These days, as you well know, Chicago is filled with tourists. Some will even venture up the top of our various Sky Scrapers and go to balconies that APPEAR to be outside and then they will look down.
Now, imagine if all of a sudden there was a crack!
Actually, it really happened. Last October, a floor panel in a newly opened glass walkway cracked. The skywalk was suspended some 325 feet above a canyon floor in central China. Think about the height of 10 feet. Think about the height of a high diving board. It’s high.
Now think three … hundred … and twenty-five feet above the canyon floor, and you’re standing on a plate of glass suspended in midair, as it were, and the glass suddenly CRACKS!
To say that this freaked everyone out is an understatement. Terror among the tourists!!!
That was the screaming headline on media sites.
Hearing that news is enough to send a chill up the spine of even the most intrepid among us; seeing pictures of the bridge makes it even worse. They show a narrow, 1,300-foot-long glass-bottomed walkway, part of which is wrapped high in the air across a cliff face and part of which is suspended between two canyon walls in Yuntai Mountain Scenic Park in Henan province, China.
According to witnesses, when the crack happened, there was a sudden loud bang and a tremor beneath the feet of bridge crossers who weren’t even near the shattered section. People started screaming and running to the ends of the bridge.
The good news is that the cracked panel did not give way and no one was hurt, but the bridge was immediately closed for repairs. Park officials say there never was any danger, as the crack, probably caused by an object a visitor dropped, was only in the top layer of the panel — and the panes are reportedly designed to carry 1,700 pounds — but people on the walkway when the shattering occurred weren’t comforted.
Even before the crack, people were uneasy crossing the bridge — a bridge of nothing. A bridge of air. The glass creates an illusion that you’re walking in space with nothing to support you. Yet, you don’t fall. Gravity is thwarted by a pane of glass beneath your feet.
The whole idea is to let visitors see the depths below them, and for those who try it, it takes a lot of courage to venture out.
Some people get on their hands and knees and crawl across. Others grab the side cables and shuffled their grasp of the cables as they inch across. Some others walk confidently — but fast, preferring to get across as soon as possible.
Sort of describes how many of us shuffle along in our own kind of walk with faith, doesn’t it?
Here in the United States, we have our own glass-bottomed attraction, the famous Skywalk bridge in the Grand Canyon National Park.
Visitors can walk out on a glass-bottomed platform that juts out into thin air more than 700 feet above the canyon floor.
It’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time. In your mind, you know the glass will support you, and that the structure is completely safe. But your gut doesn’t quite embrace what the mind believes.
Tourists report that their heart rates go up. Some sweat a bit. And many try not to look down at their feet, which seem to be suspended in midair.
Still, most people have faith. They walk out on the glass and enjoy the remarkable vistas created by God.
But having faith is not always easy. In this week’s Torah portion the people are fed up with faith. They complain. They doubt.
Their faith is tested. The crack comes in their faith. They have seen miracles but they have also been promised a land they have yet to see. They are tired of promises. They are tied of struggling with faith.
This reality is not unusual in the Torah. Reflecting genuine human experience, it is more the rule than the exception. But that’s what makes Judaism so relevant, even after thousands of years. Our faith is not perfect. It is often stretched if not severed. And yet that is not the end of the relationship with God. Sometimes it is the beginning of a stronger relationship.
Leonard Cohen has a song in which he declares that “There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light comes in!”
There’s a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the intrepid archaeologist/adventurer is fleeing one enemy or another and comes to the edge of a huge and yawning chasm. He stops his forward progress in the nick of time, and teeters there, about to fall in. Then he rights himself and surveys his situation.
Indiana can’t go back; danger lurks there. Yet it seems just as impossible to go forward. That would mean certain death. Then, our hero reaches down and picks up a handful of gravel. He throws it out ahead of him, over the cliff. The falling stones don’t travel far. Just a few inches below the level of his boots. They land on an invisible footbridge he never knew was there.
That’s not a bad image for facing life’s challenges. There may appear for a time to be no way forward. But, by God’s grace, there is such a way. It just hasn’t been revealed yet.
When it comes to finding a light in the crack there was no one in the twentieth century more respected or revered than the late Elie Wiesel. I need not say much about him since he may be one of the most famous people who ever lived. It will be a darker world without him.
But let me share a few words of his:
More than 50 years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. Many things, good and less good, have since happened to those who survived it. They learned to build on ruins. Family life was re-created. Children were born, friendships struck. They learned to have faith in their surroundings, even in their fellow men and women. Gratitude has replaced bitterness in their hearts. No one is as capable of thankfulness as they are. Thankful to anyone willing to hear their tales and become their ally in the battle against apathy and forgetfulness. For them every moment is grace.
Oh, they do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. But they no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand.
Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.
What about my faith in you, Master of the Universe?
I now realize I never lost it, not even over there, during the darkest hours of my life. I don’t know why I kept on whispering my daily prayers, and those one reserves for the Sabbath, and for the holidays, but I did recite them, often with my father and, on Rosh ha-Shanah eve, with hundreds of inmates at Auschwitz. Was it because the prayers remained a link to the vanished world of my childhood?
But my faith was no longer pure. How could it be? It was filled with anguish rather than fervor, with perplexity more than piety. In the kingdom of eternal night, on the Days of Awe, which are the Days of Judgment, my traditional prayers were directed to you as well as against you, Master of the Universe. What hurt me more: your absence or your silence?
In my testimony I have written harsh words, burning words about your role in our tragedy. I would not repeat them today. But I felt them then. I felt them in every cell of my being. Why did you allow if not enable the killer day after day, night after night to torment, kill and annihilate tens of thousands of Jewish children? Why were they abandoned by your Creation? These thoughts were in no way destined to diminish the guilt of the guilty. Their established culpability is irrelevant to my ”problem” with you, Master of the Universe. In my childhood I did not expect much from human beings. But I expected everything from you.
Where were you, God of kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?
These questions have been haunting me for more than five decades. You have vocal defenders, you know. Many theological answers were given me, such as: ”God is God. He alone knows what He is doing. One has no right to question Him or His ways.” Or: ”Auschwitz was a punishment for European Jewry’s sins of assimilation and/or Zionism.” And: ”Isn’t Israel the solution? Without Auschwitz, there would have been no Israel.”
I reject all these answers. Auschwitz must and will forever remain a question mark only: it can be conceived neither with God nor without God. At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but you as well. Ought we not to think of your pain, too? Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven’t you also suffered?
…[So I have an idea:] let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.
To which I would add: I need your light – the world needs it.
Let’s start over again together.