A Prayer for Pittsburgh: Invocation at the Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors

Prayer for Pittsburgh:

Thank you Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for asking me to come this morning.  Indeed it is a difficult morning. The last few days have tested our resolve.  On this past Shabbat, the sabbath, a man filled with hate murdered eleven worshipers simply because they were Jews.  They came for respite and found only violence. But I would be remiss if I did not mention that this attack-the bloodiest massacre of Jews in this country’s history-an attack meant to divide us, was a singular event. Just hours earlier two elderly African American patrons were gunned down in a grocery store because of the color of their skin.  At the same moment, an assassination attempt against our nation’s leaders and former leaders was still unfolding. Such violence, such hatred, such cruelty.

As a nation we must understand that an assault during the sabbath is an assault on the sabbath itself.  It’s an assault on all of us, not just Jews. It’s an assault on the notion that out of many comes one. On the idea that we have a collective promise.   On the poetry that is America.

The Constitution is our most sacred document.  Each of us finds a home in its hallowed words. We keep it close to our hearts. We revere the parchment upon which it is written. We rely on its sanctity to help us forge a society that is ever striving towards a better future.

In my tradition the rabbis teach that our most sacred scroll, the Torah, contains the souls of all living people.  Each letter is infinite. Each column a lifetime. Every one of us has our place in God’s Book, inscribed for goodness. We are not just ink on parchment. We are inscribed as black fire on white fire. All of us intertwined in revelation.  A community of humanity, under the shining firmament.

That is why we bury scrolls when we can use them no more.  We treat them like people. We cherish them, we hold them in our arms, we dress them in finery and we never let them fall to the ground. And if they do fall, we pick them up and kiss them and try mightily to restore them to their place.  For as the psalmist declares and upon which the synagogue in Pittsburgh found its name, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it and and all who support them are happy.”

If we are to overcome the hatred, racism and anti-semitism that has reared its ugly head we must set for ourselves the task of reaching across our divides and be fully present for each other. We cannot live only with an either/or paradigm that says that when I win you lose.  Or that when you win I must lose. Your redemption cannot come to fruition on the back of my neck, nor can my freedom be at the expense of your blood and treasure. Yours and mine are the same.

As the prophet says, “God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  

As the founders said, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This is the hope, the dreams of our forefathers and foremothers.

Every Jewish day, every Jewish holiday begins at night. “In the beginning,” the Torah teaches, the world was an admixture of light and darkness. Just as there was darkness, so too there was light. It was God who felt through the darkness to find the light. Just as there is evening, so too there is morning.   

It was at night when they came for us. It was at night when the Nazis marched against us. It is at night when they broke the glass and burned the crosses. Came into our houses of worship, our schools, our business, our homes. It was a night when the tophets glowed the brightest.   

But there was evening and there was morning. In the morning we now come out of hiding. In the morning, we now rise. In the morning, we gather, we shout, we sing for our people. In the morning we fight.

In the morning, joy will come. In the morning, for only in the morning, after a long night, in partnership with other people, together, do we dare say it will be good. I’ll be damned if we ever go back into the long night.  

So let us pray, my friends.  Let us remember the victims, of hate, of all hate.  And let us build a word of love.

God, full of mercy, Who dwells above, give rest on the wings of the Divine Presence, among the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the souls of those who were murdered in hatred.  May the Merciful One protect their souls forever, and bind them to the bonds of eternal life. May you help us to overcome hatred and bigotry. May you protect the officers who keep us safe. Their families and their loved ones.  May you give good council to those gathered here today as we all seek order and pursue happiness. And most of all may we always be a force for good throughout the land as one people. One nation under God, indivisible for liberty and justice for all.


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