Wherever and whenever one looks, Judaism has had to respond to the terror and the trauma of being a powerless people with a powerful and unbending allegiance to our particular covenant with the divine, and the often fatal opprobrium this faithfulness brings out in whichever community we find ourselves living.
The power of the Jewish response has been never to deny this reality or the fear it causes in us, while at the same time to neither hide nor change ourselves because of it.
Instead we historically have taken practical steps to mitigate the danger where we can, have adapted our public personas or profiles on occasion –though never so much that we endanger the core of our belief, and have clung to the values which give meaning to the covenant we cherish, preserving them even at the cost of our lives.
It is no accident that Halacha teaches that religious prohibitions must always be violated in order to save life, except in three clear circumstances – only when a Jew is forced into idolatry, into sexual misconduct, or into murdering another is their life to be forfeited instead.
Our response to trauma might be formulated as “keep going, and then keep on keeping going”. While we may fear, we may be angry, we may lose much that we hold dear, we hold close to a belief that behind all of the inexplicable hatred or acts of violence, behind the random evil we may encounter and the political machinations which may dislocate and disrupt us or target us in order to displace attention from other issues, behind all of this there is a God who has a purpose and a view that we cannot ever fully comprehend – there is a meaning to our lives, and each one of us is an essential thread in the continuing pattern that reaches out to the future.
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.