Where was God?

That’s what rabbis and other clergy are asked time and time again. After a calamity or heartbreak, we want to know that God was on our side. But our ever present God is hard to find, some say.

Actually, I don’t say that. I think we just need to look a little differently (or a little harder) than how we might have been taught.

Nevertheless, many have sought to answer this question when we see bad things happening around us. The interesting thing is, this question — on one form or another — has been asked through the centuries.

Where was God at the destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem? According to Eicha Rabbah, our rabbis of old asked the same question and responded by telling us that God began to weep after the destruction of the Temple and the devastation of the people. How powerful. God was crying with us.

Where was God at Auschwitz? We’ve heard this question before! Some concluded that there could not really be a God. Others said that God turned away. And still others gave us another option: that God was present whenever someone shared a morsel of bread, extended a hand of compassion, or lit a match for Chanukah to bring a little light and hope into their overwhelming darkness. God was there, in the midst of all the pain and brutality.

We ask today, preparing for a tenth anniversary of the heinous attacks on our own nation: Where was God on September 11, 2001?  According to Michael Berenbaum, one of the world’s greatest scholars on the Holocaust, God was in the rubble.

“The bombing of the World Trade Center was not a tragedy but an atrocity,” argues Berenbaum. In other words, these actions of aggression and terror were choices by people that were filled with hate and malice. Some might say that they were in God’s Name. I don’t. Others taught that it was a warning from God to change our ways. I reject that. Such an act could never emerge from God’s hand. No, these events emerged from individuals’ perversion of faith and anger. They committed atrocities.

I have always known God as a nuturing presence: a healer — bringing comfort to the fallen and weak, as well as a warrior — leading us into battle against evil, injustice, or even against our own negative inclinations or drives. So this idea of a  punishing God…I can’t recognize.

I know we like to talk about theology and ideas about God’s existence. However, there is a principle by a modern thinker that I think must be followed when it comes to such lofty discussions — a litmus test, if you will. Rabbi Irving Greenberg taught: “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.”  I know… it is harsh. But it must be said. If we believe in this principle, then all who say that God caused these atrocities — whether they are folks like Rev. Jerry Falwell or ultra Orthodox rabbis in Me’ah She’arim — commit the sin of blaming the victim. Some, like me, believe such words are an act of blasphemy.

So if God is not the cause of the atrocity, nor is God punishing the victims, then God must be “found amidst the rubble,” teaches Berenbaum.

Berenbaum had it so right. I know it in my kishkes, as my grandfather used to say, that if God would be anywhere, it would be in the thick of things. In the midst of our pain; helping us to find the strength to be resilient and brave. That is where God is at a time of atrocity and tragedy, alike. With us, in the trenches, in the smoke and fire, in the hospital room, or the hospice. And God weeps over how God’s precious children treat each other. So while I firmly reject that this was God’s doing, I do believe we ought to learn from everything. I return to Ayeka — asking God’s question to Adam, “Where are you?” Where do you stand? Who have you helped? How do we make life meaningful? That is always the question. I wonder far less about Where was God and much more about God asking us, Where are We?

But for now, let us remember our fallen heroes, our friends and neighbors. And let us sanctify their memories with our tzedakah, our compassion and acts of chesed, and our duty to democracy and justice.

To conclude, a modern psalm by a kind, thoughtful soul. I read it ten years ago. I am sharing it with you today…

Two Hundred Thirty
Aftermath, A Prayer for Recovery

Help us to preserve the memory of the fallen,
Taken not in battle, but in innocence;
Comfort us, Holy One, as the images sear,
As we try to comprehend the unfathomable,

We have become rescuers sifting the rubble,
We are searching for meaning in the whirlwind;
No preparation can be made for this disaster,
We push aside debris, looking for answers.

Show us Your face in compassion,
You are our Beacon of consolation;
Focus Your healing light through acrid smoke,
Clearing a path through our tears.

Begin with us the task of recovery,
Renew our resolve to pursue righteousness;
Secure us again in safety and peace,
Our nation’s soul forever changed.

(Debbie Perlman)

This Sunday, September 11, 2011, Temple Beth Tikvah will join communities and houses of worship around the country to remember those who fallen ten years ago, as we continue to hope, heal, and pursue justice in our day.

Temple Beth Tikvah, 9955 Coleman Road, Roswell
4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
rsvp@bethtikvah.com

The City of Roswell’s 9/11 Commemoration: http://roswell.patch.com/articles/roswell-remembers-911-with-sunday-morning-ceremony

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, let us all pray that the memories of those who died be an enduring blessing.

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