Originally posted Friday, July 3rd, 2015
[I delivered these brief remarks on Monday 6/22/15.]
We gather today at St. Mark’s AME Church, a sibling congregation to Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. All of us, no matter what congregation or denomination or religion we identify with, as well as those of us who profess to no religion — are united in our outrage and our despair. Nine righteous African-American individuals were murdered in an act of White Supremacist Terrorism last week.
I was invited as a local clergy person to offer words of comfort. And, indeed, In Judaism honoring the dead and comforting the bereaved are the two prime values informing our religious practices in times of loss.
However, in the classic Jewish text “Pirke Avot” (4:23) we are taught
ואל תנחמנו בשעה שמתו מוטל לפניו / ve’al tenachameyhu be’sha’ah she-meyto mutual lefanav (“Do not attempt to comfort someone while their dead lies before them”)
In Judaism, this teaching is connected with the idea that formal mourning does not begin until the responsibility of eulogizing and burying the dead has been fulfilled.
As we gather here today, the funerals have not yet taken place and the dead have not yet been buried.
Our hearts are still broken. It’s too early for comfort.
When will we learn that all humanity is one and that – whatever our background or whatever the color or our skin – each person is created בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים / btzelem Elohim (“in the image of God”) (Gen. 1:27)?
The prophets spoke of future days of universal peace, justice and compassion.
For us in the meantime, in this as yet unredeemed world, the words of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai resonate:
Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.
 An Appendix to the Vision of Peace/ Tosefet Lahazon Hashalom, Yehuda Amichai (translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt), p. 777, Kol Haneshemah: Shabbat Vehagim (Wyncote, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1996)