Responding to Terror Again

“How long O Eternal One?” The plaintive cry is (at least) as old as the Bible, but we ask it again in the wake of the recent tragedy in El Arish, Egypt.

I spent a night in El Arish in 1981. There when peace seemed possible in the Middle East I frolicked in the surf on a beautiful beach with Palestinians named Mahmoud and Fawzi. Today I wonder if Mahmoud, Fawzi, their wives, children and grandchildren were among those the terrorists murdered?

What kind of savages meticulously plan and carry out an attack on people worshipping in a mosque that kills more than 300 people?

God has made us (Psalm 8) “Little lower than the angels” and given us enormous power. With this power we can wage war on cancer, blindness, ALS and other devastating diseases.

With this power we can fly from one place to another and put knowledge at our fingertips with speed unimaginable only a generation ago.

But with this power we can also build assault rifles and other instruments of death to snuff out lives, hopes and dreams in an instant.

The Talmud (B. Sanhedrin 37A) teaches that one who destroys a single life destroys an entire world. How many worlds died in the Sufi mosque in the Sinai?

The God I worship weeps at the savagery perpetrated in the name of the Eternal One in El Arish.

Some surely ask: Why didn’t God prevent this slaughter?

The answer is God gave us free will. We can choose to use our talents—however great or small they are—for good or evil.

God implores us to choose good. But terrorists continue to choose evil. So good people, who truly represent God’s desire for humanity, must fight them in every way that we can.

We must fight those who wantonly deal death and destruction in the same way that researchers fight against cancer, blindness and ALS.

And, even though it seems that the forces of evil grow stronger by the day, we must never give up hope.

We must continue to hope and work to make real the prophets’ vision–nearly 3000 years old– a time when, “they shall not hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain …” (Isaiah 11:9) “And all shall sit under their vines and fig trees with none to make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)

Our Highest Goal

His mother walked into my office shortly before I began my internship as Rabbi at the fledgling 58-family Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland in 1973. “My son was scheduled to have his Bar Mitzvah on May 18 before my husband was transferred and we moved here,” she said with a slight air of desperation. “Can we celebrate it here on that date?”

Since the congregation had no B’nai Mitzvah scheduled, I quickly answered, “Sure.”

“You must understand,” she continued, our son has great difficulty with Hebrew and does not have a lot of self-confidence. I worry that with all the time we lost in our move that he won’t be ready.”

Don’t worry,” I replied with all of the confidence befitting a wannabe rabbi who had never prepared a Bar/t Mitzvah student in his life, “I guarantee that that when the big day comes you will be very proud!”

It took hard work to keep that promise, but at his Bar Mitzvah the young man did beautifully. He effectively taught the congregation the essential lesson of Parashat B’hukotai that if we all followed God’s commandments, we could indeed create a just, caring and compassionate society. Yes, we can create a world where, in the words of the parasha, “ואין מחרוד – None shall make us afraid (Leviticus 26:6)!”

That magical phrase appears eleven times in our TANACH, most famously in the Prophet Micah (4:4) who dreamed of the day when all of us would sit under our vines and our fig trees with none to make us afraid.

To me those words represent the highest possible hope for humanity: a world where no one will have to fear war, physical or sexual assault. We must dream and work for a world where no one will fear that he or she will go to bed hungry, lack adequate clothing or a home to protect them from winter chill and summer heat.

Yes, that is our highest goal: ואין מחריד , a world “with none to make us afraid!”