We are living in scary times. Bombs are being dropped and guided missiles sent to the heart of Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, young men and women from across the United States and Great Britain are stepping into deadly combat even as you read these words. They are bravely staring the uncertainty of death in the face, putting their lives and the future of their families on the line to defend the ideal of freedom, justice and security for all.
Across the world an equal number of men, women and children have marched in the streets to express their anguish at the innocent lives that will be lost, the inevitable carnage and social dislocation that war will bring, their despair that we have begun the 21st century once again turning to violence and war to resolve international conflicts. The popular saying, “The more things change the more they stay the same,” seems to ring once again in our ears.
And even our children are fearful, nervous, upset, unsettled, unsure about the world in which they live. One 11-year-old in our congregation cried as she thought about the innocent children in Iraq who will die because of this war. “What did those kids ever do to deserve to be killed by us?” she plaintively asked. “I feel so helpless to do anything. After all, who would listen to an 11-year-old girl?”
That feeling of powerlessness, of being invisible, of our words and prayers and voices not really mattering much isn’t just an 11-year-old problem. It affects us all, no matter which side of the argument we are on – the war as justified and inevitable response to the evil of the ruthless Iraqi dictator or war as anathema to the values of the modern world. We all feel a bit powerless, impotent and relegated to the sidelines with only the power to watch what happens and pray that the conflict ends quickly with the fewest possible casualties.
And yet I told that young girl that she isn’t invisible, that her voice does matter, that she isn’t impotent and that people do care what she has to say no matter how old or young she is. I told her to write to her elected officials and tell them what she thinks, and then to talk to her friends and to share her feelings with her family.
I encouraged her to do all this not because writing the letters or talking to family and friends will stop the war or change America’s foreign policy, but because it will change her. It is when we say nothing and do nothing about things that matter to us in life that we truly feel invisible, that we truly are impotent. But when we speak our truths to others; when we articulate our hopes and dreams and fears out loud, we transform our feelings of helplessness into feelings of self-worth. What we say matters to the still, small voice of God that dwells within us. Our external voice speaks to our inner voice of conscience that serves to monitor our personal sense of integrity, honor and self-respect.
This week’s Torah portion tells us about all the various sacrifices and offerings that our ancestors were commanded to bring before God in the wilderness. There were burnt offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings and offerings of well-being. But the most important of them all, the one that the rabbis taught will still be necessary when the messianic age is upon us and peace reigns throughout the land, is the offering of thanksgiving. All of us have sins and guilts to repent, acts we wish we never committed, words we wish we never said. But the ability we have each day to find the blessings that surround our lives regardless of the circumstances of the moment, including illness, disease, poverty and even war – that ability which is uniquely human to discover the everyday miracles of our lives is one of the most profound spiritual gifts we will ever receive.
Speak your dreams and fears and prayers this week. Share your heart and open your soul to those you love. And find the blessings that still surround you even in the darkest night, and you will discover the true source of holiness in your life.