If you were cast away on a desert island with just one Jewish text for company, which would it be?
- This week Zahavit Shalev chooses: “Have no fear of sudden terror, nor of the ruin that overtakes the wicked. Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan but it will not stand for God is with us.”
This passage appears in some siddurim after the Aleynu. Because I’ve never heard these lines recited, but long ago took to saying them privately, I feel as if I discovered them. They say exactly what I need them to say, briefly and directly. First: The world can feel scary. Second: Evil won’t prevail. Third: God rescues us and will continue to do so.
After 9/11, these words spoke even more pointedly to me and I looked into their origin. A Midrash has Mordechai encounter three schoolchildren immediately after Haman has sent out a letter announcing his intention to murder the Jews. Depressed, Mordechai asks them what they learned at school today, and each child recites one of the verses. Mordechai cheers up, reassured now that Haman’s genocidal intentions will fail.
When the world comes crashing down, it’s crucial to stay calm and prepare for the long game, sitting with the knowledge that we can’t spot people from plotting, although their plans will come to nothing.
But it’s the final line, and God’s personal reassurance that moves me most. Like a loving mother, God holds us, and saves us. Though we change and age, God does not.
In the immediate aftermath of an atrocity, when these words don’t feel true, that’s when I need to say them most. They assure me that this will pass and that only love endures.
• Zahavit Shalev is rabbinical student at Leo Baeck College and works at New North London Synagogue