By Rabbi Rick Sherwin

Thoughts and prayers are not enough

In the wake of recent disasters and tragedies that devastated more lives than one should ever have to count, leaders on every level of community and country have offered the sympathetic words, “our thoughts and prayers are with…” We can fill in the blank: Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Northern California, Orlando, Las Vegas, and now Texas. We read banal declarations of organizations, “We are horrified by…” and “we pray for the day when…”

Writing in the Washington Post, Kirsten Powers describes the mere statement of sympathy as bordering on the profane. She illustrates her point by describing the person who walks by an individual who has been robbed and left half-dead by the road and says, “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” Really! Words without action are just that, mere words.

We cannot all be first responders, and most of us are not in a place where we can open our businesses, food service, and centers of communal activity to the newly homeless; and we generally are not in a position to offer proximal physical support.

The fact is we can always do something to act even from a distance to accompany our thoughts and prayers. It might be to help the homeless on the local level, or to visit someone in the hospital, or to bring a meal to a family in mourning, or to write a letter to local and national representatives to encourage more generous relief funding, or to speak out for more restrictive legislation on arms sales, or to protest speakers calling for exclusion based on xenophobic, racist, and misogynist fears, or…

We need thoughts and prayers, we need thoughts of unity and prayers for the day when the tragedies we witness will no longer be, but we must reach beyond ourselves to find a way to activate our prayers by physically touching the lives of those in need of more than prayer.

Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.


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