“This is My covenant,” God told Abraham in the weekly Torah portion we read last Shabbat. “Which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised… And it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.”
And this morning, just as Jews around the world read how Abraham brought his son Isaac into the covenant, one particular baby was taken to one particular synagogue in Pittsburgh to be named and circumcised, and thus brought into the fold of Abraham’s covenant with God.
I didn’t know anything about this baby this morning. I didn’t know anything about that particular synagogue. All I knew was that my own baby played with me by the window, and we could watch the rain outside, and our world was at peace.
“Take now thy son,” read Jews in synagogues this morning. “Thine only son, whom thou lovest… And offer him there for a burnt-offering.”
In that particular synagogue in Pittsburgh, however, the rituals and ancient words gave way to horror. A murderer stormed in, and started killing.
I didn’t know about that murderer this morning. And in my little cocoon of peek-a-boos and tickling, the horror of God’s words to Abraham seemed very distant, not-quite-real. They told me of someone else’s story, someone else’s choice and sacrifice to make. They had nothing, in short, to do with me.
But eight hours later the peace and distance shattered. I turned on my phone and found out the news. Eleven Jews lost their lives today in Pittsburgh. Many others are wounded. “All Jews must die,” yelled their attacker and shot them. He didn’t know them as individuals, as as people. To him they were things. To him they were just “Jews”.
Abraham’s story no longer seems distant. As long as there are people like today’s murderer out there, raising our kids as Jews comes at a risk. We, too, walk our kids up a mountain to a possible altar. We, too, lay their lives on the line. We bring them into Abraham’s covenant at their peril. And, like Abraham, we have no guarantee that God will replace our loved ones with a ram.
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Eleven Jews lost their lives at Pittsburgh today. It’s easy to group them together, to mourn them merely as “the dead.”
But Abraham’s covenant should teach us to mourn differently. For when we enter the covenant, we receive our private names.
Each of the victims is a world that is lost to us. Each of them is a unique creation of God. The murderer reduced them to “Jews” and thus targets. But we… we know better.
We must remember them — who are unnamed yet — by name.