Categories
chaplains Healing mental health

Bikur Cholim: Bringing God with You on Your Visit

“One should follow the attributes of the Holy One of Blessing…Just as the Holy One of Blessing visits the sick as it is written with regard to God’s appearing to Abraham following his circumcision: ‘And the Eternal appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre’ (Genesis 18:1), so too, should you visit the sick.” (Sotah 14a)

Bikur cholim is, of course, a large part of our job as rabbis, especially these days during the midst of the pandemic.  And the visiting is hard, because it is all virtual. We don’t get to be like God and visit Abraham while he was sunning himself outside his tent as he healed from his formal, ritual entry into the b’rit with God. And yet, we know how important our presence is, even an online one or a phone call. The visit is real, even if the technology is virtual.

As someone with chronic illnesses, both “physical” and mental, I am often on the receiving end of bikur cholim. Whenever I am in the hospital, I always ask for a visit from the chaplain office, Jewish or not; I like a chance to talk theology and theodicy, and I find relief in a visitor that is concerned for me, but not so upset at my illness that I have to comfort them in return. Over the years, I have (as I am sure many of you have), collected favorite “what not to say” sayings. One chaplain (a lay person, not Jewish) came into my room as I was recovering from a medication reaction. With a big smile, she said, “Hi, I’m Marie, from the chaplains office. I understand you are Jewish. I love the Jews!” It’s hard to follow up on that. I mean, I want to be loved, but…

We all know, at least in theory, that bikur cholim is all about the “I-Thou” moment, the being together, person-to-person, recognizing the Divine in the other, and opening ourselves up to the other, to risk showing who we are, the Divine in ourselves. And truly doing that, creating that safe, gentle holding space for the sick person to just be—well, that, after a while may be, not only moving and profound, but also exhausting. Being vulnerable is risky; it may be frightening. And in the midst of all the other things one has to do these days simply to keep one’s congregation, one’s nursing home or other job function, summoning all that energy to be fully present when calling/ Zooming with yet another sick person may simply feel like too much. 

Instead, we text or email: “I’m thinking of you.  R’fuah sh’leimah.” And that is not nothing. Being remembered matters, at least to me, when I am ill. It is not, however, the same as the gift of your presence—even if our time together is only a short phone call. The warmth of your voice on the phone (even just a message on my voicemail) feels healing, and I save it for months to play back in hard moments; if we actually connect, you might make me laugh for a moment or let me cry in your presence. All of this matters more than you can imagine.

And all the more so when my illness is psychological and not just physical.  From the depths of my depression, I do not have the energy to reach out, to figure out what I need and ask for the help I need. When you extend your hand, it can be a lifeline into my abyss. 

In the time that I have been struggling with my depression (over 35 years and counting!), as well as my struggles physically with my stroke and its aftermath, I have been visited by rabbis and friends of all sorts. So many of them, of you, have talked with me, made jokes, sat with me in silence (although most people find that hard to do, it is necessary at times; a good thing to remember!). And many, virtually all of the rabbis, as well as my best friend, who is an Episcopal priest, have offered to pray for me, to put me on their Mi Shebeirach list. I was, and am, always grateful for that; praying for me, for anyone, is, in my belief, is a way of placing me, metaphorically, from one’s heart into God’s hand. But in that time, only one person, a rabbinic friend, has ever offered to pray WITH me at that moment. 

And that is also what I needed. When I am depressed, it is not just that God feels hard to reach. It is that when I reach out to God, I experience a deep, dark, whirling abyss, and I fear that I shall fall into in, falling forever into nothingness. I can’t pray. But if someone were to pray with me (and sometimes I find the strength to ask a clergy friend to pray with me), then I have a hand to hold. My theology, my belief feels tenuous at best, but when you pray with me, I can lean on your faith, as it were, if only for a moment.  And that is a blessing.

I know it might feel awkward to ask each person: would you like me to say a prayer with you? But if you don’t ask, you don’t know. Some people might just like to say the Sh’ma together, or sing whatever Mi Shebeirach your community is using, while others might like a Psalm or a prayer you make up in the moment, just for that person or family. Especially in these days, when we cannot hold the hand of the person we are visiting, offering a prayer as part of our bikur cholim may be yet another way of connecting with those who are hurting. It is bringing the Holy One of Blessing right there, into the FaceTime call.


Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs.  She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.  She may be reached at ravsjcohen@gmail.com

Categories
Poetry Prayer

A Prayer of Courage and Consolation

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is a poet, spiritual counselor, inspirational speaker, and author of CCAR Press publications Omer: A Counting, published in 2014, and Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry, and Mindfulness Practice, published in 2019. In this unprecendented time of senseless racist killing, violence, and unrest, she shares a prayer for courage, originally published in Amen.


Holy One of Blessing,
grant us the courage and resolve
to speak when there is hatred,
to act when there is confusion,
to join with others in building a world of safety,
understanding, and acceptance.

Because there is hate, dear God,
help us heal our fractured and broken world.

Because there is fear, dear God,
grant courage and faith to those in need.

Because there is pain, dear God,
bring healing to the shattered and wounded.

Because there is hope, dear God,
teach us to be a force for justice and kindness.

Because there is love, dear God,
help us to be a beacon of light and compassion.

As it is written:
Be strong and let your heart have courage. (Joshua 1:6)
Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:15)


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois.

Categories
member support Prayer Rabbis Rituals spirituality

Prayers for a Time of Separation from Loved Ones and A Ritual of Farewell from Afar

In the current reality of social distancing due to COVID-19, it has become clear that we need new rituals. Just like the transition from sacrifice to prayer after the fall of the Temple, we yearn for new practices to cope with this unprecedented time. As rabbis, not doctors, our expertise lies in finding words. We create sacred moments to bring comfort and offer solace to weary and frightened souls and hope you find peace in these prayers.


T’filat HaDerech – A Prayer for an Uncharted Journey While Being Separated from Loved Ones in Need of Care

מַאי דְּכְתִיב (דברים יג, ה) אַחֲרֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם תֵּלֵכוּ וְכִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לְאָדָם לְהַלֵּךְ אַחַר שְׁכִינָה … אֶלָּא לְהַלֵּךְ אַחַר מִדּוֹתָיו שֶׁל הקב”ה: מַה הוּא מַלְבִּישׁ עֲרוּמִים…אַף אַתָּה הַלְבֵּשׁ עֲרוּמִים הקב”ה בִּיקֵּר חוֹלִים … אַף אַתָּה בַּקֵר חוֹלִים הקב”ה נִיחֵם אֲבֵלִים …אַף אַתָּה נַחֵם אֲבֵלִים

What is the meaning of that which is written: “You shall walk after Adonai your God?” Is it possible for people to walk in God’s ways?…Rather, the meaning is that we should imitate God’s attributes: Just as God clothes the naked…so too you should clothe the naked. Just as God visits the sick…so too you should visit the sick. Just as God comforts mourners…so too you should comfort mourners….

–Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 14a:3–4

But what if we cannot, in the way that we would want to?  

טֶרֶם אֶקְרָא אֵלֶיךָ אַתָּה תַּעֲנֶה … Terem ekra eilecha Atah taaneh, Hear our cry Adonai, that You might answer us even before we cry out to You.  May we know that God hears our cry.

.וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶת נַאֲקָתָם וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת־אַבְרָהָם אֶת־יִצְחָק וְאֶת־יַעֲקֹב
.וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים

God heard their moaning, and God remembered the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

–Exodus 2:24–25

.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ 

Y’hi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai, Eloheinu v’Elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu.

May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and God of our ancestors, that You will support our footsteps on this uncharted journey. 

Guide us and our loved ones toward peace and wholeness and help us reach our destination committed to life, joy, and peace, and unbroken by our new reality. 

Help us to know that our loved ones, whether near or far, are with us. Their love for us will sustain us wherever our journey might lead. As circumstances arise that had been previously unimaginable, help us to know that their love for us, and ours for them, is an unbreakable bond. 

May those caring for them in our absence be blessed and held in this holiest of work. Though separated from them, we affirm that we are present with them through You, wherever our journey might lead. Like the Pillar of Cloud dwelling upon the Israelites as they wandered in the desert (Exodus 13:21–22), You are ever-present. We shall not fear.  

May You hear the sound of our prayers, because You are the God who hears prayers and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who ever hears our prayers.

By Rabbi Sara Rich and Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh, 2020

Seder P’reidah—A Ritual of Farewell from Afar

This ritual is intended for close relatives or friends who cannot be at the bedside of their dying loved one because of distancing measures. It is intended to replicate and facilitate saying goodbye in order to provide a sense of closure and peace for the loved ones. The ritual can be performed with an individual or group in one home or with a small group over the phone or video conferencing. There is an option to light a candle during this ceremony and to extinguish it at the conclusion in grape juice or sweet wine to represent the emotional mixture of grief and happy memories.

1.      Psalms of Comfort

“Because you are devoted to me, I will deliver you; I will keep you safe for you know My name. When you call on Me, I will answer you; I will be with you in distress; I will rescue you and make you honored.”

–based on Psalm 91:14–15

“God will guard your life. The Eternal will guard your going and coming, now and forever.”

–based on Psalm 121:7–8

“O Eternal, God of my deliverance, when I cry out in the night before You, let my prayer reach You; incline Your ear to my cry. I call to You, O Eternal, each day; I stretch out my hands to you.”

–based on Psalm 88:2,10

2.      Sharing Personal Memories

Each person present (in person or remotely) shares a memory or blessing of the loved one. If desired, each person can light a candle at the start of their remarks.

.יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי, וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, יְיְ צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי

Yih’yu l’ratzon imrei fi, v’hegion libi l’fanecha, Adonai tzuri v’goali.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.

–based on Psalm 19:15

3.      ViduiConfession on Behalf of the Loved One 

Adonai, God of our ancestors, all is now in Your hands.
Forgive and release any hurts or wrongdoings 
done consciously or unconsciously.
Lift up all ______’s worries and fears. 
Wash them away.
Let goodness flow over {him/her/them} and surround {him/her/them} now.
Help {him/her/them} as {he/she/they} readies/y for {his/her/their} next passage.
May {his/her/their} worries for us be eased. 
Let {him/her/them} know You will walk alongside, and be present for us, for {his/her/their} soul is entwined with ours. 
As {he/she/they} comes close to You, bathe {him/her/them} in Your light.
Love {him/her/them} 
and carry {him/her/them}.
Shelter {him/her/them} under Your wings.
Into Your hand we trust {his/her/their} soul. 
Gently, lovingly, tend {him/her/them} now.

By Rabbi Vicki Hollander, printed in L’chol Z’man V’eit, © 2015 CCAR Press, Mourning, p. 6

4. The Priestly Blessing

[Masculine:] 

.יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִֹשְמְרֶךָ
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵֹם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha.
Ya-eir Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.

[Feminine:]

.יְבָרְכֵךְ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֵךְ
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלַיִךְ וִיחֻוּנֵךְ
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלַיִךְ וְיָשֵֹם לָךְ שָׁלוֹם

Y’var’cheich Adonai v’yishm’reich.
Ya-eir Adonai panav elayich vichuneich.
Yisa Adonai panav elayich v’yasem lach shalom.

[Plural:]

.יְבָרֶכְכֶן/ם יְהוָה וְיִֹשְמָרְכֶן/ם
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֲלֵיכֶן/ם וִיחֻנְכֶן/ם
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֲלֵיכֶן/ם וְיָשֵֹם לָכֶן/ם שָׁלוֹם

Y’varech’chen/m Adonai v’yishmarchen/m.
Ya-eir Adonai panav aleichen/m vichun’chen/m.
Yisa Adonai panav aleichen/m v’yasem l’chen/m shalom.

Adonai blesses you and watches over you.
Adonai’s Presence shines upon you andsheds grace all around you.
Adonai garbs you in light and bestows peace upon you.

–Numbers 6:24–26 

5. Calling upon God

!שְׁמַע ,יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְיְ אֶחָד

Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad! 

Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One!

.בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va-ed.

Blessed is God’s name whose glorious dominion is forever and ever.

. יְיְ הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים

Adonai hu HaElohim. 

Adonai is God. 

6.      Final Verses

In God’s hand I entrust my spirit, when I sleep and when I am awake. As long as my soul is with my body, the Eternal is with me, I shall not fear.

Lech/L’chi/L’chu l’Shalom.

Go in peace.

(The flames are extinguished.)

By Rabbi Sara Rich and Rabbi Ilene Haigh, 2020


Rabbi Sara Rich, NY’11, is the Executive Director of Hillel of Buffalo.
Rabbi Ilene Haigh, NY’12, is the rabbi at the Woodstock Area Jewish Community/ Congregation Shir Shalom, in Woodstock, Vermont.

Categories
Prayer

A Prayer for the Frustrated and Disappointed

As a result of the the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have faced or are facing the reality of long-awaited celebrations and gatherings suddenly canceled or postponed—b’nei mitzvah, weddings, holidays, even Shabbat services. Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner shares a poem he wrote to offer some perspective and hope to help us manage the sense of disappointment, frustration, and loss that we face when our much-anticipated in-person gatherings turn virtual.


Light of Hope, Lens of Vision
You made us eager and excited,
Setting our hearts on celebrations and pride
In milestones reached and challenges overcome.

Yet you forged us for loss,
For grief, for anger and for the pain
Of what could have-been.

Does One depend on the Other,
To make meaning, to focus view,
To feel blessed rather than cursed,
Contented over wanting?

Are we to nurture a seedling
Of character, or humility,
To better sense our place,
Or privilege, or fortune
In merely being?

Or is this just the way things are,
As we fix our needs and desires,
Our dreams and our faith,
Upon a world and life
That rises to meet us,
Or simply drifts away.

And so, we find You,
Not in the futile plaint,
But in the length of road;
Not in the absence or void,
But in the space, newly found;
Sparks from the silence,
Stoked into resilience.

Blessed Are You, The Holy One of Hope,
Who holds out the horizon,
And turns us into
Another day.


Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner is the senior rabbi of Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington. He enjoys spending time with his family, enjoying the majestic climes of the Pacific Northwest.

Categories
Holiday Passover Pesach Prayer

A Passover Like No Other

Last year we ended our Seders with “Next year in Jerusalem,” imagining a new year filled with hopes and dreams realized, parting ways with visions of a whole new kind of gathering.

Now, here we are, a whole new gathering for sure, but one none of us could have imagined. Instead of the sounds of bride and groom singing in the streets of Jerusalem, we are reminded of Lamentations: Lonely are the streets.

We will gather electronically and spiritually, even if not physically. We will return to the beginnings of our peoplehood to nurture hopes for brighter and healthier tomorrows.

Passover during a pandemic places parents and children apart and together, connected and distant all at once.

Still, look around, look at the screen and see the smiles, look outside and see the season’s new growth, sense the hope so central to Passover and to us as Jews.

Still, take a breath, take in the beauty of the Seder table, no matter the particulars. See the people coming together to retell a tale, finding our own voices in our shared inheritance.

Still, listen to the voices, some near and some far, some with us physically, some on screen, some in spirit. Hear the voices urging us on, helping us to see beyond today to a brighter tomorrow.

Pesach presents an intersection in time for all of us. Our old ways and our new, our enslavements and our freedom, our history and our future.

We are reminded of the intersections of our people—with Egypt, Rome, and so many more. Each presented both possibility and potential problems.

This Passover, as we join in new ways, remind us of our perch at history’s intersections. Will we go back or move forward? Will we survey the land and learn from all that is arrayed before us, or charge ahead into an unknown?

Tonight, the voices of our past join with us. Listen close and you will hear the whispers: We Jews believe in hope. We Jews believe in possibility. We Jews pursue freedom for all. This year we are enslaved. Next year, we pray, may we be free!


Rabbi Daniel Fellman is the rabbi of Temple Concord in Syracuse, New York. 

Categories
Books Healing Poetry Prayer spirituality

Book Excerpt: “Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice,” By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

CCAR Press is honored to release Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar’s latest book, Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice. This collection includes prayers for personal use, prayers for use at communal gatherings, prayers and readings for moments of grief and moments of joy, a collection of daily Psalms, and focus phrases and questions for meditation. Rabbi Kedar’s new book is available for purchase now.

Below, we are share one of the many inspiring passages found in Amen.

Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, and other publications by Rabbi Kedar, are available for purchase here.

“The Archaeologist of the Soul”

I suppose that the archaeologist
delights in brokenness.
Shards are proof of life.
Though a vessel, whole, but dusty
and rare, is also good.

I suppose that the archaeologist
does not agonize over the charred
lines of destruction signifying
a war, a conquest, a loss, a fire,
or a complete collapse.
The blackened layer
seared upon the balk
is discovery.

So why do I mourn,
and shiver,
and resist?
Why do I weep
as I dig deeper
and deeper still?
Dust, dirt,
buckets of rubble,
brokenness,
a fire or two,
shattered layers
of a life that
rebuilds upon
the discarded,
the destroyed,
and then
the reconstructed,
only to break again,
and deeper still,
shards upon shards,
layers upon layers.

If you look carefully,
the earth reveals its secrets.
So does the soul,
and the cell,
and the sinew,
and the thought,
and the wisp of memory,
and the laugh,
and the cry,
and the heart,
that seeks its deepest truth,
digging down,
down to bedrock.

Rock bottom they call it,
and in Hebrew,
the Mother Rock.

God of grace,
teach me
that the layers
of brokenness
create a whole.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area. Her previously published books include God Whispers, The Dance of the Dolphin (Our Dance with God), The Bridge to Forgiveness, and Omer: A Counting. She is published in numerous anthologies and is renowned for her creative liturgy. Rabbi Kedar teaches courses and leads retreats that explore the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work has culminated in the newly released Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, now available for purchase through CCAR Press.

Categories
Books Healing Prayer

Psalm 27:4 In God’s (Not Yet Perfect) House

I wrote the draft of what would come to be a Reflection for Focus in my book, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27, “In God’s [Not Yet Perfect] House” on October 4, 2017, a few mornings after country music fans were murdered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  The reality of what seemed unbelievable was becoming incomprehensibly comprehensible and I reflected on the Psalmist’s affirmation, and deepest desire, to live in God’s house.  It was hard that morning to feel like we were living in God’s house—where such hatred was possible. 

It was chol hamo’ed sukkot and the fragility of the world felt all too real.  In the weeks that followed, as I edited this piece, my goal was to capture that moment in time, and allow it to reflect the timelessness of the psalm, to help us see hope and find courage, to make God’s house a holy place.  What I never imagined is that what I wrote would be relevant, over and over again, in just two years, not because it brought illumination to Psalm 27:4 in a new way, but because we would bear witness, again and again, to mass shootings, in public places—in synagogues and mosques, in school and shopping malls, and now in the mid-western city of Dayton and the Texas border city of El Paso.  The scenes of bloodshed are horrifically similar, the calls for political action and the lack of it are also despairingly alike, and our urgent questions of faith remain too.   

Psalm 27:4 In God’s [Not Yet Perfect] House

One thing have I sought from Adonai—how I long for it:
That I may live in the House of Adonai all the days of my life;
That I may look upon the sweetness of Adonai,
And spend time in the Palace;

The boots scoot, the hats ride high, the beer flows,
guitars twang, harmony rings loud.
Here in God’s country house
the story is always bittersweet:
love then loss, pain then healing,
doubt then faith, then doubt again.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
Some say, no.
Thousands plan to party while one has other plans.
Ten minutes of sheer terror.
Shots. Bullets. Blood. Final breath.
Fear. Horror. The dread of death.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
Some say, maybe.
He uses his body as a human shield.
She grasps a stranger’s hand
while the life force ceases.
They hold each other and move silently toward the exit.

This is God’s house, but is God home?
I say, yes.
This house of God, where we live,
where we gamble
with our money, with our values,
with our own lives and the lives of others,
is not yet perfect.

But God is always home.
Rescuers. First responders.
Kind people with holy instincts
doing God’s work,
singing melodies of courage,
in God’s not yet perfect house


In honor of those who survived and in memory of those who were murdered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, Las Vegas, October 1, 2017, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot 5778.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins has served Temple Emanu-El in Dallas since 1991 and currently works closely with the Social Justice and Adult Jewish Learning Councils, the Pastoral Care department, a variety of Worship initiatives, and teaches classes for adults. She is the author of Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press.

Categories
Prayer

For Danny, Elyse, and Devra z”l

This poem was written after hearing the tragic news about the sudden death of the child of dear friends and colleagues. Their lives were suddenly and irrevocably changed as they were thrust into intense grief and loss. The phrase, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of death,” found in Psalm 23 has always evoked images of a journey of grief. The mourning process helps us to walk through the Valley, not to be stuck in it.  For some the journey is longer and more painful than for others.  Most of us are unprepared for the shock of a tragic loss. We do not walk alone, however. We are accompanied both by those who travelled before us and those who hold us up along our painful journey.



For Danny,  Elyse and Devra z”l

גם כי אילך בגאי צלמוות
(Psalm 23)

Those who walk through the Valley of Shadows wear no shoes.
Their feet are cut and torn as they stumble through the darkness. 
With no time to pack a bag or say goodbye, they begin their journeys unprepared.

Some are dressed in finery: jewels gleaming like stars in the dim light.
Others are in pajamas, work clothes, prayer shawls or bathing suits.
Some clutch briefcases, papers, blankets or teddy bears.

And everyone wears their grief.

With each cautious, painful step, they move further into the abyss.
The chasm narrows.
Stretching out their fingers they trace the grooves carved by previous pilgrims
 – handholds hewn into the cold canyon walls.

Sometimes they march in silence.
Other times, singing hauntingly beautiful melodies, their voices echo to the very vaults of heaven.

The river that created this place does not flow from on high:
It was formed and filled by the tears of those whose bruised souls traversed the trail. 

No one walks here alone: 
Stumbling pilgrims are quickly caught and held aloft by those who travel beside them –
They are caressed and carried through the brambles and branches that, unexposed and hidden from sight, add to the chaos and confusion of the journey.

In time (for some) a light appears in the distance – piercing through the veil of darkness.
Hope – long buried, rises to the surface like a beacon

And with it, the weary marchers ascend to find a world that has been changed forever by their absence.
They return with pale faces and broken hearts.
But now, as experienced travelers, they will always have a suitcase packed and ready.


Rabbi Joe Black serves Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. 

Categories
interfaith Passover Pesach Prayer

Tragedy and Transcendence: Opening Prayer for the CO State House in a Time of Holiness and Horror

Rabbi Joe Black read this opening prayer for the Colorado State House of Representatives before they began their session on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.

Our God and God of all people:

This Friday night, Jews around the world will tell the ancient story of Passover.  We will gather around our seder tables and experience the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom and redemption. On Easter Sunday, Christians will celebrate the potential to be reborn with hope and faith.

This is a sacred time – when we are reminded of both the fragility of life and the potential for renewal and redemption. Now should be a period of gratitude and introspection that helps us to see the best in all of humanity.

And yet, in the midst of these festivals of holiness and hope, over the past two days our state was suddenly and brutally thrust into a climate of terror and dread brought about by a heartbreakingly disturbed young woman who played out her demons as we anticipated the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

The juxtaposition of the anticipation of these two sacred festivals with the ugliness and paralysis of potential violence reminds us just how little progress has occurred in the years since our innocence was shattered on April 20th, 1999. We have become numb to the horrors of violence brought about by each new tragedy. For a parent to have to tell their child that it is too dangerous to go to school is an obscenity and anathema to the values that are embodied in this sacred chamber.

When messages of rebirth and redemption are overshadowed by fear, we must take stock in who we are and who we are becoming. We can try to write off each tragic incident as distinct and separate, but taken in an aggregate we have no choice but to acknowledge that there is a sickness in our nation that cannot be ignored. Whether it is caused by easy access to weapons of destruction or the political divisions that paralyze us, it is essential that we come together to bring about change – to strive to see the veracity and sanctity of all humanity – even if we disagree. If the deaths of innocents are not enough to move us to action, then what have we become?

May the messages of hope and rebirth symbolized by both Passover and Easter motivate all of us to see the holiness infused in every soul. As we anticipate this painful anniversary, may we be inspired to use every means at our disposal to ensure that the hopelessness and despair that we have been feeling these past two days will be replaced by a sacred determination to bring about healing and change.  Only then will we be able to ensure that we are doing God’s work on earth.

Amen

Rabbi Joe Black serves Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. This blog was originally shared on his personal blog.

Categories
Prayer

The Wonders of Our Past and Future

I often think about the future.  

Of course, that is pretty vague.  I think about tomorrow, weeks ahead, months ahead…and so on.  I also think about the next “Journey.”  Some refer to this as the Afterlife…however, what if it is just one continuous life?  I have read a lot on this subject – I mean, I am a rabbi.  I even teach a class on the Jewish understandings of “Heaven and Hell.”

It makes a lot of sense that we would dwell on our time as a “living biological being” on earth.  After all, it is right in front of us.  We cannot ignore it.  And, we are not really able to comprehend what we do not understand – which of course is everything before and after our time on earth.  

When I think about the future, I try to focus on the positive “what ifs.”  It is not always easy, though, when I consider so many of the terrible things that are present in today’s world including terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings and the list goes on.  My “inner” Yetzer Tov (my good angel) reminds me of all of the wonderful things – my wife, my beautiful family, my wonderful congregation and so much more.

Times of Wonder

Think back to the first time you smelled a new born baby’s head…what about the first flowers of Spring.  Have you found true love?  Remember how your heart felt when you saw your beloved after an absence?  These are only a few examples of the wonder there is in the world.  

When approaching the end of life, people often will tell me they are not afraid to die.  They are looking forward…why?  Some are looking forward to no longer being in pain while others are excited about the next stage of their lives.  Even those who struggle with God or the Heaven/Hell idea are still sometimes excited about finding out what’s next.  On the other hand, some are afraid of how their families and friends will cope with their passing.

One of the first words a Jewish person utters in the morning is: Modeh Ani L’fanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam, She’he’chezarta Bi Nishmati, Bechemla, Rabah Emunatecha. “I offer thanks to You, ever living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy: How great is Your trust.”

Every day that we wake up and open our eyes, we should be thankful for the day that is ahead.  Even during our daily struggles, we should look for reasons to be thankful…things to amaze us: the wonders of every day.  This is not always easy.  For many, this is a rather difficult task.  It is, however, a struggle we must work through.  We should find these moments of wonder and hold on to the memories.

Looking Back and then looking forward again

When we think of those who have had indelible imprints on our lives, especially those who have died, should we only remember the wonder?  What about the pain that we feel?  Perhaps we are angry as we do not understand why they are gone.  Perhaps there are also uncomfortable or bad memories that are hard to forget.  I firmly believe that the “bad” experiences and memories are just as important as the “good” ones.

Do not get me wrong.  Sometimes, it is impossible to look past or forget these bad experiences.  And, sometimes these experiences overpower the good ones.  That is ok.  All of the experiences we have in life impact us and help us to become who we are today and in the future.  So, look back and find those memories: the good ones and the “not so good ones.”

You have them?  Ok, now look forward again.  If you do not understand why, that is ok…let these memories help you to move forward.  Do not let them overpower you.  Do not forget them…hold on to them.  Recognize them for what they are.  This may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  That is also ok…this is how we move forward.

Let me end this blog with a prayer:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Mi M’vareich et Ha’avar shelanu v’et Ha’atid shelanu.

Blessed are You Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, who blesses our past and our future.

Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Beth El in Knoxville, TN.