One of the great pleasures I have as a congregational rabbi is to teach ninth and 10th graders. On the Tuesday night before the Capitol Hill insurrection, the topic we coincidentally discussed was the spectrum of free speech, hate speech and incitement. We also talked about sinat chinam—senseless hatred. Little did we know that they would get a brutal example the next day.
Also, at about this time of year, we usually have our annual trip to Washington, D.C. I have been to D.C. many times, bringing my students. When images of the mob were posted inside the Capitol, I recognized some of those places, and I imagine some of our alumni did as well.
Further, during last year’s trip, some of our students got a lesson when we ran into a demonstration against then-candidate Michael Bloomberg’s office by a similar kind of crowd. The signs spelled Bloomberg’s name with the Os as swastikas and the hammer and sickle. White supremacy is a kind of hate that is both racist and antisemitic at the same time. Whether it is symbolized by a Confederate flag or a swastika, the violent message is the same.
But violence is not just one person striking another. Violence begins with words, media and enablers. In the spirit of the Hebrew prophets, today we need to call out incitement, racism, antisemitism and incredible hypocrisy. You don’t get to condemn the fire when you helped pour the gasoline.
Rioting of any kind should not be glamorized. Nor should we indulge in “whataboutism” and draw false equivalencies. What happened on that Wednesday was a uniquely dark day. It was also completely foreseeable and preventable.
We are a deeply divided nation, but we are not caught in an inevitable spiral of fate. This week can be a wake-up call and choice to never repeat this past period of time. We can personally take responsibility for our democracy. It is not enough to pay our taxes, serve on a jury and occasionally vote. We need to be actively involved in creating the society we want to be a part of.
Right now, we as a nation are caught between two absolute necessities: First, a national reckoning where white supremacy and its enablers are confronted and justice is done. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” our Torah teaches (Deuteronomy 16:18). The second is a national reconciliation of humanizing each other and putting our home back together. “Shalom, shalom—peace, peace to those far and near,” our Bible also says (Isaiah 57:19). We need both reckoning and reconciliation, both justice and peace. This might be impossible, but we have to do the best we can.
In this spirit, I have written a prayer for the United States, to be read responsively. The responses are all verses from the Hebrew Bible or quotations from the Talmud. I hope you see this as a return to our most basic values.
Prayer for the United States
Let us, we the people of the United States, return to our sacred principles.
Practice justice, truth and peace in your gates (Zechariah 8:16).
Let us engage in dialogue with civility and decency, striving together for the common good.
Every argument that is for the sake of heaven shall endure, and every argument not for the sake of heaven shall not endure (Avot 5:27).
Let us be ready to sacrifice for our country and appreciate and honor those who keep us secure, who uphold our laws, and who save our lives.
Be strong and have courage (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Let us respect each other, defend the dignity of young and old, and protect the vulnerable.
God created humanity in the divine image. Love your neighbor as yourself (Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 19:19).
Let us discern how we contribute to the problems of our land, and let us atone for our nation’s sins.
Turn us back to you, O God, and we shall return. Renew our days as a new beginning (Lamentations 5:21).
Let us hold each other accountable.
Learn to do good; seek justice, and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17).
God, protect us against arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, greed, violence, and lies.
Lying speech is an abomination to the Eternal, but those who act faithfully are pleasing to God (Proverbs 12:22).
Let us safeguard the lives, freedoms, and opportunities of each one of us of every race, religion, and identity.
Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants (Leviticus 25:10).
Let us pursue just ends with just means.
Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:18).
Let us strengthen our democracy and defend it.
For the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, calm and confidence forever (Isaiah 32:17).
Let us learn from and teach one another, celebrating uniqueness, diversity and unity.
Praised are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes each one of Your creations different (Berakhot 58b).
May we now renew our faith in our country and take responsibility for its future.
Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one will make them afraid (Micah 4:4).
And let us say together:
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