Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Nitzavim

We were all there. We were there when the covenant sealed between God and humanity. The text tells us that we were there … all of us … everyone who came before and all who would come after. That moment bound all of us to God and God to us. It was l’olam – forever. Our tradition teaches us that this was a sacred moment. Everyone from the reaches of all eternity, stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai in awe and proclaimed before God, “Na-aseh v’nishmah – All that we perceive, we will do.” It is a magical explanation describing and defining our interrelationship and interconnectedness.

Then, we were all there again. We were there when a different covenant sealed. We were there … all of us … everyone who came before us and all who will come after. That moment bound us all. It, too, was l’olam – forever. We stood at the foot of the Towers and in horror cried, “We cannot believe what we perceive, and we do not know what to do.” Everyone who was there, and everyone who was not there … all of our disparate souls merged in those moments.

14 years ago, we witnessed the unthinkable and unbelievable. We had become jadedly accustomed to reading and hearing about wars and atrocities in other parts of the world. We could see photos and films of war-ravaged parts of the world. It could never happen here! It had happened here. IT happened at Pearl Harbor. It had happened here, all of the wars of the old West, the wars of rebellion. The wars that pit brother against brother on our battlefields … they all happened here. They were door to door battles that tore up schools, churches, playgrounds, and families. Still, the shock we experienced on September 11, 2001, was life altering and, for at least most of America, completely off the charts and unexpected.

The posturing began. The late Jerry Falwell and his cohort Pat Robertson seemed to know it was coming. They stood in front of a shocked nation and blamed Americans for removing God’s protective cloak from our country … and for the attack. Media gave them airtime, even as the real drama continued to unfold. The real heroes continued to risk their own lives to save lives, retrieve bodies and body parts. They worked to diminish continued risk to the rest of the area and the rest of America.

Were we really at Sinai? Do we remember our covenant? The covenant did not allow for the ugliness and vitriol that we experience with folks with whom we disagree. The covenant called on us to love God and all that God created; to respect each other’s dignity; to remember that we all come from the very same stuff. The sages tell us that this covenant should lead us to bridge the gaps that keep us exiled from each other.

Were we really together on 9/11? As defining a moment as it is for so many of us, we have an entire generation who never experienced life before that day. The attack is as distant as Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, or the Boston Tea Party. We don’t, or better, can’t remember that which we never experienced. We cannot feel what eyewitnesses felt when our closest relationship to an event is a news clipping or textbook.

Still though, the covenant still changed the world. The attack on 9/11 changed the world. Whether or not we experienced the event, our world is dramatically different than it ever was. Because we share this world and are dependent on each other for the preservation of all life on it, we de facto acknowledge this mutual covenant. We are blessed with the tools to do amazing things, and we have to use them for blessing. It is this very covenant that saw us through the disaster of 9/11. With all of the craziness and ugliness spewed by the terrorists and the radicals here, most of us found ways to care for each other and help hold and restore each other. We are strong today and not diminished because we know that we matter to each other. Whatever we believe about the three letter word “GOD,” those of us who pay attention accept without reservation, that we are bound in this together. Quite literally, and with intention I say that we are the phoenix that arose from the ashes.

I approach this Shabbat affirming our covenant and affirming our connection. While the trauma is very real, so are the connections that we have shared, grown, and nurtured ever since. We are blessed to have a tradition that commands us to pay attention and to always choose blessings. Shabbat Shalom.