From Lament to Hope: We Are The Response We Have Been Waiting For
(Remarks delivered at the Lament to Hope Action, Sunday, August 30, 2020)
Jews are no strangers to lament. Our history of loss, destruction, and persecution has attuned our hearts to the unique cry, the distinct timbre of the lament. We feel it in our bones. It courses through our blood. And today our hearts are breaking as we witness the suffering of our black and brown brothers and sisters across our country. Their very names—their names we know all too well—Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many more—rise up as a painful lament from the pit of our souls. We lament with you, alongside you. Your lament is our lament, too. We draw strength from the same life-giving well of hope. We have an entire book in our shared sacred scriptures of the Hebrew Bible dedicated to lament; a book which is the very epitome of the full-throated cry of wailing from the depths of our despair. Written in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, now in ruins, the author gives voice to the very essence of human heartbreak and lament:
“Eichah! Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! She that was great among nations is become like a widow; the princess among states Is become a thrall. Bitterly she weeps in the night, her cheek wet with tears. There is none to comfort her of all her friends. All her allies have betrayed her; they have become her foes.” (Lamentations 1:1-2)
This is how we respond to grief! When we—when people—are in trouble, we cry out in our pain and our suffering: Eichah! Alas! Why! How can this be?! We feel at a loss and alone.
But there is hope; a light in the darkest night! God responds. But when God calls back to us, it is different.
Rabbi David Wolpe tells a story about a woman who once poured her heart out before God in a stirring lament, her heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world. “O God, life is so difficult down here,” she cries. “There is death and sickness, hunger and suffering! Innocent people are being killed! Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you send help?” “I did,” says God: “I sent you!”
For you see, we are God’s emissaries here on Earth: God’s eyes to see the travails of the world, God’s mouth to speak the truths that need to be heard, and God’s hands to respond with love and justice to make God’s blessings real through how we behave and treat one another. God’s hope lives and is manifest through each one of us. My colleague, Rabbi Daniel Young, reminds us that while it is our nature to call out to God in lament when we are broken and beaten down, God calls back to all of us with a challenge, with a soul-piercing question, as God did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; a question that continues to echo for us still today. When Adam and Eve, hid, naked, trembling and afraid in the Garden, God calls out: “Ayeka?! Where are you?!”
This is the eternal question that we must all live with in this moment! Where are we? Are we ready to rise up, in spirit and body, to become the hope? Are we prepared to show up, to rally together, to bend that arc, to demand that justice prevail, that racism be eradicated, that new systems of equality be instituted to replace those that have oppressed for far too long? The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter!”
Let us, today, refuse to be silent! Let us, now, make our presence known! Let us drive home our demand for new Commandments to forge a new covenant for a new social order, built on true justice and equality, reflecting our loftiest hopes and dreams. Let our voices ring out amidst the real injustices of our world like the psalmist of old in Psalm 30, reminding us of the possibility to transform our overwhelming grief into opportunities for hope and the promise of redemption:
“6 For there is a moment of Your anger,
A lifetime of Your favor;
In the evening, crying moves in,
But in the morning—song!…
8…Then You hid Your face—I was terrified!
9 To You, Adonai, I call,
To my Superior I plead for grace:
10 What profit is there in my blood, in my
plunging into the pit?
Can dust praise You? Can it declare Your truth?
11 Listen, Adonai—show graciousness to me;
Adonai—be a help to me!”
12 You have turned my wail into a waltz for me!
You’ve untied my tatters, You’ve girded me with joy—
13 So that Glory may sing a psalm to You,
and spare the silence, the silence of blood;
Adonai my God, my thanks I give to You forever.”
(Songs Ascending: A Book of Psalms. A new translation by Rabbi Richard Levy)
There will be no response if we do not cry out! Oh, God, hear our lament and help us listen for your inspiration, for your support, your guidance. Let us find our voice, our heart, our hands—mirroring Yours—and may they become for us all a life-sustaining well-spring of hope. Then truly we will dance a new waltz into the world of our dreams.
Let it be so!