Inscribed in one of the hallways of the United States Capitol building are the words of Senator Rufus Choate (1799-1859):
“We have built no temple but the Capitol.”
Its majestic dome defining the skyline of Washington, D.C., the Capitol is indeed a temple, a shrine to the liberty that forms the foundation of America. The rituals performed within our national temple include the introduction of, debating and, ultimately, voting on legislation. As we witnessed this week, the tallying of the Electoral College votes is another ritual performed within the Capitol, a ritual, like most of those performed by our elected officials, is one clearly defined by U.S. law. This ritual was violently interrupted on Wednesday as our national temple was breached by domestic terrorists who forced their way past barricades, police officers and other Capitol security. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick was murdered. Four individuals involved in the siege were killed. 50 members of law enforcement were injured. Politicians, their staff and other Capitol employees were traumatized. Rioters vandalized the Capitol building as they forced their way into some of the most sacrosanct places within the building.
In addition to the violence and bloodshed that the insurrectionists brought with them into the Capitol Wednesday, their actions profaned our national temple. Some of the worst of this profanity was captured in photographs and videos of the traitors desecrating Speaker Pelosi’s office and the Senate Chamber, including the chair in which Vice-President Pence had just recently sat. The Confederate flag and anti-Semitic images that were paraded through our temple of liberty on Wednesday desecrated the hallowed halls that house our democracy. Seeing our national temple profaned like this shook me to my core.
That attack on our Capitol got me thinking about the Chanukah story which we commemorated just last month. This story is documented in the ancient Book of Maccabees which describes how Antiochus, the Hellenistic king that ruled the Seleucid Empire from 175 BCE until 164 BCE, attacked Israel, the holy city of Jerusalem where his forces:
…entered proudly into the Temple, and took away the golden altar, and the menorah…(Israel’s) sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness, her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach her honor into contempt. As had been her glory, so was her dishonor increased, and her excellency was turned into mourning.” (Book of Maccabees Chapter 1)
The desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem led to the rise of the Maccabees who, as we all know, regained control of the holy sanctuary and began a process of purification that we still honor today. We call it Chanukah which means rededication. Through rituals that evolved into our lighting of the Chanukiah, the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, purging it of the profanity that infiltrated the most sacred parts of the shrine.
Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about how we reclaim our American temple. What ritual could be performed within the Capitol building to purge it of the treasonous actions that dishonored her and filled Americans with despair? What I soon came to realize was that the ritual had already been performed and began as our national temple came under attack. The ritual is documented in this video:
I was deeply moved watching the Senate aides, in an orderly, reverent procession, carry the ornate boxes containing the Electoral College ballots to safety. Seeing this, I couldn’t help but think about the Ark of the Covenant that contained the 10 Commandments and was housed within the Holy of Holies, the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish legend teaches that when the Babylonians attacked the Temple and exiled the Jewish people around 586 BCE, our ancestors either carried the ark out of the Temple and into exile with them or hid the ark in a safe place. Because of the actions of these Senate aides, the ballot boxes were safe, enabling our Congress to complete the ritual that they began before the siege: certifying the Electoral College votes. By returning to our nation’s temple to continue this ritual that they had started, our national leaders purged the Capitol of the iniquity that had befallen it. The perseverance and determination that we witnessed late Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning rededicated our temple of liberty. Without a doubt, in addition to shattered windows and other physical damage to the building, our spirits are still broken by Wednesday’s attack. This being said, the certification of the Electoral College votes was the ritual our nation needed to move us forward to Inauguration Day and the beginning of the President-elect Biden’s leadership.
God Bless America.