Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sanity and Song

I want to talk about two things. They’re both important and have impacted me deeply.

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah; a Shabbat of song. It’s because tomorrow we’ll read the joyful song that we sang at the shores of the Sea of Reeds. Crossing the Sea meant that we were no longer slaves. We were redeemed!

But do we really feel like singing? …

A Prayer for Tucson
by Rabbi Naomi Levy

On this Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song,
We sing to God a song of grief
For innocent victims
Cut down too soon.
May their memories be a blessing,
May their lights shine brightly upon us.
Gather them into Your eternal shelter, God,
Your shelter of peace.
We sing to God a song of mourning
For the broken hearts,
The senseless loss, the shock, the emptiness.
Send comfort, God, to the grieving families,
Hear their cries.
Fill them with the courage
To carry on in the face of loss.
We sing to God a song of healing
For the wounded.
Lift them up God,
Ease their pain,
Restore them to strength, to hope, to life.
We sing to God a song of peace
For our nation.
Teach us how to rise above hatred
And cruelty and indifference.
Show us how to live up to the beauty You've planted within us.
Let us rise up from this tragedy,
Let us walk together hand in hand
United in hope
On a path of peace, Amen.
Kavannah for Moment of Silence by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky
"Our tradition is that in the event of suffering, we fall silent and pray for mercy." - Bavli Berakhot 62a

May we fall silent now, and listen to these gunshots still reverberating, and hear these bullets ricochet through our society. Let us never make such a deafening noise. Let us add soft voices, instead, to human discourse, in which we seek to understand before we insist on being understood. Thus we may merit to be like the students of Hillel, esteeming the words of our adversaries… (pause)

Repeating Rabbi Kalmonofsky’s words: “Let us add soft voices, instead, to human discourse, in which we seek to understand before we insist on being understood.”

Here’s the irony: Many blamed the shootings on the vitriol and violent language of public debate; they rightfully called for increased public civility; at the same time, the finger-pointing and blame has escalated all week!

What have we learned? As a society, we are still not seeking to understand. Public debate remains a point-scoring contest.

And despite the finger-pointing, we have absolutely no idea what really led to the shooting.

Now for the shocker: we don’t have to … we shouldn’t… blame anyone… not the right, not the left, not those who missed the signs of the shooter’s mental illness.

What we should do: Look inward.

Listen to the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l: "Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."

Rabbi Heschel would remind us to look to our own souls … and to work at making a difference. He would tell us: use this as an opportunity to our own roles in society.

Do we really seek understanding? Or, do we believe that ideas and beliefs can be easily labeled and drawn in shades of black and white? Are ideas out there to be rebutted … or should we think them through?

Labeling is always a problem. Depth of understanding is always highly nuanced. Black and white labels are false tags that lead away from truth.

When we attach labels to ideas or to people, we effectively close our ears.

We need to listen to others with our hearts and minds.

We cannot change events, but we can change our attitudes. Even in the midst of tragedy, we can find sparks of inspiration.

Those sparks can be found:
• In the bravery of the shooting victims
• In the heroic struggle of Congressman Giffords to survive
• And in an unrelated event, the recent death of singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman died last Sunday. For those unfamiliar with her work, her contribution to Judaism is immeasurable. Her songs and her attitude enriched us and brought us to participate with a full heart.

Debbie spent the last two decades of her life with a debilitating neurological condition. She couldn’t walk. She fatigued easily. She spent most of her time in a wheelchair.

Yet when she sang, she stood … unaided. Her songs were her prayers. They became our prayers.

Debbie Friedman gave of herself with heart full of song… and courage.

She didn’t blame anyone for her illness. She didn’t use it as an excuse to stop giving to others. Instead, her illness drove her to reach out others … to bless them with song… to give us a tool to withstand life’s difficulties.

We can and must learn from her courage and heart.

We can and must make our lives a blessing.

We can and must learn the art of listening to others … without judgment, without blame … and with civility.

We pray that the tragedies and difficulties of the last week will teach us to be better people. We ask the Kadosh Baruch Hu to help us open our ears and hearts to others.

We ask the Holy One to give us the courage to face life’s adversities with song, that we may live with blessing and bring blessing into the lives of others, and let us say, amen.