Both Rabbi Grossman and Rabbi Stern grapple with the question of God’s role in calamitous events that befall us, either as individuals or as a people. If God is loving and good, it is difficult to understand these catastrophic occurrences–either God is somehow “not present” at these moments or is justly punishing us for our wrongdoings.
There is a danger, however, in identifying God only with those good things that happen to us, with making God overly “nice.” If we affirm God’s presence only in the good, we suggest that God is absent from those moments of hardship and deprivation when we are most in need of divine comfort. Instead, it is important to recognize that God is equally present in everything that happens to us–hence the rabbinic dictum that we must “bless the bad the same as we bless the good.” The prophet Isaiah, himself no stranger to hardship and deprivation, records God as saying, “I form light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil–I the Lord do all these things.” (45:7)
As a Reconstructionist Jew, I don’t believe God ordains divine punishment or share Isaiah’s belief that God is the cause of the destruction that befalls us: God did not will the destruction of six million innocent men, women, and children. But I do believe that God is equally present in all parts of our lives if we are open to recognizing it. It’s easy to affirm God’s presence in the miracle of a new life, but God is equally present in the mystery of the end of life, even if we respond to these two events (both far outside of the realm of human understanding and control) very differently.
Tisha B’Av is an opportunity to look for God and affirm God’s presence even in the darkest of places.