Last Friday night, when I was with the Confirmation Class in New York, we attended services at B'nai Jeshurun congregation – a Conservative synagogue that is famous for the way that it celebrates Shabbat with song, dance and spiritual depth. This was my first time at their services, although I had heard about "BJ" for many years and I was greatly looking forward to the experience. Imagine, if you will, an Erev Shabbat service with standing room only. People waited in line in order to get a seat in the sanctuary. It truly was an incredible experience – one that our students will remember for a long time. Our "Shabbat Unplugged" services are partly based on the model created at B'nai Jeshurun. We can learn a lot from their successes….. But that's not what I really want to write about in this post.
As dynamic and creative as the service was, what I will remember most about that Erev Shabbat was a comment that Rabbi Felicia Sol made prior to the singing of the Psalm 29 – which is translated as follows:
1. A Psalm of David. Ascribe to The Eternal, O you mighty; give to The Eternal glory and strength.
2. Give to The Eternal the glory due to God's name; worship The Eternal in the beauty of holiness.
3. The voice of The Eternal is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; The Eternal is upon many waters.
4. The voice of The Eternal is powerful; the voice of The Eternal is full of majesty.
5. The voice of The Eternal breaks the cedars; The Eternal breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6. God makes them skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7. The voice of The Eternal divides the flames of fire.
8. The voice of The Eternal shakes the wilderness; The Eternal shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9. The voice of The Eternal makes the hinds to calve, and strips the forests bare; and in God's temple every one speaks of God's glory.
10. The Eternal sits enthroned at the flood; and The Eternal sits enthroned as Sovereign forever.
11. The Eternal will give strength to God's people; The Eternal will bless God's people with peace.
The news of the devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Japan had just begun to filter into our consciousness. This Psalm, which speaks of God's majesty and might, seemed eerie and discomforting in light of the devastation that we saw being unleashed by the power of nature half a world away. To read the words: "The voice of The Eternal is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders…" knowing that thousands of innocents had just been swept away in the Tsunami almost seemed inappropriate.
Rabbi Sol said that there will be those who will ascribe God's hand to the devastation in Japan. Others, she said, will use this disaster as a reason to deny God's existence. Our task, she said, is to see God, not in the devastation, but in how we respond to it. If we reach out to those impacted by this catastrophe; if we pray for those in pain; if we send out resources to help rebuild – then we can help bring a sense of holiness into the horror that is being inflicted on the Japanese people.
If you have not already made a donation to a Tsunami Relief fund, now would be a good time to do so.
Rabbi Joe Black