Our nation’s two bloodiest wars – the Civil War and World War II – sought to end the monstrous brutalities of racism and Nazism. The past week has made vivid, alas, that neither of these poisons has been sufficiently degraded, much less quieted. As Leon Wieseltier lamented, “The darkness is now in the light.”
What to do? As I’ve tried to express, today’s issue is not about free assembly. It is about association. Do we vocally disassociate ourselves from murder-hungry neo-Nazis beating a helpless young black man or do we silently associate ourselves with it? For the overwhelming majority who disassociate, the urgent question follows: With what then do we associate ourselves?
Among the many answers found in this week’s portion of Torah, we encounter the Passover Seder-familiar verse,“So that you may remember the day you went forth from Egypt all the days of your life” (Deut. 16:3). Noteworthy is the verse’s stress on remembering ‘the day’ (et-yom) you went forth from Egypt, ‘all the days’ (kol y’mei) of your life. Why focus on ‘the day’ of the Exodus itself? Perhaps to remain wakeful every day of our People’s founding day. Why? Because it instills commitments to stand with the stranger, to side with the powerless, and to strive to soften hardened hearts. When we make these lessons vivid with daily works, words, and ways, ‘the day’ becomes ‘today’.
What is the best we can hope for during these perilous times? We know that personal setbacks can be confronted with a new sweep of fresh momentum toward worthy aspirations. It may not be accidental that the coming week’s solar eclipse coincides with the custom to begin sounding the Shofar during for the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah. We respond to the ephemeral darkness with the certainty that it will be followed by bright sunshine. Now is the time to defiantly repel satanic venom by propelling a surge in the opposite direction of solemn virtue. Now is when we redouble efforts to cultivate and share inner-lives that curve and reach toward the light of God. Thus we disassociate and associate by resisting and insisting.
Personally, I today conclude eleven months of Kaddish in memory of my mother Betty Hamilton z”l, a woman who kindled kindness every day of her life. She warmed faith in people, reliably urging us to, ‘Think good thoughts.” Deep in our hearts, we do still believe, we shall overcome – some day. Let us make that day, today.