Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

The following sermon was delivered during the 2001 Jewish High Holiday season following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It has been included on the Torah From Terror website as a resource and retains the copyright of its author. Please cite the source accordingly.

Rabbi Aubrey L. Glazer, M. A.

9/11 Torah from Terror
Sons of Abraham Congregation, West Lafayette, Indiana, 5762

Where do we turn when God takes leave?

In a momentary flood of anger,
I hid My face from you;
—Isaiah 54: 8

so leben wir und nehmen immer Abscheid.
we live our lives, forever taking leave. —Rainer Maria Rilke
8th Elegy: Duino Elegies.

Must we trust the poet or turn to the prophet at this moment of catastrophe in our lives? Can we look each other in the face and admit that the lives we live are forever taking leave? Where is our consolation? Moreover the challenge to our belief and to our theology is whether God too is taking leave as we live this life forever taking leave. Is Nietzsche's cry of the madman still to concatenate?

God is dead [Gott ist todt]! God remains dead [Gott bleibt todt]! And we have killed him [Und wir haben ihn getödtet]!

Before we can accept any consolation—is it still possible!?!—we must confront the betrayal that has taken place. Yes, betrayal. The seeds of betrayal dwell in relationships of primal trust according to neo-Jungian, James Hillman. Who has betrayed whom is for each of us to struggle with and come to terms with and fill in the proverbial blanks. But there is no denying amidst all of our anger, that what we're sitting with is a deep sense of betrayal! Any spiritual tradition that cuts the mustard has to confront anger, for this deep-seated sentiment recurs perennially. We have our Holocaust Psalm 44 and we have the canonical post-Auschwitz poetry of Celan, but how effective are these laments unless we confront the emotions which inspire such expression?!?

Today we turn to the poets, whereas once it was the prophets who assuaged this sense of betrayal with what are known as the prophecies of consolation. These haftarot d'nehamatah are traditionally read as a sevenfold cycle of consolation following the archetypal catastrophe in Jewish time—the 9th of the 11th month, Menachem-Av—how eerie! Heschel contrasts the voice of earlier prophets in their calling upon Israel to mourn her iniquity with voice of Second Isaiah that calls upon her to sing and rejoice. Israel in her darkest hour, for Second Isaiah, bares the seeds of her redemption like a woman in the pangs of labor "k'yoleida 'efeh" (Is. 42: 14). The incongruency of this poetic statement couldn't be greater! But let us re-turn to hear now the poetics of this consolation in its ownmost saying:

In a momentary flood of anger,
I hid My face from you;
But with compassion everlasting
I will take you back in love
—said the Name your Redeemer.
—Isaiah 54: 8

If life as we live it is always a leave-taking, can we blame God, as it were, for taking the high road too? Perhaps this sentiment is what impels Luria to teach his exilic community in Safed. Granted Luria's community never encountered catastrophe the scale of Shoah, but as we read this Lurianic gloss of Second Isaiah today, we need to confront this sense of God taking leave once again from our lives. This turning away is but a moment in the grand scheme of things; yet it's still so hard for us to comprehend. What Luria's disciple, Meir Poppers (Sefer ha-Likutim 309b) is teaching then is while the darkness seems unbearable when the face of God turns away, there is a gesture of even greater darkness and distance. Rather than have, as it were, the whole body leave us behind (which would take interminable time and fuss to return) right now we are faced with a momentary loss of light, a loss of what Lévinas in 1948 called l'épiphanie du visage or the epiphany of the face. We experience this light only in traces. After 9-11, we lament in the expanse of this deepest darkness.

The foyer of this expanse is where couples quarrel. A sure sign of divorce is when one partner "stonewalls" the other, shutting down all emotion, especially on the face. Yes, you've seen couples eating in restaurants together in this way, but even in stoic silence, still some trace of emotion is bound to well up in the face somewhere. Worse yet, is when there is no eye-to-eye contact. But when things get too aggressive, there is a breaking point that is reached, a point of no-turning back where one storms out that door. When that happens, the rupture may never again be mended. So this is actually the consolation that Poppers reads into Isaiah 54: 8—it could be much darker than it already is, so always look on… the less dark side! For if you want to experience supreme darkness, imagine what it could be like, rahmana la'tzlanah, when God picks up and moves on; whereas in turning face, we can always anticipate the hope of a face in re-turn. This hope is that with "compassion everlasting" [hesed olam] there will be rapprochement. We are never completely abandoned, only alienated for the moment. Our relationship to God is dynamic—something has to die, to make room for growth and rebirth.
But consolation? When exactly is hard to say—these wounds are so deep and still festering— but the rapprochement will take place. Until that time, we must continue to mourn, and slowly dress our collective wounds, each in our own time. If the seeds of betrayal dwell in relationships of primal trust, revisiting Hillman, then we learn from Luria on Second Isaiah that the seeds of redemption dwell in moments of darkest suffering. Only then can we re-turn to be face-to-face once again to cultivate the "compassion everlasting" [hesed olam] which is demanded of every godly creature along our by-paths to redemption.

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