To Everything There Is a Season

A meditation shared with my congregation in America:

From Kohelet/Ecclesiastes:
לַכֹּל זְמָן וְעֵת לְכָל־חֵפֶץ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם
L’kol z’man v’et l’chol chafetz tachat ha-shamayim.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven;

A time to be born, and a time to die;
We are a people who celebrate birth and mourn those who die.
Not the other way around. That is the behavior of our enemies.

A time to plant, and a time to uproot that which is planted;
We are a people driven by hope to plant roots and build relationships where we can. This is an expression of our holy mission. But wisdom also dictates when we must shift gears and reassess our assumptions.

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
We are a people who sanctify life and believe that all people are created in the image of God. But we are also a nation that has learned – through trial and history – that security and self-defense come at a cost. And in the aftermath of the ravages of war, in time, we must shift our energies toward healing.

A time to break down, and a time to build up;
We are a people who are acquainted with portability. We know that our ancient ancestors lived in tents and portable dwellings. They knew when to set them up, and they knew when to break them down. We are taught to never live with an illusion of permanence. We must always struggle to find security between those moments of building up and breaking down.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
We are a people currently weeping. We are watching nightmares against the Jewish people being live-streamed and being applauded. We are watching news outlets spread misinformation and ancient antisemitic conspiracies run rampant amongst our friends. So yes, there should be tears. But when the time is appropriate, we will have the chance to laugh once again.

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
In the immediate week following the terror attacks of 10/7, we watched the Jewish nation bury well over 1000 people. But we also watched weddings and baby namings and brisses and Shabbat celebrations. Jews around the world are living in both moments of terror and moments of joy at the same time.

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
We are a people acquainted with exile. And throughout our years of wandering, we dreamed of being gathered back together. We did so in 1948. And those who live in, and defend the land, are holy. Just as those who remain in the diaspora are holy. We are a community of stones scattered around the world. But we still dream of a time of redemption when all stones will be gathered together.

A time to embrace, a time to refrain from embracing;
We are a people who pick up on social cues. In our daily interactions, wisdom dictates when we need to offer a hand or a hug or a word. And wisdom also dictates that we know when to give people space to process these moments in solitude.

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
We are people called to redeem the captives. Our chief goal is to seek out those who are being held hostage by the terrorists. And we are crippled with fear knowing that sometimes those who are being held hostage will not be seen again. Yet, we still seek and hope.

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
We are a people who build amazing alliances. We pride ourselves on being allies for so many marginalized communities. We have marched, we have petitioned, we have lobbied, we have housed, and we have built up relationships based on the holy belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. But then there is silence when the tables are turned. Wisdom teaches us that in the aftermath of these days of terror, we must check our friendships and rebuke those who have been silent.

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
We are a people who rend our clothes and rip fabric upon hearing of death. And we are all currently ripping our clothes. But hope and history teach us that there will be a time for repair.

A time to keep silent, and a time to speak.
We are people besieged on so many fronts. And sometimes the best response to social media outrage is silence. Wisdom teaches us that no one changes their mind because of a social media post. And so we scroll past and make mental notes of who has emotional intelligence and who does not. And when the time comes, we will speak out loud and clear and with a unified voice.

The ancient writer Kohelet/Ecclesiastes gave us this model of a world filled with polar opposites. As much as Kohelet tried to understand and master the world around him, there was always an opposite to whatever he claimed. This troubled him – and so he tried to process how to live and love and behave – when the world gives us such a wide variety of challenges. His struggle then is our struggle now. At the end of Kohelet, the narrator says that we should place our faith in, and revere God. I echo that teaching. But the human experience is still messy. And in moments like these, we need perspective and patience to believe that the arc of the moral universe is indeed long, but it will bend toward justice.

We are a people with a new language. We need to be comfortable with the language of war, of security, of self-defense, of rejecting moral equivalency, of clarifying right from wrong, and being deeply articulate in the facts of Israel’s history. This is our current best offense and defense here in the diaspora. As I write these words, I am watching the news every day for some glimmer of hope. But it is not a hope for a ceasefire – that will come in time – it is a hope for an end to those who seek to destroy the Jewish people.

And yet, we still pray for a return to normalcy, a desire for peace, a desire for tranquility for all those who live in the land. May Israel rout out those who seek to upend these goals. As we support Israel and her precious soldiers in these efforts, and as we watch from afar, we hear the paraphrased words of the medieval Jewish poet Judah Halevi: while we may be in the west, our hearts are in the east.

ה’ עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן ה’ יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם
May strength be granted to God’s people;
and may God bless this people with well-being.

About the Author
Neal Katz is the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, Texas. He is a member of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, Recharge Reform, and locally, he is involved in a number of non-profit organizations.
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