13 March 2009
17 Adar 5769
It has been an intense week for our community. Tuesday’s Purim festivities featured megillah readings, shpiels, a Latke-Hamentashen Debate (which is the ideal Jewish food?) and a fun-filled faculty and student talent show. This morning begins Exploration Week, during which our students will be engaged in activities all across the country, as well as both on and off our campus. From clock-making to cooking, glass-blowing to a literacy program, a Civil Rights Journey through the South to creative writing in San Francisco, our students are experiencing life lessons that will enrich their education and their sense of self.
While there is a spirit of excitement around Exploration Week, Mrs. Judy Pordes’ leaving is a loss of great proportion for our school. Our community feels pain at many levels: sadness about the loss of our teacher, leader, nurturer and friend; confusion and anxiety about the shocking and chaotic nature of this event; frustration about the lack of more detailed communication. In the paraphrased words of a deeply pained parent who called me this week, “Marc, this just feels really, really bad.”
Sudden, unexplainable loss can be scary and discomforting, but one of the hardest aspects of this experience for so many of us is the not knowing. Our natural tendency in response to events that do not make sense is to search for, even demand answers. How tempting it can be to create our own answers, to ascribe our own interpretations to an opaque reality; and, when we do not receive answers from those whom we perceive could give them to us, it can feel like a breach of trust, a violation of our relationship. Thank God, we have not suffered a tragedy of Job’s proportions; yet, I am drawn to the Book of Job because it illustrates the human need to make sense of the world that can feel like it has been turned upside down. Job’s friends, for example, whose faith cannot tolerate the seeming randomness of Job’s suffering, insist on constructing a reality that in no way comforts Job himself.
One way to understand the message of the Book of Job is to recognize that human beings need to find the capacity to live with ambiguity and not-knowing, to trust that there is a higher purpose or greater meaning and justice in the world, even if it is not evident in the events of our lives or our experience of the world. But in two conversations I had yesterday – one with a student and one with a parent – I was drawn to a different reading of the story. Job’s experience threatens to cause a crisis of faith in his world and his relationship with God, who is conspicuously absent from the middle 35 chapters of the book. Desperate to make sense of his situation, Job must be saddened by the fact that his partner (God) does not communicate, explain, or put his suffering in a context. Job maintains his faith by continuing to cry out and to stay in the relationship, even when he feels unmet by God. In this reading, the redemptive aspect of the book is not an affirmation that there are answers that are our comprehension; rather, the redemptive moment occurs when, after 35 chapters, “Vaya’an Adonai et Iyov – And God replied to Job.” That moment was not about the substance of God’s response, for no answer could explain or justify Job’s experience. When He enters the dialogue, God reminds Job that even though He does not explain, He is there and they have a relationship. Sometimes we experience the urgent need to know more from people we trust and love. And sometimes, when we cannot or should not know all of the answers, we can find healing in our relationships, our ongoing dialogue, even our hard and painful conversations.
I have been moved by the many communications I have had by email, phone and in person with concerned students, parents and colleagues. I am deeply grateful that I draw such an extraordinary amount of strength from my relationships with a community of people from whom I am privileged to learn each day and whom I am privileged to serve. Thank you for your support and confidence.
Rabbi Marc Baker