The days, weeks and months pass by, and I still don’t have time to think. This is indicated by the fact that I still greet friends and acquaintances daily with a “How are you doing?”, immediately followed by a sheepish realization that there is no easy way to answer that right now. And when friends and family abroad text me the same question, my speech bubble remains empty. No emoji even comes close to conveying the lingering shock, sadness, worry, faith and hope that all vie inside of me for expression.
In an effort to achieve some semblance of normalcy, for society and for myself, I have been attending my Wednesday classes at Matan Women’s Torah Learning Center in Raanana. For the past three weeks we have been learning Megillat Eicha (Lamentations). You might think this a poor topic choice for already heavy times, but ironically, there is solace in Jeremiah’s description of the tragic massacre of our Jewish ancestors 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. The words echo our modern headlines and provide a necessary zoom out moment. Redemption came then and it will come again.
There are many lessons in the words and chapter structure of Eicha. Chapter one describes the devastation. Chapter two, expresses the anger and feelings of abandonment by God, who said He would never leave us. Recurring word groups describe destruction, anger, betrayal, enemies, and despair. God is barely addressed directly.
But in Chapter 3 we hear the discourse turn. Suddenly the author is speaking directly to Hashem. It’s more than just a vivid description of what they are experiencing. As they process the grief, we see the shift out of disbelief, destruction and anger into prayer and the hope for a better tomorrow.
I submit that we are at that stage now.
The initial shock of October 7 has worn off. While we admit that we do not know Hashem’s plan, we have some difficult questions and justifiable complaints for God: is He using excessive punishment toward us… how are babies and women and elderly held hostage in the depths of hell and soldiers in the prime of their lives falling in battle and leaving behind shattered families and a society on the verge of breaking?
But this is precisely where faith and prayer enter. As the Torah and history teach us, this is the moment we have been preparing for all our lives. And that we practice in intervals throughout the Jewish calendar. When we read Perek Lamed of Tehillim as we light the Chanukah candles. When we shake the Gragger, when we bite into that Matza.
Deep down we know that with Hashem’s help we will prevail. That just like in difficult ancient and modern times we will get through this and emerge stronger and better. Am Yisrael Chai!
But we have never so acutely felt the pain of the process that preceded the redemption.
Lately, I’ve felt more than ever the need for help to make it to the finish line. We can seek that same help in the stories of our past. But in a magnificent way, we have that very help here right now under our noses, too. In the myriad ways we have leaned on each other in the past three months. In the way we are holding each other’s hands and hugging each other tight. In the knowing look or the hot meal, or the flag bearing on the side of the road. Each of these carries so much love and meaning. It is a soul connection.
There is another source of assistance hovering nearby and I have also felt this more acutely in my day-to-day life. Divine glimmers of hope surround us daily. The whisper-soft moments where Hashem reminds you that He is still there. That help is on its way.
I imagine that this helped propel Miriam forward in those dark days in Egypt. When all hope felt lost, her baby brother was born, and she immediately saw the “good”ness that he brought into the world. This alone may have given her the courage to watch from afar as he floated down the river. Then another glimmer when the actual princess had compassion on that baby and not only allowed him to return to his mother but insisted on paying her for her mothering services. In the big picture, these may have seemed small solace, but the fact that the Torah records them seems to tell us that the tiny moments are precisely the ones that give us the strength to get out of bed another day and put one foot in front of the other.
I had one of those moments recently. That same day we were learning Eicha Perek Gimmel, the founder of Matan Raanana entered our classroom with an apology. “I’m sorry to interrupt your learning, but I know you are studying Eicha, right? Tzvika Greenglick, the father of our beloved local Shauli who fell in battle a few weeks ago, is here planning the shloshim for his son. He happens to have a recording of Shauli singing the first few pesukim of Perek Gimmel. Would you like to hear it?”
Through my tears, I could hear Hashem’s whisper. This is not in vain. You are still my nation. I am still your God. You are fighting My fight and representing Me on earth. It’s a big job. I am here and actively present, but I can’t do the work for you.
We are deep in the struggle now for good against evil. We are so deep in that turning back doesn’t even feel easier than pressing on. It’s heavy. Our hearts are SO heavy now. But we must persist.
The glimmers of light start small, but they will become brighter. We have the choice to let the light in. We can choose to hear the messages that surround us daily. We can choose to be the light for someone one day, and grasp onto their light the next day, when it feels too much to bear.
We choose to get out of bed. We maintain our routine the best we can, while in the back of our minds we always think about the soldiers and hostages. We worry about everyone here in Israel, experiencing the dismal reality. We are concerned for our Jewish brothers abroad, and a world that has gone mad. We are terrifyingly close to losing faith in humanity at large and understand why Hashem once scrapped the whole thing and started over. But we also know that this will not happen again.
Our choice is clear: we are here to stay, and to lead the world back from the brink. Little by little. Step by step. Post by post. Prayer by prayer. Meal by meal. Smile by smile. Whisper by whisper.