Rabbi Benay Lappe’s Words for Orlando
Rabbi Lappe, founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Svara, spoke at a Chicago event to commemorate the victims of the Orlando Massacre on June 25. Read her words below.
“To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes knew there’d be days like this when he wrote that.
So did the Shirelles. Remember? “Mama said there’ll be days like this; there’ll be days like this mama said.”
Well, there’s nothing new under the sun, right? Another line from the Shirelles!
“A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Yet sometimes life isn’t nearly that neat. Our emotions don’t seem to want to be neatly segregated into such distinct time slots. In fact, chazal—the wise ones of blessed memory—instruct us to always mourn just a little. Even—and especially—in times of great joy. The mitzvah is called Zecher l’churban. The commandment to Remember the Destruction. Not just the Destruction of the Temple, but the destruction of the world as it should have been, the world as it should be. Zecher l’churban…To always remember that the way things are, is not the way things are meant to be.
And we do this in lots of ways. The breaking of the glass under the chuppah is one. And another is a little-known mitzvah that chazal, those wise ones of blessed memory, taught: that we should leave one small square of one wall of our homes—one cubit by one cubit—unfinished—unplastered and unpainted—opposite the door so you see it every time you enter. Zecher l’churban. To remember. To remember what once was, that no longer is. To remember what we hope will one day be, but is not yet. To remember that the world is not perfect, and that is our job to bring it just a little bit closer to that perfection, in whatever way we can.
AND YET… AND YET…
while every home and every building must have that small, unfinished square on one wall, that zecher l’churban, there are two places where we are davka FORBIDDEN to make a zecher l’churban, forbidden to mourn, even a little.
Two places where we are commanded not to divide our consciousness between sadness and joy, between what is and what should be, between who we are and who we want to be: A shul and a bet midrash. A shul where, when we are praying, we are speaking to God, and a bet midrash, where, when we are learning, God is speaking to us.
It is at those times when—if we’re in the right shul or the right bet midrash— we taste the experience of being fully…ourselves, all of who we are.
And if it’s true that every rabbi has one sermon that they give over and over in a thousand different ways, my one sermon is simply this: WE. ARE. CHAZAL. WE are the wise ones of blessed memory whom the children of the future will look back upon as having taught them something important about how to walk through the world.
And I propose today that we expand the halacha to include a third place, a third time, when we are forbidden to make a zecher l’churban.
And that is during the chag of Pride—the chag devoted to the experience of being fully who we are. Of celebrating fully who we are. And loving, fully, who we are.
There is surely more work to be done. There is surely more mourning to do. And we must do both. Today, though, as we walk out of these doors onto Halsted Street and into the chag of Pride, our avodah—our holy work—is to rejoice, to sing, to dance, to march, and to celebrate.
To celebrate the lives of the 49 who died celebrating their own. And to celebrate our own lives. To get a glimpse of what it will look like when the world is redeemed—and to memorize that feeling—so that, on Monday, when we go back to the work of bringing the world just a little bit closer to what it should be, we remember what it should feel like when we get there.
There’s a young boy in Orlando this afternoon…who knows that if he comes out, he will be disowned by his family. Rejected by his friends. Banished from his community. And that if he comes out and goes dancing to celebrate who he is, he may be shot.
Every one of us owes that young boy in Orlando something. Every one of us. We owe him…hope. And on Monday we’re going to give him hope by rolling our sleeves back up and continuing to work for gay rights legislation, for gun control laws, for politicians who will make this country a safer place for queer people.
But today, we’re going to give that boy in Orlando—and in Altoona, and in Chicago—hope by showing him that if he comes out he has a great big community of queer folk and allies who love him and who have his back; by showing him that he can love himself because we love ourselves.
There is a time to cry and a time to mourn.
But there is also a time to laugh…and a time to dance.
And that time is right now!
Happy Pride, everybody! Go give ‘em hope!