By Jack Engelhard
That’s quite a fix to be in when not only have you run out of answers, but you’ve also run out of questions.
How many times can we ask – Why did God let this happen?
I’m here on the question of Mumbai, India, the slaughter that took place, and in particular the Jews who were singled out for special torture and murder by Islamists.
Via e-mail messages, I’ve been getting many words of understanding and comfort, but none of them works for me. Have I lost faith? That can never happen, not with my genes that date back to my Biblical namesake, Jacob. But something did make me teeter. I lost the connection. This happens to me now and then, certainly when I think of the Holocaust. Why did God let this happen?
No, there is no understanding or comfort. There is only whatever faith we find within ourselves, and here too I am lacking. I cannot stand alone.
I turn therefore, as always, to King David, figuring if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. I stand on his shoulders. David was not only our greatest king, he was also our greatest Torah scholar. We have it from legend that he awoke each day at the first sun to study Torah for five straight hours before he got down to the business of monarchy. Picture the scene!
King David – himself a prophet, for only a prophet could write the Psalms – was a man of perfect faith, unyielding from beginning to end under whatever trials. He was not a perfect man. Ethically he tripped and fell, he sinned, but all that, his imperfections, only make him more real, more human, more enduring. Whatever his transgressions, he always turned back to God in contrition. (“See my affliction and my travail, and forgive all my sins.” From Psalm 25)
Let’s remember that each word that I read in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses – they are exactly the same words David read and studied 3,000 years ago. Word for word, we match up in the original Hebrew. Imagine David reading these words of Jacob that I read just this morning – “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” I find that to be utterly fantastic, beautiful and thrilling. From 3,000 years ago until today, we are related, we are kin.
Legend, again, has it that David was frustrated over God’s refusal to speak to him directly, as He spoke directly to Moses. Today we can say thank goodness for that, because out of this frustration came the Psalms, David’s sublime literary outreach; poetry unmatched for everlasting brilliance in everything we call prayer, liturgy or literature. Though David was purely Jewish, his poetry is embraced by all faiths. The first book printed in America (by the Puritans) was the Bay Psalm Book.
David speaks to me as if he were right here, standing beside me. With me, he turns the pages of those Psalms he wrote. With him, I cry out for justice, even for vengeance, and with him, I plead and I suffer and sometimes I rejoice, but always, I pray. I pray with David for I cannot pray by myself. I don’t have the strength, the valor, the trust, the faith – not on my own.
I need King David. To be honest, I don’t read his Psalms as sermons or religious texts, but as words within the family, written and even spoken by an older brother, much wiser, who’s been around, knows a thing or two about life, love, despair and hope, failure and success, war and peace – and he is not preaching, just talking. The proof of this, to me, is that within his lyricism, his songs of praise, he is remarkably candid and personal. He is king, but he is mostly my friend and constant companion.
So, after Mumbai, that’s where I went searching, into his Psalms, to find his faith and then to transfer it all into my puzzlement and emptiness.
As often as we to turn to it (speaking of all mankind) we never tire of David’s “Divine Shepherd,” his Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, For Thou art with me – Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of my enemies – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
No, there will never be answers – but finally I can whisper Amen.
About the author: Jack Engelhard’s latest novel, THE BATHSHEBA DEADLINE, now in paperback, places journalism at the center of our war on terror. Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel INDECENT PROPOSAL that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. He can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com.