We read in this week’s Torah portion of the command
to create cities of refuge,
places to where one who caused a death
unintentionally or accidentally
could flee to escape the relative of the victim
who was coming to take vengeance, to settle the score
in order to restore a balance between the two families.
One who committed manslaughter
was still responsible for taking a life,
enough that he or she would need to stay in the city of refuge
until the death of the high priest there
would reestablish a communal equilibrium
that took justice and mercy into account.
In the here and now,
we know that there are times when our actions
may cause unintentional hurt
sometimes based on misunderstanding
or a lack of full awareness of all circumstances
related to a given situation.
We ask for forgiveness during the High Holy Days
for those actions that we committed inadvertently
and we hope that we can depend on
the compassion and patience of others
to give us space when we err
to offer us the possibility to make things right
and to restore a balance of respect, cooperation
and fellowship within a community.
We hope that our congregation, our city, and our nation
can offer a sense of refuge
where we can find support at difficult and challenging times,
knowing that we can return to a right path
with the help and guidance of friends, neighbors and family.
In order to continue to face life with strength and hope,
we occasionally try to take a break from our routines
to renew and refresh our spirits.
Those are not the times when we would expect
that tragedy would intervene
to remind us of the precious nature of every moment.
The terrorist attack on the Israeli travelers
on a tour bus in Bulgaria
two days ago
and the shooting of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado
early this morning
may make us wonder if we can truly find refuge and safety
in our daily lives at those very times
when we hoped to find escape
from routine worries and stresses.
At a time like this, we realize, again,
that minor disagreements, ongoing arguments and
our struggle between focusing on personal needs,
on the one hand,
communal concerns, on the other,
matter little in the face of threats to our very lives
or the well-being of other members of the human family.
And so we pray…
be with the families of the victims of those
who died in these tragedies this week,
acts of violence perpetrated by individuals
who saw no value whatsoever in the lives
of the people that they murdered or injured.
Help family members and friends of the victims
to deal with their pain,
to move through this time of shock, sadness and grief
with a sense that many people are with them
and that You are with them
Enable them to sustain the memory of the victims
in order to continue to give meaning
to their years among us.
Teach us to value every moment,
Guide us to create a community and a nation
based on mutual support, compassion and respect,
where we use our words and our energies
to heal and not to hurt,
to build up and not to break down.
Remind us that all human beings are connected
not only when tragic events occur
but at all times.
God our shelter, be with us on all of our journeys,
and help us see every departure and safe arrival and return
as a privilege and a new opportunity
to appreciate the very gift of our lives.