William Hamilton

May we rise kindly

“May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah (‘Adonai’).” Thus wrote President Washington on June 14, 1790 to the Jews of Savannah, GA in his first letter to a Jewish community (Newport RI was his second letter) in response to their letter congratulating his inauguration.

Washington’s attention to ‘the dews of Heaven’ resonates in our season. We began acknowledging the spiritual blessings of dew on the first day of Passover. It’s a practice that will accompany us daily through the summer, into the early fall. Although meteorology clarifies a process that produces dew, it used to be sourced from the heavens (Deut. 32:2). Since dew is most evident as the sun rises, it invites an emotional state in which we, too, rise.

This mood seems incompatible with a scorched earth slaughter of the people of Ukraine. Yet the people of Mariupol, where several of my ancestors once lived, continue to pulsate with indomitable strength of spirit. This is so for those remaining alive. As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day next week, we learned this week of a Holocaust survivor who was unable to survive the willfully-wicked violence being wrought daily on her city.

Ukraine is the birthplace of Hasidism.  A uniquely Hasidic way of relating to liturgy is as a place where God dwells. “God is inside the prayer” (yo-shev tehillot), as our friend and teacher Susannah Heschel recently taught. That cradle of holiness now hosts barbaric brutality. We’ll read tomorrow a portion of Torah that celebrates God, after parting the Red Sea, as ‘revered in praise’ (nora tehillot) (Ex. 15:11). Once upon a time, deliverance came through signs and wonders. Today it requires our defiance and rapt attentiveness.

Attention deflection is what evil-doers count on.

Like the dew, may we awaken daily in the dew-nourished months to come, activating our willing hearts and hands to extend support to those who most deserve it. And in re-awakening our efforts daily on behalf of the people of Ukraine, may we rise kindly.

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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