Black Lives Matter - in Memory of George Floyd

Posted by RabbiCohen on Jun. 5, 2020  /   0

I just returned from Rockville’s Black Lives Matter March.   It was an uplifting way to end such a difficult week.  People of all ages (from toddlers to seniors), all races and creeds came together peacefully and marched down Rockville Pike with dignity and respect.  The way the world should be, the promise that it is the United States.  But, we know, it is so often not. 

My biggest worry as we enter Shabbat this week: we will forget the events of the past week too quickly.   George Floyd’s deaths, like the deaths and indecent treatment of so many before him, cannot be forgotten as we move onto the next news cycle.  I have no idea whether George Floyd is watching us, and I would never be so presumptuous to say that I would know his thoughts.  But, I do know that his death will be even more tragic if we do nothing.

Shabbat is coming, our day of rest.  But, our commitment to sustained, fundamental change can not rest.  Rabbi Tarfon in the Talmud says, “You are not required to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to ignore it.”   I know that the systemic racism is too ingrained and too insurmountable for us to combat alone.  And, yet, each of us needs to try.  We can no longer ignore it.  

As we enter Shabbat, I would like to “hold up the Bible” in the way that our people do – by struggling with the words inside.  This week’s Torah portion, Naso includes the “Priestly Benediction.”  It is an ancient Hebrew poem that the Temple priests invoked to bless individuals.  Today, it is often recited at baby-namings, weddings and B’nai Mitzvah, plus by parents for their children on Shabbat. 

As Jewish humanists, we tend not to use it, as it is very theological in focus.   We see ourselves and each as the prime movers in the world.  If we reframe the priestly benediction in this light, it becomes a call to action. 


The traditional translation:

May God bless you and protect you.

May God smile at you and show you grace.

May God look upon you and send you peace.


An interpretation for this week:

May we see each person as a blessing and pledge to protect one another.

May we smile at one another and be gracious to each in our actions, words and deeds, recognizing each other’s dignity.

May we look at each other as equals, regardless of skin tone, ethnicity or gender, and work together towards peace.

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