Over the past week, as Operation Pillar of Defense has intensified, with reports from all over the political map arguing more or less for what they would have argued before the most recent escalation in violence, I have found my head near to exploding on a number of occasions. I cannot process all the angles and narratives of all those people who are deeply affected by the current — and lasting — traumas inflicted by the Middle East crisis as a whole, and to try to distill all that I have read and felt as a result would be presumptuous, as I am (if only physically) 6700 miles away from the conflict. As Shira Bee, a Pardes student this year, writes of her experience of the conflict (living in Jerusalem):
“This is the perfect and terrifying situation that seemingly demonstrates everything I have been learning here so far. There are multiple truths, an endless complexity of factors. When confronting the complexity of the Palestine-Israel conflict there is no single right answer, only a series of conflicting “facts,” opposing truths, and a tremendous amount of suffering on all sides.”
So what is one to do? I feel that this is precisely when all of my learning lishma (for it’s own sake, or for the sake of heaven) can have tangible benefits. While an ideal Jewish life for many would include a tremendous amount of time devoted to such study, I am cognizant of how very privileged I am to have had the opportunity to learn about Judaism for its own sake for most of my life in a far-from-ideal world. Each one of us takes that learning into our lives in a different way, but I would argue that such learning is most valuable when the world around us is in turmoil. When none of the normal sources of comfort, meaning, and moral guidance can be leaned upon, use the time-tested words of the Jewish tradition that, while not written with Operation Pillar of Defense in mind, have provided the succor that Jews have yearned for from the time of the Revolt of Bar Kochba to the ghettos in the USSR and Nazi Germany.
While this may seem too religious (in the classic, theistic sense) for many who follow this blog, I would encourage us all to think about the meaning behind the words uttered by Jews (and others) for millennia. Below I have copied Psalm 130 in Hebrew and my own English translation. This Psalm is traditionally read in different tragic situations, whether on an individual or communal scale.
שיר המעלות, ממעמקים קראתיך ה
ה’ שמעה בקולי, תהיינה אזניך קשבות לקול תחנוני
אם עונות תשמר יה, ה’ מי יעמד
כי עמך הסליחה למען תורא
קויתי ה’ קותה נפשי, ולדברו הוחלתי
נפשי לה’ משומרים לבקר, שמרים לבקר
יחל ישראל אל ה’, כי עם ה’ החסד והרבה עמו פדות
והוא יפדה את ישראל מכל עונותיו
[A Song of Ascents]
From the Depths I call out to you, Hashem.
Hashem, listen to my voice, allow your ears to be tuned to the call of my supplications. If you, Hashem, were to hold us to our sins, Hashem, who would be left standing?
Therefore forgiveness is yours to grant, so that you will be held in awe.
I have wait Hashem, my soul waits, and to his word I have hoped.
My soul waits for Hashem, even more than the watchmen wait for the morning light.
Hope, Israel, for Hashem, because with Hashem comes everlasting kindness, and boundless redemption.
And Hashem will redeem Israel from all of their sins.