By Rabbi Elisa Koppel
Excerpts from my D’var Torah this week. The full text can be found on my personal blog: Off the REKord.
It’s been a challenging week in the world. A week full of tears. Full of fear. Full of the unknown. A week in which 2 young men brought a city of millions to a standstill, leaving families in mourning, individuals in pain, and a country stunned. A week in which those 2 young men marred the celebration of an annual event that’s about community, about people coming together, about camaraderie, about mutual support, about personal accomplishment, and pushing one’s self to go further—instead bringing hatred and violence. A week in which, just a few hours from here, a plant explosion brought even more tragedy to our collective conscience.
This has been a week for which I have no words, and yet for which silence doesn’t seem to suffice either.
And this is the week in which we read 2 Torah portions that are connected to each other, but yet which seem to have little in common. Acharei Mot contains rules that are given after the death of Aaron’s two sons—laws about Yom Kippur, sacrifice, and forbidden acts of intimacy. Kedoshim on the other hand contains the holiness code—the instructions we are given in order to be holy—the guidelines for how we should behave as human beings—the blueprint for establishing a community and a culture based on justice and right. A connection has been made between these 2 portions, though, not by the content but by the titles. A hidden piece of truth that is so fitting this week: Acharei Mot…kedoshim: After death, holiness.
After we experience death, the potential still exists for holiness. When we have suffered, it hurts. We hurt. And yet, we are reminded that after darkness, there is light. Even during the darkness, there is help.
This has been a week which is full of hope. A week in which as people came together, they reached out their hands to one another. They offered courage. They offered what they could. A week in which Mr Roger’s now famous quote was shared again and again, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And throughout this week there have been so many signs that such wisdom is true.
Yes, this is a week in which we have seen both acharei mot and kedoshim. As we continue to confront the reality of this week’s news, continue to learn more about what happened, hope to see the end of this chapter, we must continue to bring more of that holiness—to ourselves, to our neighbors, to the world.
This is a week in which , Rabbi Joe Black composed these beautiful words, as part of his Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing:
Neither bombs, nor blood, not death, nor destruction can deter us from running, O God.
We run to You.
We run towards a vision of perfection that is always in our sights.
We run determined to never allow hatred to obscure Your presence.
We run to build a better world.
As Jordana Horn wrote this week, “Goodness itself is a marathon.” Let us all push ourselves to bring more goodness, more holiness, into this broken world. And with the prayer in our hearts that we, indeed, run towards a better tomorrow, a time where there is more holiness for ourselves and throughout the world, let us commit ourselves to embracing that dream and towards building our future.
Rabbi Elisa Koppel is the Acting Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX. She is from New Jersey, but her people are from Massachusetts. She’s an avid Red Sox fan. Her heart is in the east (both Jerusalem AND Boston).