Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

Broken-Hearted at the Yamim Noraim

Cohen women lighting candles

הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם

Gd heals the broken-hearted; Gd binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147

So, here we are, at the cusp of a new year, and our wounds are still open.  Some are older, of course: the pandemic is 6 months old now, and pain experienced then has not necessarily healed yet.  And  that is not even mentioning the heartache and sorrow most of us carry just from having lived to this point  We all have our stories, and so many them include trauma of one sort or another.  And now, COVID has come calling, to irritate our sensitive spots,  to take away that which held our lives together.  We make due; we figure out how to live with sacrifices small and large.  We continue to live lives and make meaning.  But we are hurting, many of us, most of us, perhaps all of us, as we head into these Days of Awe, of reflection and renewal, of atonement and beginnings.  And our wounds are still open.  Where is Gd?

This is not a question I can answer fully, to my satisfaction or anyone’s.  You might as well stop reading now if you think I can solve this problem of suffering and Gd.  But I will wrestle with it, with you, with all of us.

Gd didn’t send COVID, in my belief, nor, unfortunately, will Gd cure it.  That is for humans to do – to use our Gd-given intellect and ambition, to find vaccines and treatments and actions that will help stop the spread of this natural virus.

But Gd may keep us company along the way.  כי עמנו אל, my Hebrew Bible teacher taught us in college.  The message of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, was not of a vengeful God, wrathful, looking to punish us for every mistake and sin.  Rather, “God is with us.” The rabbis underline this belief when they understand one aspect of Gd to be the Shechinah, Gd’s Indwelling, if you will.  This word “Shechinah,” comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for “neighbor.”  What a fantastic image:  Gd who dwells with us, who lives just next door.

Suddenly my life, while still raw and puzzling, is a bit less lonely.  Gd is there along the way, much like a neighbor – sometimes available to lend me some sugar, sometimes not home when I reach out, and sometimes, unaccountably throwing loud, strange parties at 3 AM to which I have not been invited.  OK, the metaphor has its limits.  Still, it helps me to reassess what I am looking for in the Holy One of Blessing.  Even if I do strive to have faith in Divine Providence, in that mysterious term “hashgacha pratit,” literally “personal supervision,” (picture Gd as the mashgiach, kosher supervisor of one’s life!), the idea of the Shechinah frames Gd as dwelling near me, not controlling me, or my life, as a puppet master might. The Divine Supervisor might wander into my back yard, however, and point things out:  “ooo, don’t go there,” or “that seems unwise,” as a human mashgiach might tell remind a new chef, “ that’s not kosher,” or “did you dunk those new pots before using them?”  The difference, of course, is that I have to listen much harder to hear the voice, the urging of my Mashgiach; Gd’s Presence and Voice are hidden, in the still small whispers, as the prophet Eliahu experienced.  But, on the other hand, Gd, in Gd’s role of hashgacha pratit, stays with us; when a human mashgiach might react in horror, declare the kitchen unkosher and walk away, Gd remains, perhaps horrified by our choices, but with us still, waiting for us to return.

Here we are, at the season of teshuvah, of repentance and return.  We cannot pour into shuls together, hugging those we have not seen in weeks or months, waving at friends and fellow congregants, counting the pages until the shofar blasts, singing our favorite tunes with harmonies (and with those who sing badly – we should all sing!).  Instead, we will gather around tables with our families, with those with whom we have been “at home” for weeks and months, dressed up for the holiday, or in our pajamas.  It doesn’t matter.  Rosh Hashanah is coming, and Yom Kippur after that.  It is time to sit down with Gd, and have it out.  How have I messed up my life this year?  How have I fallen short of my best self, of the promises I made last year?  What will I strive to do differently this coming year?  And how has Gd failed us?  I bring to you, O Holy One, my wounds:  the pain of the pandemic, its losses and small griefs; things I wanted and had to give up; things I had to do that were too hard and not enough.  How, O Gd who dwells with us, will You make next year a better one, a new year with promises that only You can keep?

Life is hard right now, Gd. I promise to count my blessings, if You will bind up my wounds.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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