Pre­par­ing spir­i­tu­ally for bleaker days


Should rab­bis be do­ing more to give their com­mu­ni­ties the moral strength and courage to help them deal with darker times that might lie ahead?

To say that we are go­ing through tur­bu­lent times would be an un­der­state­ment. I am con­cerned that, as rab­bis, we are not al­ways pre­par­ing our com­mu­ni­ties to de­velop spir­i­tual re­silience to grap­ple with dif­fi­cult times. I think much of that is be­cause we do not want to be seen as fear-mon­gers, al­ways point­ing out dur­ing pleas­ant times that dark days are ahead.

But there must be some­thing we can do to help de­velop moral strength and courage in our com­mu­ni­ties. Should we be teach­ing any­thing spe­cific or co-or­di­nat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that can then ac­tively be drawn upon when a cri­sis oc­curs?

For ex­am­ple, I feel that we do not present op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to think about the Jewish ap­proach to death and dy­ing un­til it be­comes ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. The prob­lem is that when one has a close fam­ily mem­ber that has just died, they are of­ten not in a po­si­tion to ab­sorb th­ese ideas. I would pre­fer that we get over our aver­sion to talk­ing about mor­bid sub­jects, which might have an over­all pos­i­tive ef­fect in the long run.

Rabbi Scheim:

Most peo­ple learn that the op­ti­mal time to ac­quire life in­surance is while one is young and healthy – wait­ing for old age or in­fir­mity will in­crease the cost as­tro­nom­i­cally, if not make the pur­chase al­to­gether im­pos­si­ble.

Sim­i­larly, as you sug­gest, learn­ing the ba­sic spir­i­tual skills and struc­tures of ac­com­mo­dat­ing the darker side of life is best achieved in times of peace and tran­quil­ity. But hu­man na­ture leads us to pro­cras­ti­nate, and, like Noah, who de­layed en­ter­ing the ark un­til the flood­wa­ters forced him in, we too of­ten re­act only at the time of cri­sis.

We do, of course, of­fer classes in Jewish laws and cus­toms sur­round­ing ill­ness and death, but th­ese tend to be at­tended by the “usual sus­pects,” who come to any class we of­fer, while the larger masses pass on the op­por­tu­nity. Maybe a way of reach­ing larger num­bers would be through the lens of Jewish his­tory, which is trag­i­cally filled with mul­ti­ple ex­am­ples of com­mu­ni­ties

who waited too long to ready them­selves or to flee in the face of im­pend­ing dan­gers, the signs of which they un­der­stand­ably pre­ferred to ig­nore.

Rabbi Finegold:

I like the ap­peal to his­tory, which can teach is that just as we should no­tice warn­ing signs when they are be­gin­ning to emerge, we can learn the op­po­site as well. His­tory shows us that when things are at their worst, our re­silience as a peo­ple will even­tu­ally lead us to bet­ter times.

For ex­am­ple, Or­tho­doxy is cur­rently deal­ing with the is­sue of women as clergy, some­thing Con­ser­va­tive Ju­daism has al­ready laid to rest. While it seems stress­ful and of out­size im­por­tance right now, I al­ways re­mind peo­ple that when they write the his­tory of Or­tho­doxy in 200 years from now this en­tire episode will be re­duced to a sin­gle page.

While I may be firm in my knowl­edge that I am on the right side of his­tory, I also know that it is fruit­less to try to con­vince oth­ers they are wrong. Per­haps that is a lesson we can pass along to our com­mu­ni­ties in bleak times: keep do­ing the good work and know that his­tory will ul­ti­mately pre­vail.

Rabbi Scheim:

Hav­ing very re­cently re­turned from a visit to Prague, I was re­minded of the power of his­tory. In a city with a cur­rent Jewish pop­u­la­tion of 1,500, there are sev­eral Jewish mu­se­ums and memo­ri­als, re­call­ing a thou­sand-plus year his­tory of a flour­ish­ing Jewish com­mu­nity (more than 60,000 Jews lived in Prague be­fore the Shoah). Notwith­stand­ing three good kosher res­tau­rants (largely serv­ing Jewish tourists) and mag­nif­i­cent syn­a­gogues, the com­mu­nity to­day is un­able to make a minyan, ex­cept for on Shab­bat, when tourists pro­vide the nec­es­sary num­bers.

On the sur­face, the cur­rent de­mo­graph­ics are bleak, since the few re­main­ing Jews are largely as­sim­i­lated and un­likely to pro­duce Jewish off­spring in suf­fi­cient num­bers to re­build the shat­tered com­mu­nity. It is more than sym­bolic that the most fa­mous Jewish site is the ceme­tery.

But, like you, I be­lieve there to be a re­deem­ing qual­ity to his­tory – know­ing that a com­mu­nity that, in its day, pro­duced some of the great­est Jewish lu­mi­nar­ies, re­li­gious, cul­tural and lit­er­ary has not shut its doors. Per­haps, here, too, his­tory will, in the long-term, pre­vail, and the rich­ness of our past will bear new fruit in years to come.

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