Shabbat is one tough cookie. She will not be kept down. She can be desecrated and insulted in the most horrific way, and one week later here she is. Back on the horizon and at the door. The queen. The bride. The Shechinah garbed in robes of time.
We can spend the week in the depths of despair. Filled with sadness and fury and fear. But she doesn't give us a week off. She shows up and she asks us to show up too, whether we feel like it or not.
But lest you think of her as harsh and demanding, remember that she does not show up empty handed. Not by a long shot.
Where we feel agitation, she offers us calm. Where we feel isolation, she invites us to dance in the fields with her. Where we feel sadness, she offers us bread and wine. Where we see around us the ugliest of this world, the ugliest of what our species is capable of, she bathes us in a mikveh of holiness. Where we feel exhaustion, she offers respite. And where we feel anger, she offers us time to regroup and move on fresh.
We don't always say yes to what she offers. Maybe we say no more often than we say yes.
But she never gets the hint. And she never gives up on us. She keeps showing up at the door in all her beauty, the Shechinah robed in time, with the fierceness of lions and the voice of songbirds.
And so it is also after a week like this one. A horrible, unthinkable week, here she is again. Despite it all.
This week was hard. Unclassifiable. Not just a week of sadness. A week of every possible emotion. A week of uncontainable grief. And a week of sympathy, in which non-Jews reached out, and showed up at our vigils, and dropped off food, as if we were sitting shivah, which in a way we were.
It was a week of shock and numbness. A week of knowing it could have been us, and trying not to feel like it could have been us.
It was a week of insult and cynicism. A week in which the chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel voiced sympathy but refused to call the place where these eleven Jews were killed while observing Shabbat a synagogue. And a week in which the former Israeli ambassador to the UN condemned that chief rabbi, saying that Israel needs to acknowledge and welcome all Jews. It needs to acknowledge and welcome all Jews in order to bolster its claim to be a Jewish nation-state, in other words Israel needs all Jews on board in the project of defining Palestinians out of existence. It was a week of our tragedy and our lives being claimed for other people's agendas.
It was a week in which Jews were killed not just for being Jews, but specifically in relation to progressive Jewish political values. Because the killer of these eleven Jews had ranted about HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms and which helped so many of our ancestors resettle in this country, and whose New York chapter was run for many years by the grandmother of our Rita Rowan; an organization which continues to help any refugees whose lives are in danger for simply being who they are; an organization of which Ner Shalom is a proud member. The killer ranted again HIAS and hours later killed eleven Jews. So it wasn't just Jews dying for being Jews, it was Jews dying for daring to welcome the stranger. Which makes you realize, if you didn't already, how at risk the stranger is in this country.
It was a week of failure of accountability from a president and miscellaneous powerful toadies who certainly did not invent anti-Semitism, but who fanned the flames of hatred of immigrants and minorities, who make sly anti-Semitic comments and then retracted them or deleted them or hid behind their Jewish grandchildren. It was a week in which despite the obvious damage done, a president and miscellaneous powerful toadies, continued to refer to refugees as "invaders". A week of shameful lack of accountability from a president and aforementioned toadies who not only do not condemn neo-Nazis but invite them into their administrations; who play hatred for votes and embolden wackos, and then shrug and say, "I didn't do it," not understanding or acknowledging the difference between blame and accountability.
It was a week in which a man who killed eleven people in a house of worship got the special privilege of not being called a terrorist because he is white, and a citizen, and of European descent.
It was a week of not knowing whether to comfort each other, or to pray, or to march, or to act out. It was a week of all of us feeling afraid and vulnerable because that's what this act was intended to do.
It was a week that felt personal. It felt like last year's fire. Like it was our own private tragedy and emergency.
It was a week that made you want to scream or burst or flee or hide.
And then, just as you are about to do one of those things, without even a knock at the door, in barges Shabbat, in white lace and Doc Martens, looking at her watch, and saying, "It's time. Hush now. Enough. This next day will not be about your hurts or your fears. It will be about holiness. Whether you are standing together in synagogue or out canvassing voters – you will do it in holiness. You will feel the strength of Shechinah in your arms and in your voice, in the steadiness of your step and the lightness of your clipboard, and you will not be afraid."
And then she lets it get quiet and she looks at us closely. "But all that fear and sadness and anger? Set it all down now. You are hungry and tired. You are in need of love and rest. Set it down. You will think better later. For now, set it down."
And so we do. We surrender to Shabbat. Our feelings of sadness and anger, of exhaustion and fear, will not disappear. But they will soften. They will get stirred in, with love and holiness and community, and all of that will cook at a very low temperature overnight, like a shabbos cholent – digestible and warm, and blessedly blander than the week we just swallowed.
We will surrender to Shabbat. Because she is fierce. And she is persistent. And she will not go away. And if we ignore her she will just be back next week.
So where we feel agitation, let us accept her offer of calm. Where we feel isolation, let us dance together in the fields with her. Where we feel sadness, we will accept her bread and wine. Where we see ugliness we will be washed with holiness. We will say yes to her gift of respite and time. And then we will regroup and move on fresh.
There were uncountable conversations this week. But I was particularly affected by insights from Doron Hovav, Susie Stonefield Miller and Eli Herb.