Thursday, April 19, 2012

Honesty in Tefillah on Yom HaShoah - Thursday Kavvanah

Today, Yom HaShoah, the one day of the year on which we specifically recall the horrors of the Nazi genocide, is unquestionably the hardest day of the year for tefillah / prayer.  Chanting the Psalms of the morning service, which speak of God's delivering us from danger and frustrating the designs of our enemies, I find it difficult to achieve a sense of kavvanah / intention that reflects the mood of the day.  Even venerable Ashrei, Psalm 145, which Jews recite three times each day, includes the following:

שׁוֹמֵר יְהוָה, אֶת-כָּל-אֹהֲבָיו;    וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד
Shomer Adonai et kol ohavav, ve'et kol haresha'im yashmid.
God guards all who love Him, and destroys all wickedness.  (Psalm 145:20)

If this were objectively "true," then how could Hitler and his murderous partners have killed so many of our people, 2,000 times the number that Al Qaeda managed on 9/11?  Shouldn't God have interceded after the first righteous person was martyred?  Or even after the first million?

Theology being an inexact science, there are no good answers here.  And tefillah too, on this day when liturgy fails us, falls flat.

Perhaps we should remember the following: the words of prayer reflect an ideal, a vision of what could be.  But this is a deeply fractured world, a universe that has never functioned according to the Neo-Platonic perfection that some in our tradition have cited.  The language of tefillah remains unfulfilled until we ourselves make this broken world whole once again.

And so, to draw my attention away from the empty words of the Psalmist, I found myself repeating the next to last verse of the book of Eikhah / Lamentations, the same words that we said when we put the Torah away this morning, the same way that we repeat it on Tish'ah Be'Av / the Ninth of Av, when we conclude the reading of that book:

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
Hashiveinu Adonai elekha venashuvah, hadesh yameinu keqedem.
Help us turn to You, Adonai, and we shall return.  Renew our lives as in days of old. (Lamentations 5:21)

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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