In the 23rd psalm, reference is made to times when we find ourselves walking through “the Valley of the Shadow of Death”. Interestingly, the Hebrew says “Gam Ki” in describing that walk; those words thereby indicate that it isn’t a matter of “in the event that”…I walk through such a condition, but rather a statement that it will likely happen, translated as: “also, as a matter of course, I will walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death”. The words that follow are significant: “I will not be in fear of evil, for You (HaShem) are with me”.
The inclusion of these words at the center of this psalm that takes us through the ups and downs of life is a reminder that Judaism’s focus and unique character is that ours is a program that steeps itself in life’s realities as we face them in an attempt to bring order to a chaotic world.
Surprisingly, if not overwhelmingly disappointingly, not much has changed since the Shoah, in how nations and groups treat the “other”, and specifically, as we bolster security for our synagogue in Vallejo, as an indication that anti-Semitism is again on the rise. Indeed, all of us alive live in the shadow of the Shoah. Lessons learned include not standing by when people are singled out and persecuted for being different and or not having the “right” appearance or not speaking “your” language.
Whether attempting to learn lessons from the Shoah, or engaging this period in the Jewish calendar that places us between physical freedom from human tyrants, in leaving Mitzrayim/Egypt, and reaching the mountain of revelation, to receive the Torah, Shavuot, indicative of spiritual freedom, our task is to harness God’s guidance system for transforming the world from hurtfulness and despair to caring for and nurturing all of God’s children, and the world that is our home.
While Yom HaShoah is designated as the 27th of Nisan, May 2, in a real sense every day could be considered Yom HaShoah, since this destruction of almost all our people in Europe didn’t take a day off throughout the period of World War II.
And so, with such consciousness, we extend our prayers to those whose lives were shattered and traumatized in the Poway synagogue on Shabbat of the last day of Passover, and we are mindful of exponentially increased gun violence all over our country and beyond, extending to the Muslim community in the beautiful oasis of Christchurch, New Zealand. We have to be vigilant in addressing increasing levels of violence accompanied by growing hate speech directed at us and other vulnerable groups. This is something we have to diligently pursue, especially living in the shadow of the Holocaust, a reminder of psalm 23’s message that “the shadow of death” is not to be overlooked as a dangerous condition in a world that sees the cheapening of life with each physical and verbal attack on those most vulnerable.
This Sunday, May 5, our adult education class at 10:45 will explore the response of our sages to these terrible conditions in life that have persevered for over 2000 years. It is ironic that our technological achievements, with our ability to communicate around the world instantly and to reach any spot on the globe within 24 hours (vs. Jules Verne’s project to do so within 80 days, a century earlier) suggest something akin to the Messianic Age. What has stopped us in our tracks from attaining that era is in how little has changed in human behavior from Torah times to the present. If and when we can match our technological progress with a level of human behavior that complements such achievement, then we will have reached the goal that God set out for us, a world that is as the Garden of Eden, as depicted in the Creation Story. Until we bring that day into being, we have a lot of work to do; Yom HaShoah is but a reminder, clouding each day, with how much we must overcome in transforming our world to one of Shalom, where everyone has a place to dwell in safety, and where all lives matter.