From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris was a momentous occasion. Ultimately, it was a peaceful transition of power that signaled to our nation and the nations of the world that the United States and its democratic principles, its institutions, and its focus for the world are intact. We also observed Martin Luther King, Jr., day on Monday, with the timeless theme of taking steps to improve our lot in life through respect, civility, dignity, honor, humility, and trust, no matter the color of our skin or the faith in our hearts. Never before have the juxtaposition of these two events meant so much to us.
Now it’s time to focus again on our shared American principles to contribute to the larger good and our greater well-being. Though we are unelected in our individual roles as Americans, we are no less obligated to and responsible for the America we share. A good place to begin is to re-orient ourselves to our highest religious ideals.
In our respective faiths, it’s common to greet another person with hopes for shared peace. In Judaism, we say, “Shalom Aleichem,” Peace be unto you. The reply is, “Aleichem Shalom,” and unto you, peace. In Christianity, it’s customary to say, “Peace be unto you,” to which one would reply, “And, unto you, peace.” In Islam, one might say, “Salaam Aleikum,” Peace unto you. One might reply, “Aleikum Salaam,” and unto you, peace.
The familiar salutation reveals a shared potential. Within and across our respective communities, we exchange hope that we can all know peace, together. From peace, the greatest potential begins. Sometimes we end in peace, which is acceptable, too, but imagine how much more we can exchange, celebrate, and promote if we began in peace. Then our hearts would be turned towards each other not because we’re the same; but precisely because, despite our differences, we can still see that peace lies between us. That’s America at its best.
A day before his inauguration, President Biden stood on the national mall with his wife, and the Vice-President and her husband, to pause and reflect on the hundreds of candles burning in honor and memory of the 400,000 people who lost their lives to COVID-19. Their expression of empathy for the people of our country was a perfect picture of hopefulness that would inspire all but the coldest hearts. This is the country we love. This is the faithfulness that our Judaism, like other religious traditions, consider a sign of deep humanity for all God’s creatures. How we care for the sick and dying, and how we regard the elderly and the vulnerable among us, are expressions of who we are as a nation.
May the President and his administration give voice and meaning to our dreams and aspirations. May the Vice-President rise in her role to provide support to the President and inspiration to all the children who see themselves one day in her place to lead us.
God bless us this Shabbat, with rest and peace in our hearts and minds. God bless the United States of America. Shalom Aleichem. Peace be unto you. Salaam Aleikum.