Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Rabbi

Today I was going through the books on my office bookshelves, rearranging and culling through to see what could be cleared out. I came across When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, a book that I have loved for years. I then found another copy of the same book. Not unusual for me to have more than one copy of the same book. If it’s something I love and I see a copy in a thrift store, I can’t bear to leave it there; it seems like an indignity to be on a shelf being sold for less than a dollar, next to Astrology for Cats and books by Jacqueline Susann. The original copy of the rabbi’s book was given to me by a Jewish friend (Phil Freedenberg—thank you, Phil) and it has been a true treasure.

At the time when my former husband John was sick and dying, I was working in a rather grubby office above a Chili’s restaurant on Rockville Pike. I was struggling with John’s situation and I needed to pray—then and there I needed quiet time with the Lord. There was no way I could do any serious praying in the office—much too much mayhem there. So I left the office to walk around, past the deli and the dry cleaner, past the parking lots. There was a synagogue down the street. So I walked into the vestibule of the synagogue and the rabbi came out and asked me what brought me there. I told him that I was a Christian, that my former husband was dying, and that I just needed to be in a house of God. He asked me my husband’s name and the name of his mother.

“John, son of Marguerite,” he said, “I will pray for him. Come in. Stay as long as you like.”

With that he unlocked the door of the sanctuary and I sat and prayed for John. And I thanked God for the rabbi and his graciousness to let me in and his offer to pray for John, son of Marguerite.

So rabbis have held a special place in my heart. After all, Jesus was a rabbi too.

Rabbi Kushner turned to the Old Testament Book of Job when his young son Aaron was dying from progeria. Progeria is a horrible condition that causes very rapid aging in young children. He understood, through great trial and searing questions about the goodness of God, that in the end all he could do was to trust God and pray to get through his ordeal. In his book, Rabbi Kushner wrote of prayer:
We can’t pray that God will make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen, and it is probably just as well . . . But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. They discover that they have more strength, more courage than they ever knew themselves to have. Where did they get it? I would like to think that their prayers helped them find that strength. Their prayers helped them tap reserves of faith and courage which were not available to them before.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold S. Kushner, p. 125


  1. Thank you for sharing this touching story and lovely message. I will be ordering the book online tonight ...

  2. Wonderful--the book is sad in one respect but through the incredible grief in his Rabbi Kushner came to a new understanding of reliance on God.