Rescuing the Thai Boys – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – July 13, 2018
Like many people this week, I was riveted to the story of the Thai soccer boys saved from drowning in a cave.
As I followed the unfolding drama, I couldn’t help but think about a scene in the Book of Jonah. After Jonah was tossed overboard and even after he was swallowed by the fish, he felt like he was drowning. So, he reached out to God:
You cast me into the deep
Into the heart of the sea.
The current engulfed me.
All your breakers and billows swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been driven out of Your sight.
אך I shall gaze again upon Your holy Temple.
The waters closed in over me.
The deep engulfed me.
Weeds twined around my heard…
When my life was ebbing away,
I called the Lord to mind;
And my prayer came before You,
Into Your holy Temple.
Many of these verses have direct parallels in the Book of Psalms. That fact is helpful to scholars trying to date the book. But what particularly catches my attention is that word אך.
The word אך is sometimes translated as eikh, how: “How shall I gaze upon your Temple ever again?” In that case, it is a statement of despair. Jonah is about to give up hope. He is saying, “How will I ever escape the depths of the sea?”
Alternatively, and according to Professor Uriel Simon, more convincingly, אך should be read as akh, nevertheless: “I feel like I’ve been driven out of God’s sight, nevertheless, I shall again gaze upon God’s Holy Temple.” In that case, akh is a statement of defiance, of hope, of trust. Jonah was saying to himself, “I’ve made it this far. I’ve found refuge in the belly of a fish. So, I am not giving up.”
As for Jonah, אך was key to the survival of the Thai boys. Rather than giving into despair and asking, “how will they survive the rising waters to see their loved ones again,” the navy seals responded “nevertheless, they will see their families again!” With bravery, willpower, and ingenuity, they turned the “how” of anguish into the “how” of resourcefulness into the “nevertheless” of resolve.
We are called upon to do the same. Our world is beset with challenges. It’s tempting to throw our hands in the air and give up. We must find the will to overcome, the fortitude to persevere. In these days leading to Tisha B’Av that marks the destruction of the Holy Temple, let us turn the Eikh of Lamentations to the Akh of determination.
Rabbi Alexander Davis