“So long as the world moves along accustomed paths,” wrote Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, “so long as there are no wild catastrophes, we can find sufficient substance for our lives by contemplating surface events, theories and movements of society. We can acquire our inner richness from this external kind of ‘property.’ But this is not the case when life encounters fiery forces of evil and chaos. Then the revealed world begins to totter.”
We are enjoined to cultivate a deeper font of inspiration and meaning when faced with as Kook called them, “the fiery forces of chaos and evil.” Whether that expresses itself in renewed commitment to ritual and prayer, or to belief in God, or in different choices in what one does with ones money and time, or in an altered way of being, others who have suffered and faced terror have responded with profound depth of insight and powerful expressions of connection to life in its fullest and richest. We, most of whose lives have been so much less traumatic by comparison, can only stand somewhat silently and humbly and struggle to understand how to make our lives worthy of their thoughts and of the examples of their lives.
Can we learn in our dread and fear to stand with others who suffer, and work to make the world safe for all. And can we find in life meaning beyond our “surface existence” and work on cultivating the life of the spirit at least as much as we cultivate our material lives. The God, the world and all of her inhabitants desperately need us to say yes to both.
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.