8. No reason

Some thoughts about Tish be-Av and my donation …

Yesterday at services the rabbi reflected on his longstanding curiosity about why far more people come to services on Tisha be-Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, than Yom Ha’atzma’ut, one of the most joyous. Why does mourning come easier than celebrating our greatest modern miracle? He quoted from Aviva Zornberg’s latest book, The Murmuring Deep, and (I am simplifying radically) her observations on the psychological aftermath of being “the chosen people.” Why us? Are we worthy? Did we really deserve to survive all the unspeakable tragedies that befell us? And what of the ones not chosen–where do our responsibilities to those others begin and end? Biblical characters grappled with these questions (i.e., were neurotic) long before Freud put names to the problems, and we continue to do so. One way is by seeking out opportunities, such as Tisha be-Av, to relive our pain, which is more familiar to us than our triumphs. In doing so, we remind our still-incredulous selves that we really did survive.

As he spoke, I thought of my more immediate struggle with a similar concept, my postponed stem cell donation. Why was I chosen? No reason at all. It just happened, one of many great random acts of the universe. But if that’s how God works, maybe the same is true of the Jewish people–there is no great plan, and we were chosen just because. We are bound to do our job as Jews nevertheless. It is a baffling and unsatisfying answer, usually the case when trying to apply logic to theology. What really counts is how we react to this knowledge. This unknown woman has already taught me volumes about patience and living in the moment. I hope I may one day return the favor, and can only pray that knowing I remain in the wings will help her find hope and strength.

(Bracha bat Sarah has also helped me gain the smallest bit of insight into the suffering of families of those at war. How to ever relax, or stay sane, when you don’t know if your loved one will return? I’ve never even met this woman, but whether she will live or die is always in my consciousness.)

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