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Books High Holy Days spirituality

What is God’s Relationship to Suffering and Evil?

As we ask big questions during the High Holy Days, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, presents a range of Jewish responses to both theological and philosophical questions pertaining to God, humanity, and the Jewish people. In the spirit of the High Holy Days, we would like to share some of the inspirational responses included in the book, for a thoughtful and meaningful New Year.

I imagine that God weeps at the sufferings of the whole disharmonious natural world. If God does weep with us, it is with a heart that we wrote into the story. We invented God’s heart, our greatest contribution to God’s tale.

I cannot know why suffering and evil exist. No work of fiction is free of it. It is the stuff of timeless story. However, our greatest spiritual resistance to suffering is metaphor and interpretation. To interpret is divine. God breathed that ability into us.

LITFXXX_Page_1A traditional Jewish ritual response to nightmares is called “the Amelioration of a Dream” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55b). The ritual requires three friends to declare that the dream be interpreted for good. The text explains that all dreams have a hint of prophecy; however, all dreams can be interpreted positively. In fact, the prophecy of the dream lies partially in its interpretation. The dreamer says three times, Adonai shamati v’yareiti—God, I heard what You made me hear and I was frightened. Three friends respond with the prescribed words, “Choose life, for God has already approved your deeds. Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree.”

We dream, but we are also dreamt. We are written, and within that story, we write. It is said in Torah and our liturgy: U’vayom hash’vi-i shavat vayinafash, “On the seventh day God ‘rested.’” Translators struggle in translating vayinafash, suggesting, “On the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.” Vayinafash, however, literally means God “ensouled.” On the seventh day God rested and created spirits. Out of God’s dark, void chamber before Creation, God suddenly dreamed a dream/nightmare and based on that dream/nightmare, the world was sketched and animated in full color. We are the dream/ nightmare. We have little control over the outcome except to interpret it for the good.

A congregant had a double mastectomy and did not know how to love herself afterwards. She would stand before a mirror naked, seeing herself as grotesque. We sought a metaphor that would help her to see herself in a new light. We imagined her body as a sacred altar and that her breasts were the sacrifices that redeemed her life. Years later she told me that now when she stands before the mirror, she thinks “sacred altar” and has found a love for herself inside that she thought had disappeared. She reinterpreted her nightmare through metaphor.

Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.

Excerpted from Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin and published in 2015 by CCAR Press.

Categories
Ethics News Prayer Rabbis

No Text is Worth a Life: A High Holy Day Pledge

As we turn to thoughts of a new year and a new start, here is a pledge to refrain from texting while driving. Texting while driving is responsible for a quarter of all car accidents today, and is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. Please share this pledge from the High Holy Day pulpit, or make it part of your personal Rosh HaShanah spiritual preparation. Perhaps be making this verbal oath in a sacred space amidst a community of witnesses, we may contribute to saving lives.

 

Whoever destroys a single soul destroys a complete world.

Whoever preserves a single soul preserves a complete world. – Talmud Sanhedrin 37a

 At this season we ask: who by fire and who by water?

Today we also ask, who by texting while driving?

An epidemic is sweeping our country.

DWI, Driving While In-text-ified causes 1.6 million accidents a year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 330,000 injuries per year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 11 teen deaths every day.

75% of teens say Driving While In-text-ified is common among their friends.

Half of young drivers have seen their parents Driving While In-text-ified.

Driving While In-text-ified makes you 23 times more likely to crash.

Driving While In-text-ified slows your brake reaction speed by 18%.

Driving While In-text-ified is the source of nearly 25% of all car accidents.

Driving While In-text-ified is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving after 4 beers.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time.

At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field completely blind.

Who by fire, who by water? Who by texting while driving? On this holy day, as we reflect on our deeds and resolve to better ourselves and the world, we invite you to put your hand on your heart and join us by repeating this sacred pledge:

 

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

We will use only hands-free devices in the car.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.

וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם

 Yehi ratzon milefanecha Adonai Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v’imoteinu shetolicheinu leshalom vetatzideinu leshalom vetadricheinu leshalom vetismecheinu leshalom vetagi’einu limechoz cheftzeinu lechaim ulesimchah uleshalom.

May it be Your will God of our fathers and mothers that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Amen.

Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.