Every Shabbat, we read the following words that seem to carry a different weight for us in the midst of the events of this week:
Our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, with mercy accept our prayer on behalf of our country and its government. Pour out Your blessing upon this land, upon its inhabitants, upon its leaders, its judges, officers, and officials who faithfully devote themselves to the needs of the public. Help them understand the rules of justice You have decreed, so that the peace and security, happiness and freedom, will never depart from our land.
G-d whose spirit is in all creatures, we pray that Your spirit be awakened within all the inhabitants of our land. Uproot from our hearts hatred and malice, jealousy and strife. Plant love and companionship, peace and friendship, among the many peoples and faiths who dwell in our nation. Grant us the knowledge to judge justly, the wisdom to act with compassion, and the understanding and courage to root out poverty from our land.
May it be Your will that our land be a blessing to all who dwell on earth, and may You cause all peoples to dwell in friendship and freedom. Speedily fulfill the vision of Your prophets: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” “For all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall know Me.”
In this week’s Parsha, we begin reading the book of Exodus, whose first chapter introduces the enslavement of the Israelites by saying, “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8-15). It is a reminder of the importance of remembering (or, according to the text, the perils of not remembering) our history. Of how history helps us know who we are and guide us in what we do. The importance of knowing and reckoning with American history was on vivid display this week as craven, violent, lawless rioters invaded the Capitol building this week. Ours is not simply a history of the shining city on the hill and beacon of democracy, we know that it also carries a history of systemic racial violence and oppression. During moments like these, we also have to remember that our history also holds memories of visionary leadership.
As we were glued to our news stations and social media feeds, we saw a Confederate flag being terrifyingly and outrageously waved inside the Capitol building and we heard a Congresswoman quote Hitler during a speech to her supporters in that same space. This week, however, we also heard the legacy of Civil Rights leader, former Congressman and American hero, John Lewis repeatedly invoked and remembered as inspiration for an extraordinary campaign to mobilize Black voters in Georgia in the face of state-sponsored voter suppression. As we enter Shabbat, let us remember and reckon with America and American history in all of its failings and strivings. We read in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” As we enter Shabbat, take time to connect to our tradition of social justice and our responsibility to stand against manifestations of hate, violence and oppression in all forms and remember that it is our duty to take care of one another.
We hope that you’ll consider joining us for virtual Shabbat services this week as we make our collective appeal.
We wish you all a Shabbat Shalom.