Inspiration from Pittsburgh

It was a deep honor to be invited to teach in Pittsburgh last Sunday.  The first commemoration of the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in American history focused on the themes: Remember. Repair. Together.  In reflecting upon how inspiring their solidarity has been this year, we wondered, “What will it take to remain as committed over the next twelve months?”

We talked about renewal ceremonies and sustained actions that reinforce their values.  Then someone came up to me after the session and said something profound.  “Perhaps we were able to be the community we were in the attack’s aftermath because this is the kind of community we’ve always been, since long before the shooting.”

Indeed.  Healthy communities wherein groups take responsibility for promoting the greater good don’t suddenly become who they become in the wake of dramatic emergencies.  They feel bound by commitments to decency and shared dignity.   

To be invested with dignity is to represent something greater than oneself.  This lesson is reinforced toward the end of this week’s portion of Torah.

Self-promotion, clawing for prominence is unseemly.  It’s actually what leads to the falling of the Tower of Babel.  Its builders explain their initial purpose. “Let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).  Self-inflation, of course, does not endure.   

Abraham also builds.  He builds an altar.  But when he does so, he and calls “in the name of God” (b’shem Adonai) (Gen.12:8).  He attaches himself to that which is much greater than himself.  The covenant established with him features God’s personal promise “I will make your name great” (Gen. 12:2).  Larger purposes expand us.  Loftier purposes heighten us. 

How do we remain human in skyscrapers, humble in skyboxes?  With grassroots, terrestrial efforts to daily do that which keeps us committed to that which is grander than ourselves.  May we ever stride toward generous goodness no matter how the ground may shift under our feet.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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