As I write this letter, the news from Texas and the Gulf Coast about Hurricane Harvey is foremost on all our minds. The dramatic images of total devastation and ruin that we are witnessing are almost incomprehensible. Those of us with family and friends who have been hit by the storm are racked with worry as we wait for news and try to find avenues to provide comfort and support.
When confronted with a tragic event of such magnitude – the effects of which are still unfolding as I write – we are simultaneously made aware of both the majesty of God’s creation and our own inability to control the forces of nature around us. To see houses, highways and hilltops ripped apart by raging waters in a matter of seconds is to acknowledge the helplessness we feel in the face of the storm.
While we acknowledge our feelings of powerlessness, we also must understand that we have within ourselves the ability to respond to tragedy in a way that makes a difference in the lives of those affected. When the storm finally passes, we can and must help these communities to rebuild. Our financial contributions, physical presence and messages of support and solidarity will be essential in the weeks, months and even years that it will take to rebuild.
It is in the contrast between our feelings of powerlessness and the knowledge that we have both the ability and the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of those affected by tragedy that we can find a glimpse into the spiritual realms of our lives.
If you would like to contribute to efforts within the Jewish community helping those affected by this tragedy, here are a few links:
- The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has set up a donation link: https://urj.org/hurricane-harvey
- ·Jewish Colorado has set up a fund to help hurricane victims: https://colorado.secure-fedweb.jewishfederations.org/page/contribute/hurricane-harvey-relief-fund
- Nechama – A Jewish Response to Tragedy is on the ground in Texas and the Gulf Coast.. Here is a link to donate to their efforts: https://www.nechama.org/
In the book of Kings, 19:11-13, the prophet Elijah experiences God’s presence,
11 And God said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Eternal. And, behold, God passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, rocks were broken into pieces before God; but God was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake: 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but God was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
In this second week of Elul, I want us to focus on our Spiritual Selves. When we become aware of the contrast between acknowledging our own insignificance in light of the majesty of God’s power, and the “still small voice” that urges us on in the process of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, we can begin to comprehend our role in the unfolding of Creation.
The Psalmist wrote “Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalms 23:4). It is the knowledge of our limitations and mortality, juxtaposed with the realization that we are fortunate to be alive that opens our eyes to the opportunities that lay before us to make a difference.
In this light, I offer the following questions for your consideration. As always, they should not be perceived as a complete listing – they are merely a beginning. I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use. If answering these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity. These materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation - please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.
The Four Weeks of Elul: Week Four – Our Spiritual Selves
- Elijah experienced the “still small voice’ that prompted him to experience God’s presence. When, if ever, have I felt God’s voice urging me on?
- What events have caused me to question my faith during the course of the past year?
- When/where was the last time I felt close to God (however I define God)…?
- How often, during the course of the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?
- Jewish tradition teaches that all of us are created in the Divine Image. When was the last time I looked for holiness in the people that I love the most?
- Understanding that being created in God’s image means that we are all responsible for one another, how often have I been able to identify with other people in distress?
- When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?
These questions are in no way complete. They are designed to help all of us to begin the process of looking deep within ourselves and our souls as we enter into the month of Elul. Again, we want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions or comments about anything we encourage you to let us know.
As we confront the crisis of Hurricane Harvey, we are acutely aware of the twin peaks of our limitations and our ability to make a difference. It is in the contrast between these two realizations that we can begin to strengthen our spiritual selves. May we all find strength as we search together.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black