This week has been a traumatic time for the American people. On our televisions, cell phones, and iPads, we have seen images that previously would have been unimaginable with the Capitol building in Washington, D.C being attacked and trashed by an unruly and vengeful mob. We have read in history about the storming of the Bastille and the burning of the Reichstag but never for a moment could any of us have imagined the storming of the great temple and fortress of American democracy. These are images and acts, which will remain in our national and personal memories into the deep future.
January 6, 2021 will be remembered as a terrible day of infamy. At the same time, we will also remember that after the building was finally secured, after many hours of battle, that the Congress of the United States went back to work and the business of our democracy was carried out until the letter of the law, the constitution was met. The symbolism of the Capitol Building and its dome is profound. They are iconic and survived the attack.
Like many of you, I remember visiting the Capitol Building as a child, both with my family and my school, and to use a colloquial term, to being wowed by its majesty, by the Statuary Hall, by the great paintings, but most of all, by the dome, the tremendous majestic dome which rises above the 16-acre complex that symbolizes American democracy and indicates, as domes do, that there is something transcendent about our experiment in democracy.
A dome, especially a big dome is meant to evoke awe. There are a few buildings, whether they are religious or the Capitol Building in Washington, which invokes greater awe in the transcendent power of great principles like democracy than the dome in Washington. To think that a mob invaded that space, even after we watched it, remains unthinkable. I have wonderful personal memories of being in the Capitol Building. I certainly plan in the future to go back perhaps with my own grandchildren.
Twenty-two years ago, I was invited to give the opening prayer, the invocation, in the United States House of Representatives. It is a matter of Congressional Record. It was one of the proudest moments of my life as I stood in that chamber and gave a prayer on behalf of the United States, its constitution, and our people. I returned again to the Capitol Building to present a paper on immigration in a Senate hearing room. It was carried on C-SPAN. I spoke about the contribution of a Jewish congressman to the changing laws about immigration in the United States to help the Senate and historians understand where we are on that very, very painful issue today in our history. I have served as a guide and a teacher for our own confirmation class bringing our confirmands to those sacred halls to teach them the part of their religious duty is also a sacred duty.
I have my own personal memories and connections to that building, but like all of you, I have a national connection to that building. I have the memory that the dome was built during the Civil War, that not even a civil war could stop the construction of the house of the people. How ironic that so much of that work was done by slaves and no sooner than it was completed, then it was in those halls that an amendment was passed to abolish slavery forever in America.
The Capitol building and its dome are not only symbols of American democracy par excellence. They are literally the beating heart of our republic, and the heart of our Republic came under attack this week. Thank God, it survived and we continue our business now as a people.
In our Torah portion this week, we begin the book of Exodus. We begin with the enslavement of the Hebrews and the birth of Moses. We begin at one of the darkest hours of the Jewish people, but embedded in that narrative are the sparks of hope and redemption that even in the darkest hours before the dawn, the possibility of restoration, hope, and redemption are there.
As we move forward, let us too commit ourselves to being those sparks, to being those agents of change and redemption, of recommitting ourselves to the great principles of our country which guarantee us our right to live here in freedom and unafraid as Jews, as a tiny religious minority, and go about the work that we were destined and entitled to do by right, by providence, and by the choice of our own hearts.
Shabbat Shalom and take good care!
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.
January 8, 2021
To Hear Rabbi Sussman’s Sermon, click here.