D’var Torah: Ba’erev yalin bechi v’la-boker rinnah…

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 22 January 2021

On Wednesday afternoon, just before 5pm our time, I received a message from an American friend.
“I didn’t realise” she said “How much I’ve missed having a president who speaks like a president.”

I imagine we all know what she meant.

Watching the inauguration, listening to President Biden’s address on Wednesday, one was struck by how different it felt, how re-stabilising it was, and how much we therefore have to be grateful for as we come to the end of this week.

It wasn’t the most fluent or elegant of speeches; to English tastes, a touch exceptionalist ; but something very important was happening.  A re-establishing of norms, an assertion of decency and integrity. Biden emphasised ideals that we used to take for granted – truth, respect, service, cooperation.

And this matters.
As we welcome Jews from around the world this Erev Shabbat, as part of the World Union of Progressive Judaism’s ‘Shabbat around the World’ we recognise that this makes a difference, to all of us wherever we are.

As Progressive Jews around the world we have lived with a dissonance these last four years.  Four years in which our core religious values, our ideals, have been in tension with the worldview of some of the most powerful voices on the planet.

Of course, these voices have not gone away – here, in this country, too – but this Shabbat they are less prominent, less powerful, their volume a little quieter than this time last week – and that is a cause for optimism, for gratitude.

– – –

And there was something else to be grateful for in Biden’s speech.  Something else that really matters, that has been lacking these last few months. Hope.

One of the many challenges of this moment we are living through is the holding of very different emotions – the pain of loss – loss of loved ones, loss of possibilities, of normality – and alongside still a real need for optimism, for hopefulness.

Biden both recognised the experience we are living through, have lived through in the last 12 months – and also that it will end.
Not over-promising, with a sense of bravado; nor underplaying the pain or loss; but with a quiet sense that with time and commitment, we can and will get through. A hopefulness, a sense of aspiration.
The idea that better is possible. No longer merely ‘it is what it is’.

To make this point, Biden used a verse from Psalm 30 – a Psalm which in a classical liturgy is read every morning. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” he said.  In Hebrew, Ba’erev yalin bechi v’la-boker rinnah.

It was an extraordinary choice of verse.

The psalmist recognises this reality of our lives – the inevitability of holding both sadness and joy, that we encounter both.
The psalm recognises that it sometimes feels as through weeping will endure throughout.  But ultimately asserts that dawn will come, we will be able to engage in rinnah – literally in joyful song.

– – –

On this Erev Shabbat, as we gather together, welcoming Jews from around the world, our hearts continue to weep – to weep for the many thousands experiencing pain and loss; we as a community once again recognise our own loss this week.

But we also feel hope –
the hope of there being a president who, as my friend put it, speaks like a president;
the hope that comes from the re-assertion of truth, integrity, decency, the possibility of respectful disagreement as key to our lives;
And the knowledge that this shared experience will indeed end.

Ba’erev yalin bechi v’la-boker rinnah.

On this Erev Shabbat we are going to sing rinnah – joyous song on our way into Shabbat…