Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Horror of Divine Silence

This weekend we lit Hanuka candles without the usual festive spirits. The memory of 41 lives, lost in Israel's most dreadful event in recent years seemed to darken any room lit by candles.

For all their political incorrectness, those religious leaders who rushed to give their own theological interpretations to the senseless loss of life weren't really that far off the mark - at least from the mood of the people. It's natural to ask why. It's also dangerous to answer that question. But just because there is no answer doesn't mean there is no question. And perhaps all one can truthfully do is meditate on the question. 41 public servants, doing the right thing, family members, representatives of the law and the order that ultimately justify our State's continued existence. Why? It is painful to ask.

Of course, some will answer that this is proof of God's uninvolved role in the world. His non-intervention policy. That is certainly a perspective that has grounding in traditional Jewish sources. The Midrash about the palace burning is the most prominent example.

But some religious people aren't satisfied with a world view of man as the only actor in history. The Bible certainly tells us God gets involved, (e.g. the Exodus) and so there is also solid ground for a religious person to reject that view of God as uninvolved in history.

Perhaps silence is the best response a religious person can give when confronted with tragedy. But if we do say "Baruch Dayan Emet", at least to ourselves, as our tradition tells us we should, we must remember to do so with tears in our eyes. We must not turn away from the suffering of those 41 families when we say those words. Those words shouldn't be an escape from their suffering.

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