In The Wake of Tragedy 5778

I stay up pretty late at night, sometimes 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning. Young people take note: I’m not young any more.

Even when the holidays are in full swing, I may be in bed early, but for my age-group, I’m still on the “young-ish” side, so I read, play games on my iPad (which is on its last legs) and sometimes I crochet kipot.

So on Sunday night I was wide awake when the news came on and at 11:00pm here in Seal Beach, California, the accounts of what was happening in Las Vegas was still pretty sketchy.

No one really knew anything.

Strangely, I was very sleepy that night and went to sleep right after the news came on, so I didn’t hear the first real news about what had occurred until early morning. At that time, they said 50 people had died and over 400 were injured.

Later in the day, they adjusted the numbers to where it stands today – 59 dead, 527 wounded.

And the shooter? Dead as well.

The question is, why?

After several days, we know how, when, where, what, who, but no “why.”

In many ways, perhaps it doesn’t matter. We Jews are still in the sacred space of our High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are over and now we are in Sukkot, one of the three major harvest festivals of our people.

Z’man Simchateinu, The Season of Our Joy.

Can we actually feel joy when we see the misery that surrounds us? We watched with horror the triple-punch to our nation by the forces of nature – the hurricanes and the floods; we witnessed the desperate search following the devastating earthquake in Mexico; and now we see the massacre of innocents attending a country music festival.

So can we feel real, sincere joy in the face of such horror?

We must.

We must, not just because we are commanded, that’s right, commanded, to display joy at this season. We must because the entire human race is hard-wired to survive tragedy and despair.

What good came out of the tragedy of the Las Vegas massacre?

The everyday heroes who risked their lives trying to save as many of the wounded as possible, dodging bullets from – who knows where? In the ensuing panic, no one on the fairgrounds could tell from where the gunfire came.

The Las Vegas police and sheriffs, the fire department, the first responders, all were heroes, also risking their lives.

In the wake of tragedy, we always seem to ask, “Where was God?”

God was there with the everyday heroes, the cops, the firemen.

God is always there.

In observing the festival of Sukkot, we are commanded to “dwell” in a Sukkah. The Sukkah is a reminder of when we lived in the wilderness and when we harvested our crops, we DID dwell in these little palm-covered booths.

Today, we replicate that time when life was precarious, when a strong wind could easily blow the Sukkah down. The weather at this time of the year is often cool, and some people actually sleep in it overnight. Most people eat their meals in it.

The Sukkah is made of things that are fragile; the palm branches spread across the top won’t keep out the rain because we be able to see the stars through them. In daylight, we sit and eat our meals with shadows from the palms, surrounded by decorations of all kinds, usually fruits, harvest vegetables and colorful fall décor.

It is a reminder that we are a people who came from humble beginnings. When bad things happen to good people, we turn to the Source of All for comfort and solace.

In the prayer, “Hashkiveinu,” we say, “Spread over us Your Sukkah of peace.” The Sukkah is a shelter, a fragile shelter, reminding us that our world is fraught with dangers, both natural and unnatural and that our Creator, in mercy, is our Refuge.

For those innocents murdered in Las Vegas, zichronam livrachah, “May their memory be for blessing.”

Have a Joyous Chag!

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