Let There Be Light

From the narrow place of despair I cried to You…

It was inevitable. We discuss the events of the day around the dinner table. There was no way to avoid telling our son, who turns thirteen this week and assumes the obligations of Jewish adulthood. One of those obligations, surely, is sharing in the repair of this broken world.

There was no way to avoid telling him that three more souls were taken by force. There was no way to avoid telling him about the senseless violence, the suffering, the sorrow in this broken world.

I turned to my spouse, who so evenly explained what had happened, carefully articulating what details we knew to be accurately reported. Grateful that he stepped into the breach, I told him of my despair.

What does making friends in different faith communities accomplish? What good is it to bake bread and brew coffee, and make prayer beads and praise the Maker of Peace in the Universe? What words and deeds of compassion can counteract such hostility?

He was quick to remind me that every single act of kindness, every single moment of connection, matters. He offered me a lifeline, pulling my faltering faith toward a wide-open space, where it has room to grow.

Suzanne Barakat shines a light on the essence of her brother: “He was happy in everything that he did. He made it light.” She reminds me that, even in the narrowest place of despair, there is still room for the light.


Reciting the Lord’s Prayer


“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” (Matthew 6:13)

I woke up this morning, after a few fitful hours of sleep, with these words on my lips.

Yesterday, after more than six years of working from home, I gave in to temptation. Today, I face my regrets, reciting the Lord’s Prayer as part of my daily blessings.

You may wonder why a rabbi is reciting what is considered to be a Christian prayer. I’m not surprised, however, since I’ve been a student of History of Religions since my college days, when I learned that The Lords’ Prayer is rooted in Jewish texts, including the Talmud. If you are interested in this matter, I recommend Julie Galambush’s The Reluctant Parting, especially the chapter on The Synoptic Gospels. I am more interested, however, in confessing my trespasses than discussing the Jewish roots of Christian prayer.

My morning routine usually involves dropping my son at school, listening to NPR news on the short ride home, walking the dog and sitting down to write—a routine that has been disrupted this week. Jewish guilt impels me to offer this excuse before immediately retracting it and taking full responsibility for making a bad choice.

television-imageI return from running errands and attending a meeting at my daughter’s school, and decide to have an early lunch before starting my work. I sit down on the couch with a sandwich and turn on the television with the intention of catching up on the news.

Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, begins his briefing on the shootings in Ottawa, speaking earnestly about the close relationship between the United States and Canada. Thousands of people are locked down, without knowing too many details of the events that precipitated the lockdown, as provider’s of the 24-hour news cycle try to make sense of the chaos. Someone makes a reference to 9/11 and I’m transported back in time. I sit, mesmerized, long after my lunch break should have concluded.

Later in the day, I give into a second temptation; scrolling through my Facebook News Feed, I learn about a dead infant in Jerusalem, an injured young woman on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Late in the evening, near midnight, I succumb to the first temptation a second time. I learn from Rachel Maddow that Ottawa’s lockdown did not lift until after nightfall. There is some good news, too, about the two patients who were being treated for Ebola having fully recovered. But this tidbit comes too late to nourish me; the surfeit of bad news that I invited into my home—all day—has weighed me down with worry.

I sit on the couch, watching reruns of my favorite cop shows, hoping they will offer an escape from reality, a passageway to sleep. My brain concedes long after my legs have fallen asleep under the weight of a sleeping dog.

Today, I don’t give in to temptations of television or Facebook news. I forgive myself yesterday’s trespasses and beg God to deliver us—our world—from evil.


The Truth Hurts


When our children were young, we had an agreement with their teachers: “We promise not to believe half of what they tell us about you, if you promise not to believe half of what they say about us.” This went a long way toward preventing hasty judgments and angry accusations.  In fifteen years, no teacher we encountered was the worst, meanest or most incompetent; nor were we the parents whose phone calls they dreaded returning. Sometimes half of our kids’ complaints about a teacher were true, but our commitment to arrive at an understanding of the truth together with the teacher saved us a lot of unnecessary embarrassment.

I was reminded of this yesterday, while reading a deluge of Facebook status updates about the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, most of which began with the phrase “Can you believe THIS?” and included a link to an article with the headline, “Jews Ordered to Register in East Ukraine.” Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. Moreover, I couldn’t believe how many of my FB friends believed and shared it. When rumors that fit with our perception of truth are reported as facts, we are easily persuaded to believe them wholeheartedly.

More disturbing to me was the post on a colleague’s wall of an article with the headline, “Mayor ‘Kind Of Agreed’ with White Supremacist Accused of Killing 3 at Jewish Centers,” which was followed by numerous comments invoking the f-bomb alongside characterizations of this mayor as ignorant and evil. I don’t disagree with these assessments of the man; I am merely concerned that in venting our outrage we fail to deal with a deeper issue—the fear and pain his remarks stir within us.

Am I troubled by these recent developments? You bet I am. I was incredulous, and felt utterly betrayed, as I read Frank Bruni’s op-ed. The realization that I’d believed the wrong half of the truth and argued that anti-Muslim attacks outpaced anti-Jewish attacks here at home was difficult to absorb. When I read the piece a second time, however, I felt validated by Bruni’s confession about his own miscalculations: “While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.” How much do our assumptions and expectations lead us to confirm our beliefs—partial truths—as the TRUTH?

the truth

Clearly, humans have a complicated relationship with truth. While we possess a desire to know the whole truth, we mistrust others that claim their beliefs to be true. These competing needs—to maintain our grasp on the truth and to dispel the untruths of others—can cause an unbearable anxiety that impels us to react with urgency rather than thoughtful reflection.

When we are anxious, it is natural to construct a personal narrative to make sense of the events outside our control. It’s easier to blame others for our pain—wrought up with anger we enjoy an adrenaline rush that masks our true terrors—than to confront the fear that resides within us.