How can we utter these words? I believe the pandemic of 2020 contributes a unique backdrop as we struggle with this prayer.
Fires, floods, famines, AND coronavirus are not “acts of God.” “Olam k’minhago noheg, the world acts in accordance with its own course.” (Talmud) If so, our liturgy is a statement about reality in our world.
People will perish this year by any number of means, including COVID. The presence of God – within our world and ourselves – urges us to respond to this challenge.
What will you do?
How will you express God’s presence through your actions? Here is the prayer’s response:
“But repentance, prayer and acts of tzedakah can lessen the severity of the decree…”
Repentance: Many, if not all, of us have failed people at times in their darkest moments. We didn’t know what to say or do. Now is a time for teshuva – for change – to be the presence of God with those who suffer by listening to them and acknowledging their pain.
Prayer: Let people know that you are praying for them.
Pray that they be able to express the divine within themselves, the resilient spirit that will aid their recovery.
And finally, acts of tzedakah: Reach out to support those who have suffered grievous loss. One divinely inspired human being, joining with others to support someone in a time of need, brings profound healing.
In what will likely be a difficult year for many people, let us not speak of a God who harshly punishes, but rather of the ultimate Healer.
Let us, as God’s instruments, seek to bring healing to those in need through our listening ears, the words of our consoling lips and the actions of our sustaining hands.
May the year ahead be a healthy and healing one!
Rabbi Neil Sandler was senior rabbi of Ahavath Achim Synagogue from 2004 to 2019.