Since the שבת שחורה (black Shabbat) of October 7th, Israelis and Jews around the world have thrown themselves into various forms of action. Mourning, fundraising, volunteering, prayer, political activism, and military service have, each in their own way, provided crucial services and resources to the Jewish people at this time of need.
Many of these means have served personal needs as well. Overcoming deep feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and helplessness in the face of atrocity and war, Jews, following a historical thread in our religion, have thrown themselves into action. In my own circles, this has taken the form of organizing vigils and supply drives, attending rallies and signing petitions, and, perhaps most importantly, creating a strong sense of אחדות (unity) among diverse groups of Jews through discussion spaces and communal programming.
In some ways, this אחדות has manifested itself through traditional Jewish ritual. People have turned to synagogue services and Shabbat, that יום מנוחה וקדושה (day of rest and holiness), as steady refuges from the uncertainty of the world. Ritual has served as a beacon of comfort. These have become irreplaceable for me, and, from what I see on the faces of my fellow Jewish students, so many other Jews as well.
I fear, however, that neither these rituals nor the volunteering and rallying will be enough to get us through this time. As important as it is to find spaces, practices, and people that provide a sense of stability in the face of our current turmoil, we must, at the end of the day, encounter and respond to that very turmoil. Our rituals, communities, patterns, and connections can provide us the strength to do that work, but they can not replace it.
What is it, exactly, that we are supposed to do? I think that there is one wellspring of meaning to which we can turn for guidance and support. One that we are called upon to praise, remember, and speak to each and every day. One that is close enough for us to address as “You”, while distant and other enough to ground and compel our actions. By turning to God, I believe we can profoundly address the complexity of our current moment and build a conversation through which to channel our action.
First of all, God can take it. Our anger, anxiety, helplessness, sadness, rage, love, compassion, unity, and fracture — God can withstand our pouring out these emotions. Our rabbis, leaders, and friends, each dealing with their own struggles, can only handle so much. Depending on one’s theology, God’s endlessness, transcendence, immanence, compassion, or Otherness all make space for emotional outpouring and reflection. God can be our therapist, counselor, partner, parent, child, journal, canvas, or audience. We just need to initiate the conversation.
Second of all, maybe we don’t talk about God because we are too scared to talk about God. After all, what if our reflections lead us to surmise God’s absence? That thought, given the loss of so much stability elsewhere, may be too much for us to bear. To that, I concede. We might come to that conclusion, and it may be scary, overwhelming, and destabilizing. But that in itself should not be a reason to hide from God. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we must eventually face our new reality, with whatever consequences it might bring. And maybe, just maybe, we can find some space for God in that absence as well.
Finally, God can ground our call to action. Whether it be ethics, halakha, social justice, or any other compelled Jewish doing, Jewish tradition has always sought to base our actions in God. I don’t see why this time should be any different. A God-rooted action, whatever it may be, takes into account the complexity and vastness of the world, and brings the history, weight, and meaning of Judaism into our doing.
We Jews have admirably turned to each other and our tradition to help us through these dark, troubling weeks. Adding God into the conversation can take a burden off each others’ shoulders, help us express our own emotions, and give us meaningful, complex language to face our challenging world.
מִן־הַמֵּצַר קָרָאתִי יָּהּ עָנָנִי בַמֶּרְחָב יָהּ
“From a narrow place I called out to God, and I was answered with the expanse of God” (Psalm 118:5) [Translation my own]