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Tragedies call on us to act, give thanks

11/14/2018 01:19:46 PM


Cantor Peter Halpern

Even as we absorb the shock and horror of the Pittsburgh shooting and massacre in Thousand Oaks, we watch the Golden State go up in flames. I served the Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks from 1998 to 2006, some of the happiest years of my career. The first time I drove through the canyon from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, the sudden sight of the deep blue Pacific Ocean framing Pepperdine University emerged from behind the mountains. I was so awestruck I nearly drove off the road.

The Woolsey fire now virtually consumes that region. 250 congregants held a baby shower in the Temple social hall for my son Nathan a few days after he was born. The clergy enjoyed Havdalah receptions together on the patio in the setting sun. The whole perimeter of that Temple campus, lovingly tended by Fernando, is scorched. Activities had to be stopped, and the Temple closed for 12 days. Incredibly the Temple building survived.

What can we learn? This magnificent world and our blessed lives have been given to us as a gift. It is our responsibility to preserve our planet and to nurture humankind - ourselves and others. There is a meditation in the “Gates of Prayer” that speaks of our greatest blessing of all being the knowledge that we are blessed. It is our duty not to take for granted the beauty around us and the miracle of life.

At the moment, it is not difficult to imagine the God described in Psalm 29 – “The voice of Adonai is powerful…The voice of Adonai flashes forth flames of fire…The voice of Adonai causes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest bare...” I prefer to flip the two digits though and sing the poetic translation of Psalm 92 “I wish to understand the wonders of Your hand, for all the blessings that are mine rise from Your design.”

May we seize opportunities to remember that the loving force in the universe some call God, suffers with us through these many tragedies, but also calls us to act as well as to thank.

Wed, June 19 2019 16 Sivan 5779