The Diameter of the Bombs

Posted on May 28, 2021

by Rabbi Jordi Schuster Battis

There is a poem by Yehudah Amichai called “The Diameter of the Bomb” that talks about the circles of impact of a single explosion.

He wrote—

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to Kisei ha-Elohim (the throne of God) and
beyond, making a circle with Ein Sof (no end/the Infinite One) and Ein Elohim (no God).

The physical bomb in the poem is small.  Less than a foot wide.
But the area it impacts is seven meters, about 23 feet across;
the range of the geography of the people affected span across the entire world.
And the pain that this is a world that includes bombings in the first place, and includes death at all, affects a diameter all the up to the heavens and beyond.

Amichai’s poem begs us to ask the question:
Does this circle of suffering include the Ein Sof, the Holy Endless One,
or is the suffering itself endless—
and, if so, what does it mean to be believe in a God at all?

 

The terrible cycle of attacks that transpired between Hamas and the Israeli army last week and the week before, led to deaths of civilians, including children on both sides of the border.  More bombs were fired at the Israeli side of the border.  More deaths occurred on the Palestinian side of the border.  The pain and suffering and crying-out of orphans reaches up to Kisei Ha‑Elohim.

In the diameter of every one of those bombs, in larger circles of space and time, were innocent lives lost, and many, many more people in mourning—

Mourning for the people who were killed.

Mourning for the loss of the uneasy stability that has been in place in recent years.

Mourning over the of basic human rights and resources that have indeed been denied to many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and to many Arab Israelis within Israel as well.

Mourning that Hamas would be so single minded and intent on the erasure of the Jewish state as to invite bombs into places where innocent Palestinians would surely be killed.

Mourning that the Israeli government has egged this situation on for years, even at times when it could have been using its power and authority to work steadily for equal rights, justice, and peace.

 

And, on this side of the ocean, we are in the bomb’s diameter in other ways as well.  The depictions in the media of what the bombs were “about” have contributed to the exposing of an antisemitism here in North America that leaves many of us in the Jewish community feeling bewildered or betrayed.  Statements that have erased the distinctions between the history of those of light and dark skin color in America, and those of different religious backgrounds unevenly sharing a tiny parcel of land in the Middle East, do not honor the unique stories of either place.  Attacks against Jews in Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere in the US in the last two weeks have revealed that Jews around the world are once again being seen as a uniform and threatening mass, worthy of attack.  The impact in the diameter of these bombs has been to further blot out the nuancecompassion, and empathy among individuals and groups that, to my mind, are the only way forward that can allow everyone involved an individual place in this circle of the Holy One with No End.

 

In the Torah portion that goes with this week in the Jewish calendar, there is a moment when two young men of no particular power or authority, speak in ecstasy, spreading God’s spirit and word throughout the camp.  Some of the other Israelites are furious that these young men would usurp authority that should have belonged only to Moses and other leaders.  But Moses hushes those who are wrought up on his account, saying, “Would that all of God’s people were prophets.” (Numbers 11:29)

In this time of ours, we need to look to the voices who are speaking words of praise, peace, honor, and kindness wherever they come from—across boundaries of different groups and beliefs.  The way forward, fraught as it is, is through acknowledging and honoring both our own pain in the present and the past and the pain of others with different stories than our own. Only when we see each other as human and not as masses bent on each other’s destruction, is there hope.

I do not say the word “hope” to be naïve.  I know that there are those who want to see the end of my people, and I know that there are those among my people who are filled with hatred as well.  Instead, I borrow words from a beautiful and brilliant song that went live to YouTube last week by the husband-wife duo the Bengsons, “Hope Comes.”  They sing:

Hope comes from the place where the hurt comes.

Hope comes from the center of the hurt in the middle of the dirt:  we will plant a seed and watch it grow.

Hope is not a feeling.  Hope is an action.

We are here in the wide diameter of the impact of the bombs.  Yet our hurt is centered in each one of us alone.  And so, we are called—every one of us with the capacity to be a prophet of hope in this camp—we are called to plant seeds here in the center of the hurt, refusing to let go of our compassion for those both like and unlike us, knowing that their pain may sprout hope too.

May we meet at that tree of life that grows from our seeds.

And may it be soon.