Friday, February 27, 2009

Strategies for Hope: A Jewish "Serenity Prayer"

Last week at services we discussed this selection from the Talmud and suggested that it is somewhat of a Jewish version of Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer." The comments come from a commentary issued by the National Center for Jewish Healing.

Our Rabbis taught: Seven things are hidden from people:
the day of death,
and the day of comfort,*
the depth [extent] of judgment;**
and a man does not know what is in his neighbor's heart;
and a man does not know by what he will earn his living;
and when the Davidic dynasty will return;***
and when the wicked kingdom**** will come to an end.

Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 54b

* No man knows precisely when he will be relieved of his anxieties.
** The great commentator, Rashi (1040-1104), explained that this refers to Divine Judgment.
*** This was probably said in order to discourage those who tried to calculate the advent of the Messiah on the basis of Scripture; see Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.
****Rashi sees this as a covert allusion to the Roman Empire.

During a time of considerable uncertainty, we can gain some comfort knowing that there is so much that is beyond anyone's control. We can't know when a person's grief will end or when a source of income will dry up. We can't predict the stock market or know in advance when the housing market will turn around. We can't control the future; we can only live in the moment and be prepared for whatever the future will bring. What might seem like a setback today might in fact be tomorrow's hidden opportunity.

We at TBE have been taking the lead in offering our community strategies for hope and survival during these difficult times. I cannot be more proud of those efforts. But aside from all the practical help, we need to supplement that by returning to our sources, through meditation, study and prayer, to find more inspiration. That's what I will be trying to do over these coming weeks, with more of these Strategies for Hope.

Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer" had a second stanza, one that rarely is quoted. See it here. He speaks of "Living one day at a time," "Enjoying one moment at a time," and "Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace." He wrote it during the '30s, times not so different from ours. That is what we must do right now.
We need to live in the spirit of Proverbs 3:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge God,
and God will direct your paths.

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