Finding Comfort Following Tragedy - Two New Nachamus

Posted Monday, Apr 26th, 2010

Friday April 16, 2010

The Shabbat after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is always a little bitter-sweet for me. The move from profound tragedy to a taste of the World To Come, as Shabbat is sometimes called is not so simple. How do we let go of the pain without letting go of the sensitivity and awareness it creates? How do allow ourselves to embrace the sweetness of Shabbat, looking to the future while remembering the past and yet not becoming imprisoned by those memories? Two things came across my desk this week, each of which really rises to that challenge.

The first is a rap called Never Again. It's by Remedy, an artist affiliated with Wu Tang Clan. Toward the end, you will hear the line, "the final solution is now retribution". When I first heard it, it frankly made my skin crawl. Is that the best we can do? Is our response to murder, getting even? What does it even mean to even that score? How would that be done, by murdering millions of innocent gentiles? Is that what Remedy's remedy?

But pay attention to the images which accompany that line and you will see that nothing could be further from the truth. The picture of "retribution" in this video is the smiling face of Anne Frank. That image is followed by lighting Shabbat candles. And finally, irony fully intended by me, we hear the words of the Sh'ma, Deuteronomy 6:4, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

Retribution for Remedy lies in the smiles of a heroic young woman who dared to see beauty and insisted on hope when the world tried to make each impossible. Retribution for Remedy is found when people respond to darkness by lighting candles and bringing light into the world. Retribution for Remedy will be had when we insist that things to ultimately hang together as one and that we are always part of something larger than ourselves and the events in which we find ourselves.

For this Shabbat at least, Remedy will be my rabbi. But he is not alone in teaching these lessons.

In addition to Remedy's teaching, I received another gift yesterday. This one came in the form of an ad for JLI, the Jewish Learning Institute, a Chabad-sponsored international initiative for adult Jewish learning. The ad was for a new course entitled Beyond Never Again: How the Holocaust speaks to us today. While I cannot attest to the answers which the course will provide, I know that the emphasis on what they refer to as "big, bold questions", as opposed to the answers the course will provide is both powerful and refreshing.

In JLI's description of the course, they write:

The Holocaust forces us to grapple with the existence of evil and suffering. It challenges us to find faith and optimism in the face of devastation and despair. And it humbles us as we encounter heroes of the spirit who fought for truth and decency in the darkest of times.

Let's see, struggling with evil, discovering optimism and celebrating heroism. Is there a person among us not looking for that? Whether one finds what they are looking for in this particular program or not, the sponsors are to be congratulated for making that the focus of the course. Like Remedy, they know that the future is the focus.

Whether one leans toward the music of Remedy or the teaching of Chabad, each provides a way to find comfort, affirm life and build a better future. It's not always easy, but this is proof that each of us can. And that alone is source of comfort with which to sweeten this Shabbat.

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