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Journey of Teshuvah 4: On Mythic Suffering

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

By Rabbi Daniel Lichman

This Elul, as the High Holy Days draw near, Rabbi Daniel is sharing a series of reflections with us. Here is the fourth in the series...

Take up your timbrels! Go forth to the rhythm of the dancers!

The call

The Rosh Hashanah prophecy is interrupted. It is the voice of our great-mother Rachel:

A cry is heard in Ramah

Wiling, bitter weeping

Soft at first, then louder and louder until her crying releases the pain within us. She is crying on account of our grief, pain and despair.

Rachel weeping for her children

She refuses to be comforted

Suddenly our suffering is no longer mine or yours - it is mythic, it is eternal, it is held for us by the great-mother who in not being comforted comforts us with the promise that we are not alone - not now, not ever.

Thus said the Source of Love

Restrain your voice from weeping

Your eyes from shedding tears

For their reward your labour.

Before we can understand with our minds, our bodies trust that:

They shall come with weeping,

And with compassion will I guide them.

I will lead them to streams of water.


Alone in the isolation of the times he becomes accustomed to a half-life.

She interrupts him. Long-dead and never more alive: she looks out of the photo and into him. He recalls how when the world became dim she opened the light-box of photographs and told her story…

How she was a child when her mother died; how she cared for her baby brother; how she was taken from place to place.

He interrupts her. Long-dead and never more alive: he looks out of the photo into her. She recalls his love for her.

And then we’re all on the boat from the old country with his parents who hold death-fear so they can choose love-hope for him.

It’s 1881, it’s 2001, it’s 1920, it’s 2020: it’s suffering that no longer belongs to him or her or him because it is shared across time that has collapsed into the time-less cry of Rachel.

The cry that becomes a rhythm; the rhythm that becomes a dance; the dance that leads us into a full-life.


The prophet invites us:

To pause.

To feel our suffering.

To call an ancestor to mind.

To recall the stories of their/your ancestors.

To allow their story to hold your suffering.

To accept their offer to hold your suffering.

To kneel in gratitude.

To listen again.

To dance.

Then shall maidens dance gaily,

Young men and old alike.

I will turn their mourning to joy,

I will comfort them and cheer them in their grief.

(Jeremiah 31)

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