It came from Syria, like an unwanted refugee. A dust storm that laid itself across the land of Israel – and the entire Middle East. 5 days of hot snow. With vision-choking, car-coating, throat-fulls of sand.
Scientists say it was inexplicable and unprecedented. They have no natural explanation for it.
All we know is that it came from Syria and it demanded a full-bodied reckoning of all who waded within it.
Imagine the whole country kvetching its way through one vast communal shvitz. Like a semi-apocalyptic sweat, like a cleansing fever, like the clouds that gathered around Mt. Sinai, like the pillar in the desert. It was a mythic & metaphoric agony and it escorted us straight into Rosh Hashanah.
All we could do was wipe our brow, raise our eyes and wonder aloud, “What, dear Lord, are you trying to articulate with this dust plague?”
For me, the answer came that muggy Friday night at my Shabbat table. Most serendipitously, we had among our guests a woman who is part of the Syrian/Lebanese Christian community here in Jerusalem. As we commiserated over the dust storm and its accompanying discomforts, this woman, with hot tears on her cheeks, spoke up. She told us what she was witnessing in her community. She said that the Syriac Christians saw the dust from Syria as a sort of divine message. For their families – the Christians of Syria – are being genocidally slaughtered by ISIS.
She told us how they are mourning, terrified and undergoing a soul-searching return to their faith. – Teshuva. She asked that we pray for the Christians and the innocents being murdered brutally & senselessly across the border.
As I sat there listening I heard the quiet whisper of response from G-d I was yearning to hear. For me, it was a message served straight onto my Shabbas plate. It was my call from G!d, clear as any shofar blast. Asking me to pray for the innocents being slaughtered.
And I realized, shockingly, that I had not yet done that simple, obvious, human act.
I mean, I am a pray’er. I know that prayer transforms reality. I have seen it. I preach it. I believe it. So how could it be that I have not prayed a stitch over one of the most atrocious horrors on the planet?
And then I saw it, in stark fluorescence. My own smallness. My fear. My trauma. My wound-licking sense of self-preservation. And not without reason, after all. I’m a Jew in an embattled Jerusalem.
But is this the way I want to live? Is this the fate of my people – to be so traumatized that we fail to pray for, to care for, another’s glaring pain? This is not the kind of Jew I want to be.
This dust storm was my wake-up cloud. To be bigger than my own triggers.
Our tradition teaches the spiritual technology that if you want something for yourself, pray for someone else who wants it as well.
G-d knows I want peace. I want the monsters of the Middle East to retreat back into their dark caves. Enough of this violence.
I care something ferocious for the innocents, the forgotten, the children, a short border-cross away.
Dear friends, this is the season of fixing our sins of omission. I, for one, am done feeling victimized. I have a world to care for. I have a region to pray for. I have a heart big enough to break over my neighbors’ pains.
Please, join me in this prayer made of dust.
I’m sorry, Syria
For ignoring you & your endless
reel of travesties.
I have looked away
I have hidden my face
& hardened my heart
lest it be singed by your sharp
But then the dust storm came
and kicked you
into my face
and reminded me that I too am but small
dust and ash and
I too sleep
on a bed of swords
with my neck against the world.
I too am but a breath
away from devastation
by desert wind.
Thankful for this pre-Rosh Hashannah
choke-hold of sand
that did my blindness in.
That roused me
doused me with its astounding heat
and reminded me
that my neighbor’s misfortune
is my own burden
For my roof is made of wood
and I can not fiddle this fire away.
So forgive me for I have not sufficiently
for you and your innocents
for you and your bruised bloodied
though they would wag
for I have not sufficiently prayed.
What can I say,
I am scared of you, Syria.
Terrified of your open-box of horrors.
And I have not yet mastered
the act of praying for the ones I most fear.
Have not yet mastered the art of
turning dark into sparks
turning stray into straight
and straw into gold
but I will try to do so
with these tears, these prayers
this clasping hold.
I will lift your children from the dust one by one
and pray for their safe keeping
as if my own.
I will turn my heart into a turnstile for all
who are innocent
and caught in the cross-fire of your monsters & militants.
I will weep my way through your maze of corpses and
join forces with every well-intentioned citizen of your land.
To pray for the ceasing of this senseless beating
that has befallen you at the hands
of Isis, of darkness and ill-fortune.
Dear Syria, may your dust cloud of devastation lift with the sun’s soft rays.
Please G!d, have compassion on the innocent
the frightened, the helpless,
and guide them
& safe passage.
Please G!d put an end to all that is murderous
and heal the broken
And forgive us for our callousness
in the face of human suffering so close and so far away.
Help your children Israel
shed our victim mentality
that we guard like a precious
Help us be bigger than our own triggers
that we may better serve You, our Father, our King.
Let us be a light unto darkened nations.
To act like the children of royalty we were raised to be.
You have invested us with mission
to do a higher bidding
than our fears would have us keep.
Let us be stronger than our own shattered backs.
Let us be humble as the dust
and yet great enough
to muster the world’s direst of prayers.
Forgive me, Syria
for my silence.
And take this flask of tears.
Your dust is my dust.
I offer you my dearest treasure
– my prayer.