I am very sad. I am sad for people I knew and loved. I am sad for people across an ocean who died at the hands of terror. My heart is broken for those who are directly affected by the deaths or murders of their loved ones.
As your rabbi, I am often called upon to bring meaning to tragedy, to be with you as you mourn, and then sometimes – merely hours later – put on a different face as I celebrate with others at a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding or attend a community program. I was taught early on by a colleague that a clergy member must be able to compartmentalize feelings and responses and put away the sadness when you approach the next group. Yet, I know there is a cost in that because no one can deny what we have witnessed and experienced and what we feel. Today, I write from a place of deep sadness.
I am very well aware that there are so many people within our community, as there are in the world, suffering terribly. Suffering from loss and shock and death and also, suffering from a deep sense of insecurity. It’s not only the personal loss. We ask what has happened to our world? Will we ever find stability again? What will this world be like for our children? I am hearing this over and again.
Locally, we are only beginning to mourn the deaths of Jared Weiner and Ori Rom. A community came together with magnificent honor to begin a process of mourning and to be with the family.
Last week, I wrote about the reality of our inability to know what to say, or even to understand. I spoke about a text that supports silence in the face of tragedy and the critical dimension of being present as a way to bear witness to tragedy. We do this by virtue of sharing community and by virtue of being a part of a people. But after the silence, there must be time and space given to grieve. We must be able to cry and mourn and express all of the feelings, some of which are so confusing. But, in order to go back to our lives, things must be said, feelings must be released, crying must take place. And we have to give that time, and give each other support in that.
One hundred twenty nine innocents were murdered by ISIS in Paris. As I write this, over one hundred are being held hostage in Mali and three have been killed. And yesterday, five more were killed by a terrorist in Israel, including Ezra Schwartz of Boston.
Our hearts go out to the all families who grieve, to the citizens of France, and to all innocent citizens of the world. We cry with those who have lost their loved ones. We, who have lost too many, weep with those whose sense of peace and tranquility has been torn apart.
We come to realize something that the Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai wrote about a bomb blast and how its immediate area is small but its ripples spread throughout the world:
[blockquote name=”Yehuda Amichai”]
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.
Our tradition teaches something different than Amichai’s conclusion. It uses metaphor to teach us that God weeps uncontrollably when children die, that God sobs when innocent victims are killed. And God heals when we are broken.
These are very sad days. These are days of great insecurity. We move from witnessing the tragedies and the evil, to the expression of grief and sadness. In some ways I think our lives over the last sixty years or so have made these events even more dramatic. In truth, life has been very good for most. But now we are facing what so many before us have known.
I think that as we give expression to our sadness and deep feeling, we also must begin to walk forward. That is what the Psalmist meant when he said: Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death…He tells us we can’t stop there. We will have to walk through it.
We know that, as the French are doing, there needs to be a very strong response to destroy the perpetrators. We know that we share this burden with much of the world. Terror threatens us all. We must join together and commit to eliminating these foreboding forces.
But we also know that we have a tradition, a culture and a people that remained civil and dignified, even after experiencing the losses that could have made us different, could have destroyed our sense of goodness and could have lead to primitive responses.
Our personal response begins with the human expression. It contains an obligation to mourn, to honor memory, and to sanctify the lives that were lived. And then to build on the world of goodness.
We saw a story of a father in Paris with his child saying: We will defeat them. Our flowers and love are stronger than their hate. It seems naïve – and at first blush it is – but there is something deeper in this. It is about affirming goodness, beauty and kindness. Not all have the capacity to do this. As a Jewish people we believe that we always hold on to our deepest values, even when threatened. We restore human dignity. The response to these acts must be correct and strong, but will be done with justice. Because we won’t allow evil to destroy our sense and commitment to good. And that’s why good will prevail. The French gave us the Enlightenment, growing the human mind and spirit, demanding rational judgement and response. They gave us the cry: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity that formed the basis of American democracy. And we gave the world the Torah, spire to a world of goodness and holiness; justice and peace; affirming the dignity and rights of all people.
It is very clear that we don’t suffer alone, and we don’t face the threats of the world alone. We have learned how to live under these circumstances.
In the face of tragedy, sadness and fear, we may feel helpless – but we are not. We cannot allow the cruelty of radical extremists to make us radical extremists or haters. These acts were done by an extreme element of crazy criminals using a religious ideology that is corrupt. We must separate them and see the humanity in the face of those suffering and those in need. And so, to the refugees, there will be a responsible response by governments and citizens of our nation and the world.
The pain and uncertainty is personal and it’s global. Our first responses are very personal – silence and sadness – and then the “walk through the valley”… And once through, we act with mutual support. We are there with love for our children; we create meaningful communities that are rooted in essential values; and we reach out to others who are in pain, who are suffering and who are in need.
These are tough times.
May Shabbat create a respite for you, bringing you together with family and community. I send out love.
See you in shul,
Rabbi David Steinhardt