Today is Kristallnacht 2016 in too many ways. Like many of you, I have been feeling lost today. I am fighting back my emotions, tears, and fears. What will be our next step moving forward? Looking at my children I keep reminding myself to dig in deep and get the good work done.
This morning, I have been thinking about this Mishnah in Perkey Avot. There we learn:
Rabbi Chanina, assistant to the kohanim, would say: “Pray for the well-being of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” (Perkey Avot 3:2)
What does it mean to pray for the well-being of the government that represents a level of hatred, bigotry, and “othering” that we associate with Kristallnacht? In the wake of this election, there is real reason to fear that we will swallow each other.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg in his book Sage Advice points out that Rabbi Chanina, who was an assistant to the kohanim in our Mishnah, was a transitional character in history. He was first a Kohen, a priest, in the Temple. When the Second Temple was destroyed, Rabbi Chanina survived and was involved in the rabbinic project of making meaning in our exile. He had directly experienced the wrath of the Roman government. So, for him to say that you need to pray for the well-being of the government is very meaningful. Even when the government does not represent us or our values, we need to dig in deep and do the work of ensuring that everyone can live with dignity and respect in our society.
I am honored to work at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. I take pride in the fact that through our work, we make it possible for thousands of young people to experience life in utopia. At camp, we are not worried about devouring our neighbor. There at camp, we are actually learning the lessons of Leviticus, that says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). With this experience of camp we start to see what the world could look like. We can start to imagine the way the world could eventually be. So for now we need to dig in, pray hard, and do the good work.