Angels and America’s Broken Glass: the George Floyd Case
“The creations of My hands are drowning in the sea and you wish to sing songs?” - Talmud, Megillah 10b
Even if you’ve never been to a Jewish wedding you know that a glass is broken to complete the ceremony. This is done to remind us that others are suffering even when we are at ease, even when we are rejoicing. And because we are all tied to each other, seeing as we are all alive at the same time on this absurd little speck in the cosmos, we cannot act as if deep down we don’t know that the conditional and temporary joy I may feel at any given point negates my obligation to those still in need.
With the defendant found guilty on all counts over the killing of George Perry Floyd, today such a glass was shattered in America.
When a great wrong has been committed and the evildoer brought to justice, that is right. It is even good. But it is not a time for rejoicing. Not when we remember all the suffering that even justice does not alleviate.
The racial tensions and civil unrest in our country which must be addressed are far from quelled tonight and that is no source for joy.
Neither does the conviction of one wrongdoer here mean that now no other in a place of authority will transgress in the future.
Nor can we be glad knowing that for all those who do faithfully concern themselves with the law and with our protection, even at the risk of their own lives, that their duty to us is now made any easier.
But most of all, George Floyd is still dead. Is still murdered. Justice does not bring him back and rejoicing certainly cannot either.
When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was drowned in their pursuit of them, the Jews broke into song upon being saved from their clutches.
Yet when the angels did as well, God stopped them. Could they not see it? God does not rejoice when evildoers are punished, when humans die. God finds no pleasure in it. And neither should we. Achieving justice and peace in a society all too often means precious things like the glass at the wedding, like a man’s life, are shattered in the process. All our joy is tempered in this way.
So why then were the Israelites allowed to sing at the deaths of the Egyptians? And if they could, why couldn’t we? Or if not us, somebody today must surely be like the Israelites, right?
The Israelites were the ones whose lives were in danger, and the drowning of the Egyptians saved them. The only person in the analogous place here was killed. So there is no one who can sing today.
And furthermore, even if there were today, like the Israelites, someone who could rightly sing, that would not be the conclusion of the story. On the other shore of the Red Sea, the Jews still had forty years and a wilderness to cross before they reached the promised land.
In our own community here, there are civic, faith, and law enforcement partners with whom we must continue to work.
We have it in our power to bring about the more perfect union our country can be. We Jews can live and teach the rule not to do to others what we wouldn’t want done to ourselves. We can see to it that our county’s laws and law enforcement, which every democratic country seeking to create a fair and just society emulated, that they function for all the people of this land as they were intended to do.
But doing so means we have no time for singing. The journey is far from over and we must get on our way.
Rabbi Aaron Benson