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Defending the dwelling place of God

01/20/2022 12:12:29 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

Like many of us, I was horrified and terrified by the news from Texas this weekend.

  • I was afraid for the life of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and his congregants, 
  • afraid about the increasing violence that Jews here in America and around the world are facing and, 

  • afraid about the future of Jewish communities here and around the world when every gathering requires negotiating the risks of violence and disease.

At a deeper level, I wrestle with what it means to cultivate a religious life praying to a God that cannot save us. 

I know full well that there are those, like Texas Governor Greg Abbot, who think that the Texas situation was “prayers answered.”

I am profoundly grateful that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and his congregants are safe but that is not the result of “prayers answered.” I have no doubt that many of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust prayed for their safety, and I have no doubt that the Jews of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh prayed for their safety. It is an abomination to suggest that the difference between the murdered and the saved is the value of their prayers. 

Perhaps Governor Abbot -- and others who believe that prayer works like a vending machine --  think that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker were deserving in ways that those murdered in Pittsburgh are not. I don’t. 

In these times, when the sense of collapse is palpable, I remember that the Jewish people have endured far worse than this, and we inherit their legacy and their strength. I turn again to the words of Etty Hillesum, who was murdered by different antisemites in Auschwitz at the age of 29. She wrote

“Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn't seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.“ 

May we all defend the Divine dwelling place inside of us. May we defend it from fear and bitterness, from despair and rage. Even in hard times, may we act in such a way that if God acted that way, God would be worth worshipping. 


With blessings for a better tomorrow,

Rabbi Brent

Wed, May 25 2022 24 Iyyar 5782