In one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the Community Rule, there is a wonderful blessing which has found its way into the siddurim of both Progressive movements: modelled on the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6 it states: May God bless you with all good, and keep you from all evil. May God teach your heart the meaning of life, and grant you knowledge of the Infinite. May God reach out to you in tenderness, that you may have enduring peace.
That is lovely, and lyrical and moving. But immediately afterwards we find its reverse. It states: May you be damned in return for all your wicked, guilty deeds. May the God of terror give you over to implacable avengers; may He visit your offspring with destruction at the hands of those who recompense evil with evil. May you be damned without mercy in return for your dark deeds, an object of wrath licked by eternal flame, surrounded by utter darkness. May God have no mercy upon you when you cry out, nor forgive so as to atone for your sins. May He lift up His furious countenance upon you for vengeance. May you never find peace through the appeal of any intercessor.
You will have noticed immediately that the curse is modelled on the blessing, even taking some of its words and reapplying them. You will have noticed that it has been as carefully crafted as its alter ego. You will also have noticed that it is almost three times as long. The message, sadly, is all too clear, both from these ancient texts and modern events: it is easier to hate than to love, easier to demonise than to empathise, easier to live and let die than to live and let live. This is the state of affairs in which we find ourselves today, in an intellectual and physical kulturkampf whose outcome bodes extremely ill for us in Great Britain, and for the world at large.
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.