A prayer in the wake of disaster

Dear God,

You have given me the ability to feel suffering, the blessing-curse of empathy.

You have taught me to open my heart to the condition of others, to love my neighbor as myself, to remember that we are all created in your Divine image. Through practicing these ideals, I have become more compassionate, more responsive, more understanding, more humane, more divine. I have worked hard to broaden my vision; to break the shackles of stereotype, ignorance and laziness; to know my neighbor in order to truly be able to love my neighbor; to create space within my limited experience of the world for those who live differently than I, who aspire differently and who find fulfillment differently. I have allowed myself to feel hopeful and to afford others the benefit of the doubt. I have chosen to see the divine in others.

Tonight, however, this open heart is a curse. Because I feel the suffering of my sisters and brothers. And I absorb the taunts of those who wish my children harm. And I shudder at the sounds of laughter and rejoicing over spilled blood. And I don’t see in the face of my neighbor another who is content with being my neighbor. And the voices of reason that provided me with hope just hours ago have been drowned out by the crowd applauding the gun shots in the theater of the absurd.

So in this moment I find myself closing my open heart to protect myself from the pain of all that suffering. And as the heart closes, I feel it hardening in anger and despair.

Please, God, slow my racing heart and grant me a few hours’ rest. And in my sleep, soften my heart again. Because I need to love. And I can’t truly love–even my own children–so long as this hardened heart beats within me. And once I can feel again, let the blessing-curse of my empathy move me to heal the sick, to comfort the mourner, and to set out rebuilding a shattered world.

In the words of Jeremiah from this past week’s haftarah, “Heal me, Adonai, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved.” Give me reason to praise You.

Hamakom yenachem etchem betoch she’ar aveilei tzion vi’rushalayim. May God comfort and sustain us among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem … and Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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