Welcoming An Unwelcome Guest


Rabbi Myers Chose To Shape His Neighbor With Grace

by Eric Elkin

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
— Psalm 24: 3

President Trump visited the Tree of Life Synagogue on Tuesday to pay his respects to a community still gripped in the throes of grief. The tension surrounding his visit was visible from the moment he landed in Air Force. Many people were not excited about his coming. Matter of fact, they made it clear, he was not welcome.

Opponents felt the president's inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants and minorities were a contributing factor to the synagogue massacre. It was interesting that no congressional leaders joined the president, only a few family members. They stood isolated among a field of critics, but he was not the only lonely one. The other was Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. 

Few people took notice of the gracious actions of Rabbi Myers, the spiritual leader of the synagogue. He was the one who greeted the first family at the door. He was the one who ultimately decided whether the President shall enter into this holy and sacred space. 

Rabbi Myers led the President and First Lady into the sanctuary. They lit ritual candles in memory of the dead. When the group went outside, they placed flowers and a single stone on markers for each victim. The President left the synagogue without making any public remarks.

Be wary of the authorities! They do not befriend anyone unless it serves their own needs. They appear as a friend when it is to their advantage, but do not stand by a person in his hour of need.
— Raban Gamliel (Referenced by Rabbi Myers in his blog)

Immediately following the shooting, the President said if the synagogue had armed guards at the door preventing people from entering this holy place the massacre would not have happened. He then quickly changed his rhetoric to the immigrant caravan working its way through Mexico. These travelers, he promised, will be met by armed guards who will prevent them from entering this holy nation.

All of these words made the actions of the rabbi even more profound. If you visit the website of the synagogue, you can read Rabbi Myers blog. His words reveal a person who stands diametrically opposed to the policies and approaches of the President. His actions reveal to the world the difference between welcome and rejection. One allows for healing, the other breeds anger, and hopelessness. I applaud him for the decision. I’m not sure I would have acted the same.

Perhaps Psalm 24 was resting in the heart of the rabbi as he was deciding this action. "Only those with clean hands and a pure heart are to enter the holy place."  A standard I don’t think any of us could claim with authenticity. These requirements should not be understood as a barrier, but an invitation. The invitation is to make an offering to God and receive a blessing in return.

I’m sure this one visit will not cause a change of heart in the president. But, I am confident an exclusion would have denied him the possibility. Rabbi Myers was not bending to the will of the president. It was an act of grace to a neighbor. And acts of grace tend to be the most transformative.

Rabbi Myers choose to shape his neighbor and neighborhood with Grace. We have the same decision in front of us everyday. Will you welcome the unwelcomed guest into a holy relationship with God?

Click to read Psalm 24

Reflection Questions:

  • If you were the rabbi, how would you have handled this situation?

  • How do we continue acts of grace with blessing hatred?

  • Who can the rabbi’s actions shape our interaction with our own neighbors?

  • How can you re-shape the world around you today?

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