The following remarks were delivered at the interfaith Thanksgiving service at Shomrei Torah on November 13.
What a challenging week it has been since the election on Tuesday. We have had two large gatherings here since the elections and the overwhelming feeling of the congregation has been one of mourning. The last time I remember such a collective sense of despair was 9-11. Just yesterday I was sitting with folks eating lunch after a beautiful bat mitzvah and the man sitting next to me said, “It feels like someone died”.
What died was our naïve notion of the health of our country and its political system. As with any death, mourning follows. We, at least many of us, are in a state of mourning.
But tonight is our communal celebration of Thanksgiving, not a memorial service for the country we thought we had. What do we do? How do we hold both truths – the bounty of our lives and the broken state of our nation?
I am reminded of a story from the wellspring of Jewish Tradition:
A disciple of a great rebbe goes to him with a problem: “I don’t know how to pray,” the disciple explains. The rebbe instructs him as follows: “Take a piece of paper and tear it in half. On one piece write, ‘I am but dust and ashes’ and on the other piece write, ‘But for me the world was created’. Place one in each pocket. When you pray, hold them together…”
The rebbe offers us a method, a path out of our dilemma. His basic instruction is to hold both realities together: The broken and the whole.
“For me the world was created” and “I am but dust and ashes”.
We certainly have much to be grateful for – the poorest amongst us is richer, at least materially, than 90% of the world. We live in one of the most beautiful places on the globe. Most of us, certainly the majority of folks in our congregations, have enough to eat. It is worth noting, however, that this is not the case for too much of Sonoma County. Recently, the Press Democrat reported that some 70,000 local households — 36 percent of the county — missed 34 million meals last year. So, while we enjoy the bounty of Sonoma County, many poor families in our midst go hungry every day.
We are out of harm’s way; terror does not wait for us in buses or cafés, nor do we fear a rain of bombs or artillery.
We are blessed in so many ways – hallelujah!
One truth does not negate the other; one truth does not truly exist without the other. James Baldwin once wrote, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after innocence is dead turns into a monster.”
Let us not shut our eyes to reality, nor feign innocence we do not have.
Rather, let us praise the Ground of All Being who gives us life and the fullness thereof. Let us do so with the awareness that our blessings are not shared by all and that we have a responsibility to hold both truths—the broken and the whole—together.
Jewish weddings end with a breaking of a glass. Weddings are supposed to be a taste of a redeemed world. We break the glass to say that even at this height of joy and Thanksgiving, do not forget that the world is not redeemed. No, like the glass the world is broken, but perhaps this newly married couple can repair some of the broken shards of our world.
May our blessings, prayers and deeds do the same.