There are times when you just cannot help thinking that there is something deeply wrong with the world. We seem to be going through one of those times right now.
Last Wednesday, six people were killed by a bus bomb in Bulgaria. The targets of the attack were Israelis, including children, on a beach vacation. A few days later, a man, armed to the teeth, opened fire on a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were killed.
During times like these, we cannot help remember just how out of whack this poor world is and just how much we are surrounded by madness, violence, suffering and grief. We wonder how to reconcile this world with faith in a loving, all-powerful God.
There are no clear, definitive answers to the questions of suffering and evil. The world is as it is. We do know, though, that we have some ability to change it. Not all the blame can be placed on God. It is up to us to act to confront evil, to create peace, to cure illness, and to ameliorate suffering.
Sometimes we feel unequal to the task. Sometimes, we are in despair. The world's problems are vast and our power can feel puny. That feeling can cause us even more suffering.
This Shabbat will be Shabbat Chazon, the "Sabbath of Vision" that precedes Tisha B'Av. This coming Saturday night, we will listen to the words of the Book of Lamentations that bewails the destruction of Jerusalem. Throughout the book, we hear the cry of despair that still echoes in the world.
My eyes are spent with tears,
My heart is in tumult,
My being melts away
Over the ruin of my poor people,
As babes and sucklings languish
In the squares of the city.
They keep asking their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
As they languish like battle-wounded
In the squares of the town,
As their life runs out
In their mothers’ bosoms.
What can I take as witness or liken
To you, O Fair Jerusalem?
What can I match with you to console you,
O Fair Maiden Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea:
Who can heal you? (Lamentations 2:11-13)
We, too, wonder: Who can heal our broken world? Who will put an end to the hatred and evil that makes people kill the innocent? Who will stand against the mad rage that poisons our society? Who will stop the wars that still kill children in the arms of their mothers?
The answer, of course, is that we human beings must be the ones to do it—but we don't have to do it alone. The famous second-to-last verse of the book of Lamentations tells us, "Turn us, Adonai, to You and we shall be returned. Renew us as at the beginning" (Lamentations 5:21). When we turn away from evil and allow God to rule over our lives, we restore the world to its original state of balance and peace.
God does not wave a magic wand that makes the misery we inflict upon each other disappear. Rather, our faith is in a God whom we experience in our own determination to end misery ourselves. God shows us the way. God turns us back to the right direction, but it is up to us take the steps toward our own renewal.
We know what we need to do; God has taught us. We need to be the ones who replace hatred with understanding, who vanquish terrorism with justice, who take guns out of the hands of madmen, and who dismantle despotism and install freedom. There is something deeply wrong with the world we live in—its ruin is as vast as the sea—but we have the power to do something about it. We begin by heeding and obeying the voice that tells us: "Turn!"
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Ki Tetze: The Bird's Nest and the World Trade Center