Responding to Disaster
Hidden way in plain sight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Corot's "The Burning of Sodom" (formerly "The Destruction of Sodom," from the Havemeyer Collection. It features Lot's wife looking back and turning into a pillar of salt. The Torah emphasizes the moments with the rare use of the chain note, the shalshelet. She paused, delayed, hesitated and was calcified. Lot presumably numbed by the experience goes to live with his daughters in a cave. Lot's daughters presume themselves to be the only ones left in the world, using the ends to justify the means through which they become impregnated by the father they make drunk and entice.
What do we learn from their life lessons? What are the options that are open and available to us? What is an appropriate Jewish response to catastrophe and disaster? Do we reflect on the good old days, a presumed earlier golden age, ubii sunt ? Or do we take the gifts that are ours and apply them? Take our skills and use them? Do we walk away from joy, delight and laughter because of tragedy?
When I interviewed for my first full-time pulpit, I asked the community and this congregation, "What possible reason for affiliation and participation if viewed through the prism of the negative?" Our reasons for being and remaining Jews, for affiliating and identifying strongly as Jews should not be that of af al pi khen, nevertheless. We Jews choose not to avail ourselves of the verse from Job, "Though He Slay me, yet will I trust in Him," [Job 1:4-5]. We do not say, by faith, though He slay me, I will trust in Him, because it will be the means by which He will cause me to trust in Him even the more. The "though he slay me" rationale certainly has not held true in this last generation and will be even less true in the generations to come.
Were we to be honest with ourselves as a community and as committed members of the Jewish community, we must acknowledge that at some serious level many are still calcified, stuck in a rut, as they seek to confront the reality of the Jewish world more than nearly 80 years after Kristallnacht and the Shoah. Why push for affiliation, commitment, active participation in Jewish community? Simply put, because it's part of the deal. Any serious relationship has its ups and downs and its moments of crisis and despair; because we take love seriously, this is what Jews do.
The classic origins of the broken glass at a Jewish wedding recollect Jerusalem and destruction of the Temples. How can one be totally joyful and rejoice even at the moment of one's greatest joy? Even those the most distanced from Judaism and Jewish practice insist on the breaking of a glass at their wedding. Why a broken glass: sadness? Evil forces? Evil circumstances? Bad stuff?
Au contraire mon frère! The broken glass for most couples denotes hope and possibilities, the fragility of serious relationships, and a recognized connection to the Jewish past and the Jewish future.
One of the latest customs to arise in the Jewish community is to take the broken glass and to make of it a hosing for a mezuzah, a symbol of continuity and hope and the open doors of possibilities. More than seven decades years after the Shoah, we need to open the door to new possibilities of growth, connection, love and devotion. It's time to crack the salt to reveal the sweet, juicy and tasty dish that sits in front of us.