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Why we need our heart of many rooms

Written by Rabbi Deborah Blausten – Finchley Reform Synagogue

After a month of trauma, loss, and being forced to confront our own vulnerability in the most bracing of ways, the Jewish people are tired. When there is so much pain and anguish and hurt beyond anything anyone should have to comprehend, what we need more than anything is the reassuring safety of allyship, to know that someone is with us and holding us. There’s a deep human need to know someone is sympathetic to your pain, and isn’t going to take up the cause of the person who hurt you.

And yet in the outside world it feels like there’s a chorus of suffering fighting for oxygen, as if there is not enough space for everyone’s pain. In some parts of our social discourse the case seems to be that recognizing one person’s humanity requires the denial of another’s. Having to host video screenings to prove how much people suffered, or parade the faces of the kidnapped, is part of a race to the bottom. It’s a sick game that some would have us play, and only the angel of death wins in such a morbid competition.

In these weeks I’ve been drawn to the wisdom of our sages in the Tosefta who instruct that a person should make for themselves ‘a heart of many rooms’. It’s a text that allows me to articulate the importance of different spaces to hold different and complex feelings. Our hearts and our humanity are capacious enough to resist this downward spiral.

Rather than holding lives in competition, resisting the binary set by those who perpetrate violence, we must model a kind of compassion that feels sorely lacking in the world. That compassion is one that is expansive, that refuses to declare someone’s humanity as less important. The terms of our reaction cannot be set by those who can callously and violently destroy human life.

When we are grieved because someone cannot mourn those we have loved and lost, we retain our sense of self by finding the ability to grieve in a way that they are not able to, rather than reinforcing a cycle of uncaring.

In our heart of many rooms we need Jewish spaces to mourn our dead, and we need others to mourn with us. At the same time our mourning is not threatened or compromised by joining others in grieving those who they have lost too, innocent civilians caught in deadly crossfire, it’s how we find and build the bridges that will carry us out of this spiritually and morally whole.

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