I have to admit that the start of this shabbat was one of the most difficult that I can remember. When we lit shabbat candles, the second Boston Marathon Bombing suspect was still at large. The entire Boston was afraid to leave their homes and shuls in Boston had to cancel Friday Night davening for the first time in recent memory. So how could we go into Shabbat as if nothing was wrong? How could we sing “Mizmor shir leyom Ha’shabbat” (The song of Shabbat) when fear and terror was on everyone’s mind? The dissonance was especially felt here at Beth Sholom as we celebrate our second annual shir-on-shabbat, a shabbat full of music and joy. How can we sing in the wake of this past week’s events in Boston?
To answer this question I turned to the second verse of parshat Kedoshim (the second parshah from this morning). G-d tells Moshe to speak to the Children of Israel and tell them two very important words. “Kedoshim Tihiyu” (You shall be holy). Beautiful idea! The only problem is that the Torah does not define Holiness. How do we achieve it? What do we do and How does it help us respond to the events of this past week?
So I first turned to Rashi. Rashi says something profound. Rashi says:
קדושים תהיו - הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה, שכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדר ערוה אתה מוצא קדושה
According to Rashi, “holiness is separating oneself from immorality and sin. Any place that is free of sin, is holy.”
This is a negative definition of holiness. To create holiness we must prevent sin. While this is profound, it did not help me emotionally respond to Boston. I was searching for a more positive definition of holiness. Something that I could actively do to respond and bring holiness into the world after such profanity.
I therefore turned to an important Chassidic text from Rav Nachman of Breslov (18th - 19th century Chassidic Master from Ukraine) which talks about singing, holiness and will hopefully give us a way to begin processing the events of last week.
The text is found in Likutei Moharan 282 and is called “Azamra” (I will sing).
Rav Nachman has three main points that build one on the other.
Point 1 -
דע, כי צריך לדון את כל אדם לכף זכות , ואפילו מי שהוא רשע גמור, צריך לחפש ולמצא בו איזה מעט טוב, שבאותו המעט אינו רשע, ועל ידי זה שמוצא בו מעט טוב, ודן אותו לכף זכות, על-ידי-זה מעלה אותו באמת לכף זכות, ויוכל להשיבו בתשובה
“Know that you must judge everyone favorably. Even if someone is completely evil, we must search and find a little good, a small part of him that has not been touched by evil. And through finding that little good and judging him favorably (i.e. focusing on that small part), you can raise him in truth to the good side and assist him in doing repentance.”
This first point might be difficult when thinking about the kind of evil that we saw this week. But think about someone in your life who you struggle with. You immediately think about the bad (and there might be a lot of bad). Now try to search and come up with something good about them. Focus on it for a second. Remind yourself that they have that good quality. Rav Nachman is teaching us that if we did that more often for more people, we could try bring them to teshuva and perhaps change the world. That is point #1.
כמו כן הוא אצל האדם בעצמו, שצריך לדון את עצמו לכף זכות, ולמצא בעצמו איזה נקדה טובה עדין, כדי לחזק את עצמו שלא יפול לגמרי, חס ושלום, רק אדרבא יחיה את עצמו, וישמח את נפשו במעט הטוב שמוצא בעצמו, דהינו מה שזכה לעשות מימיו איזה מצוה או איזה דבר טוב
Similarly, a person must judge himself favorably. One must find something good about himself in order to strengthen himself not to fall [in depression]. but be happy with the good...
Rav Nachman’s second point is that sometimes we get down on ourselves. We think that nothing is going right, we are not succeeding and there is no point. When this happens, Rav Nachman reminds us that must immediately search and find something that we are good at and focus on it. Meditate on it. Allow us to feel good about ourselves and this will truly allow us to regain our joy and then in turn be better people. This is point #2.
And then Rav Nachman, with point three, ties this to song and holiness and hopefully it will bring us back to Boston.
וכן יחפש וילקט עוד הנקודות טובות, ועל-ידי-זה נעשין נגונים...והכלל כי נגינה דקדושה היא גבוה מאד מאד כידוע, ועקר הנגון נעשה, על-ידי ברור הטוב מן הרע, שעל-ידי שמבררין ומלקטין הנקדות טובות מתוך הרע, על-ידי-זה נעשים נגונים וזמירות, עיין שם היטב].
When one gathers these good “points,” one makes song... The general principle is that holy song is very lofty. Song is created through separating out the good from the bad. Through separating and collecting the good from the bad, song is created.
I think that Rav Nachman is trying to figure out, what is the difference between noise and music? We hear so much noise and most of it is negative. The screeching of cars in traffic, noise pollution, people yelling at each other and making noise and commotion. However, there are also beautiful sounds and when we can collect the few beautiful sounds and arrange them in a pleasant way, we have made music. We have transformed the noise and cacophony of life into a melodious music that inspires and uplifts.
This past week, we heard many sounds. We heard a lot of noise and it was mostly negative. We heard sounds of explosions, screams of pain, gunshots and hateful words. But we also heard some beautiful and loving sounds. We heard the sounds of footsteps of marathoners who had just run 26 miles and then ran back to the explosion to help out. We heard the sounds of the EMT’s and first responders and they rushed to help. We heard beautiful sounds of interfaith prayer and song as people in Boston try to come back together on Thursday. We heard sounds of many parents who tucked their small children at night, hugged them a little tighter and then sung them lullabies or the shema. We heard the sounds of cheering the police after they literally were up for more than 24 hours searching for the second suspect, and then found him on Friday night.
And for us, it is hard to remember that this past week was Yom Haatzmaut. On Tuesday morning, I got to hear the sweet innocent sounds of our nursery school children marching on their Yom Ha’atzmaut parade and singing the Hatikvah, declaring that we have hope in our world despite tragedies that seem to happen way too often.
Yes, when we look at our world and listen it seems to be full of negative noises. The negative ones seem to be very loud and overwhelming. But Rav Nachman teaches us that we have a choice. We can search and find those beautiful sounds which are usually more subtle and not as loud. If we find them and collect them and arrange them into a melody, we have just created music. This is how we must respond to last week and this is how we must live our lives.
In a few moments we are going to say Kedusha. We sing the songs that the angels sing:
קדוש קדוש קדוש ד' צב-אות
Holy, Holy, Holy Master of Legions.
Why say Kadosh (“Holy”) three times. To me it is saying, even though the world sometimes seems so profane, if we take a second look and dig a little deeper we will find a little holiness in that corner. And then a little more holiness over there and then more holiness under there. And if we go around and collect all of those holy sparks, then
מלא כל הארץ כבודו.
We will realize that the entire world is full of G-d’s glory. The entire world is full of holiness. The entire world is a Holy Song. Kedoshim Tihiyu. You shall be holy by collecting sparks of holiness and creating song.
After a difficult week, we must sing “Mizmor Shir L’yom Ha’Shabbat” (The song of shabbat). We must look at others and find the good. We must look at ourselves and focus on the positve. And we must find all of the beautiful sounds in the world and out of the cacophony of life, we must make music.
May Hashem grant all of those injured a Refuah Shlaimah (Both Refuas Haguf (healing of the body) and refuas hanefesh (healing of the soul) May the city of Boston have the courage to rise up again and may all of us listen very carefully and gather the sparks of holiness and create beautiful music.