Running on Narrow Bridges

April 22, 2013Rabbi Jen Gubitz

Editor's Note: Rabbi Gubitz had prepared this address to be given at services on Friday, April 19, 2013. Because many neighborhoods in the Boston area went into lockdown mode that afternoon, she was unable to make it to synagogue to deliver these words to her congregation in person.

Kol ha'Olam - the whole world was glued to Boston this week. The beautiful weekend, followed by an amazing race, with perfect running conditions. The only heartbreak, we thought, being the hills of Newton.

Kol ha'Olam - the whole world gathered to cheer on world-class athletes, a world-class race course, with world-class fans.

Kol ha'Olam - we know that in this whole world, we are not the only ones who face and fear tragedies like this and yet, Kol ha'Olam, it feels today in our whole world of Boston that we are under siege, and we are scared and we fear for our safety, for the safety of our loved ones, and for the safety of those we don't even know.

Kol ha'Olam - though at times it felt like it might, the whole world did not end this week, but worlds ended. Lives were snuffed out and fears ignited. And those narrow straits, tzarim, those narrow straits of living became narrower. And we are a people who know narrowness, tzarut, because mimitzrayim, from narrow straits we have been delivered so many times. But right now, as we stand in the Jewish calendar facing towards Mount Sinai, all of that is supposed to be behind us. Now we stand waiting for the revelation of our sacred Torah. So while we are a people who know narrowness, we do not look back willingly or eagerly to the straits from which we've just departed...

And Kol ha'Olam - the whole world looks forward with us to deliverance.

But just about halfway through the ritual of Sefirat ha'Omer, the counting the Omer, that ancient offering of sheaves of grain for some 49 days, that covers the spiritual distance between our enslavement in Egypt and arrival at Sinai, we can still feel in our limbs, we can still taste on our lips the narrowness of our crushed spirits in bondage. And all the more so today - for we are neither here nor there, for we are in neither Egypt nor Sinai.

Strikingly then, that this ritual period of the Omer is historically a time of mourning, reflective of the plagues that struck in Talmudic times. Though we are neither here nor there, we are not the first nor the last to be where we are in this exact moment...

No. We are not alone in our 'neither-ness.' And we are not alone in our 'not yet-ness.' We are not alone because Kol ha'olam kulo (the whole world ) gesher tzar m'od - is a very narrow bridge. And whole worlds, centuries, and generations before us and, yes, after us have walked, now walk, and will walk this narrow bridge - and, dare I say, run on this narrow bridge? Because walking a narrow bridge together does not appropriately articulate what really happened this week, which is that while the city of Boston ran an historic race on Monday, when people could have run away, when they could have run to the neither or the nor - they, our own congregants even, ran toward. They ran toward, arms wide open offering support, solace, strength. Even in our narrow straits, we find within ourselves the capacity for support and solace. In this solidarity, we can draw strength knowing that when people have the option to run from us, they will, instead, choose to run toward us. In this deep knowing of the strength of the human spirit, we might find spiritual sustenance and resilience to keep running ourselves.

But even with all the strength and resilience that runs through our bodies, it is scary to run toward. It's frightening to keep running at all. It's much easier to run away from It's much safer to resist lacing up our running shoes at all.

Kol ha'olam kulo gesher tsar m'od - the whole world is a very, very narrow bridge. But, Reb Nachman of Bratzlav compels us, v'ha'Ikar Lo L'Fached Klal, "the most important part is not to be afraid." Ha'ikar, "most important part," the essence, the here and the there - is lo l'fached klal. The essence is not to be afraid. Not because fear is bad. It's not. It teaches us. It guides us. It compels us. It protects us. Rather perhaps we should try not to be afraid in times of uncertainty, in liminal moments like this, because fear isolates us. It prevents us from connections and causes us to shut out the whole world.

And life, Jewish living, all living is about forging the path,

walking, journeying, counting, being,

running on the bridge together.


Rabbi Jen Gubitz is the assistant rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA. She loves creating new liturgical language to help people connect to Jewish prayer in relevant and meaningful ways.

Originally published at Living the Dream

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