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Vayera 5783 ~ Nov. 11, 2022

Commemorating and celebrating are two very different, yet important, events that should take place in our lives and in our communities.

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat provides us with the concept of celebration as we learn about the prediction of Sarah’s pregnancy and as we celebrate not only the birth of Isaac, but also his brit milah, his ritual circumcision. When we celebrate, our tradition teaches us that we should be mindful of the words we use to celebrate. For example, when we learn of the birth of a child, we share the words “mazal tov,” “may the constellations be good that follow this child.” When we learn of a pregnancy, we offer a different phrase: “bi-sha-a tov,” meaning “in a good hour or time,” or as I usually comment: “in good speed and in God speed.”

When we commemorate, we must also be reflective of what that means: we are remembering events that took place that may not be joyous. For example, we commemorate a yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death of a loved one. We may celebrate their life, but clearly, we commemorate their passing.  The destruction of Sodom, as found in our Torah reading for this Shabbat, is not one that we may celebrate, but commemorate. Why commemorate, and not celebrate, the destruction of an evil-minded, ill-willed people bent on not only cheating others financially, but also in treating others in a non-human, moral or ethical fashion? In my humble opinion, man’s inhumanity to man has a whole different nuance and use of vocabulary.

During services this past Wednesday evening, as a congregation we commemorated Kristallnacht, “The Night of the Broken Glass,” which has been described as the beginning of the public inhumanity of the Nazis against the Jews of Germany and Europe.  As a world and as Jews at the time, celebrating the end of the Shoah, the Holocaust, might have seemed appropriate. Yet, today, as a Jew, it is important that we commemorate and reflect upon the wanton actions of the Nazis and the destruction of European Jewry understanding the horrific events that followed - man’s inhumanity to other people, and the escalation of hatred between a people who thought they were superior and had the God-given right to act in such a horrific manner.  Racial, religious, gender and other forms of superiority have no place in our world.  Reflecting through the history of the Kristallnacht brings us to commemorate, rather than celebrate, and to be mindful of the lessons of a world bent on being the Sodom of the twentieth century.

Yet while we commemorate and are mindful of the wanton actions of the Nazis and the destruction of European Jewry, we must also celebrate the military veterans (not only here in America, but around the globe) who risked their lives to put an end to the Shoah and fought to preserve the freedoms and values that we hold dear for our world.  In that regard, commemoration and celebration go hand in hand.

Please join us this Shabbat morning as we celebrate our Veterans and offer our gratitude both to those who served to ensure our freedom in this world and to those who currently serve in our Armed Forces.  More than ever, as we see the intentions of others in our world who misunderstand the rights and freedom of others, we must salute the men and women who serve to protect our constitutional rights and freedom, including our right to elect the people who best represent our interests, and our hope for a better America. May those who have been chosen through the democratic process of our country be blessed with the wisdom and determination to make our democracy one that knows when to commemorate, when to celebrate, but most importantly, as we recognize as Jews, to know how to build a nation that is built in an ethical and just way. The alternative, that of a nation built on the ethics of our Torah’s cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, is one that we pray will not overcome what is quintessential not only in America, but throughout our world.

Shabbat shalom.

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783