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Pirkei Avot

October 30, 2023


Rabbi Nathan Martin

Dear Friends,

Like many of you I have been heartbroken of the horrific murders carried out by Hamas militants against Israelis, the taking of hostages, and also the loss of civilian lives in Gaza during this conflict. Know that we are with you and we do our best to hold and grieve the loss together and also pray for a quick resolution to this conflict with a minimum of loss of life.

As American Jews, we are deeply affected by this trauma. Many of us have friends and relatives in Israel, and many of us carefully follow the news and events of this important center of Jewish life in our world today. While we cannot control the course and events of this war, I do want to take this time to offer some reflections on how we might respond to the current moment. I do this in the framework of the teaching from Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of our Ancestors) that the world is sustained by three things: Torah, Avodah (Spiritual Practice), and Gemilut Hasadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).

Torah: As lifelong learners it can be helpful for some to not only to follow the day to day news of the conflict, but this can be an opportunity to deepen our perspective on Israel and the challenges that it faces today. Learning about Israel can be a way to build more connection to the country and its people. And, being able to hold the complexity of Israeli life, politics, and culture can be an important practice in its own right that can help one to stay connected outside of the current conflict. I am always available as a resource in this work.

Avodah: As you know, your rabbis have been strong advocates of investing in spiritual practice as a tool to weather the challenging information we are receiving each day about the war. Some particular practices can include:

*Setting aside time for mindfulness meditation each day to notice your breath and the thoughts that arise, unbidden, that might be escalating your disease. Invite those thoughts to pass through your awareness without having to be held by them. Simple practices like this can help us to be less captive to anxiety that may arise.

*Relatedly, we invite you to offer prayers for yourself and others, to pray for peace and well-being in the world, to pray for safety and end to conflict, to pray for understanding and healing for those in pain. This too can be an important regular practice.

*Additionally, we invite you to see the practice of connection as a type of Avodah. Perhaps consider taking time to walk with a friend, each taking time to share how you are holding up at this moment. Perhaps the connection is simply with the world around you, or a local park, or another space you find nourishing.

Gemilut Hasadim: Finally, finding ways to support and be of service during this time can also be helpful and grounding. We invite you to connect and donate to a particular tzedaka that might reflect your values around this conflict. (We are happy to offer suggestions). Perhaps your acts of kindness are making a point to reach out to relatives and friends in Israel to offer a listening ear, or to reach out to friends and family here in the US to do the same ‐ and we include in this practice friends of all backgrounds: Jewish, Muslim, young and old alike.

But most importantly we want to acknowledge and validate that this is a deeply unsettling time. We worry for the safety of our brothers and sisters and friends in Israel. We worry for the safety and well-being of innocent civilians affected by this conflict. We worry about the stability of the region of the Middle East and the potential for broader conflict. And this is not to mention our concerns we have been holding before October 7.

It makes sense if you find yourself feeling ill at ease as you go about your day. This is a particular moment to be gentle with ourselves and each other, to notice that we may be more tired or irritable, less patient, and simply less able to carry on our lives with the same ease as previously. As we notice this, we invite you to slow down, take a breath, and be compassionate with yourself in this challenging reality. And may we continue to be there for each other.

I leave us with the image that the Tabernacle was carried through the wilderness in pieces. May each of us together not only hold our grief from this moment but also carry each other through this unknown wilderness with love and compassion.

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784