Share A Prayer: In Times of Tragedy

This Post is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Silvershein a 16 year old Ramah Darom Camper who died tragically in a white water rafting accident on Sunday June 19 2011.  Our hearts go out to Andrew’s family and the entire Ramah Darom mishpacha.

Hi

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.

Responding to tragic news is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face. What do I say? How do I articulate my feelings? As with so many other situations, Jewish tradition provides the vocabulary to at least begin the conversation. Interestingly, Judaism mandates the following Bracha (Blessing) upon hearing of the death of a dear one:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam, Dayan Ha Emet: Blessed are You Our God, Ruler of the Universe who is the true Judge.”

At first glance, it may seem strange to utter a blessing at such a heartbreaking moment; why would one possibly think to express gratitude? In fact, the actual purpose of saying any Bracha (Blessing) is to acknowledge and reach out to God’s presence at a particular moment. When we say a blessing over bread, we become cognizant of God’s presence with us as we enjoy the bread God provided. Similarly, in this horrible instance, through uttering a Blessing we seek God’s presence to help us cope with the desperate situation in which we find our loved ones and ourselves. Additionally, by acknowledging God’s righteousness at a time when we might lose our faith, we are reminded that, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has said, “God is on our side, God is not on the side of illness or death.”

There are several other sources of comfort one can turn to at a moment of tragedy. This morning as I was praying, a segment of the Tachanun , a selection of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service following the Amidah, spoke to me in a unique way. Crafted from verses from various Psalms (see below) the prayer is part of the first section of Tachanun:

“Remember Your compassion Adonai, and Your kindness, for they endure forever. Adonai will answer us in time of trouble;
the God of Jacob will uplift us. Adonai, redeem us – Sovereign, answer us when we call. Avinu Malkeinu [our Parent /our Monarch], respond to us graciously though we lack merit. Be kind to us for Your name’s sake. Hear our pleas; remember the covenant with ancestors and save us for You are merciful.”

As I have mentioned in past writings, for generations, we have turned in times of tribulation to the book of Psalms, a collection of 150 exquisite liturgical poems attributed to the biblical King David. Among the most touching Psalms are Psalm 121, “I turn my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come,” Psalm 130, “… From out of the depths I called You Adonai…” and Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want…”  Rabbi Harold Kushner, to whom I referred above, is the author of an exceptionally insightful and comforting book on Psalm 23 entitled The Lord is My Sheppard.

Psalm 23 is the subject of numerous classical and modern settings. Gam Ki Elech, (click on link to listen) “Even though I pass through the shadow of the valley of death…” is a strikingly powerful setting by Elliot Kranzler, who is both a psychiatrist and a Jewish Recording Artist. This setting is found on his CD Ki Ata Imadi, as well as on a wonderful collection of songs of comfort entitled;  The World is a Narrow Bridge .

Of course texts relating to tragedy are not limited to ancient times. Many modern authors and poets have written meaningful, relevant and poignant prayers. Here is a Prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy, a gifted and sensitive spiritual leader and author.

A Prayer When a Loved One’s Life Is Cut Short by Tragedy

I can’t believe I will never see your sweet face again. I am shattered. I keep thinking I’ll wake up from this cruel nightmare. But day after day I find myself alone with my pain and my tears. I wish I could make sense of the senselessness of your death. I wish I could understand God’s silence. I wish I could have done something to save you, to protect you from harm. I feel so helpless and so alone. I pray that you are at peace now, far away from this world’s horror. Your life ended in tragedy, but that’s not how I will remember you. I will remember your smile, your wisdom, your touch. I will remember your laughter, your kindness, your generosity, your determination, your love. I know that you wouldn’t want me to sink into despair. You always taught me to live up to the best in myself. And that’s what I will try to do. I will strive to search for the goodness in every soul, and to live up to the goodness inside my own soul.

Levy, Naomi (2007). Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration (p. 214). Knopf. Kindle Edition.

Coming to the end of this I find that I still lack the words to express the deep sadness in my soul or my heartfelt sympathy for a family and friends that have suffered a tragic loss. I am, however, somewhat comforted by the fact that my connection to God to the Jewish community and to our sacred tradition gives me a place to start. I pray that those who are personally affected by the horror of a devastating loss will find strength in these connections or at least will somehow find in them the ability to begin the conversation that will lead to a measure of comfort and peace.

Here is a link to the Psalm texts in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

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