At times these fears take on a grander dimension. We are not merely afraid of heart disease, but of history. There are tides in human affairs, as we learned in school. Suddenly, they threaten to wash us away. Our children ask questions to which we do not have good answers. Our anxiety is catching; they feel it too.
At such times there is a powerful temptation for clergy to dress up their political conclusions as religious mandates. Many take to the pulpit to deliver political prescriptions as if they were holy writ. But we clergy are no more informed about geopolitics than anyone else. Being a rabbi does not grant me insight into the possible consequences of invasion of Iraq, the potential for more terrorism, or any other political or violent repercussions. So what hope can I offer? What has a great tradition to say to the human heart, to the wounded spirit?
This is what Judaism teaches during perilous times:
Human knowledge is limited.
Despite the swagger of pundits, the wisest often get things wrong. No political leader is infallible, not Pericles, not Bismarck, not Lincoln, not Churchill. There are those who know an invasion will be a catastrophe. If they are wrong, they will not, one can be sure, publicly repent of their mistake. Others know an invasion will be successful. They too, no matter the outcome, are unlikely to beat their breasts in public. Human beings are often too confident, and usually too adept at rationalization to simply admit when they were wrong.
Suffering should not be ignored, no matter one's position.
Think of an Iraqi mother putting her child to bed tonight, knowing that the greatest military power on earth is set to bomb her country. Her fear is almost beyond comprehension.
At the same time, think of the Kurdish mothers who saw their children die of gas poisoning at Saddam Hussein's command. Think of those who fear his tyrannical whims. On each side, there are horrific tales and possibilities. We are not permitted to be callous, no matter our position. To minimize civilian casualties means too easily accepting that innocent, terrified people will be crippled, will die. On the other hand, the world well knows that in some situations inaction is far more perilous.
Evil is real.
No one who is at all familiar with history -- and certainly with Jewish history -- can doubt the real force of evil in the world. We may debate over tactics, but we are not permitted to be fatally naive. Judaism is not a tradition of absolute pacifism. While abhorring war, it recognizes the absolute need to fight at times to counter cruelty or injustice.
God does not assure all will be painless.
There is no certain sanctuary in God's protection. No matter the outcome, people will suffer. What God promises is that we can take the raw material of this world and make it mean something. We can take this crisis, and through power of hand and heart, turn it to a lesson that will enable us to avoid it in the future.
Here is the true task. We seek solace in the certainty that God has given us the might to rise to the challenge, to do better than we have done. What we do to ennoble our lives is our choice until the time that our souls are held in God's hand.
So we gather together in community. Expressing each our own viewpoints, we also take each other's hands, and pray for courage, justice and ultimately, for peace. It is said that as he lay dying the great poet Goethe said, "Light, light -- more light." When the Spanish author and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno heard that story he retorted, "No, warmth, warmth, more warmth! For we die of the cold, not of the darkness. It is not the night that kills, but the frost."
We pray for a world of warmth, and a world of peace.