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Toward Shabbat: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim

“Rise up, Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their requital.
How long shall the wicked, Adonai, how long shall the wicked exult?”—Psalm 94:2-3
 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021 will forever mark a new dawn of accountability and justice in our country. One guilty verdict that was a very long time coming, after four centuries of unrequited violence against and murder of Black people.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ שׁוֹבֵר אֹיְ֒בִים וּמַכְנִֽיעַ זֵדִים

Barukh atah Adonai, who defeats enemies and humbles the arrogant.
 

 

“And they say, ‘Yah will not see, and the God of Jacob will not heed.’” —Psalm 94:7

Emmet Till was lynched in 1955 and a white jury immediately acquitted his murderers. When Emmet’s mother Mamie went to identify her son, she told the funeral director, “Let the people see what I’ve seen, let the people see what they did to my boy.”

A staff photographer from Jet magazine was permitted to photograph Emmet’s body and those images were disseminated to other Black magazines and newspapers, but the mainstream press did not reprint them.

Not this time. This time all the people saw, thanks to cellphones and to Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who had the fortitude to record George Floyd’s murder—all 9 minutes and 29 seconds of it—and to expose it to the entire world. We could no longer ignore what we couldn’t see.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ פּוֹקֵֽחַ עִוְרִים
Barukh atah Adonai, who gives sight to the blind. 

 

“Who will rise for me against evildoers? Who will stand up for me against wrongdoers?”—Psalm 94:16

We will never forget last year’s grief and outrage bursting into the streets, all over the land, in big cities and small towns, the largest protest movement in the country’s history. The rainbow alliance led by Black activists, the millions and millions of mostly young people marching around the world in the midst of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter banners, the mighty call for change.

The civil rights movement of the ‘60s led to change—mainly the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but there hasn’t been significant change since. This time, the call for racial justice sounded loud and clear, and it has catalyzed a great awakening.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ הַמְעורֵר יְשֵׁנִים וְהַמֵּקִיץ נִרְדָּמִים

Barukh atah Adonai, who wakes those who sleep and rouses those who slumber.
 

 

“Judgment shall again accord with justice and all the upright shall rally to it.”
Psalm 94:15

We are collectively arriving at a greater understanding of how racism operates in us and in our country, how deep its roots run, and how entrenched it is. We understand now better than ever before that the road to racial justice is still very long. We know that a guilty verdict is not enough to bring about the monumental change that is required to dismantle a racist system, centuries old. Yet, I trust that, this time, the movement toward justice cannot be stopped or delayed.

The arc of the moral universe bent this week toward justice. It didn’t bend by itself though—people bent it. George Floyd bent it, his family bent it, the jury bent it, Black Lives Matter bent it, masses of people bent it together.

A guilty verdict is not enough. Rabbi Heschel’s words come to mind, “some are guilty; all are responsible.” We are all responsible.

As this fateful week comes to an end and as a new stage in the struggle for justice begins, may we redouble our commitment to bending the arc of the universe toward justice.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ מֶֽלֶךְ אֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט

Barukh atah Adonai, who loves justice.
Shabbat shalom.
J. Rolando Matalon

Written By J. Rolando Matalon

José Rolando Matalon, B’nai Jeshurun’s senior rabbi, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was educated in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Jerusalem, and New York City. After his ordination at the Jewis...

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