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Colleyville, Texas 

02/03/2022 08:39:51 AM


On the Saturday afternoon of January 15, 2022 after I had been able to do some reading, I was going to have a late lunch. Around 2:00pm Shira got my attention: “Hey, there’s a hostage situation... at a synagogue… in Texas.” “What?” I replied. She had seen it online. We turned on the TV and that’s when it all started to sink in. “Colleyville,” I said, “that’s near Dallas.” Where, of course, I grew up. “Wait, Colleyville… that’s where Charlie is!” I had started rabbinical school in Israel with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. It came over me in waves. A synagogue held hostage: close. Outside Dallas: Closer. My classmate Charlie: Closest. As the terror began to set in, I asked myself, “Was this really happening?” And if I felt terror, how could I even begin to imagine the terror being experienced by Charlie and his three congregants being held hostage?

What was going through my head, my heart, my soul? Praying for Charlie and the hostages. Praying to God to give them the strength, wisdom, and courage to make it through this unimaginable trial. I tried to remain hopeful, especially hearing of the immense presence and involvement of law enforcement. And several hours later, once one hostage was released, then I could allow myself some hope. But other than those glimmers of hopeful thought, I was just scared, just so scared. I was beset by increasing and overwhelming waves of anxiety, fear and dread. Far more than once, I said to Shira, “That could be me.” “That could be me.”

But what else could I do? Other than worry, hope, pray, and worry some more, what else could I do? I decided it would be prudent and necessary to inform our Temple family via Facebook, Instagram, and email and both express solidarity and ask for prayers. After conferring with Temple President Sharon Frost, I posted and emailed. At least that felt like I was doing something.

It wasn’t possible to eat or read or really do much of anything on that Shabbat. And then… and then… news that they were safe! The hostages were safe! And I am beyond grateful that I am not saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for Charlie.

It was only later that I was to learn of the courageous quick thinking and genuine bravery displayed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and his fellow hostages, saving their own lives, right before, it seems, their time was going to run out. Incredible. People texted me messages like “I believe in prayer!” and “Thank God!” and “Prayers answered!” and “It’s a miracle!” Yes... and yet I couldn’t help but be reminded of a favorite teaching from the Talmud: “One may never assume that a miracle will occur.” “One may never assume that a miracle will occur.” Remarkable statement: Jews aren’t meant to rely on miracles.

But miracles are central to religion, aren't they? Yes and no. As the Etz Hayim Torah commentary puts it: “It is better to rely on the certainty of each other, than to rely on the uncertainty of a miracle.

This is the principle that inspired Jews to resist the Nazi’s in all kinds of ways. This is the principle that inspired Jews to fight for a new country called ‘Israel.’” This might very well be the principle that inspired Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker to act as bravely as he and his fellow hostages did. And I am beyond grateful that I am not saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for Charlie.

But what is wrong with believing in miracles? Nothing. Nothing at all! In fact, years ago in my hospice work, as a patient lay dying, the question from a loved one was not uncommon: “What about a miracle, Rabbi? Surely you believe in miracles.” To which I might have respond: “Believe in them – yes; rely on them – no.” To be a Jew is to believe in miracles – but not rely on them.

So, we mustn’t rely on a miracle – especially for something that is impossible. As the great rationalist of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, puts it, in his Guide for the Perplexed: "A miracle cannot prove what is impossible. A miracle only proves [confirms] what is possible." Or in the words of Chaim Weitzman, the first president of the modern state of Israel, “Miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them.” Some years after Chaim Weizman said that, David Ben-Gurion, the first PM of Israel, said (in 1956): "In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” So, believe in miracles. Work hard for miracles. But don’t rely on miracles.

Relying on the certainty of each other, rather than the uncertainty of a miracle – that’s being Jewish. Working hard for miracles – that’s being Jewish. Believing in miracles but not relying on miracles – that’s being Jewish. So, yes: “I believe in prayer!” and “Thank God!” and “Prayers answered!” and “It’s a miracle!” And I am beyond grateful that I am not saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for Charlie.

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783