With Wounds Still Open, We Ask: Where is God?

September 23, 2020Rabbi Sandra Cohen

“God heals the broken-hearted; God binds up their wounds (Psalm 147).

So here we are at the cusp of a new year, and our wounds are still open. The pandemic, now six months old, has added to the sorrows most of us carry just from having lived to this point and has shaken the foundations of that which has held our lives together. We figure out how to live with sacrifices, small and large. We strive to find meaning.

But we are hurting, many of us – perhaps all of us – during these days Days of Awe, of reflection and renewal, of atonement and beginnings. And with our wounds are still open, we ask: Where is God?

This is not a question I can answer fully. You might as well stop reading now, if you think I can solve this problem of suffering and God. But I will wrestle with it – with you, with all of us.

I do not believe that God sent us COVID-19, and I do not believe God will cure it. That is for humans to do, using our God-given intellect and ambition to develop the vaccines and treatments that will help stop the spread of this natural virus.

But God may keep us company along the way. The message of the TanachTanachתנ"ךAcronym for the Hebrew Bible, constructed from the first letters of its three sections: Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim. , the Hebrew Bible, is not of a vengeful, wrathful God looking to punish us for every mistake and sin. Rather, “God is with us.” The rabbis speak of God as the Shechinah, as God’s indwelling. “Shechinah” comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for “neighbor.” The idea of the Shechinah frames God as dwelling near me, not controlling me or my life as a puppet master might.

When I think of God as dwelling with us, as living next door, my life – though still raw and puzzling – feels a bit less lonely. Like a neighbor, God is sometimes available to lend me some sugar, sometimes not home when I reach out, and sometimes, unaccountably throwing loud, strange parties at 3:00 am to which I have not been invited. OK, the metaphor has its limits. Still, it helps me to reassess what I am looking for in the Holy One of Blessing.

Here we are at the season of t’shuvahT'shuvahתְּשׁוּבָה"Return;" The concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holidays. , of repentance and return. We cannot pour into synagogues together, hugging those we have not seen in weeks or months, waving at friends and fellow congregants, counting the pages until the shofar blasts, singing our favorite tunes. Instead, we gather around tables with our families, with those with whom we have been “sheltering at home” with for weeks and months, dressed up for the holiday, or in our pajamas. It doesn’t matter.

It is time to sit down with God and have it out: How have I messed up my life this year? How have I fallen short of my best self, of the promises I made last year? What will I strive to do differently this coming year? And how has God failed us? I bring to you, O Holy One, my wounds: the pain of the pandemic, its losses and small griefs; things I wanted and had to give up; things I had to do that were too hard. How, O God Who dwells with us, will You make next year a better one, a new year with promises that only You can keep?

Life is hard right now, God. I promise to count my blessings, if You will bind up my wounds.

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