Some Thoughts On the Children Burnt Alive in Dalori In The Form of a Prayer

 

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Father in heaven, any words seem trite in the face of children burnt alive in their huts by Boko Haram two days ago, an unknown amount of children among the 86 people murdered. Yet we must keep speaking. We must keep finding meaning, we must keep speaking what truth we can, what solace and protest we can, because if we stop speaking, if we stop trying to understand, we will vanish into a horrible silence in which we say and do nothing.

Mother of spirit, my conscience tells me that those children, who a survivor heard screaming in the flames as their homes burnt down, must now be in your arms if you are worthy to be called the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekka, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. As their bodies screamed their souls must have already been halfway out the window of this world into your waiting arms. This world created so we could learn to love, in which all of us everyday in ways small or big choose often, too often, to hate instead.

My conscience tells me this must be so, or else the world we live in worse than meaningless. Some will be offended that I contemplate a God at all in these circumstances, will wish that I only be angry, that I only mourn, that I do not seek any solace. Some take a curious refuge in meaninglessness, but I can’t see any strong solace there. How could pain plus meaninglessness be better than pain with meaning, pain with God? Does the world need more bald, unhealable rage and sorrow? Oh Lord, I think and hope that believing that Your loving embrace met those injured souls means that this world is not the way it is supposed to be, not the way you want it to be. Things are bleak because of the darkness in our human hearts, but things are not hopelessly that way. We must fight against the violence done to the innocent, not by doing violence to the guilty but by remembering and embodying the mercy you desire. We must not go silent, not go cold, not become comfortably numb. We must keep alive a heart beating and burning for what your heart desires, and the love you bear each one of us.

Creatorgive us strength to see above the fire and the water, and to walk with faith and hope towards your world.

What Do We Do With Our Spiritual Chometz?

פסחיס ב: רבי יהודה אומר אין בעור חמץ אלה שרפה וחכמים אומרים אף מפרר וגורה לרוח או מטיל לים.

Mishna Pesachim 2: R’ Yehuda says: Chometz must be destroyed through fire. The Sages say: One can crumble it and release it to the wind or in water.

On the holiday of Pesach (Passover) Jews are forbidden to eat chometz (leaven) or to even possess it. We are approaching Pesah and it is time to contemplate the removal of our chometz, both literal and metaphorical. R’ Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l comments that just as even a little external chometz must be removed from your possession, so even a little spiritual chometz must be given attention. Chometz, or leaven, is a concern for both Jews and Christians. Resonant with Rabbi Carlebach, Paul warns in Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump (of dough).”

Such spiritual chometz is the yezer hara (evil inclination- here foolish, destructive desires). Chazal, our sages, call the yezer hara “the chometz in the dough” (T. Bavli; Berakhot 17a). Paul associates chometz with “malice and evil” contrasting it with the “matzah of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthinans 5:8). Jesus seemed to associate chometz with malevolent spiritual pride, as in Mark 8:15 and Matthew 16:6, “Beware of the chometz of the Phrisees and Sadducees”. Chometz here is probably again, however, a watchword for the yetzer hara more generally.

As R’ Carlebach points out (Carlebach Haggadah) even small things can cause great damage- harsh words to our spouse or children, laziness in failing to honour our parents, giving charity to someone on the street without a smile; a habit of being impatient, aversive, or judgemental; apathy or a tendency to be self-deprecating. These behaviours, or whatever is subtly or not so subtly holding us back in our lives, in our avodas Hashem, are rooted in internal middot ra’ot (bad traits) which are rooted in the yezer hara (evil inclination).

Your body and soul are the palace of the Infinite One (the ein sof) where he resides. How do you think the King of the palace feels to find that not only have you allowed the strange god (el zar) of foolish, meaningless desire (yezer hara) to sneak in and set up shop but you the prince of the palace, even make it at home and listen to what it says!

– R’ Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, zt”l, the Piazecne Rebbe, Chovas HaTalmidim

How do we destroy our internal chometz? In the Mishna above Rabbi Yehudah says that it must be burnt. We must destroy it completely and immediately in the fire of our internal scrutiny, our moral passion and commitment to Torah. The Sages disagree, however, giving more nuanced guidance. It may also be crumbled up and dissolved in water, or given to the wind. Our internal chometz can be broken down (deconstructed) through understanding, contemplated and questioned until it becomes less compelling. Once weakened it can be dissolved by immersing in Torah study (water, as the Torah is called “mayim chayim/living waters”) which will fill more and more of the mind with holy thoughts, thus gradually disempowering, thinning out, and dissolving hometzdik thoughts (Likutey Moharan 1:35). As it says in the Gemarra, if you cannot overpower the evil inclination (yezer hara) drag it into the Bet Midrash (house of study). The sages also permit releasing chometz to the wind , which is prayer, as it says kol ha neshama tehalel Yah (let every breath praise God, Tehillim 150:6), which refers to prayer, as Hazal say: prayer is spoken with the breath (neshima) of the mouth (Bereishit Rabbah 14:9), which is also called wind of the mouth (u v’ruach piv– Tehillim 33:6).

As Pesach approaches then it is upon us (aleynu) to search out our internal chometz. What can be burnt, let it be burnt. What is not so easy to get rid of let us dissolve in the light of sechel (intelligence), bringing it into our understanding. Let’s then let it go through Torah study (immersion in truth) and praying for siyata d’shemaya (divine help).