Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yom HaShoah, 5769

An essay for Yom HaShoah, first composed for the commemoration of Kristallnacht, 1999, and edited today, Yom HaShoah, April 21, 2009 (27 Nisan, 5769).

A delicate, an exquisite vase, once upon a time, fell from a high window, and broke on the sidewalk. Some of the pieces were swept into the gutter. Many more were trampled underfoot. A few were picked up and analyzed, and then set aside. One or two became the central objects of a lifetime of study and devotion. The original vase could never be restored, but perhaps a new one, sometime, could be created up from the earth. What genius and what expertise would be required: to re-envision the original and understand its purpose; and then to recompose the shape, the design; and then to carefully pick the right clay and the perfect grains of sand and the pure minerals to recreate the brilliance and clarity of that one which was lost. But... who is qualified to begin such a work?

The great rabbi of Kotsk, Menachem Mendel once said: “Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the promises and good sayings in your mouth, nor all the good thoughts in your heart. Rather, you must arise and do!” Well, this is all well and good, but tell me, dear Rebbe, what am I to do, and how am I to do it?

A delicate, an exquisite way of life, once upon a time, was cast from its high vantage point, and destroyed. Its individuals were swept into the gutter and trampled underfoot. Afterwards, a few people began to collect small fragments of what remained of those lives, unique shards, hoping a master artist could somehow bring them back to the fullness of their lives.

A strong, a greatly exulted culture, once upon a time, cast itself from its high vantage point, and committed suicide. Rejecting its central values, it turned monstrous and contemptible. To avoid seeing itself, it shattered every mirror. But the conscience is a mirror that cannot be shattered, and cannot be avoided. The gun aimed at that mirror will surely destroy the one that pulls the trigger.

What can we learn from this broken vase and this broken conscience? First, I believe we must understand that those that hate us Jews (and that includes those that hate our Jewish nation) are people who also hate God. They would like God removed from this world in the same measure as they would like us Jews removed. This is obvious because anyone that exults hatred and seeks genocide must also want to drive out from this world the God that will judge us for our hatred and genocide.

Second, we must realize that, so long as God is in this place, we Jews will be here too. We have been invited into the Monarch's castle, and a place has been set for us at the table among all the other peoples and nations. And having been assigned a permanent and an honored seat, we deserve to be welcomed here. But I also want to say that we Jews, like Jonah, had best defer a vacation in Tarshish, and devote ourselves to our assigned tasks: to be a priestly and a holy people, and to be a voice for justice and compassion and moral responsibility.

And finally, let me repeat: we have all been invited to the Monarch's table. Each of us is supposed to be here, and each of us has a particular, and holy, mission. Some few of us are already very clear about that. Many more of us are aware that we might have a holy mission, but we need a fair amount of help remembering it on an hourly or daily basis. There are very many of us here who have never imagined their life is of value and that they have a purpose. This world anxiously awaits their awakening. As the Kotsker taught, for them it is not enough to think good thoughts. We must arise and do. There are some of us who have lost or abandoned hope. What healing must they experience, and how can we help them? And finally, there are some who live primarily in defiance of goodness, kindness, and justice. What is the path out of such defilement?

A vase has fallen and is shattered. It can never be restored. But, everyone that is here has come with unique and special elements and tools. So let us begin, together, to create a new vase worthy of the Monarch's table.

No comments: