It is with profound sadness that I write this post. There is no right or wrong way to cope with the murders at Tree of Life *Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh. I’ve seen lots of wonderful emails and posts from leaders in the Jewish community, with suggestions on what to do for kids, as a leader in a congregation, etc. But I have been struggling on how to react as a person. Here are my thoughts as they unfolded on Saturday, with a suggested Mussar practice.
It was surreal to pull up to the synagogue where I facilitate two Mussar groups and see a police car parked in front. There was another police car parked behind the synagogue, near the main entrance. Surreal, but not a surprise. Word of the shooting at Tree of Life *Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh had already hit the news. When something like this happens, we need to protect ourselves.
We spoke of it on both groups – one person said they were not sure they were going to come, but upon hearing the news “I made sure to be here.” This is what we do – we show up in times of grief.
The full horror of the murder of my Jewish siblings did not hit me until later in the day. I am in shock and mourning, as is the whole community of Jews and our allies.
The soul trait of Loving-Kindness (Chesed in Hebrew) teaches that comforting mourners is one of the highest and most sacred acts in Judaism. But how exactly do we mourn when we do not know the dead personally? What if I don’t want to visualize my own beloved sanctuary drowned in blood?
A friend of mine died unexpectedly a few years ago, and I’ve seen first hand how shattering it was to her husband and children. Must I dwell upon the survivors of the 11 who were murdered?
My denial gone, I sit feeling shattered. But still, how do I mourn?
I offer a mussar practice to help us through.
****Here’s the Mussar Practice*****
Allow yourself to feel sad. I didn’t feel sad the morning I first heard the news. I didn’t feel much of anything. I used to fear that I was low in the soul trait of Compassion because I did not feel in situations like this. Now I understand that I have too much Compassion, and shut off to avoid being flooded. Now I know this is a normal response to trauma.
A spiritual response to mass murder is to inhabit the feelings that arise. Skipping sadness is dangerous, and opens the door to the evil inclination influencing our actions in ways that make things worse.
So, I am choosing to let myself feel sad. Here are a few ways we can do this together.
- Tell people you are sad when they ask how you are. When I picked up my Chinese food for dinner, when they asked how I was, I said that I was sad over the Tree of Life Temple. They were shocked, and did not know what to say. And, they were sympathetic, and know that this event across the country impacts a regular customer who they greet by name.
- Reach out to others. Call friends and loved ones and let them know you are sad. Offer comfort, and allow them to comfort you. Many organizations across the faith spectrum are hosting events. Go to one, whatever your faith. Be there for others, and for yourself.
- Make their memory a blessing. “May their memory be a blessing” is a traditional way that Jews offer comfort to a mourner. It means may their memory inspire us and bring comfort. For example, we can give blood, donate money, or volunteer to help those in need. You are invited to join me and donate directly to Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation.
Rabbi Ira Stone teaches that the mission of Mussar is “bearing the burden of the other.” In a time like this, we need to hold each other up. We need to bear and be bourn.
Mussar is a practice of personal growth and spiritual transformation. Is it too early to think about growth and change? Yes and no. Before we get to growth, we need to pass through sadness. We practice Mussar so it can be there for us in times of crisis when we need it. We aspire to grow and learn each day, even on the worst days.
We have endured a lot as a people, and will endure more as we continue to pray for peace and a just society. I trust our tradition that coming to grips with sadness is key way station on the path of wholeness, and holiness.
Next Post: Practice Gratitude After Tree of Life?