By Rabbi Betsy Forester
When our community rabbis were invited to choose a date to share words of Torah leading into, through, and out of the High Holy Days, I happily chose to write to you this week, following Sukkot and Simchat Torah. I was eager to share how our joy at Sukkot and rejoicing in Torah so naturally lead us to enact our Torah values and share our blessings with others. I knew that I would be writing to you from Tucson, where I am with a group of Beth Israel Center members on a social justice mission, helping newly arrived refugees.
As we all know, Sh'mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah became a time of mourning and destruction for the Jewish People that continues and will continue beyond this time. My heart goes out to those in our community who are now grieving the loss of loved ones in Israel and fearing for the lives of loved ones taken captive or serving in Israel's defense forces. My daughter lives there, and my husband was visiting her when the war broke out. The situation touches all of us.
This past Shabbat, we began the reading of our Torah once again. In an ancient rabbinic story (embellished in our time by Marc Gellman), when Adam sees the first night approach with the setting sun, he becomes despondent, believing that the world is coming to an end. "Woe is me," he says, "the world is becoming dark around me, and the world will return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder." Eve sits across from him in the darkness as he fasts and cries all night. She holds his hand and cries with him until the sun comes up, and he is comforted.
For those of us who are not grieving or worried sick over family or friends, our job right now is to be like Eve: to reach out a hand--in a hug, a text, an email, or a call--and be present to the pain of those who are suffering personal losses and grave fears. And, because this is a communal tragedy, we need each other's caring presence as well.
Our Torah teaches that before our world came into being, all was null and void, chaos. Time and time again, we have seen how quickly life can descend into chaos and destruction. But B'reishit shows us that just as God brings order in the Creation narratives, we are empowered to bring order where we are able.
Following our community vigil after Simchat Torah, I left for Tucson. Being in regular contact with my congregation and with my husband and daughter, who were in Israel together during this excruciating week, it brought me some comfort to spend hours on end helping others, together with members of our Madison community. As we lived the Torah that unites us as family with a shared destiny, we felt our Jewishness keenly. In the midst of chaos, we brought a bit of order, which rekindled hope that we are not helpless.
May we hold each other close and make every effort to strengthen the entire House of Israel.
Rabbi Betsy Forester joined Beth Israel Center as their spiritual leader in 2018. She is a master teacher and religious leader skilled at helping people build meaningful lives through transformative Jewish experiences rich in authenticity, depth, empowerment, intellectual rigor, sacredness, and joy.