After Capitol invasion, Rabbi Miller reflects on state of the nation

By Rabbi Jonathan Miller

All of us are shaken by the mob takeover of the United States’ Capitol Building this week at the urging of our president. Like many of you, I am overcome by the news and the pundits and the experts. How did this happen? What is President Trump’s culpability? Why were the Capitol Police unprepared and unable to defend the home of our democracy? Where do we go now as a nation and how do we recover?

I am not going to address these questions head on. I don’t know how best to answer these questions. Honestly and sadly, at this moment I don’t know that anybody knows how we achieve our more perfect union.

I do know that each of us is summoned to heal our broken nation. We must restore “liberty and justice for all.” Without these values upon which our nation was founded, we will lose ourselves and the world will be diminished.

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the same Capitol building that was just overrun by hoodlums and declared, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” We pray for the leaders of our nation that first and foremost; they will address the broken heart of this nation and bind up our wounds so we might begin to heal. That same president, before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, sent a message to Congress, exhorting them to do the right thing. He concluded with these words, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” The world is watching us. Generations yet to be born are watching us. Where do we go from here?

This is the winter of our discontent. I want to invoke two Jewish wintertime observances to help guide us spiritually so we can emerge from these dark depths into the light of hope, once again.

Chanukah. Our children associate Chanukah as a happy holiday with presents and candles and games and sweets. The history of Chanukah is something altogether different. At the time the Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated, the Jewish people were fractured and broken, fighting each other with ongoing civil strife. But when the Holy Temple was overrun by pagans, we banded together in common purpose to recreate our holy space. Chanukah means dedication. It was the dedication of the Jewish people to our holy endeavors, our holy space and our holy relationship with God. The differences between us remained. The rededication festival was a pause, an interregnum in the struggles we shared to determine the character of Judaism in a changing world.

Like our ancestors in ancient days, our struggle as Americans will continue. We argue, debate and cajole each other in order to urge our way forward together toward our more perfect union. The Capitol building, America’s holy temple, has been desecrated and overrun. Because we are the world’s last best hope, we must rededicate ourselves and our nation to the path of liberty and justice and truth and rightness. The struggle will continue. But the goals before us cannot be sullied by hatred, lies and violence.

Tu b’Shvat (Jan. 28, 2021). The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat celebrates the new year for trees. It falls in the dead of winter. Today, the world outside my window looks bleak, cold, damp and uninviting. As human beings, it is hard for us to imagine a world different from the one we inhabit at any moment. But Tu b’Shvat foretells hope. The almond tree sprouts its pink blossoms on Tu b’Shvat, the harbinger of the fruits that will come in abundance in just a few months. It is a reminder that we are not destined for the eternal winter plaguing us today. Spring is better than winter, and spring is coming.

The Kabbalists created a ritual seder for Tu b’Shvat to celebrate the distant but coming spring. Festive fruits from the land of Israel and four glasses of wine graced their tables. The wine was mixed — white for winter, pink for spring, purple for summer and red for autumn. The wines were mixed together at the table to create hope and joy in the midst of the dark and the cold.

Our nation is like the wines at the seder table. We are all mixed together, all of us, white, pink, purple and red. No shade is left out. All are brought in, with joy and hope, to create a future together.

This epoch in the life of our country is coming to an end. Because each of us embodies the last best hope on earth, we will have to come together as one nation with all of the offerings that we can bring together, the gifts of hope, dedication, kindness, determination, justice, fairness, charity and truth. The struggle will be ongoing.

This long winter in our nation’s life will soon end. Spring will come. We will rededicate our nation to the values of truth, liberty and justice.

To paraphrase Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of our nation, may all who love her prosper.”

Rabbi Jonathan Miller is rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham.