I have spoken to many of you in the aftermath of the mass shooting. I have been moved by those conversations and how Las Vegas has pulled together as a city. After a service that same week, an Israeli journalist asked me, “Don’t you feel despair in such situations?” I replied, at times like these, I am reminded of the famous teaching of the Hasidic leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, where he said, “It is forbidden to despair. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”
It is a simple phrase but hard to carry out. Sometimes, like that Sunday night at the beginning of October, we do feel despair, quite understandably. I certainly can’t imagine what the wounded and families of those who were murdered feel. They might well feel despair in their darker moments, so it’s up to us to go the other way, to set despair aside to help them.
For Rebbe Nachman of Breslov to say those words was a big deal. This was someone who lived a hard life at the end of the eighteenth century/beginning of the nineteenth century in the Ukraine. Two of his kids pre -deceased him, he suffered from bipolar disorder, was thwarted in his attempts to visit the land of Israel, and it was tuberculosis that killed him. Even with all of that, in the very last few days of his life, he exhorted his disciples not to despair, to not banish hope, to always continue believing in the possibility of goodness triumphing over evil.
I have a tendency to agree with him. When we see lines around the corner of people waiting to give blood, it’s forbidden to despair. When we see mountains of snacks, water and other supplies being taken to hospital waiting rooms, it’s forbidden to despair. When we hear the stories of first responders and members of the public putting themselves in danger for those they had never met during the mass shooting, it’s forbidden to despair. When we witness a city pulling together in love and kindness in direct response to great evil, it’s forbidden to despair.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen