Thoughts to Ponder 120

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The Faith of the Pained

One of the most astonishing facts about the current situation in the land of Israel is the outpouring of unprecedented faith. While confronted by ongoing terrorist attacks in which hundreds of people have been murdered and thousands have been injured we are encountering a new phenomenon in modern Jewish history: The capacity of trust in God and Judaism in the face of unparalleled pain and disaster by those who should have been the first ones to lose it. 

Listening to the voices of those who have lost their parents, children or spouses, we realize the infinite power of their faith. Not once have we heard about a case where people because of their immense pain walked out on their Judaism. The religious community which is currently paying an extremely heavy price, rather than being weakening in its commitment to Jewish Tradition, shows clear signs of an unprecedented strengthening of its observance and commitment to Halacha and Jewish faith.. On more than one occasion young children, while burying their parents, sometimes both of them, have called on their family and friends to increase their religious devotion, study of Torah and love for their people and country. And even in non or less religious circles, there is no abandonment of Jewish values, no exodus from the land and in fact a certain increase in religious practice.

It would be both vulgar and cheap to invoke Freud’s argument of wishful thinking to explain this phenomenon. To argue that people in pain look for a God or a religious way of life in order to cope with their pain will not do. There are just as many arguments for people to become secular after undergoing atrocities.  The best proof of that is the Holocaust. Quite a number of survivors or relatives of those who lost their lives walked out on God or Judaism in or after the Holocaust. And while we would not dare to compare both cases and surely admit that the Holocaust was a much greater national disaster than anything we are experiencing now, we cannot deny that on a personal level the pain of those who have lost their family in terrorist attacks has not been any less.   

Faith within the land of Israel is made up of different components than faith outside the land. In the earlier days of the State of Israel, American diplomats used to complain that whenever they discussed war related strategies with Israeli ministers, they would get irritated because the latter would, as a matter of course, anticipate the occurrence of a few miracles without which any chance of winning a war would be unfeasible and the whole strategy a farce.

Israel is the land on which God keeps his eye from the beginning of the year till the end. It is the land to which one goes on aliyah, where one ascends to, and not to which one descends. It is the land whose stones heard the voices of the great prophets, where the dust on which one walks still holds the footprints of holy biblical Jews and where the air carries the millions of prayers which were sent from all the corners of the world. It is a land which not only touches heaven but which represents heavenly conditions in earthly manifestations. It is the country where faith was born and from where it was carried to and throughout the world. It seems that faith has permeated the very essence of the land and its inhabitants like air in the sky. 

The secular are also caught by its powerful manifestation. Even when they do not realize this and possibly even deny it, they carry the seeds of faith in their subconscious minds and continue to believe in the unbelievable.  They also realize that Israel’s predicament at this moment is not just another accidental incident in man’s history but one with enormous religious meaning. Just like the religious they do not know what it entails in terms of a higher meaning, but just like them they hear a perpetual murmur from waves which reach our shores from a world beyond.

It is like a kind of awe, transcendence and intimations of the divine which enter our space but have not yet landed on the surface of our world. As such it is not possible to declare war on faith. It is too deep and too authentic. Secular explanations do not have the ability to grasp the profundity of the hour. Even in this struggle Jews realize that there is a holy dimension to all that happens.  Also the realization that the land of Israel still  experiences great and many miracles, even in the midst of all the atrocities (together with awareness of the utter absurdness of a situation packed in doses of normality so that life is able to continue) makes Jews unmoved to the calls of extreme secularity.      

Without diminishing the unparalleled pain of the hour, we should lay our ears to the lips of those who have been most effected by this pain as nobody   else. Those who have lost relatives and will never be able to return to a full normal life. They and not we, the less effected, are the beacons of faith. This is most significant. We had better listen.   

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

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