William Hamilton

New Zealand: Where duty brings transfusions of dignity

A wife and husband had split up to go to the bathroom when it happened. One week ago a 45 year-old Husna had led a number of women and children out to safety.  She returned to the New Zealand Mosque to check on her husband who uses a wheelchair.  This is when she was killed.  Ahmad later saw a video of his wife being shot. 

“I believe that some people, purposely, they are trying to break down the harmony we have in New Zealand with the diversity,” said Ahmad, a native of Bangladesh. “But they are not going to win. They are not going to win. We will be harmonious.”

Wickedness led to fifty fatalities.  As ever, the lives taken should capture our attention much more than the life of the killer.  If there is anything to learn, anything enduring to take from this massacre of the faithful enacting their faith, it is found among responders and responses.

Jewish traditional responses take the forms of devotion, generosity, and learning (three rabbinic pillars, Avot 1:2).  Synagogues around the world pause in prayers of solidarity, and Pittsburgh’s Federation has led the way of generosity

This week’s portion of Torah describes an early morning responsibility of the High Priest to remove the ashes left on the altar from the night before.  “And he shall take the ashes outside the camp, to a pure place” (Lev. 6:4). The word for ashes, deshen, recurs twice each Friday night in the Sabbath liturgy.  Toward the end of the Psalm for Shabbat, vigorous and fresh trees are depicted as deshainim, and we conclude the evening service rejoicing at how God’s weekly sabbatical gift makes our People brim with joy, m’dushnai oneg.  How can stale ashes produce such a palpable yield?  Perhaps through earnest acceptance of responsibility.  The High Priest began his day by eagerly embracing this unglamorous task.  Duty brings transfusions of dignity.

Response-ability is what’s available in the wake of atrocity.  Horrifying cruelty is met with glorifying courage.  And inspiring courage is what continues to be forthcoming from religious and civic leaders of New Zealand.  May their example instill hope and warm our faith.

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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