The tragedies of the past week remind us why religious community matters:
1. In the face of death, religion maintains that life is meaningful. Not only because of the belief that human beings never fully disappear, but because it teaches that this pageant, with all its pain and anguish, need never resolve into despair. Life still matters; we always matter.
2. A religious community provides comfort and help. Long after others have forgotten, the congregation will be there, with everything from meals to a shoulder to a prayer.
The classical explanation for breaking a glass at the end of the wedding is to recall the destruction of Jerusalem. As the glass is broken, everyone screams out, “Mazel Tov!” There is something peculiar, not only about recalling an historic tragedy at that exact moment, but also shouting for joy just as it is recalled.
For many people, when tragedy strikes, faith is challenged. But as the late David Hartman wrote: “If one’s whole sense of the life of faith depends upon a miracle-based conception of providence and the biblical promises of reward and punishment, then one risks exchanging God for alternative sources of well-being and security. The fundamental issue in the battle against idolatry is to prevent this from happening.”
Deep questions deserve more than one answer. Should we rely on God or on ourselves? In Exodus (14:15), as the Israelites approach the sea, Moses cries out to God. God answers, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to move forward.” So it seems a moment for self-reliance. But Rashi rereads the Hebrew to mean, “Why do you cry out? It’s on Me.”