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Rabbi's Week In Review- May 26, 2020

05/25/2020 07:40:35 PM


Throughout our history, Jews have had to confront our theological existential crisis. Plainly put, how do we find G-d at times when G-d seems hidden? At present, the question becomes one of how (or even if) we call to G-d during a pandemic. For those of us in the rabbinate, and really all clergy, the issue becomes: How do we justify to rightful skeptics in our congregations why we would even suggest that calling out to G-d is a worthwhile endeavor during downtrodden moments?

In the past week, there were three different opportunities to engage in the question. Two of these opportunities I would characterize as communal study. The third was one I experienced for myself.

I have been blessed for a few years now to be part of an interfaith-clergy Torah-study group.  This past week, we spent some time with the Psalms, known in Hebrew as Tehillim.  Traditionally they are read as a means of providing comfort during periods of mourning and tragedy. Particularly, Psalms 120-134, each beginning with the phrase, Shir HaMaalot - A Song of Ascents. Some of the verses will ring familiar.  

“I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalms 121:1-2)  “Out of the depths I call You O Lord. O Lord, listen to my cry; let your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy.”  (Psalms 130:1-2)

I and the clergy with whom I study all agreed that these Psalms are a source of comfort for us, and can be for the people to whom we provide pastoral care. At the same time, I understand that providing comfort oftentimes is simply being there to listen to the pain of others and not being talked to about G-d’s comforting presence. We bring G-d in by creating space for those in pain to simply feel.

My other study opportunity came from my seminary, the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York. The session was designed as one of support for the clergy during the pandemic. It began with a guided meditation (not exactly in my wheelhouse), followed by text study. The text study was initially about the need to pause; for each of us to give ourselves some space to not engage with the challenges we and our communities face, and to simply rest, meditate and regroup.  

Yet, amongst the text was a piece from Talmud, a polemic arguing against withdrawal from the world. We find G-d not by pausing or through withdrawal, but rather by engaging in the world.  Sometimes our desire to be close to the Divine Presence can be a means to running away from life.

In contrast to these study opportunities, I had the opportunity to act. Last Wednesday, McDonald’s and other fast-food workers went on strike to protest the injustice of not being given sick leave or access to adequate and affordable healthcare. All of this occurred while McDonald’s did a $1 billion stock buyback, and a $1 billion dividend payout to stockholders.  

This gave me the opportunity on Thursday to “walkback” a fast-food worker. A walkback occurs when a striking worker goes back to work for the first time after being out on strike. My presence is designed to protect the worker from illegal retribution or retaliation for having gone on a legal strike.

For me, this is an opportunity to meet and provide some comfort to someone who I would otherwise never meet. It is to honor the quiet courage of a worker, who is simply trying to earn a living and be given some dignity in their work. It is in this life experience, to be present with others on their life journeys, in which I feel the Divine Presence.  

We all need some time to pause from some of the chaos and madness in the world. We need to reflect and regroup to be our best selves. Afterward, we as Jews know that it is ultimately in connecting and supporting the others in our lives that truly connects us to the Divine.


Fri, July 3 2020 11 Tammuz 5780