Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld “May the divine compassion that is within each and every one of us be awakened now”
In the aftermath of Saturday’s horrifying and murderous attack in Pittsburgh, our hearts go out to the members of the Tree of Life synagogue, to the injured and their families, to those whose loved ones were killed, to the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh, and to all those tied to them through countless invisible threads of connection.
On Saturday, in Jewish communities around the world, we listened to the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, where hospitality had become a crime, and people could be convicted for acts of lovingkindness. We’re told that God’s compassion was awakened by the cry of one young woman who was sentenced to death for nothing other than the offense of providing food and drink for a neighbor in need. The midrash emphasizes that this was not an isolated incident, but the reflection of a society that had collectively — and catastrophically — lost its way.
May the divine compassion that is within each and every one of us be awakened now.
This morning, as I was standing in shul, a friend leaned over to me and pointed out the line where the angel of God calls to Hagar in the wilderness, tells her not to fear, and says, “Come lift the boy and hold him by the hand.” We had not yet heard the news from Pittsburgh. But I keep thinking of that verse now. Hachaziki et yadech bo. The same Hebrew root appears in the verse that we sing as we return the Torah to the ark: Etz hayim hi la’machazikim bah. It is a Tree of Life to those who hold it fast.
To all those who were praying at the Tree of Life synagogue this morning — and welcoming a new child into the covenant — we are with you.
We will not let those whose hearts are filled with hatred tear the fabric of our communities and our country apart.
We will lift each other up and hold each other by the hand.
We will hold fast to the Torah of Life.
With blessings of love, light, and life.
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is President of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.