How a nation copes with war.
It’s day four of the war waged on us by Hamas. I’m starting to emerge from the paralyzing fear and shock of the first days. As my head clears and I begin to put my thoughts into words, I realize the value of grieving.
We all have many questions. How could this happen? What went wrong in Israel’s military intelligence? How will this affect Israel’s political landscape? The global political landscape? What will happen to Gaza? What about the diaspora?
This article is not going to provide answers to those questions. Instead, I believe that first and formost, we should talk about grief.
In Eicha Rabbah, a compilation of Midrash on the book of Eicha, we find a story in which God looks to humans to teach Him how to mourn. “The Holy One, blessed be He, summoned the ministering angels and said to them: ‘When a flesh-and-blood king’s relative dies, and he mourns, what does he typically do?’ They said to Him: ‘He hangs sackcloth on his entrance.’ He said to them: ‘I, too, will do so.’” (Eicha Rabbah 1:1) The angels go on to mention different things that humans do when they mourn: they rip their clothing, sit silently, alone and in the dark, walk barefoot, and, lastly, weep. And after each of these things, God says, “That is what I will do.” God Himself is devastated about the destruction of Jerusalem, and in order to properly process and mourn His loss, He needs humans to model grief for Him.
At the time of writing, at least 900 people have been killed, 2800 are injured, and at least 100 are held hostage in Gaza. I don’t know what’s going to happen politically. What I do know is that we are going through a national trauma. I also know that we will win, and we’ll outlive them. And in order for us to do that, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of collective grief. 2000 years ago, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, our ancestors tore their clothing. They cried and screamed. They taught us that, in order to move on to a better tomorrow and (re)build a healthy society, we need to grieve. Everyone, even the infinite God, as we learn from the story above, needs to mourn losses in order to process trauma. And everyone, including God, needs others to do it with. Helping each other through it, guiding each other, and holding each other up. That is our communal care.
Our grief is holy, our tears are divine, and the Jewish spirit is eternal.
Gam ze ya’avor. Am Israel Chai.