El Paso, Dayton tragedies overshadow Torah portion

I have been struggling all week with what to write for my column.
Note that I write my columns the week before they are published, so my struggles have been from Aug. 6 through 11 and the publisher is extraordinarily patient with how late I am, for which I am grateful.
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchannan, is a gorgeous portion chockablock with possible topics for discussion:
Moses telling the people that he will die outside of the Land of Israel; a commandment to neither add to, nor take away from, the commandments as given; Moses blaming the people for his not getting to go into the Land of Israel; the second recounting of the 10 Commandments; the Shema and the first paragraph of the V’Ahavta.
This portion is so rich with possibility that you might think I’ve been indecisive and just couldn’t choose.
The truth is, though, that I have been consumed by the terror attacks in El Paso and Dayton and haven’t been able to concentrate. My thoughts are scattered. Or, perhaps, my thoughts have been like iron filings that no matter what direction they begin in, the attacks, like twin magnets, rearrange them within their magnetic field.
In any case, the only thing I’ve been able to write this week is the following, which I wrote to my own congregation on Sunday morning after I awoke to the news about Dayton following El Paso:
“Dear Friends,
“I no longer know how to feel. I feel sad and hopeless and frightened and overwhelmed. I am sad for those who were killed, those who were injured, their loved ones, for us all. I feel hopeless because I don’t see how to reduce, much less eliminate, these violent attacks. I feel frightened because I, too, could be among the next victims simply going about my daily life. I feel overwhelmed by Poway, Charlotte, Highlands Ranch, Virginia Beach, Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, all just since the end of April.
“I do find comfort in Psalm 13:
For the leader. A psalm of David.
How long, O Eternal One, will You ignore me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long will I have cares on my mind, grief in my heart all day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Look at me, answer me, Eternal, my God!
Restore the luster to my eyes,
lest I sleep the sleep of death;
lest my enemy say, “I have overcome him,”
my foes exult when I totter.
But I trust in Your faithfulness,
my heart will exult in Your deliverance.
I will sing to the Eternal, for God has been good to me.
“King David himself felt sad and hopeless and frightened and overwhelmed, but overcame all to again sing for joy. We, too, will overcome the evils that we face. We, too, will again sing for joy.
“The only way I know to oppose evil is to do good, to act justly, to be kind, to help others, to walk in God’s path. But know this: we will get past this time we find ourselves in.
“In faith and hope,
“Rabbi Ben”
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and the vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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