God is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
— Psalms 34:18

Last Shabbat morning, we woke to shattering news on the other side of the world. It was the kind of news that triggers instant denial. It can't be. Not again. Denial morphed into incredulity which morphed into pain and a sense of profound loss and then, at least for me, the pain turned to anger at the senselessness of it all. What happens when nowhere is safe anymore, when anyone you pass on the street may want your life in a place you've gone to relax and enjoy a night out? What happens to our shared commitment to humanity when it seems like the threads holding us together are unraveling?

Last Shabbat morning, a joyous bar mitzva celebration was punctured by the bad news. A board member stood up and thanked the congregation. He had arrived that morning sad and forlorn; he spoke of his heavy heart. At the end of the morning - through the joy of celebration and collective prayer - he said he was leaving a little lighter. It was not all better or even mostly better. Just a little better. The rabbi got up and recited a poem that traveled in cyberspace after the attacks in Paris. It was written by the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire and articulates the global tensions of the moment. My daughter sent it to me after Shabbat. The rabbi of her synagogue also read it to the congregation.

later that night

I held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?




In our fragmented world, there are few experiences which transcend time and place. We never want fear and terror to be one of them. When we think of everywhere, we want to think of kindness, goodness, charity, God, humanity, compassion, and grace traveling everywhere on the atlas this one torn person holds on his lap. But there are too many terrible experiences that are on the map of everywhere: sorrow, suffering, grief, abuse, violence. And it makes me think of a verse from Psalms: "You keep count of my wanderings and put my tears in your bottle and into your book" (56:9).

Have you ever tried to capture your tears in a bottle? I think I must have in my more dramatic teenage years. When you experience angst, especially because of another person, it's hard to hold back the impulse to collect your tears and mail them off to the person responsible, as a warning or a criticism or a plea for help. In this verse we speak of God paying careful watch when we are lost and struggling. We don't have to put our tears in a bottle. God does that for us and keeps track in some metaphysical book of what happens to us. "God is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit," we read above. Near means close by in our heartache. It does not mean God saves us from pain but rather, stands by us in tragedy. Sometimes the tragedy is that we naively believe that life is all about happiness and not about negotiating suffering with dignity and fighting injustice constantly.

The God of the first psalm is not an Actor but an Observer and an Accountant, Watcher and Listener. The God of the second is a Partner and Friend. These are more passive roles because we must be the main actors on this world stage. We cannot afford to be observers and accountants. There is too much work to do. Where there is suffering, we must seek justice and extend kindness. Let's each commit to one small kindness this coming Friday to offset last Friday's cruelty. Please share yours with me. I need it. 

Where is suffering? Everywhere. 

Where is love? Everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom