Mikolot mayyim rabim, the waters above and below are raging. For those of us in Philly, this week has been a tornado, spiritually, politically, and even physically. This is the week we received an emergency alert to retreat to our basements, while already sheltering-in-place, under citywide curfew, during quarantine. The week that people took to the streets by the thousands, and the city finally removed the Rizzo statue from City Hall Plaza, and multiple school districts around the country ended their contracts with police departments.
When I think back to Rosh Hashanah this past year, and the sermon I gave about the West Philly Sinkhole, I wonder, was that sinkhole a kind of prophet, preparing us for the kind of ground-shifting transformation that we are living through now?!
Deep continues to call unto deep.
Yesterday, I gathered with hundreds of people of faith at City Hall to kneel for nine minutes, the length of time it took Derek Chauvin to murder George Floyd, z"l. Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church invited all of us present to unlock our holy imaginations. He said: "Everyone has been asking, 'Who moved the Rizzo statue?' The people did! And if you can move a statue, you can move a mayor. If you can move a statue, you can move city policy." We are witnessing the rise of the Movement for Black Lives, made possible by decades of Black-led organizing and more than 400 years of fighting to end slavery and racism. What else is possible that we have been dreaming of for centuries?
What I have felt most in my bones this week, in addition to fear and grief, is the knowing that there is no normal worth returning to. We are living through destabilizing times, thank G!D. In the words of Pema Chodron, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us...It [is] all about letting go of everything." This time is all about letting go of everything. Another world is on her way. I can hear her breathing in the holy protests of Black people everywhere. We are witnessing a literal transformation of George Floyd's final words, "I can’t breathe." I invite you to wonder with me, what do we each need to let go of to join with the potential of this moment?
This week, as we enter Shabbat, I plan to pause from social media and reground myself. This is the work of lifetimes. I will be carrying the oldest blessing in our tradition, which comes from this week's Torah portion, Naso. And I offer you all this interpretation, based on my study of Midrash Tanhuma Naso, Siman 10. I offer it to you as a touchstone.
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
May the Holy One bless and protect you, in the streets and in your home.
May there be a forcefield calling us to protect and care for each other.
יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃
May the light of the Holy One shine upon you, giving you long years, and may you hear the prophetic calls of our times.
May there be an amulet around every Black person's body, in this time and always.
יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃
May you find a way to stay connected to that which is whole in you.
May we have the courage to let go, and open to that which is indestructible in us.
Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.