Tonight we mark the first Shabbat after the tragedy in Pittsburgh. We know that, in time, like personal and national traumas we have survived in the past, we will stop counting time so specifically while still inescapably living our lives after the events of last Shabbat in a different way than we did before.
This Shabbat we read Chayei Sarah, literally “the life of Sarah,” which ironically begins with Sarah’s death. The two major stories of the reading are both testaments to her life – Abraham purchasing the burial cave in which her husband, son, and grandson will be buried; the search for a wife for Isaac to carry on Sarah’s legacy. So too may this week that began with terror allow us to pivot to the future and focus on life and living in the face of profound sorrow.
I share the beautiful prayer below, in an attempt to begin soothing our souls. It is authored by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the head of The Movement for Reform Judaism in the United Kingdom, and recited at a vigil for Pittsburgh early this week in London. Using the framework of a section of the Passover Hagaddah that reminds us that our generational threats put us in dialogue with our ancestors and descendants who faced similar challenges, she adopts a technique of the liturgical poets (פייטנים / paytanim), utilizing allusions from the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms to ground our prayers in the eternal language of Jewish prayer.
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵיֽנוּ וְלָנֽוּ. שֶׁלֹא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד, עָמַד עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ.
V’hi she’amdah la’avoteinu v’lanu. Shelo echad bil’vad amad aleinu l’chaloteinu.
In every generation, there are those who rise up and attempt to destroy us.
In every generation, we refuse to surrender. We are defiant.
This is the message of those haunting words from our Passover seder.
When they try to stir up hate, we’ll love our neighbors as ourselves.
When they try to rip apart our communities, we’ll say: “How good and how pleasant it is to live together in peace”.
When they try to silence our voices, we’ll raise them up like a great shofar.
When they try to stamp out righteousness, it’s justice, justice that we’ll pursue.
When they try to prevent us from aiding the vulnerable, we’ll open our hands and care for those in need.
This is our pledge to our murdered brothers and sisters זכרונם לברכה / zichronam livrachah / their memories are for a blessing.
וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָדָם
V’hakadosh baruch hu matzileinu miyadam.
And the Holy One, Blessed God, saves us from their hand.
And so, together with the divine, we will defiantly ensure the future of our generations to come.
.וכן יהי רצון
V’chein y’hi ratzon.
May such be the divine will and let us say: Amen.