During dark and challenging times we are tested, in a serious way. Our faith in humanity, our endurance for coping, and our ability to hope, teeters. The conflict between Israel and Hamas feels fundamentally unresolvable. The stakes are immense, the ultimate outcome unknown.
Given this landscape, many have courted hopelessness, flirted with despair, in the past week. Both of these moods are not permitted in Judaism. Dr. Emil Fackenheim, 20th century Jewish philosopher and rabbi, teaches about the 614th commandment:
“Service to the ideal of one God, realizing the promise of a triumph over despair, hatred, and indifference -- this is the 614th commandment the Jewish people at its best, seeks to teach the world.”
So what can we do when we rise each morning and tune into the frightening scene unfolding before us. How do we overcome the force of despair? How can we observe the 614th commandment?
The psalmist cries out (in Psalm 121):
“I lift my eyes, up to the hills.
From where will my help come?”
A question, possibly from a place of hopelessness and despair, followed by a response, to address the longing, the loneliness:
“My help comes from Adonai (the Unseen One),
the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.”
In a group I facilitated earlier this week, each participant chose a random card, with a beautiful and compelling nature photo, taken by Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan. We each related these verses from Psalm 121 to the image before us. Did it resonate, in any helpful way, to process the pain swirling in our lives?
It is vitally important–especially right now–when we are interacting with the world in ways that take us down the path of despair, that we counteract that response with healthy, life affirming practices. Lifting our eyes up, and out, and beyond the details of our distress not only calms the nervous system, it also connects us with holiness. Reminds us of goodness and beauty.
It’s not just the hills that connect us
with G-d’s presence
with stillness . . .
It is also in
the deep purple petal of a lone flower,
the magic of leaves turning from green to gold to orange,
the mystery and depth of the ocean,
the grandeur of an old and mighty tree,
the spectacular canvas of a sunset,
the glory of a hillside studded with vibrant wildflowers,
the awesome power of the full moon.
We must remember to lift up our eyes and notice.
When tension is high, nerves are frazzled, the mind crowded with horror filled thoughts . . .
We can pause, and enter a moment of reprieve. May we remember to care for ourselves during this time, which may be as simple as turning to Psalms. May we remember to lift our eyes to the hills, to the anchor of nature.
Note: If you are not already familiar, treat yourself to Rabbi Julie’s incredible work where she stunningly captures the spirituality of nature.