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On the shloshim of the Pittsburgh tragedy, a Jew and a Christian turn to their Bible

Eleven people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 27, 2018. | (Screenshot: CBS News)

Just more than one month ago, the world witnessed the devastating murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — individuals killed because of their faith. Yet, as people of the Book, Jews and Christians should not turn away from God in the face of this tragedy. Rather we can look inside His holy book for guidance.

When we are at a total loss for words, we turn to King David for inspiration. When our hearts are shattered in a million pieces, the prophet Isaiah offers us hope. Rather than letting this heinous crime divide our faiths, our common love of the Bible — the true Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18) should unite Jews and Christians and allow us to mourn together.

As an Orthodox rabbi (Tuly), I immediately think of two chapters in Psalms that are frequently invoked by synagogues in times of communal tragedies. When we first hear bad news, we immediately look heavenward and cry out, “A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes unto the mountains: from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Once we put ourselves in the right frame of mind and recognize God’s role in controlling life’s events, both good and bad, we go from looking outwards to looking inwards: “Out of the depths have I called Thee, O LORD. Lord, hearken unto my voice; let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (Psalm 130:1-2).

As the editor of The Israel Bible, the first Tanakh prepared by Jews for Christian readers, I was curious what verses in the Hebrew Bible non-Jews looked to for comfort following the synagogue shooting. So I reached out to my colleague and a Christian friend of mine who lives in Pittsburgh, John Isett, the director of BibleHub, one of the largest bible sites on the internet.

I (John) was touched when the rabbi reached out and I told him what I have told my friends in Pittsburgh: We are grateful that the Jewish community in Pittsburgh has so graciously allowed Jews, Christians and non-believers alike to share in the grieving process. By their dignified and faithful response, the Jewish community has provided a wonderful testimony to the Pittsburgh community at large.

You have helped reflect the faithfulness and graciousness of God, and you have shown the same trust in Him that Abraham displayed. You have not wavered or blamed God, but have drawn even closer in the time of greatest need and distress. You have proved that no weapon formed against you shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

We send our prayers and support, knowing that even 30 days later, the process is only beginning and the most difficult days may still lie ahead.

We pray for the comfort and shelter for the whole community, claiming David's promise that “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:4, 5).

As David goes on to say, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6).

This blessing is our heartfelt prayer for all involved.

We both (John and Tuly) are encouraged to see so many people come together in prayer and mutual support. Although the incident has shocked us all and we are grieving, we are also encouraged by the  strength and resolve of those present that day, as well as the family and community members who have begun the long process of recovery and restoration.

“Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; break into joyful song, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and He will have compassion on His afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13).

As two individuals, representing two faiths with one Bible that speaks for love, we must together turn last month’s darkness into a journey of hope.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365, a daily newsletter that goes to 300,000 subscribers, and editor of the newly released The Israel Bible, the first Bible published by Jews for Christians.

John Isett is the director BibleHub, which started in 2004 and today has more than 50 million page views per month. BibleHub is in the top 10 of all religion and spirituality websites.


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