If I could time-travel, I’d love to meet Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (1505-1580) who wrote the Shabbat hymn ‘Lecha Dodi, Come my Beloved’ and tell him how much his wonderful song means to me – and thousands of others in each generation. Every line is my favourite, but today it’s the words ‘Mah tishtochachi umah tehemi: Why be confounded and why be downcast, for in you, God, the poor of my people trust.’
I have felt downcast. I’ve just watched footage of the terror attack in Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, which left at least two dead. My heart goes out to the bereaved families and all those injured. I join everyone praying and working for an end to the conflict, the killing and wounding from which Israelis, and Palestinians, have so long suffered.
I’m worried also because I’ve heard nothing substantive from the Home Office about the visa applications we submitted to host the Ukrainian family of good friends. I feel useless in the face of the outrages perpetrated across that blood-soaked land.
I receive pleas too: Don’t forget the refugees from Afghanistan; they’re still without homes in which to rebuild their lives.
Then there are the troubles and heartache in our own community, always leaving me wishing I could do something more, something, in the Talmud’s phrase, to take at least a sixtieth part of the hurt away.
This adds up to why those words ‘don’t be downcast’ speaking to me so persistently today. They’re nudging my spirit, like my dog who prods me with her paw when she wants attention.
Therefore, I’m determinedly counting everything good which has touched my heart this week. Here’s a small selection, all just from yesterday:
– In the first wave of the pandemic, I couldn’t practise medicine like usual. There were literally no treatments we could give. So all day I talked to patients and their families. Often I spoke with the same daughter every day. It felt deeply real. Many people wrote thank-you letters afterwards.
– I’m checking out homes on behalf of London boroughs, because so many people have offered to host refugees. It feels so worthwhile.
– May this picture of the dawn light through the blossom bring you joy.
– I tried to capture in a photo a hundred swifts across the sky.
– There’s thirty-two families in the synagogue baking challah and having fun. D’you know anyone who’d like some? It’s the last chance before Pesach!
– I’m bringing together Jewish and Muslim leaders working for reconciliation.
Speaking of Pesach, here’s a short comment on our much-loved Haggadah. The text attributes the defeat of the tyrant Pharaoh to God alone: ‘Not through an angel, not via a messenger, but God, directly and in person’ saved the people.
But I wish the Haggadah could also have mentioned all those whose small, and not so small, courageous actions prepared the path to liberation. What about the midwives, the first to defy Pharaoh and refuse to murder babies? Or Moses’ mother, who hides her little boy in a reed basket? Or Pharaoh’s own daughter, who rescues a forbidden Hebrew child from the water? Or Moses’s sister Miriam, who, just a young girl, bravely runs up to her asking ‘Shall I find you a wet-nurse?’
Redemption is created from such brave, determined actions of ‘ordinary’ women, men and children. That’s why I value every positive deed and word I hear. They’re what make me ‘not confounded and not downcast.’ In them I put my trust, as our people always has. They bring God into our world.