What do you say when there’s nothing to say?
The email request from the editor to write about the only thing on most of our minds came in on Monday morning. But after I sent the draft, I changed my mind. I thought:
"By the time this goes to print, who knows what the updated information will be? The death toll, those missing, those injured, the brave rescue efforts, the ripple effects of national and international war trauma."
It’s all so unspeakable, and yet… silence doesn’t feel right either. We need to turn to one another, to G-d, to the world, and speak our truth, our pain, our fear, our faith, in the face of all the lies and uncertainty.
It’s one of the toughest questions for the person of faith:
How could our Loving, Compassionate G-d allow such evil to be perpetrated upon innocents?
How could any human, born with a heart, treat others so barbarically?
How can we go on?
How can we eat, sleep, work, love… how can we exist, in a world with such atrocities?
I don’t know the answers.
I’ve heard some, but none that ever felt like enough.
But I know that the alternative to accepting the unanswerable questions would be to give up, and I don’t want to do that. To give up on G-d, on humanity, on hope, on life. To surrender to fear, to depression, to defeat. Oh, it’s tempting sometimes, for sure. And not just “in our times” of emphasized psychological fragility, but throughout history.
There are multiple Torah verses in which great people express this despondency. Perhaps one of the greatest men who ever lived requested, conditionally but explicitly, to be killed: Moshe Rabeinu (Numbers 11:15). In fact, the whole generation of Jews that left Egypt- about whom it’s written that even the most simple rivaled the level of prophecy of Yechezkel, requested to die in the desert (Numbers 14:2).
Even before that, two of the Matriachs- Rivka (Genesis 25:22) and Rachel (Genesis 30:1), questioned the value of living when struggling with infertility. Subsequently, King Shaul, King David, and the prophets Yona and Eliahu, also requested death, and of course Iyov- (according to the opinion that he existed). So the notion of wanting to die is not only nothing new, but actually not limited to the mentally ill or psychologically fragile- it’s a theme addressed repeatedly in the holiest literature and by spiritual giants and prophets.
On the holiday which is called: The Time of Our Joy, we just read Ecclesiastes; written by possibly, the wisest of men- which addresses the transcendental question: “What is the point of life? What benefit is there to all this toil of man under the sun?” He confesses: “I hated life.” As he explores different pursuits and values: wisdom, (“the more knowledge, the more anger, the more pain”) happiness, indulgence, philosophizing- repeatedly musing: “this too is vanity/ respiration, and breaks the spirit.”
These anguished sentiments are not only not heretical; they’re Biblical.
This week we begin reading the Torah again.
On the very first verse, Rashi offers us currently applicable messages.
1.The creation story is the prelude to our life-manual, primarily to demonstrate that G-d designated the land of Israel for the Jewish people.
2.There was an initial theory to create the world using the attribute of justice, but because G-d knew we wouldn’t survive this way, He prefaced with compassion so that we could survive.
3.“In the beginning of…” what? Israel/Jews, Torah, the world itself? Heaven and Earth are where it all begins. Without the idea of Heaven, Earth existence and events feel pointless, painful, and incomplete.
Theologically, these three extrapolated principles can perhaps be grounding, for some:
Israel is our homeland, and has always been excruciatingly difficult to sustain.
Compassion is the only thing that makes this life endurable.
This is not the end of the story, this is not the complete world. It can’t be. There must be more. Because this, here, now, is too confusing a mixture of darkness and light, good and evil; this has to just be the beginning of….
Jews the world over sing “ami maamin b’emunah shelema,” I believe with complete faith, in 13 Maimonidean principles of G-d and Torah: Creation, Providence, Monotheism, Time-Transcendence, Omniscience, Incorporeality, Prayer, Prophecy, Canon, Justice, Redemption, Afterlife.
We chant, recite, and sing these mantras in good times and in tragedy.
Sometimes we mean it.
Sometimes it’s more of an affirmation.
Deep down we want to believe it.
But for some of us, sometimes, it’s not a complete faith, a perfect faith.
For some of us, sometimes, it’s a fractured, wavering, imperfect faith.
And maybe the fact that despite all that, we can cling to this battered tree of life, in all our broken-hearted agony, is what keeps us, if not whole, then holy.
I don’t know whether any of this makes you feel better.
It doesn’t for me.
But maybe this is not a week for feeling better.
Maybe this is a week when it’s healthy to feel awful.
Faith doesn’t demand being happy in the face of horror.
Maybe it’s just about staying connected, however tenuously, to hope, to humanity, to Him.
Here is another take on this: "Some Bad Parts"