While looking at the pictures of the building rubble left from the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, I could not help but recall the other images of tragedies that my memory has collected. I recalled scenes from the Holocaust, the Vietnam War years, the implosion of the World Center Towers, and many others; oh so tragic events. Also rising in my mind were memories from my 30 years as a chaplain at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where I attended to the spiritual and emotional needs of children and adults facing the ravages, from diagnosis through surgery and for some death, of cancer.
So many times, over the years, I have said “Baruch Atah HaShem, Dayan HaEmet,” Blessed are You Adonai, the Faithful Judge. I learned early on that this is what is said when hearing of a death, tragic or not. I will never forget sitting by the bedside of a 14 year old in a coma with his lungs filled with over 40 tumors reciting psalms. I can never erase from my mind praying for a woman going into surgery after just hearing from her surgeon that she has a 1% chance of coming through this operation alive.
Each moment of my life, as I either witnessed or experienced a tragedy or intensely critical experience with another person, I would always turn to God. I knew and believed that “God is With me” and I should have no fear, as we recite at the end of the prayer/hymn, Adon Olam. Believing this, I also knew that God was with every person, whether a person understands this or feels this.
I was wired this way since birth, but I also believe it is also wired in every Jew to believe in that Higher Power, God, even during the most trying moments of life.
When all else is failing…
When everything is coming crashing down…
tradition tells us that we can always, yes always, reach out to the Infinite One in prayer. The answer to our prayers in some ways is irrelevant because all that matters is that we know, in spite of it all that God is there with us. In other words that we are not spiritually alone.
I remember attending a recent Shabbat morning service where a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor was called to the pulpit to say goodbye to the congregation as she was going north to live with her children. She survived the Holocaust, fought in the Israel’s War of Independence after arriving in the State in 1947, and ultimately came to America and raised a family. Addressing the congregation, she said that many people over the years have asked her if she can believe in God after all she has been through in her life. She said, “My answer to this question is that I tell the person, ‘When I am in trouble, I pray to God for help! When I am happy and things are going well, I thank God! All I want to know is that I have someone I can talk to, talk to God!’”
This is what Jews do. We pray when things are going well. We pray when things are not going so well. We pray at Simchas and we pray at funerals.
And so each morning when I pray Psalm 30, I feel as if King David wrote these words for me, and for everyone of us, as we deal with the numerous tragedies of our modern world.
A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.
1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.
4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
7 Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
8 To you, Lord, I called;to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”
Verses 1 thru 4 acknowledge that God has always been with me during the difficult and trying moments of my life. They give me the faith, affirmed in verses 5 and 6 that God will always be with me to heal me and to at lest hold me up. Verse 7 confirms those times when I began to feel abandoned by God, when it seems that God has turned God’s face away from me, ignoring my life and my cries. Verses 8, 9, 10 once can affirm that God will be there for me and not let me down. My conversation with God, my prayers with God, will never cease for God does not want them to end.
The concluding words,
11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
are the most sincere and pure expressions of hope in God that no matter how bad things are today, tomorrow holds the opportunity for things to get better. This is assured by the faith that our prayers that my prayers, of thanks to God for life and its multitude of gifts will not end in this life or in the life to come.
When you seem overwhelmed by all that is going on these days, pray Psalm 30 or any other psalms or words that come from your heart and soul. Sing forth to God and know that God is there for you!