voices that speak of that lived experience now in our time.

In my tears on Wednesday, I felt a love of this imperfect country that I hadn’t touched in a long time, a renewed awakening. The Slonimer rebbe teaches on the first commandment that appears in this week’s parashah, “This month shall be for you a first of months (Exodus 12:1),”

God’s first commandment directly to the Israelites is that they must renew themselves, always… Just like the moon, which at the start of each month is concealed in darkness and then renews itself and returns to its full brightness, so Israel are to be renewed.

We are a moon people as Jews, and so too we take that commitment to renew, to search for the light, to sow in tears but reap in joy, to be willing to build anew and write a new story.

Amanda Gorman, the 22 year old National Poet Laureate spoke these words so powerfully on Wednesday:

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.

Amen. So may it be.

Shabbat shalom