Exactly two weeks ago, on March 24th, somewhere between 1 and 2 million people nationwide demonstrated in support of tighter gun-control laws. March for our Lives, as the demonstration was named, was unique, not only because of the size of the demonstration; one of the largest in American history, but far more significantly because of who organized it. Although some claim that it was organized by special-interest groups, who probably did have a lot to do with putting it all together, there is no denying that a driving force in these protests were teenagers, and that’s something worth celebrating.
Is gun-control the solution to mass shootings? What does the Second Amendment really mean? Are protests even effective in impacting gun control legislation? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, as important as they are. The reason I am celebrating, and the reason I believe you should celebrate, whether you would like to repeal the second amendment or you’re a card-carrying NRA member is because it’s good to see teenagers, right or wrong, trying to tackle these issues.
This past week was the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, one of the foremost Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. In one of his most acclaimed papers titled, Kol Dodi Dofeik, he elaborates on a chapter of Shir Hashirim, that we read today. Written by King Solomon, Shir Hashirim is a story of a lover and his beloved which our Sages interpret to be an allegory for the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People.
In the fifth chapter of Shir Hashirim, the beloved, the woman goes to sleep. This, explains our Sages, is meant to represent the Jewish People straying from G-d, allowing their relationship to slide. Nonetheless, the lover, G-d, seeks out the Jewish People.
Writes King Solomon, Kol dodi dofeik, I hear my lover knocking, and He’s saying, pis’chi li, open the door please! Achosi, rayosi, yonosi, tamosi, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfection, please open the door!
But, says the Jewish People, says the woman in the story, huf’shat’ti kutanti, I took off my tunic, I’m lying in bed. I can’t get up now, I’m too tired.
King Solomon describes the woman tossing and turning until she finally does get up but by the time she opens the door, the lover is gone.
The obvious message is that there are times when G-d knocks on our door, and it is incumbent upon us to answer it immediately. To not wait, to not calculate how we should open the door, what we should be wearing… just answer the door! Just show that you heard His knock. Just show Him that you care.
Rav Soloveitchik, in his essay, which I should add was written in the 50’s, explains that G-d, through the establishment of the State of Israel, has been knocking on our collective door. Six knocks to be exact:
The fact that the United States and the Soviet Bloc agreed about something, as they did by voting in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel – that was G-d knocking on our door, letting us know that He is here.
The fact that the tiny defense forces of Israel defeated the mighty armies of the Arab Nations – that was G-d knocking on our door, letting us know that He is here.
The fact that Christians, who for two thousand years have pointed to our homelessness as a proof to us being wrong and are now silenced – that was G-d knocking on our door, letting us know that He is here.
The fact that that Jews had something to take pride in, the fact that the nations recognized that Jewish blood is no longer cheap, and the fact that every Jew knows that he or she has a home – that was G-d knocking on our door, letting us know that He is here.
Since Rabbi Soloveotchik wrote this article, I would add that there is a seventh knock, and that is the incredible success of this young democracy, politically, financially, and otherwise – all of that is G-d knocking on our door, letting us know that He is here.
And the challenge then is to get up from our slumber, from our comfort, from our indifference, and to be moved by G-d’s knocking. To say, “G-d we hear you!” We’re coming to the door, we will change, we will do, naaseh v’nihsma! G-d has not knocked like this since the times of the Exodus. He’s pounding on the door, begging us to wake up.
And yet, these knocks no longer move us. The fact that we live in a Jewish world unrecognizable to our ancestors… we lay in bed and turn over.
Even worse, there are Jews who not only ignore the knocks of Heaven, but they see it as a nuisance. “Why are you waking me up?” they yell. “Having a Jewish State is unethical, immoral, it’s racist!” they say. And they hope that the knocking stops, so they could rest comfortably, undisturbed by their awkward relationship with G-d and even more awkward knowledge of them belonging to a tribe in a post-nationalist world and pretend that no one is at the door.
But G-d still knocks.
He knocks on our collective door as a nation, through the State of Israel, and through the remarkable history of the Jewish People that continues to unfold. And He also knocks on our individual doors, through events that we experience deeply, through news we hear that shakes us, through moments of inspiration that move us, that’s G-d knocking! And He’s waiting, waiting, waiting… Will we answer the door, or will we just sleep on?
That’s why I celebrate those boys and girls who marched in DC and across the country. I applaud them not because they know what they’re doing, not because gun safety can be distilled to slogans, and not because they are right just because they’re the loudest. I applaud them because while their friends are eating Tide pods and snorting latex, while adults are consumed by their work or busy vacationing, these kids noticed that something happened; something happened to some of them directly, like Emma Gonzalez, who lost many friends in the Parkland shooting, something happened and continues to happen to some of them on an ongoing basis, like Naomi Wadler, who witnesses street violence all the time, and some of them just saw what happened from a distance, but they were all moved! They heard a knock on the door, and they got up, and they responded.
In a moment we will be saying Yizkor, and during this sacred time many of you will hear a knock. Not the knock of G-d per say, but the knock of your beloved; of a spouse, of a sibling, of a mother, of a father, of a child. Listen to that soft knock, listen to what it tells you. For some of you it may be a reminder to love your children more deeply. For some of you it may be a call to remember your heritage and the customs and values that your parents lived by. For some of you that knock may be a reminder of an earlier version of yourself; more youthful, more energetic, more optimistic.
All of us will be staying indoors for the first two memorial prayers. The first one we’ll be reciting is for those who died defending the land of Israel. They too are knocking, wondering if they died in vain. They’re hoping that we can still today be moved by the existence of a Jewish State, of millions of Jews living securely. They’re hoping that we too can proudly defend our country and our faith, from external and internal enemies.
The second memorial prayer that we’ll all be saying is for the martyrs of the Holocaust whose knock is getting fainter by the year. I am sure they are wondering, will their memories be limited to monuments, memorials, and platitudes? Or will we answer the door before it’s too late? Will we wake from our slumber and allow the memory of the six million to remind us of our unique place in this world; because while the Holocaust left us with so many unanswered questions, questions of how, and what, and why, one thing that was answered was who – we are the Jewish People, it is a yoke and it is a calling. What a tragedy it would be to let that knock be in vain.
Every day G-d knocks on the door of all of civilization.
Every day G-d knocks on the door of the Jewish People.
And every day G-d knocks on our own individual door, ever so softly.
Let’s not just listen to those knocks.
Let’s answer the door.