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Asking the clergy: How can reading Scripture provide comfort after a national tragedy?

Tragedies such as the Las Vegas mass shooting and deadly hurricanes seem as senseless as they are unprecedented, but an oft-quoted Bible passage states, “There is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This week’s clergy discuss how to find solace and hope for the future in holy books that have stood the test of time.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi

Malverne Jewish Center

What a timely question during the festival of Sukkot, when we read the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which astutely noted that what has happened before will happen again. National tragedies aren’t new. They’ve been happening since time began: Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, destruction of the Holy Temples and exile first by the Babylonians and then the Romans, to name a few. During 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites experienced hunger, thirst, plagues and mutiny, but no matter how angry God was with the people, God’s positive attributes, including compassion and loving kindness, prevailed. Reading our sacred texts can provide comfort by reminding us that humanity has lived through these large-scale tragedies, and often come out stronger as a result. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God’s presence can be found with the people in their wanderings. In the Talmud, Rabbi Simon ben Yochai says that God’s presence went into exile with the Israelites, and quotes verses including 1 Samuel 2:27, “Thus the Lord has said, ‘I revealed myself to the house of your fathers when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh.’ ” Reading Scripture by itself can only go so far, however. We must remember that being created in God’s image means that we are God’s partners in creating a better world. May we find comfort and strength in our sacred texts and know that we are not alone.

The Rev. David Anglin

Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Amityville

The past few weeks have brought a seemingly endless parade of disasters. Any of these events would be heartbreaking all by itself — taken together, they seem overwhelming. In times of crisis, a good place to turn for strength is the Holy Bible. The Scriptures are different from every other book because they were written with us in mind. God knows our hearts, God knows our needs and through the inspiration of his Holy Spirit, He crafted a book that speaks to those hearts and meets those needs. The Bible talks not just to people 2,000 years ago — it speaks to us now. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Three themes of the Bible are especially important in times of calamity and crisis: God’s deep personal love for each one of us; God is in control of all things; God knows and shares our suffering. A beloved verse reminds us that God is in control and shapes things in a way that is ultimately for our benefit: “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And finally, in the cross of Christ, we see a God who is not indifferent to human suffering, not insulated from our hurt, but who plunged into this world of pain and let the pain touch him. “Only a suffering God can help,” said Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And in the Scriptures, we encounter a suffering God! “By His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Dr. Panna Shah

Member, Long Island Multi-Faith Forum

During natural disasters such as hurricanes, prayer and reading remind us all of the higher power and brings us together to reach out to care for the victims and share whatever way we can. Man-made tragedies such as the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas; mourners find immediate solace in prayer or reading verses from the Scripture. It may be the first step toward mobilizing communities to recognize a joint response to a national tragedy. It gives mourners strength, love and hope. Jains are reminded of ahimsa, meaning nonviolence, or “do no harm” — and violence of this nature is never justified. Along with prayers and scriptural reading, our hearts and minds feel compassionate and sympathetic. Mutual support and interdependence reminds us of the social obligation in terms of charity. Jain Scriptures indicate four types of daan (charity, donation): abhaya dana (saving the lives of living beings in danger) ahara dana (giving food to the hungry and poor), aushadha dana (distribution of medicines) and gyana or shastra dana (spreading knowledge). To emphasize the first one, the poet Reidhu said, “A man devoted to renunciation should regularly give charity humbly and affectionately using auspicious words. First of all, he should give ‘abhay daan’ . . . doing so vanquishes the miseries related to the other world.” Regular reading like this is helpful for one’s soul and society in general. Prayers and readings during these times bring some degree of order to the chaos and uncertainty of daily life. It further reminds us as a society of our responsibility to find the root cause, and actively plan to immediately correct or remove the cause that may repeat the needless suffering over and over again.

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