Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
After the Fire: Peoples of Faith Rise Again
We experience awe in holy places. It can be on a mountaintop or on a seashore where our hearts are moved and we’re inspired to say, “Oh, my God, the beauty.” They are holy places because they’re set apart from others and created by forces well beyond our own. Then there are magnificent places of worship that are built by human hands that are inspired by God. In Paris, France, the Notre Dame Cathedral has been such a holy place of awe. For Christians, its presence in the heart of Paris, has symbolized for hundreds of years more than a house of worship. It has been a sign of unity during times of disharmony; it has been a site for some of the highest moments in French politics and culture; and, it has been a focal point for Parisians who have felt safely at home as long it has been there. Though the fire did extensive damage that will take millions of euros and many years to restore, its unique place in the hearts and minds of Parisians remains firm even as it undergoes repairs.
Though far from there, many of us have traveled to Paris, and surely made time to see Notre Dame. Last summer, Lisa and I traveled with friends to Paris. Almost as soon as we began, we met Rabbi Tom Cohen, of a Paris synagogue, for a walking tour of the Jewish quarter. But, we began where most tours do, in the center of Paris, in front of Notre Dame. There the rabbi explained the icons, statues, and architectural significance of the church. He pointed to intricate details that we searched to find among the artistry that adorned its towering façade. Though it wasn’t our place of worship, we stood in awe at the magnificent edifice, too.
Now, the church, singed by fire and collapsed in its center, will be raised up again. The theme of resurrection on Easter hasn’t been lost on faithful Christians. Resurrection originates in Judaism, with the hope that in the end of days the dead would rise. Read the Gevurot prayer in our daily and Shabbat worship service. It concludes, “Praised are You, Adonai, who revives the dead,” or in its revised form, “…Who gives life to all.” In Judaism, despite all the fires and destructions our people has known, we never failed to believe that we would rise again, too. When we sit down at our Seder table this weekend, we’ll return to Egypt, and go free to experience revelation, again. Our hope is always to be redeemed from our Egypts, wherever and whenever we experience them, and seek revelatory moments that enable us to look up and see that the future lies somewhere ahead of us and in God’s presence. Though the fire nearly destroyed Notre Dame, now a new productive fire burns in the hearts of men and women who see hope where there was almost none. It’s a lesson that ties our communities, together. In our holy places, we look up to be moved and inspired. In our houses of worship, we stand in awe before the Holy One Blessed be God, and are reminded that though we are small before God, we are not without significance.
Ecclesiastes wrote, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven: A time for tearing down, and a time for building up” (Eccl. 3:1,3). May Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral rise from the ashes to soar again in the hearts and minds of all her admirers. May the Jewish community know redemption from Egyptian bondage and look up and ahead to revelation and freedom.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST. Listeners around the greater Houston area, and now the internet, tune in to hear his words about life and its meaning from a Jewish point-of-view. Each radio program is available as a Podcast, called “Heart to Heart with Rabbi David Lyon”. Click here to listen online, or download the iHeartRadio app.