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From Rabbi David - Thoughts on Sacred and Enduring Justice

01/07/2021 03:32:29 PM


Dear Friends,

This morning, I was moved by a Facebook post by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a longtime Washington correspondent for the Times, who spoke of yesterday’s violence as trampling on the “sacred space” of our Capitol.  Stolberg didn’t specify how or why the Capitol is sacred, but she enumerated her closeness to the grandeur of the building itself, the dramatic moments she has spent there, and perhaps most importantly, the people who work there - not only moral pioneers and future presidents, but the unrecognized janitors and cooks who keep the Capitol running, as well as the journalists who are so essential to a free society.  

In this compelling and loving litany, Stolberg implied what comes to mind for many of us when we think of what is sacred: the human yearning for equality, freedom and justice as well as the compelling examples of those who bring those ideals into reality.  As sacred ideals, perhaps she suggests that they originate beyond us, and yet can only come into existence through our devotion and commitment.  

In Jewish tradition, we have a vast reservoir of insights into what is sacred, beginning in the Torah and living on through weekly reflections in communities all across the globe.  Looking to the Temple of Jerusalem as one of our central motifs, we may say that holiness may be eclipsed by human destruction, but reconstituted through ongoing acts informed by justice, reverence for creation, and awe for the divine presence residing among humanity.  

In another sense, we can think about how the violence that threatens to drive justice and compassion from our world imposes an obligation upon us to renewed action. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was echoing the biblical prophets, few may be guilty, but all are responsible.  

In truth, the guilt for yesterday’s violence in the Capitol runs far and deep. Our President and his enablers have incited and given cover to White nationalists, conspiracy theorists and other neo Nazis for years.  Racism as well likely played a role in the inadequate preparation of law enforcement, especially when we compare yesterday's light police presence around the Capitol to the heavily armed troops who confronted peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in June.  

While it is compelling and necessary to investigate the sources of yesterday’s events, I believe it may be more important to focus on a renewed call to action - that each of us can and should be part of the collective healing that follows.  In the words of the great Black civil rights activist Ella Baker, popularized in the stirring song by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon as performed by Sweet Honey In the Rock, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

In that sense of responsibility, I believe, there is hope in the promise that justice and righteousness are too powerful to be suppressed when we choose to act.  Isaiah, in the first chapter of his prophecy, addresses a Jerusalem that has been debased and destroyed by its corrupt leaders: “Your rulers are rogues/And cronies of thieves;Every one avid for presents/And greedy for gifts;/They do not judge the case of the orphan/And the widow’s cause never reaches them.”  

But then, after a reckoning, God promises through Isaiah, “I will restore your magistrates as of old, And your counselors as of yore.  After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. (Isaiah 1: 23-26)”  Jewish tradition has since enshrined these words in the weekday Amidah, recited 3 times daily in prayer, to remind us of both the promise of justice and the imperative to act.

The abuse of power may be an inherent temptation of power itself.  Bad actors come and go, and our president has (at most) just a little over two weeks.  And even though he has unleashed forces of hate and despair that may not be so quickly and easily contained, I follow the promise of our tradition: that justice and righteousness will endure when we commit ourselves to the sacred and universal task of bringing healing to our world. 

Wishing everyone the ability to turn toward the light and to be renewed in our moral vision and capacity for action,



Rabbi Justin David

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784