October 13, 2023 /Tishrei 28, 5784
Over the past four years I have received hundreds of emails about this column. Some critical, some looking for clarification, but most complimentary and supportive of the weekly message. Yes, some weeks it was tough to find the right message; whether it was about something happening locally or internationally, whether the tone was joyous or sad, or whether the verse I wanted to write about connected to being Stronger Together. However, I can honestly share that this week’s writing is tough to compose. Tougher than any I believe I have ever had to write in my life.
Candidly, I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling sick to my stomach. I’m tired of having to defend my beloved homeland. I’m tired of saying “Never Again,” and yet somehow it happened again. I’m tired of reading the writings of smart, educated, professionals with covert antisemitic or antizionist agendas who are not helping us move toward a real and sustainable peace. I’m just plain tired!
Yesterday a close friend asked how I was holding up. My response…
Tired, but can’t sleep.
Hungry, but can’t eat.
Angry, but nowhere to yell.
Sad, but have cried too much!
Oh, the tears. Will they ever stop?
When I was a child showing my first interest in the Torah, it’s stories and our relationship with this sacred text, I was fascinated by this week’s Torah portion, Bereisheet (Genesis). Bereisheet is the first weekly reading of the Torah and possesses endless opportunities to delve deep into the how’s, the what’s, and the why’s of our earthly history. As a child interested in science and math, this parshah had it all, Creation, numerology, astronomy, order, structure, and even chaos – what the Torah describes as tohu vavohu, frequently translated as “unformed and void.”
But tohu vavohu is more than just “unformed and void.” The chaos of tohu alone is defined as “formlessness, confusion, unreality, [and] emptiness” and vohu by definition is an almost redundant “emptiness, void, [and] waste.”
So where am I going with this? It was during my days in the classroom over twenty years ago, while teaching this text to a class of fourth graders that I realized how best to describe this phenomenon. If you can remember back to when we sat at the lunchroom table with our friends, whether at school or camp, when at the end of the meal plates still had uneaten leftovers. It was then when someone undoubtedly scooped some of the leftovers into a half-consumed glass of something. Whether the drink was water, milk, or juice, and no matter what the meal, when enough of the solids had been mixed in with the liquid the color almost always turned a dullish grey with random undissolved solids swirling around in disarray … a homemade tohu vavohu.
This is how I feel today.
But, ever the optimist, what gives me hope is that if I, if we are in a state of tohu vavohu, then we need to only look at this week’s parshah for our solution. We must create order from the chaos. All of us are yearning to do something. We feel like waiting and doing nothing is wrong, but what are our options?
Here are four opportunities to fight that tension head on:
- Pray! If attending services and being with fellow congregants is what you need, then go and gather. If being alone and asking yourself the tough questions is more your speed, then challenge away. This is not about what we say, who we say it to, or how we say it, prayer is about reflection and contemplation. Prayer is about giving your soul permission to express itself. Pray through a prayerbook. Pray through art. Pray by going on a walk. But pray for peace because it won’t happen by accident.
- Support! Act on something you believe in. If you have a skill that can be used in a time of crisis. Use it! Support a cause who needs help and who can help those in need. Many of us don’t have those direct skills, so we can support through donation. The act of giving selfless support is known to improve one’s health, outlook, and can be contagious. Share your support with others and help spread the message.
- Inform! There is a LOT of ignorance swirling around. Understand the struggle and help educate those who want to know more but who are lost in the sea of false influence. At our community gathering this past Monday, I shared the following speech, which provides a good starting point for your journey. If you are a parent and unsure how to explain the struggles to your child(ren), use this resource to find out more.
- Study! Our tradition teaches that education is a journey not a destination. Knowledge is knowing the information, but wisdom is knowing what to do with the knowledge. Even if one knew everything, they would be responsible for studying how to use that knowledge. How much do we really know about our heritage, our story, or our traditions and customs? When we are lost on what to do, what better way than to grow in understanding our own story. If you don’t know where to turn, or if you would like to discuss where to start. The Jewish Federation can help liaise you to one of many wonderful learning opportunities around town. Just reach out and let us know.
We also read in this week’s parshah that, “Gd said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. Gd saw that the light was good, and Gd separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:3) Seeing the light is only the first step, we must then separate it from the darkness. At yesterday’s City Council meeting Mayor Nirenberg read a proclamation in support of Israel and referenced the importance of finding the light and helping nurture it so it pushes back and separates from the darkness.
We are in dark times indeed. We have returned to a state of tohu vavohu. But as this week’s Torah portion teaches us, if we are to move forward, if we are to find a different outcome than the one we face, then we must create order from our chaos. Just as Israel is attempting to do in Gaza – separate and eliminate the terrorist from the civilians so that we can then move forward helping to rebuild Gaza as a place where Israelis could safely and willingly go to support. Because we are…