Today, I read a beautiful piece by Virginia Avniel Spatz on the ReformJudaism.Org site. She talked about adding the names of victims of gun violence to our Kaddish list, and you should visit her blog, Say this Name, to learn more.
A few months ago, I wrote an essay opposing this practice of stretching the Kaddish to include people who might not be our first degree, Jewish relatives. Reading Spatz’s piece has changed my mind.
It wasn’t the p’shat of her piece – the surface meaning of the language – rather it was the sod – the inspired understanding, otherwise hidden. The p’shat, while stated beautifully, was no different, at its heart, than anything I had heard or read before. We ache, we grieve, we want to show solidarity, and we want to shed light on these preventable losses. However, that is not convincing to me.
The sod of her piece is another story, though. That inspired understanding arose from her headline: “These are our Neighbors.”
There are two pieces to this inspiration. First, in Leviticus 19:18, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Second, in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 34, we are commanded to love the stranger as ourselves.
On its face – by its p’shat — and in its sod, this text from Leviticus explains why I will stand as a mourner for victims of gun violence. Even if they are strangers, they are neighbors, and neighbors are to be mourned as though we had lost our deepest loves, our own hearts.
In fact, I will probably stand for every recitation of the Kaddish, remembering victims of all kinds of violence, remembering those who die of preventable diseases, those who die alone.
In short, I will stand for the stranger, whom I love like my neighbor, whom I love like myself.
NOTE: With regard to flying the flag at half-staff, I still think we should reserve that practice for the specific uses it was intended. See this text for more. On the other hand, how much better would this country be if we all lived by the equivalencies so beautifully implied in Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34. The tug-o-war between universalism and particularism is daunting and fascinating at the same time. But . . . it took me this long . . . I digress.