This has been a dark day in our nation’s history. We have seen mobs assault the very seat of our democratic government, scenes of mayhem and violence in the halls of the Capitol Building and on the streets of Washington DC.
We Americans cherish our right to protest. But this was not a protest. It was a lawless mob that had no goal, no agenda other than destruction. Worst of all, they truly believed they were following instructions from the nation’s president.
As indeed they were.
Scenes like today’s have played out in capitols across the globe. But we never imagined it could happen here. That it did is terrifying, both today and for its implications for the future.
There are two elements of today’s riot that stand out. One is that the rioters were leaderless. Once they got into the building they didn’t know what to do with themselves, other than put their feet up on desks and take selfies. Their leader was back at the White House, and had not given them further instructions.
The other is that they were nearly all White men. There were no Black faces and very few women. As I watched the response from law enforcement, I wondered what their reaction would have been if the mob was made up of Black men. I feel certain it would have been far more aggressive.
It would be understandable if at this moment I chose to pray to God for peace. After all, I am a rabbi.
But I am reminded of the role humans played at the beginning of the book of Exodus, which Jews around the world will read in synagogues this Shabbat.
Before God entered the story, humans took action. The midwives Shifrah and Puah risked their own lives to save the lives of Hebrew babies. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued a Hebrew baby from the river. The baby grew up to be Moses, who rescued a Hebrew from a brutal beating by an Egyptian.
When I pray, while I do pray for peace, I do not pray to God to intervene in human affairs. I pray for the courage and strength to stand up for what I know is right.
I follow the moral compass that is implanted within me, planted there by God, if you like. Or perhaps my moral compass is itself God, and my adherence to the teachings of Judaism helps keep my moral compass attuned to the true north that is righteousness and justice.
What matters now is that we must raise our voices. We cannot remain silent; the Talmud teaches that silence is assent.
My prayer on this night:
I pray for peace,
for cooler heads to prevail
and the rule of law be applied to those who break it.
I pray that our nation’s leaders do what is right and just.
I pray that the president cease encouraging violence.
I pray that those who stand up to evil will prevail,
and that they meet no harm.
And I pray that the God of peace helps us create peace.