Three Lessons from a Shameful Protest

Wednesday, January 6, was a difficult day for the citizens of the United States of America. In truth, the past year has been filled with troubling events – riots, lootings and shootings. Each act of violence is despicable and cannot be tolerated. Nonetheless, in my opinion, there was something more upsetting about Wednesday’s attack, which took place in our nation’s capital and was deliberately planned to disrupt a peaceful transition of power.

As always, we can find comfort and guidance by looking at the weekly Torah portion.

Sefer Shemot begins with a shortened family tree of Jacob and his twelve sons. Commentators question why the Torah repeats the names of Jacob’s sons when an extensive family tree is listed a few chapters earlier.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that the Torah repeats this family tree in order to contrast different points of time. When Jacob’s family initially travelled down to Egypt they arrived as royalty. The Egyptians rolled out the “red carpet” for all members of Yosef’s family and they were all warmly welcomed and accorded great honor.

By the time Parshat Shemot begins, life in Egypt is very different for Jacob’s descendants. It is a time of persecution and enslavement. In just a short period of time, the same respected family is now suffering. The two versions of the family tree are a reminder of how quickly our life circumstances can change!

Wednesday’s stark images of protestors storming the Capitol building remind us how vulnerable we truly are. The very building that has long represented a stable, democratic and just government was now under attack.

Thankfully, the violent protests did not last long, and our duly elected officials were able to peacefully resume their business. However, the images of violent protestors storming the location that represents the bedrock of our democracy will forever be seared into our collective memory.

What lessons can we learn from this shameful incident?

I believe there are three important takeaways.

Politics. Conversations centered around politics have become so toxic and divisive. Wednesday’s attack is a painful reminder that we must soften our rhetoric and rethink our approach to debating political issues. We must recommit ourselves to speaking cordially and with a sincere openness to other perspectives. Often, we become so firmly entrenched in our own beliefs we simply leave no room to listen, understand and consider alternative approaches. Life is seldom black and white.

Gratitude. When was the last time we considered the blessings of living in the United States of America? Despite the shortcomings (including a troublesome rise in antisemitism), we are still blessed to live in a “Medinah Shel Chessed” (a country of kindness). The United States remains the shining light of a free democracy in this world and we are blessed to be its citizens. We should never take that blessing for granted.

Prayer. We must pray for our elected officials. The shameful and violent protest was a jarring reminder of the dangers of anarchy. As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches: Rabbi Hanina, the vice-high priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.

The dangers of anarchy were on full display on Wednesday. A just and orderly society depends on truthful citizens and G-d’s assistance. We are responsible for both; acting with integrity and praying with sincerity. We must offer heartfelt prayers to G-d that our elected officials remain safe and that our democracy continues to thrive.

May G-d bless the United States of America.

About the Author
Rabbi Zev Goldberg is the rabbi at Young Israel of Fort Lee in Fort Lee, NJ.
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