Shabbat Toldot by Rabbi Karen Soria

My colleague, Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, wrote this poem in the turmoil of this week:

 

We Pray Anyway

When I want to rail at God

prayer is the last place I want to be.

I know I’ll find my way back to God one way or another

but right now I don’t have words of my own

and the words of tradition feel empty

given that men died with those words on their lips this week.

But the Voice of Jewish tradition says I don’t have a choice;

it says there are shiva minyans to go to and Shabbat services to attend.

The Voice of Tradition says that prayer isn’t just about what I have to say or not say;

that prayer isn’t just about me.

The Voice of Tradition says that life goes on

that the community needs to gather;

that prayer is going to take place with or without me.

And I remember that even empty words can be a refuge;

that the rituals can shelter me through familiarity alone.

If I don’t believe in prayer this week, that’s okay,

but somebody else might need to pray

and they need the community around them to do it.

And if I’m a part of the community then I’d better be there.

The Voice of Jewish tradition doesn’t promise that prayer works;

it doesn’t promise that Jews won’t be slaughtered –

not even if they’re righteous,

not even if they’re praying.

The Voice of Jewish tradition doesn’t promise that prayer works;

What it says is:

Pray anyway.

 

Even before Tuesday it was an emotional week; as people talked to me about not being safe in their own homes from yelling, threats, and physical attacks; as I read reports of a mentor and model to many who worked with him or watched his shows – namely, Bill Cosby – having destroyed that trust; and upon arriving in Winnipeg, I read yet another story of broken trust, of a hospital worker having abused a patient, for when people are mentally or physically ill, they – we – are at our most vulnerable.

 

It would not have occurred to me on Monday that the sacred space of a synagogue would be so violated the next day. But it was. I felt thrown back in time, to the Middle Ages, or Rwanda.

 

You who listen to my divrei-Torah and in turn teach me – you know I think in broad overviews and metaphors. You know I always work to see more than one side, or even two sides, in any situation. And I have worked with people who have been traumatized, so I get that when one is acting out of that pain and existential fear, we can do terrible things. And I believe the Jewish people and the Palestinian people both carry a great deal of trauma.

 

But this week I have not been able to be very understanding; I have been remembering a Jewish teaching I heard after the massacre at Ma’a lot in 1974:

 

One who is merciful to the cruel will end by being cruel to the merciful. (Midrash Tanhuma)

 

It is a very profound and difficult teaching. Does it mean to be cruel to the cruel? No.

 

I think it means to recognize and to name an action for what it is.

 

I think it means that it is possible to strive for understanding without using explanations as an excuse.

 

I think it means that we are to respond with integrity and a consistent valuation of the many sides of even complex issues.

 

So when CNN publishes headlines in its rush to report that a mosque has been attacked, instead of a synagogue, a mild apology is not sufficient.

 

When the government of Jordan holds minutes of silence to remember the two killed terrorists, that is cruel.

 

When President Mahmood of Abbas condemns the attack while in the same statement condemned ‘attacks on the Al Aksa mosque and incitement by Israeli ministers,’ that is no condemnation; rather it is vile.

 

When candies and distributed, comics published, and parties held to celebrate the deaths of four rabbis butchered in a synagogue at prayer – that is evil.

 

Even the Wall Street Journal got it this week; an editorial stated that the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not the settlements but “the culture of hatred against Jews that is nurtured by Palestinian leaders.”

 

So what do we do?

 

We name these acts for what they are: murder, cowardice, hate, evil.

 

We remember that evil is a human choice, completely different from the ‘bad’ of natural disasters. This evil was done by choice.

And we must choose a different response, a different path.

 

My colleague and fellow military chaplain, Rabbi Ben Romer, writes,

 

Let us all send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones and pray for a speedy recovery of body and soul for those wounded. And then we begin the hard work of bringing a more global healing. That of Making Peace, Making Shalom…

Shalom, Salaam, Peace must be made, created, crafted. It doesn’t just happen. True Shalom means wholeness, wellness, completeness, physical and spiritual flourishing. Only our reaching out and continuing the building of peace will be able to accomplish this. It isn’t some fuzzy sweet group-hug idea. Making peace is directly connected to the demand that we pursue righteousness. We must be the malachim – the messengers, the angels of God here in this world to help Shalom bloom.

“Pray for [the] peace of Jerusalem!” (Ps. 122:6) And now, our prayers must become animated through the choices and actions in which we make peace.

 

And we will still sing and pray – because that’s what we do here anyway. That’s what we must do because no one can take that away from us. And we sing to bring comfort and solace to our soul. And we will not let anyone extinguish the Voice of Tradition, our voices, our prayers and hope.

 

“Safe within these walls” we sing. Ken yehi ratzon – so may it be God’s, and our, will.

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