Asalamu aleikum. Peace be upon you, my brothers, and sisters.
As I utter those words, I am cognizant of how painfully ironic it feels to be extending greetings of peace to a community shattered by a cruel and horrific act of violence. How can we speak of peace in a world torn apart by malice and terror, in which people of faith cannot even gather in their sacred spaces for prayer without fearing the next eruption of malevolence from men indoctrinated in white supremacist hate, emboldened by the cynical words of callous leaders, radicalized on the internet, and armed thanks to political cowardice and negligence? How can we speak of peace in this moment? How can we speak at all?
Sometimes, when the hurt is too raw or the anger is too fierce, all there is to do is cry. Like so many of you, I have done my share of crying since I first heard the news on Friday morning — I weep for the dead, I weep for their families, and I weep for Muslim people everywhere, for the attack on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand was an attack on Muslims everywhere, a devastating reality that I as a Jew know all too well. I cry because an act of terror like this rips off the scab of my own wounds that had only just begun to heal. I cry because of the brokenness of our world in which such tragedies seem not only frequent but inevitable. I cry for my children, for all of our children, to whom we’ve bequeathed a world in which they are not safe anywhere, not even in their schools or in their synagogues, their malls or their mosques.
But my faith affirms that in my tears, I keep good company. According to Jewish tradition, God is also perpetually in tears due to the brokenness of our world. One of the first teachings in the Babylonian Talmud, the central sacred text of my ancient rabbinic ancestors, is that God arises several times each night, unable to rest, and roars like a lion in pain, crying out, “Woe to Me! For because of My children’s sins I destroyed My house, burned My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world” (Tractate B’rakhot 3a).
In the rabbinic consciousness, the destruction of the ancient Temple was the greatest of cataclysms, an event that involved not only the deaths of thousands but that precipitated centuries of Jewish homelessness, powerlessness, and pain, and as such, it came to symbolize the damaged and unredeemed state of our world.
A piece of me draws comfort from this notion, that God looks down at what happened in New Zealand and cries out loudly like an injured lion
But I also believe in this teaching my tradition is offering us more than the mere comfort of an empathetic God. According to the ancient rabbis, the sin that resulted in the destruction of the Temple was sinat hinam, unfettered, free-flowing hate. It’s not that this hatred was baseless — which is how the term sinat hinam is often, but wrongly, translated. People then, just as today, had reasons for their animosity, however misguided those reasons may have been. What was unrestrained was people’s willingness and ability to act on their hate. My rabbinic ancestors taught that ruin and catastrophe, destruction and death, is the inevitable end result of a society where hatred is not only pervasive, but also unchecked. Each and every night, then, and especially on a night like tonight, God wails and weeps along with us because of the devastation loosed upon the world thanks to hate run rampant.
But if unrestrained hate is the cause of the world’s brokenness, then we also know the way toward repair. The way to begin putting the shattered pieces of our hearts and our world back together is through ahavat hinam, unfettered, free-flowing love.
What kind of love is that?
It’s the love that propelled the Muslim community to lead the charge in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Jewish community after the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings. It’s the love that drove Muslims and Christians to form human chains around synagogues all of the country to protect Jewish worshippers with their own bodies. It’s the love that brought people of all backgrounds to the airports and to the mosques all over the country in outrage and in solidarity in the face of travel bans and persistent Islamophobia emanating from corridors of power. It’s the love that brings us all here tonight, a love that has moved us time and again to stand together — too many times— in defense of the vilified, the dehumanized, the marginalized, and the vulnerable in the face of resurgent and resilient threats to their freedom, equality, and safety. It’s the love that says whatever our differences, we are all of us brothers and sisters, children of the same God, all of us equal in our worth and infinite in our dignity, all of us fundamentally responsible to and for each other.
It is, in the end, the love of 71 year old Daoud Nabi, one of the victims of the shootings in Christchurch. Daoud stood at the door of the mosque, warmly greeting everyone who entered, even the terrorist who ultimately killed him. “Come in, brother,” were his last words before he died saving a fellow worshipper from a bullet.
Daoud’s love tragically did not spare him from death. But if all of us commit ourselves to that same love, that same graciousness, and that same hospitality; if all of us commit ourselves to welcoming the stranger and seeing in the face of the other our brother or our sister; if all of us here tonight commit to advancing unrestrained love in the face of a world torn asunder by free hate — it might just save us. We might yet be able to put the broken pieces of this world back together and build of this world a sanctuary fit for the indwelling of a God of compassion, justice, and peace. May we merit to see such a world built speedily and in our days.
May the memory of those we mourn be a blessing, and may they find their comfort in Paradise. And may we soon bring God’s peace upon us, and the whole world.