Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
It’s difficult to believe. Another mass shooting. More innocent lives shattered. So many words have been written and spoken in the aftermath, and so much blood has been spilled unnecessarily. What more can we do? After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, I wrote an Outlook opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle. I advocated for improvements in mental health assessment and treatment coupled with reasonable gun prevention laws to slow the proliferation of weapons on our nation’s streets. Almost a week after Sandy Hook, NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre explained that the tragedy in Newtown happened because there weren’t enough guns. Unwilling to address the proliferation of weapons as having any role in the event, he called for more and blamed liberal media and video games for the escalation in gun violence. I sat dumbfounded. I was shocked that LaPierre’s response to the death of innocent children in their classrooms was so painfully unfeeling and so stunningly indifferent. For me, it was a turning point for our country. Either the president who faced no election in his future would use the galvanizing power of his office to defend our children or he would stand idly by while blood flowed in the streets of our cities and small towns.
Daily tragedies at home and abroad are now juxtaposed to the December holiday season. On Sunday night, December 6th, Jewish families will gather to light the first candle in the Hanukkah menorah. It’s a light that tells a story of right over might. In ancient times, Judah Maccabee (the hammer) led the small Jewish band of Judean soldiers and defeated the Greco-Syrian soldiers that occupied the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees cleaned the Temple and prepared to light the menorah with a small cruse of oil enough to light the Temple lamp for just one day; but the oil burned for eight. The prophet Zechariah said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit” shall we prevail. (Zechariah 4:6). Hope in what the Maccabees could do together enabled them to overcome otherwise insurmountable odds. It’s a spirit that served the Jewish people well in their future. After the founding of Israel in 1948, Israel’s first president, David Ben Gurion, once remarked, “To be a realist, you have to believe in miracles.” It’s an iconic Israeli statement that teaches us that living in a world that’s black and white isn’t sustainable. There has to be room for nuance, for ambiguity. Our strength doesn’t only come from within; it also comes from without. We take into our hands what God has given us and we build with it. We build as Rabbi Hillel taught us to do when we add lights to our menorah from the first day to the eighth. Hillel taught, “Ma’alin bakodesh v’ein moridin” we increase holiness; we don’t decrease it.
As Jews we know that God’s spirit abides among us as a source of strength that lies deep within us. We still use it to overcome insurmountable odds. In the midst of the darkest season of the year, our strength is symbolized by the lights we add to the menorah. We raise the “shamash”, the server candle, to add light to the menorah and stand up against gun violence, terrorism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, human trafficking, suffering of humankind and animals, and indifference to God’s name.
We sing on Hanukkah, “Don’t let the lights go out!” They’re not just candles in the menorah, they are the souls of every human being (Proverbs 20:27 “The light of God is the soul of humankind”) who depend on us to be realists and believers especially in the world’s darkest times and places.