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Sept.12 - 26 Elul, 5783

09/11/2023 03:56:30 PM


September 11, 9-11, is a secular date engraved in American history, whether New York, Washington DC or anywhere else was ‘home’ at the time. On that day, the world I knew trembled. The trauma is still apparent, even as Afghanistan is empty of US and NATO troops.  The military and political crisis is largely relegated to history, though aftereffects remain discernible and deeply painful for casualties and survivors. Lives were altered senselessly as symbolic destruction was achieved. 

The sad bewilderment I recall all too clearly in the near-lockdown days as I walked in Washington , DC, near my home of those years, close enough for a view of the White House and Washington Monument from the roof deck. The sky was brightest, clearest blue yet the prevailing mood was bleak.

Spiritually, it was a crisis, demanding a nearly unprecedented stock-taking in my lifetime. True, the preceding century had been seared by too many conflicts to count, the ‘war to end all wars’ that didn’t; civil wars and revolutions, decolonization and empires rising and falling on each inhabited continent. As Americans, the Jewish community took it all much to heart; as Jews we were unalterably changed, experiencing the lowest low of the Shoah and the exaltation of the birth of Israel. 

This week, the memories of the victims in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and four airplanes are raised from their private places to public consciousness. They left open wounds in lives of families and friends, among police and firefighters who rushed to assist. The evaporated lives, especially true in New York City, are irreplaceable. If saving one life is saving a world, how many worlds perished that day, 22 years ago?

And this week, following the stimulating Tarrant County scholar-in-residence program CBI shared in hosting, following the twin cantors heartfelt rendition of composed music for the season, our intention turns to heightened consciousness. The words of confession, like “S’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kapeir lanu” and “Ki anu amecha v’attah Eloheinu” —ancient elements of the ritual of vidui — sound in mind, even as they will take their proper liturgical place over the remaining days leading to Yom Kippur.

Years back, a synagogue member was angered by some of the sins included in the ritual of confession. Her argument: “I would never…”—and her list was long. Why are those failings and wrongs included in our public words? Both 9-11 and the ethics of Judaism, as well as the community of confessions argue against her reaction, though it was then, and is now, completely understandable.

Pirkei Avot—The Sayings of the Fathers—records several ideas that are germane. To embarrass another with words is to destroy them; to gossip affects three—the gossiper, the listener and the subject of the rumor; mistreatment of others in anger is falling prey to our own yetzer hara—evil inclination. (Some call it yetzer and ask if there is a good inclination. I believe that communities working together, for common needs prove it does).

Centuries of human life lead to tragedies we experience in our times. The enduring words recorded in hate filled tracts intended to coerce action or defend tyranny can resurface as stereotypes and calumnies, drawing vulnerable individuals to violence, destruction and inflicting pain. Which must each of us atone for?

The background noise of society in turmoil—values, customs and traditions under stress through scientific progress and technological change—echoes in our lives. Harnessing their new energy, so that we derive benefit is part of my plan for 5784. First, however, comes the judgment, the balance that is life’s scale. Hence the seminal Un’taneh Tokef adds:

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed…but T’filah, u-t’shuvah, u-tsedakah (but prayer, repentance and acts of justice) lessen the severity of the decree.

Our spiritual task is underway. May yours yield clarity, comfort and resolute determination as armor for the year ahead. 


L’shanah Tovah t’chateivu v’techateimu — May you be inscribed and sealed for a good New Year.


Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784