When everything falls apart, you learn what you are made of by how you respond. Yes, first you mourn and cry out in pain and despair. And then, when you find that you have endured, perhaps the worst you could have imagined, you have choices to make.
How do you hold what has happened and how do you walk toward healing?
When adversity confronts –
Do you stay broken and battered on the ground, soaking in the unfairness of it all? Truth be told, until you can come to simple acceptance of what happened, that may be the most appropriate response.
Do you decide at some point, that you need to brush yourself off? Do you seek to make meaning out of what has occurred?
And finally, do you move forward and create a new life in the wake of what happened?
A Teaching About When Everything Fell Apart
I would like to share with you a compelling and I believe universal teaching about tragedy and the aftermath. It is be found in the rabbis’ responses to the ancient destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem.
Prior to the Holocaust, these two incidents were the most devastating occurrences to happen in the history of the Jewish people. Everything sacred crashed.
The center of Jewish life did not hold.
Everything fell apart.
Each event brought cataclysmic despair: exile, starvation and the loss of nearly everything.
The truth was that each Temple’s destruction was the result of two massive empire (Babylonian & Roman) invasions. The Jewish people literally had no chance.
While the facts themselves were uncontested, it’s what the rabbis did next that contain the profound teaching.
First, In the face of the tragedy, the rabbis sought to make meaning. They asked these questions:
“In what ways did we contribute to the downfall?”
“What weakened us, internally, such that we were susceptible?”
The purpose of these questions was not to “blame the victim” or to deny the facts on the ground.
No – these questions were what allowed the people to take their power back and move forward.
The Seeds of Renewal
The rabbis insisted that we learn from this falling apart. They did not claim that what happened was “good”, but they asserted that we can learn and be better humans even in the face of adversity – and this is inherently and profoundly hopeful.
In the rabbis’ sometimes wild and illogical responses to these questions lay the seeds of renewal.
For example, the rabbis maintained that the reason the 1st temple was destroyed was because of the people’s “idolatry”. Basically, they reasoned that the people were worshipping other things, like wealth and power, and not pursuing justice and compassion. There was truth to this.
With the 2nd temple destruction, the rabbis declared that the Temple fell because of “baseless hatred sinat chinam” among the various sects at the time. This, also, was true.
You may say that no matter what the Jews did, they could not have defeated these empires
And in a purely factual way, you would be right.
But the rabbis were asking deeper spiritual questions.
They were determined to make meaning out of loss.
They were interested in:
How do we return to justice and compassion? How do we create a society that is not fractured from within?
So, how do you bring this teaching forward to today or any time you are beset by the painful facts of profound systemic failure or devastating personal loss?
How do you make meaning out of the pain? What can you learn about yourself?
There is a second part of this wisdom. It is that after everything crashes and burns and falls apart, after we heal for as long as is necessary, we also need to ask: what new thing can be created out of the ashes?
The Creation of A New World
I have a friend whose husband developed a stubborn cough, saw the doctor and was immediately diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer out of nowhere. He died within two weeks. Bam – her family’s life was torn asunder, without warning.
She grieved for a long time. And then, she created and funded a preschool in her husband’s memory. As the Psalmist writes, “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” (Psalm 30:12)
The prophet Micah, who was the first person to warn of the 1st Temple’s possible destruction, had a simple prescription for creating a new life after devastation:
“(Here’s) what the Eternal requires of you: Only to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
The audacious spiritual question in the aftermath of devastation is not “why did this happen?” — instead, it is: how do I bring justice, kindness, and humility to my life right now?
Not only will this continue to help us heal, but we will also have created a new world.
Blessings on your journey –
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Originally posted on Rabbi Jill Zimmerman’s website.
Re-posted with permission.
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