It was Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance, and people from many faiths gathered on the Lynn Common. Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, Quakers, and Buddhists were there, not only to condemn the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, but also to reaffirm our common bonds of love and friendship. The event was co-organized by the city of Lynn and The Islamic Society of the North Shore, but the faith leaders in attendance were well-known to one another through their work with the Manna Project, the Salem Multi-Faith Festival, and the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO). Though our goal was unity, each spiritual leader who spoke brought a unique perspective to the event.
Not all of the North Shore rabbis were able to be present, but most of those who were shared reflections and prayers. Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez of Marblehead’s Temple Sinai said that we didn’t come to the vigil because “they stood with us after Pittsburgh” – there is no “us” and “them,” there is only “we.”
Rabbi David Meyer from Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead shared a Talmudic disagreement about when the night has ended and it is time to say the morning Shema. One answer: When there is light enough to recognize the face of your neighbor.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore reflected on why Jewish people say to mourners, “HaMakom yinachem etchem” – “May The Place comfort you.” HaMakom, one of many names of God, is used in this instance because “place” is expansive, and can stretch to encompass the grief of all who mourn.
Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Memory, falls before Purim, so we read a passage from Deuteronomy that tells us to remember what Amalek did to the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. The Amalekites attacked the Israelite stragglers – the weak, the sick, the elderly, the women carrying children. This is a particular kind of evil that we must remember, but also blot out. Amalek is Haman in the Book of Esther and Hitler in the 20th century, and, indeed, the evil that Jews have faced generation after generation. It is an evil we must never forget, and work to destroy. Sometimes it targets Jews, sometimes others. White nationalism is one force of this evil in our world. In New Zealand, it manifested itself as Islamophobia, which is the same white supremacy underlying the anti-Semitic attack at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the racist murders at an African American church in Charleston, and countless other instances of violence around the world.
On Shabbat morning our Temple B’nai Abraham community studied a commentary by Rabbi Kalonymous Shapira, “The Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto,” who taught Torah in the midst of unspeakable horror of the Holocaust, knowing that they would all likely die. He asked, “How are we today to fulfill the commandment of destroying Amalek?” He made a play on words to say that Amalek is the power that “cools off” the Children of Israel in their love for God, as it says, “asher korchah baderech” – they “cooled you off,” “on the way,” meaning on the way of God. Amalek cooled the faith of the Children of Israel. According to this reading, the Rebbe taught, the way in which we can destroy Amalek is by overcoming any weakening of faith that we have when confronted with evil. If we refuse to be “cooled off” in our ardor for God, we succeed in destroying Amalek inwardly, in circumstances in which we cannot rise up against Amalek outwardly.
Let us reflect on what this teaching means in our time, when we confront an evil that can leave us feeling paralyzed, bereft of faith and hope, wanting to retreat into our own communities or into our own homes. Thankfully, we know that we are not facing certain death like the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto; we can rise up outwardly in ways that can make our communities safer and stronger.
Can we blot out Amalek by drawing on our faith, our hope, our idealism to inspire us to create the world we want for ourselves, our neighbors and our children? This vigil in Lynn is a reminder that the answer is yes. The destruction of Amalek can be achieved when people of different faiths, and different opinions, stand together. The destruction of Amalek can be achieved when we see each other’s faces, when we stretch ourselves to feel the pain of the “other.” The destruction of Amalek can be achieved through courage, love, and friendship.
May we be blessed with continued hope and faith, with courage and strength, with safety and peace.
Rabbi Alison Adler is the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.