Repairing the Breach
I speak this morning not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an American. I speak this morning not about partisan politics, but about American and Jewish values.
In Judaism space, like time, can be either sacred or profane. The same holds true in American civic religion.
The Talmud teaches a rule “Uvau Vah Peritzim VeChileluha,” that from the very moment enemy soldiers wishing to destroy the Beit HaMikdash entered the Temple precincts, all items belonging to the Temple immediately lost their sanctity. (See Bech 50a, Milkhamot on AZ 24b).
If you think about this teaching it’s remarkably profound. Think about it, desecration simply occurs when a boundary of the Temple is crossed. Nothing else has to happen.
The Temple is considered a place that is apart. It’s sacred territory that belongs to the people – according to Solomon’s vision to all people – not only to Israelites, for the Jewish People. It doesn’t belong to any one tribe, it belongs to all. And so it transcends the tribal divide.
There were also debates in the Temple about how to perform sacrifices, but in the end, those sacrifices were done for everyone. Even though not everyone agreed, in the end everyone accepted the final outcome.
And yet, when the First Temple was breached by the Greek-Syrians and desecrated with idols, with animals, and other pagan abominations, the first thing the Hasmoneans – the Maccabees – did was to cleanse and rededicate it.
They lit the menorah with the only oil fit for use even, if it would last – so they thought – for only one day.
They decreed days of rejoicing, the recitation of psalms of thanksgiving, when no fasting would take place and no eulogies delivered.
They refused to allow the desecration to taint their Judaism. They refused to give their enemies a spiritual victory. They carried on and worshipped in the Temple.
We are here today, worshipping as Jews, because of them.
We, the American People, also recognize sacred time. It is part of our American civic religion, a civic religion that transcends our race, religion, or creed. It’s what makes us Americans, uniquely different from any other country in the world.
We are American because we believe in a shared political ethos, shared civic/political values, not because of our ethnicity or our religious tradition. And we celebrate those American values by way of our civic national holidays: Thanksgiving, Presidents’ Day, the Fourth of July, to name just a few.
We Americans also recognize and cherish sacred space: Bunker Hill, Independence Hall, the Battlefield at Gettysburg, the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, Ground Zero, the Supreme Court Chamber, the White House, and – most especially – the United States Capitol Building. It is Congress that stands as the altar of our democracy.
Yes, it’s true, the Jewish People are not the American People, and the US Capitol the Beit Hamikdash are not one in the same. But that teaching of our Sages, Uvau Vah Peritzim VeChileluha, apples nonetheless.
What we witnessed on Wednesday- what the entire world witnessed- was Uvau Vah Peritzim VeChileluha. We watched in horror as a seditious, insurrectionist mob of domestic terrorists, filled with QAnon followers, antisemites, and white supremacists violently breach and desecrate our civic Temple.
Not since an external enemy – the British – during the War of 1812, has our Capitol been attacked. Our civic Temple was broken into, vandalized, looted, and the Vice President, members of Congress, their staffs, police were threatened. Five people were killed, including a Capitol police officer who was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. Never until January 6th has a Confederate flag ever been carried aloft throughout the Capitol.
The attack was incited by the President of the United States, his lawyer, his son, and sitting members of Congress. The mob they incited broke a physical, a moral, and a civic boundary. They tried – by violent means – to stop and overturn a civic, constitutional rite, a ritual we’ve agreed upon and done for over two centuries, the verification of the votes of the electors.
But despite their violence, their heinous act of desecration, the ugly wound they inflicted on our Republic, they failed.
Like our ancestors of old, our Senators and our members of Congress returned to their respective chambers, which had been defiled, and they certified the ballots.
Like our ancestors of old, a member of Congress stayed up until the early ours of the morning picking up the garbage left behind in the Capitol Building by that treasonous mob.
Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey got down on his hands and knees in the Capitol Rotunda to do the work of rededication.
“I was just overwhelmed with emotion,” said Congressman Kim. “It’s a room that I love so much — it’s the heart of the Capitol, literally the heart of this country. It pained me so much to see it in this kind of condition.”
And he then added:
“I hope that we can really commit ourselves in this year to really just try to show the American people that we can get to the work to be able to serve them, that we can do this with honor, and that we can treat each other with respect, and be able to inject some civility back into our politics in a way that can make them proud.”
The despair of last Wednesday infamy and shame will never be forgotten. It is seared in our memory. But the spirit exemplified and articulated by Americans like Congressman Kim will enable our nation to heal and endure. It will repair the breach. It will heal us.
Please rise (read Prayer for Our Country) . . .
-Rabbi Jacob Herber