The Power of Fire


We strike the match to the matchbook and from nothing a flame emerges and dances before us. Just like God we create – light appears where once there was none. We marvel at our creation as it quickly creeps toward our fingers – and then light not one but two wicks. Zachor v’shamor – remember and guard – but what exactly? Before we can answer we must blow out the match before it consumes the match and tries to bite our hand.

The flame is safe again in the confines or our shabbat candles. In the still air they stand tall until we exhale, and our spirit becomes visible as it caresses the flames. We marvel at our ability to control this wonder that we call fire. Fire consumes without much regard for its fuel. The larger and hotter it becomes the less it cares about what it might destroy along the way – leaving only carbon in its path.

Fire needs oxygen, it needs to breathe. If we deprive it of oxygen it will die, much like human beings. Like fire we grow and consume. The larger and hotter we grow, and the more we use and take and own, the less we seem to care about what we destroy in our path. Forests, mountaintops, coral reefs, and other human beings turned to the dust from which they were formed. It’s not our fault, we reason to ourselves, we’re just living in the systems that were created by others.

It’s not my fault, is it?

The same match that we use to light our shabbat candles creates the same flame used in a gun that propelled the bullet that killed Ahmaud Arbery. The same flame ignited natural gas that became electricity that charged a cell phone, the same flame ignited gasoline in the car used by police to respond to a call that Christian Cooper was harassing a white woman in central park. The same flame that last night burned a police station in Minneapolis.

We try to snuff out the flame, to deprive it of oxygen before it gets out of control. We douse it with water and can almost hear it call out to us: “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe,” the last words of Eric Gardner. “I can’t breathe,” the last words of George Floyd. Two of the uncountable lives of black men and women snuffed out for just being black. Two that were captured on video and reported.

As we create and destroy we must never forget that we were created too. We must remember that God created all human beings from one person so that “no one could say to another, my father was greater than your father.[1]” We began as one and our fate is determined as one.

For those black and brown members of CMI and who are joining us for Shabbat tonight – we see you, we love you, and we appreciate all of the parts that make you who you are – your skin color, your eyes, your hair, your intellect, your spirit and your souls. The majority of us are white. Yes our Judaism makes conversations about race complicated at times, but right now this isn’t complicated. Our white skin gives us privilege and power and we therefore obligation and responsibility.

Racial justice isn’t a social justice issue for a people of color, it’s not one of many tabs that they might include on their websites of ways to engage in tikkun olam – racial justice is the fight for their lives.

It is up to white people to fix this – to change the systems, the words we use, the money we spend, and the way in which our country rewards and punishes. White people have been rewarded for being white since the first boat of us arrived on the shores of North America, while black, brown, indigenous peoples have been punished, enslaved and incarcerated.

There are many actions that we must and will take, but I want to give you one tonight directed by our Torah:

“When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with God, and that person realizes their guilt, he [or she] shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to [the person] whom [they] have wronged.[2]

If you are able, and I know that not everyone can, I hope that you will consider joining me in making a donation to one of the three organizations on the screen:

  • The Minneapolis Freedom Fund, which pays criminal bail and immigration bond for those who cannot afford to as we seek to end discriminatory, coercive, and oppressive jailing.
  • The Black Visions Collective, which is working to create a “a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems.”
  • Reclaim the Block, which “organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety.”

Our candles remain lit before our eyes, the flames seeming to grow brighter and clearer with each prayer. May our actions cause them to leap into our hearts as well. We light two candles so that we zachor v’shamor, remember and observe Shabbat. For in six days God made the earth, and on the seventh day God rested. We cannot rest until our work has been done.

Shabbat shalom, and may George Floyd’s memory forever be a blessing to us all.

[1] Midrash

[2] Numbers 5:6