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Reflections On Tragedy And Hope

11/09/2018 12:12:10 PM


Some quickly written thoughts that are swirling in my mind as we near the end of this tumultuous week:

Another shooting. 12 dead in California.

A 7-month-old baby, a grandson of a dear couple in our community, a long-awaited baby boy, passed away.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev. A new energy flows into the world. Kislev is the energy of miracles, the supra-natural.

Tomorrow will be the 80th anniversary of Kirstallnacht.

Two thoughts give me strength and hope:

  1. At the funeral, the baby’s father got up to speak. A tall man, hunched, weak and broken-hearted. His words had a hard time coming out of his mouth. They were soft and deliberate. He quoted a verse from Psalms which we recited in Hallel this morning: “Hodu lahashem ki tov ki leolam chasdo – Praise G-d for He is good; His kindness is everlasting.” He thanked Hashem for giving him and his wife a precious gift for 7 months.

If he hadn’t said these words, I wouldn’t have the audacity to write them.

  1. This week’s Torah portion Toldot describes the birth of twins, Jacob and Esav. Rivkah, their mother, was told that she was carrying the founders of two different nations who will forever be at odds with each other. Esav was the forebear of Edom (Rome) and Jacob was the forbear of Israel. This prophecy has been true throughout our history. Esav’s descendants always persecuted Jacob’s descendants. Their clash has been the cause of the greatest amount of bloodshed throughout world history.

The recent massacre in Pittsburgh was a direct result from this conflict. The shooter in California was a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, a hotbed for perpetuating the ancient conflict. (I’m writing cautiously. We don’t know many facts; the murderer was a murderer. And we grieve together with the victims’ families. But authorities are suggesting that his time in Afghanistan screwed up his mental state. A friend who served with him said something scary, “I’m not surprised someone I knew ended up doing a mass shooting…. Guys struggle. We’ve lost more Marines in our peer group to suicide than we ever lost in Afghanistan.”)

The effects of this conflict are hurting us in more ways than we can imagine.

Yet the Talmud shares a unique twist in this teaching. Rivkah was told that she has two ‘goyim’ in her womb. ‘Goyim’ means nations. But although the word is read as ‘goyim’, it is spelled in the Torah as ‘geyim’. ‘Geyim’ means the proud ones. Based on this Rabbi Yehuda son of Rav taught, that the prophecy alluded to the fact that these two nations aren’t necessarily in conflict with each other, and they can in fact work in tandem towards a peaceful and harmonious world. Esav’s ‘hunting skills’ could be used to destroy evil, and Jacob’s ‘studiousness and diligence’ could be used to spread wisdom and kindness.

Rabbi Yehuda points to the unique relationship between Antoninus, an emperor of Rome, and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the leader of the Jewish people, during the 2nd century CE. They respected each other, consulted with each other, and utilized their respective qualities towards the greater good.

We are fortunate that in our times we have seen a shift in the attitude of Esav’s descendants. Many of them are great friends and supporters of Israel and Jewish people. So it is important – and comforting – to know that we aren’t doomed and there is hope. It is not only possible but in fact necessary that different nations and faith systems come together, work together, to eradicate senseless evil and hatred, and to fill the world – under One G-d - with peace, respect, goodness and kindness.

There is too much senseless pain in our world. We all must feel it. But we know that one day, very soon, perhaps today, it will all be good. Jewish Tradition and spiritual wisdom teaches us that the era of redemption can arrive in a moment.

May all who need comfort be consoled by G-d, and may the new month bring forth abundant and miraculous healing and blessings.

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784