After Death, Holiness Speak

.אחרי מות, קדשים אמר

This week’s double Torah portion: Acharey Mot-K’doshim. Next week, Emor.

Put them together as a sentence and you have: “After death, holiness speak.”

This week there’s been a lot of death in our country. Boston’s not so far away and a lot of us have connections there. The explosion in Texas was horrific. Then the hunt for two young men who may have orchestrated and carried out the carnage of the Boston attack. Photos accompanying all of this.

Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. Yom haShoah last week. The anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Photos. Thoughts.

Perhaps particularly with the Senate voting down background checks on gun buyers, this week’s killings in Boston have re-activated my shock and horror from the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. (Didn’t help that I was once again in the elementary school today, this time for the K-2 Spring Concert.)

I recognize that kind of re-traumatization. I mean I’ve read about it. I know I’ll be ok. I haven’t actually been in battle zones, I’m a grown-up, I’m pretty steady.

But there was a fellow walking down the alley this afternoon and for a moment I mistook his black umbrella, cradled vertically in front of him against his shoulder, for an assault rifle. Heaven help me, that’s what I saw.

At the edge of the school parking lot, smoke was drifting. Giffy’s BBQ was preparing to feed people. I started.

And I have colleagues whose congregations are in Boston who can’t hold services, and others offering to welcome their congregants (if they can get there) or listing their streamed services.

Acharey Mot, K’doshim Emor.

I always wonder just why it is that everyone who dies tragically is the best and the brightest, the kindest and the sweetest.

And the answer: Because that’s what we choose to talk about. Because that’s what we remember. Because that’s how we make sense of the senseless, push back the anomie (meaninglessness) that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us. Selective memory is how we weave the narrative of life, making of perhaps-random events a coherent whole — for ourselves, for those who came before us, and as a legacy for those who will come after us.

Acharey Mot, K’doshim Emor.

We make sense of trauma and tragedy by seeking the holiness of life. We’ll be speaking a lot of holiness this Shabbat, honoring the holiness of life and the holiness of lives snuffed out. Death has visited us all too much. Speak holiness.