Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me…”
As a young girl, I remember hearing these words from Psalm 23:4 with such clarity when my grandfather died a long time ago. And of course, I have said them and heard them many, many times since.
What my colleague, Rabbi Laila Haas, reminded me of the other day was the emphasis on walking THROUGH the valley. We do not dwell there.
All of us are experiencing the many stages of grief and mourning. We are in a valley of darkness and pain, but we will not remain here forever.
These stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are often talked about as if they happen in order, moving from one stage to the other. But we know from research and life experience that they don’t.
Each of us move through the valley at our own pace; we grieve in different ways, but we will not dwell there.
We walk alongside our Israeli brothers and sisters holding one another up as we, and they, move towards a place of light and life.
Our parasha this week, as always, has so much to teach us.
Bereisheet— in the beginning, there was deep darkness, chaos and void. And over it hovered Ruach Elohim, the spirit/wind of G!D.
In the midst of the valley of death, there is light, spirit, consolation, a future, but in the moment, it is so difficult for us to see.
Most of us have not had to confront radical evil directly in our lived experience. We have not had to think about the purposeful, premeditated murder of Jewish babies in the visceral, personal way we have been forced to by terrorists this past week.
After the Shoah, we thought the world had learned. Now we know— some people did and some didn’t. Some care and some don’t.
I find myself remembering a conversation with the child of Holocaust survivors who admitted that she has always secretly evaluated her non-Jewish friends by whether they would be likely to save her and her family if there was ever another Holocaust.
Many of us have had non-Jewish neighbors, friends and business contacts reach out to offer their support and sympathy. Beautiful and so appreciated!
Others of us have seen non-Jewish neighbors, friends, and people we work with post pro-Hamas sentiments on social media and even when challenged, refused to show any empathy for Jews and Israelis. Betrayal and so shocking!
To those who sit here in America, a land originally settled entirely by Native Americans, and tell Israelis they are colonialists who deserve to die— I hope you recognize your own hypocrisy and think about what you have wished on yourself.
Jews (or their Hebrew/Israelite ancestors) have continuously lived in the Land of Israel since Biblical times. We are the indigenous people. This is what every educated Jew should know and keep repeating.
I’ve already had conversations with some friends who are terribly empathetic to the suffering Gazans.
I tell them that I too recognize that war unleashes suffering on the guilty and innocent alike. I state that I can hold the paradigm of the suffering of the innocent Gazans and the suffering of the innocent Israelis at the same time. And then I ask: Can you?
And I remind them that like a parent whose child is addicted to some substance (drugs, alcohol, hatred…), there is a time to practice tough love to save the family. In this case, the entire human family.
If the Genesis story teaches anything, it teaches our world is created for life. Everything is set up for the success of life. Each day’s creation requires what was created the day before to thrive.
But the Torah also insists in both Genesis Chapter 1 & 2 that human beings must be partners with the Holy One in this world.
As partners, we too must take responsibility for how life turns out.
Israelis, who we know have sadly already internalized that radical evil exists through their personal exposure to terrorism over the years, are already showing us the way.
Here’s a text from Carol Brik-Turin, the former director of Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, whose daughter Yael Ben-David lives in Carmei Gat in Israel:
B”H [with G!Ds Help] …Just today we bought 900 Shabbos meals from our local prepared foods place and drove them to army bases.
This week we bought and delivered thousands of dollars of toys and food for families whose reservists were called up and to poor families in Old Kiryat Gat who are in crappy crowded apartments and can’t buy for themselves. One family with 7 kids waited on the sidewalk for Josh and were “freakin’ out” with joy, like kids do, when he arrived.
A woman evacuated from Sederot with 4 kids — 2 with special needs — was brought here and given an empty apartment. In 24 hours, in time for Shabbos, we’ve filled it with beds, fridge, toys, groceries and more. She cried when Josh delivered the toys.
And a million smaller scale projects like cooking and baking for each other and watching each other’s kids.
This is just *1 (amazing) community* of under 200 families all with small children of their own and many with reservists actively serving right now. Copy-paste this for hundreds if not thousands of communities around the country. With radio broadcasters’ help, 6,000 families from the south were housed elsewhere in 45 minutes.
I don’t know if my tears are more for the care we’re taking of each other, that we don’t behave like this in peace time, or that we have a need to do it right now. But there are more than enough tears to go around.
And such acts of hesed [compassion] are being repeated throughout the country.
When there aren’t enough grave-diggers, Bnei Akiva youth volunteer to dig.
When there is a need for supplies, those who were protesting against the government and have efficient networks already set up make sure the supplies get to the right people within a few minutes or hours.
When a soldier is called up for service but it’s his wedding day, the army allows his immediate family and the bride’s into the base so they can stand under a chuppah and be married surrounded by his unit before he goes off to war.
Israelis show us how the partnership with G!D works and what we can do.
Our hearts are broken, but our spirit stays strong.
We must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Ariel Dominique Hendelman from the organization Or HaLev gives us a beautiful teaching of ultimate hope:
Commentators ask why is the first day in the Genesis chapter one story called `one day’ [yom echad] and not the first day’ [yom rishon]?
In her book, The Beginning of Desire, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg cites [the commentator] Rashi, who explains that the reason yom echad, or one day, is referred to differently than the other days (which are second day, third day, etc.) is because in the beginning of creation, there was no separation, there was only the Infinite One.
There is a Chassidic teaching that the entirety of the human task on earth is to realize this truth: `vayehi erev, vayehi boker, yom echad.’-`There was evening and there was morning, one day.’
We are here to surrender to the darkness and the light, the erev and the boker, and thereby to reunite them into one day again. When we welcome sorrow as an intrinsic part of joy, and all the other kaleidoscopic emotions as part of the wholeness of creation, we help to affirm the truth of One Day, One Name, One Creator.
We see this in our lives. When we feel ecstatic, there is a part of us that is not in ecstasy. Likewise, when we feel despairing, there is a part of us that is not in despair. There is always a piece of us, that infinite soul slice, that is unmoving; that is loving awareness itself - yom echad, one day."
May there be consolation for the bereaved, healing for the wounded, and freedom for the captives soon.
Am Yisrael Chai!