Menuchah Nechonah—Perfect Rest
“God filled with mercy, grant perfect rest, menuchah nechonah, under the wings of Your Presence, the Shekhinah . . . to the souls of all those slain, young children and teachers, at Sandy Hook School. May their resting place be in Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, and may their souls be bound up in the gathering of all life. May they come to be at peace in their place of rest and we say: Amen.”
The paragraph above is my own adaptation of El Malei, traditionally chanted at funeral and memorial gatherings. This is a prayer; it is addressed to God, and it asks, perhaps demands, a response. The request is not for anything measurable in this world, in this life, but for the souls of those who have died, and especially, this week, for the souls of those murdered at Sandy Hook School, young children and adults alike. Many contemporary prayer texts are careful not to stray too far outside the comfort zones of modernity; we speak of peace and healing, of harmony and growth, of care and nurture. We avoid the word “death” and struggle to contemplate the soul, and what it might be.
El Malei accepts the finality of death, and goes further—it affirms the reality of the soul, asking that God bring the soul to rest in closeness to God’s Presence. We affirm that we are all—every human being alive—created in the Divine Image; the neshamah, the soul, is the part of us that carries that Image; after death the neshamah returns to its source, and we pray that God will grant ultimate peace and rest to the returning soul.
Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership of The Jewish Theological Seminary, provided guidance to all our students in the days after the shootings. He addressed many important areas with these simple words: “Prayer helps.” He urged students to share with those who are grieving resources of the soul as well as of the mind. It is fundamental to our work at JTS that the needs of the mind and soul are woven together.
The words and melody of El Malei have been a source of comfort to many; others turn to the Psalms. The offices and phones of the rabbis and cantors of all the Jewish people are open to anyone in need. May these words and melodies bring comfort to a world that has been wounded, once again, by needless taking of life.