Baruch dayan ha’emet
ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת
It is the phrase that is spoken among Jews when a fellow Jewish person dies. Translated it means “Blessed is the true judge.” A fuller version of the phrase is “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, dayan ha-emet” which means “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Judge of Truth.” Monday, while listening to the radio in my car, I heard a small snippet of a tribute to the eleven persons who were killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh this past Saturday morning. The Jewish leader recited the shorter phrase printed above eleven times … one time for each person who died. Even sitting in my car on a Monday afternoon — having come from a short visit with a prospective member … and finding myself surrounded by more traffic than seemed fair for the time of day – I could not help but be struck by the potency of this litany. The 250 miles that separated me from the speaker … the inability to see his facial features or what he wore … the unfamiliarity of the language he spoke … none of these particulars prevented me from experiencing for a few brief moments, the power of this faithful tribute.
It was a moment that I found helpful in processing my own grief over the incident – disembodied as my grief is, because I knew none of the eleven people who were killed. Hate crimes often elicit a powerful response of grief within us, I suppose, however close or distant our relationship is to the event. At the same time, the accompanying anonymity of these crimes works against a healthy process of engaging that grief. I found that reading about each life in a CNN online article was also helpful, as the two-dimensional image of “eleven murdered victims” took on three dimensional flesh and blood in seeing their pictures and reading a bit of their life stories. A husband and wife … two brothers … a visiting rabbi who is also a medical doctor … sons and daughters … neighbors and friends. Reading about them allowed a modest connection to these eleven lives and the countless others to whom their lives were bound. Though it was an entirely internal experience inside my head, it felt like a small and modest tribute to these persons, and brought them just a bit closer to me.
At almost the same time I became aware of the tragic accident that has now claimed the lives of two young people in our neighboring township to the north. And my malaise was intensified. I did know know any of the people involved in the car crash. But I know young adults here at church who knew them, and were teammates with them, and classmates along side them. And that flesh and blood connection makes the loss of these two young lives seem more real and more personal, too.
There are things I find less than helpful in moments like these. The bully pulpits of those who think they have simple solutions … the endless spotlight cast upon families as they grieve … and way victims are caricatured into two-dimensional poster children that serve some social policy or simplistic solution peddled as an answer to the trauma we face. The worst for me is hearing the phrase “never again” being yoked to some piece of legislation or human intent, which always strikes me as utter hubris. Quite simply, in a broken world we are not able to promise that something will never happen again, no matter how vile. Humanity is sinful and broken. We will continue to find old and new ways to act horrifically at times. And so, life as a human will be unpredictable and at times unfair.
So what do we do, my praying friends? Maybe just that … embrace prayer … and a bit of remembrance. Maybe we are called to do what Jesus encouraged us to do … pray always. It keeps us in communication with the Lord of life and death … and life again. Maybe more importantly, it keeps us in touch with the darkness that wants to invade our hearts and souls, and allows us to offer that up to God also, for healing and resolution. As people who believe that this life never comprises the entirely of our life’s purpose … and as people who recognize that our Jewish sisters and brothers share that same belief and hope … let us all regularly walk with Yahweh, the god of all our ancestors and the God of all life. Take your shoes off, carry a handkerchief, because you stand on holy ground. And don’t be surprised by who you may meet along the way. Shalom to you all.