When they came to shule last Shabbat morning to the עץ חיים, Tree of Life Synagogue they wouldn’t have dreamt that this שבת was their last, that the Tree of Life was about to be hewn and shot through with death.
When they went to shule on that ordinary Shabbat morning, they couldn’t have imagined that they would face the full horror of anti-Semitic violence and outrage.
When they went to Shule on שבת וירא the Sabbath of the reading of the Akeida, the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, they would never have thought that they were to be the victims, the עולה, the sacrifice on this terrible altar of evil and nihilism, distorted rage and toxicity.
These 11 Korbanot (sacrifices) wouldn’t have known how their deaths would tear at the Jewish heart and the souls of all good people across the world.
The prophetic words of that Shabbat from the Book of Kings lament the poignancy and pain of loss. The young boy about to die calls out “ראשי, ראשי” – my head, my head – it hurts. And today our heads hurt and our hearts ache and our souls cry for the senseless loss of these lives. And we stand up in solidarity with the Jews of Pittsburgh.
And we echo the words of President Rivlin and Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett:
“From Sderot in Israel to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the hand that fires missiles is the hand that fires bullets at worshippers. Bullets and missiles aimed at the innocent.”
Aimed at them as innocents, as civilians. Aimed at them as Jews…
At times like this we may feel so alone in the world, “עם לבדד ישכן” a nation on its own in a friendless world, but we are not alone.
And so we welcome the countless messages, the acts of goodness and kindness both in Pittsburgh and across the world, from the friends of the Jewish people. From the Muslims of Pittsburgh collecting money to help their Jewish neighbours, from the huge multi-faith gathering at the Etz Chaim Shule, from the eloquent mayor of Pittsburgh, to the empathetic FBI agent and the brave police who stormed the shule to save lives. From the calls and letters of support across Australia.
Immediately after the עקידה (the binding) the Torah seemingly retreats to the mundane: “ויהי אחרי דברים האלה” and it talks about births “Milka gave birth to sons from Nachor etc…” Why the ordinary after the extraordinary and dramatic and nearly tragic event of the עקידה (the binding). Because that’s what we do in the face of tragedy.
We turn to life.
We return to life.
We look to birth.
We affirm our humanity.
We assert that Judaism is about turning the tides of darkness into the energy of light.
Finding hope in the labyrinth of hatred.
Faith in the face of hopelessness.
Courage not despair.
Conviction not persecution.
We choose life – ובחרת חיים.
May the Shabbat bring healing to the wounded. May this Shabbat bring consolation to the mourners, to the families of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Sylvan Simon, Bernice Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.