Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai, Los Angeles is giving the Louis Jacobs Memorial Lecture at New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Rd, London NW8 0AT.
The following is from the opening of his new bestselling book, The Case for Faith
I stood by the hospital bed of a friend who was dying of cancer. Isaac wanted to know why he was sick, why he must die, why he must leave his children and grandchildren. I could tell him that it was part of God’s plan or confess to him that I did not know. Neither response seemed right.
So instead, we exchanged stories about chemotherapy. My hair was just beginning to grow back after a bout with lymphoma; Isaac’s, wispy to start, was gone from the drugs that had targeted all the fast growing cells in his body. They had done a thorough job on his hair but not on his cancer.
We talked about the strange gratitude we felt for the medicinal poison as it coursed through our veins. There was a moment of solidarity and then sadness returned.
“But as least you understand” Isaac said. It reminded me anew that in many ways, my cancer was a gift; it gave more context to my compassion. He knew that I really did understand, that my family and I were not unscathed. Needles seemed forever to be dangling from my arm and I was always being shoved into metal tubes for scans and pictures and tests. Enduring the survival machines creates a kind of tribal solidarity.
“So”, he asked, “why did it happen to you?”