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Hear Our Voices

29/04/2021 03:21:17 PM

Apr29

One of the most poignant lines in one of our most poignant Jewish prayers is: “Do not turn us away, Oh our King, empty (handed) from your presence“. The word for empty in Hebrew is ריק/reik. To be empty must be one of the most devastating conditions of being human. To be emptied of love, empathy or even anger and hatred is to be devoid of humanity. To encounter the absence of God is one of the most painful experiences for a believer. We would probably use different words today for this sense of emptiness – depression, desperation, burnout, flatness, lack of emotional affect.

Just watching from afar the enormity of the tragedy unfolding in India is to experience emptiness. To be living through the nightmare of this pandemic surely defines the very term abandonment. Listening to and watching the personal accounts of acute distress is unbearable. Emptiness is everywhere from those empty oxygen cartridges to the void in the hearts of the desperate relatives seeking treatment in overburdened hospitals. Not to mention the loss and absence of loved ones snatched by this cruel plague. And there’s the sense that their government has failed them.

India may be far away, but it is so close to us. It is close as a vibrant democracy, a neighbour, a friendly country some of whose citizens have moved here. It is a country which many Australians have visited. It is an enchanting place filled with colour, vibrancy, dirt, and divinity. Once you have made the passage to India, you are forever altered. According to the Torah, Abraham’s children contributed some of the precious gifts of their father to the people of the East (Genesis 25:6); rather fancifully some Jewish mystics suggest that Abraham and Brahman, share the same letters as well as some of the same spirit. This is certainly a land where religion and spirituality are thriving.

India’s pain is our pain, its tragedy is our tragedy, its horror encapsulates the worst fears we all have of Corona virus running unchecked through our lives. It is a shocking reminder that the plague has not ended, that despite our good fortune we remain vulnerable. There but for the grace of God….

It’s an acute reminder that in this pandemic we are all interconnected, and no country can go it all alone. It highlights the errant thinking that the wealthy countries that can afford and have easy access to the vaccine can protect themselves alone. We have a global responsibility; we are all fragile creatures of our Creator. If we don’t work together to defeat this enemy, we will all fall and fail.

This is a lesson that also comes out of countless Jewish texts. We may be a singular and sometimes parochial people, but we are also members of the human race and God expects us to be responsible, refined members! Rabbi JB Soloveitchik often remarked that we have an obligation to be citizens of the world. As an example, he would point out that on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we read the book of Jonah and how a Jewish prophet is sent to a hostile city, Nineveh, to rescue it from self -destructing. Its message is strong and clear– how can you fast and ask for forgiveness for yourself if you don’t care about others, if you don’t care about the world around you, if you don’t care about the pain of a pandemic or the crisis of our climate and our beleaguered planet? As another prophet Isaiah so eloquently declared: “Loosen the bindings of evil and break the slavery chain. Those who are crushed, release to freedom; shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed wanderer’s home. When you see a person naked, clothe him: do not avert your eyes from your own flesh” (58:6-7). This very passage is read on the morning of Yom Kippur. It also resonates today for its reminder that we need to bring Australian citizens and wanderers back home as soon as possible.

The response across the world in supporting and helping India is heartening. Unfortunately, so much havoc and harm have already been caused, that will haunt this country and affect the rest of the world for years to come. Just think of the mental emotional and familial destruction caused by the loss of life. It reminds me of the terror of the AIDS epidemic especially in southern Africa which is not yet over. I grieve for the families who have lost breadwinners, the parentless children, the parents who have lost children. I cry for this beloved country.

These are dark days in the world. I however take some comfort and draw some courage from that prayer of emptiness. It’s heartbreaking opening is: “Listen to our voice, Lord our God. Spare us and have compassion on us and in compassion and favour accept our prayers”. It continues: “Do not turn us away… for You listen with compassion to the prayer of your people...”

Wed, 20 October 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782