Selected Sermon/Article
2001-09-18 Rosh Hashana by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Rosh Hashana Day One
If you had asked me a week ago what were the 10 most significant things that happened in this past Jewish year, I would have said that Israel and the Intifada were numbers one through 10.

There is no doubt, however, that September 11, 2001 is now permanently ingrained in our collective memories as a 'New Day of Infamy'

Rosh Hashanah of the year 5762 finds America in a crisis, not simply recovering from one, given that President Bush has declared war. Israeli President Moshe Ketzav said that the attacks in the US were a turning point in the history of mankind. Our entire nation -- Jew, and non-Jew alike are in shock and mourning. We're still grappling with the unreality of the horror that took place, still working to make ourselves understand that September 11 wasn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, or wasn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Some have suggestedthat this is the darkest moment America has ever known.

Those of you here today in your late 60's surely remember where you were when you heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Those a bit younger remember what you were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. Ten years from now, twenty years from now, and fifty years from now, we'll be asking acquaintances where they were when they heard about the World Trade Center.

To put this into perspective, terrorists in America last week killed 10 times more civilians -- in one day -- than have been killed by all the terrorism in Israel over the past 30 years. We mourn for those lost and pray for the recovery of the injured.

The enormity is staggering. The pain and grief is indescribable. So many lives, so many families shattered forever.

With Rosh Hashanah upon us -- the day of judgment for Jew and non-Jew alike -- we search for understanding amidst this senseless horror. I'd like to suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that there are two questions placed squarely before each and every one of us this morning. One question of vital importance is "What are we supposed to do in light of the tragedy, and how are we as Jews to respond?" With G-d's help, I plan to address that question in tomorrow's drasha.

I'd like to add as an aside, that the 'why' question will have to wait until after our '120 years' Lest the matter need further clarification, I paraphrase the words of the Rav, in saying that it's not our job and not within our purview to explain suffering; but rather, to cope with it. We believe that God is just, we understand that the truth of God's justice can't be grasped without belief in 'olam ha'bah' -- the world to come -- and the 'Why' questions concerning God's justice are best left on hold.

Tomorrow, as was mentioned, we'll grapple with the question 'What should we do? Today, I present to you the following question "What is it that I should thinking, and how should we, as Jews, relate to the terror and horror of September 11?" The past week many people have asked me what's been on my mind, and here on Rosh Hashanah is the time to share it with you, my dear congregation.

Lesson number one: Evil is alive and well, and it reared its hideous face in the most horrific of ways in New York City and Washington. Last year in our Rosh Hashanah tefillos, we prayed that God should rule over the entire world

V'olasah teek'patz pee'hah V'kol ha'reesh'ah koo'lah k'ashan teech'leh Kee Sa'ah'veer memsheles zadon meen ha'aretz

Injustice will close it's mouthAll of wickedness will disappear like smokeWhen the reign of evil is removed from the land.

If we didn't take this portion of the prayers seriously last year, ladies and gentlemen, we certainly will this Rosh Hashanah. The intensity of the evil and hatred which we saw last week is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a new phenomena. Evil is as old as the time it was introduced into the world by Adam and Eve; hatred is as old as Cain's hatred of his brother Abel. The only difference between then and today is technology. The 20th century produced the most prolific murderers in human history only because of technology enabled them to kill more than one person at a time.

Moral relativism tells us that I'm OK, you're OK, and that just about everything else is OK. The Torah tells us that evil exists, and that it's our sacred duty to wipe it out. America received a fearsome wake up call last week, reminding the entire world that evil is still in business, and thriving.

The second thing I've been thinking about since last Tuesday, is that a true Jewish response to the tragedies shouldn't negate our commiseration with all human suffering. When the suffering is of such staggering proportions on the very shores of the country in which we as Jews live, even the most clannish amongst us are genuinely grieved. Our entire nation is in grief, and while the pain and anguish that I feel is particularly acute concerning the hundreds of Jews missing and presumed dead in New York, my heart is breaking, and your hearts are breaking over all of the suffering and loss of life of all our fellow Americans, be they Jew or non-Jew.

The Talmud points out that the human race descended from one human being -- Adam HaRishon. We're a brotherhood of man, and every person on the face of this earth is at least a distant relative of ours. I,like many of you, wear 'Jewish-tinted glasses' when I look at the world. The events of September 11 contain within them a reminder of the universal commitment to all people, and our brotherhood with every human being.

The final thought that I believe we should focus on regarding September 11, is that last Tuesday's attack on America had a direct and immediate Jewish connection. Our empathy for the victims and the families would be profound if the Pentagon and World Trade Center had been destroyed by an earthquake. In fact, however, they were attacked by evil incarnate out of hatred for the United States and what it represents. HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein points out that broadly speaking, the attacks were part of an Islamic onslaught against America's Judeo-Christian values. Additionally, can there be a doubt in the minds of any of us that America's support of the state of Israel and its identification with many of Israel's causes and values was a critical factor in the September 11 onslaught?

Rabbi Lichtenstein points out that a person who is killed by our enemies simply because he is a Jew is regarded as having died 'al kiddush HaShem' -- a holy martyr in sanctification of God's Name, even if he never chose martyrdom and possibly, is not even a believer. So too, the argument may be extended that a country which is attacked because of its support for the Jewish people and its state is likewise credited as having suffered while being engaged in the Almighty's cause.

The world we'll be living in in the year 5762 is quite different from the one we welcomed last Rosh Hashanah. Our taken-for granted world, our everyday life of habits and routines lived unthinkingly without reflection, is no more. I've tried, however, to share with you a perspective concerning how we should think of and relate to America's national tragedy. September 11 proved that evil is alive and flourishing, and it's our task to work together with all fair minded citizens of America and the world to work to eradicate it. September 11 reminded us that in this difficult hour, we are all a single family, Jews and gentiles alike -- all thenations of the world who have the will and the courage to face down evil. And finally, we saw that on September 11 that the attack on America was also an attack on the Jewish people, our homeland Israel, and our holy Torah.

It's my prayer that HaShem send solace and strength to the wounded and bereaved of New York and Washington. I also pray that the year 5752 be a year of blessing, good health and shalom for you and your families, our shul, our beloved country who we so love, and a year where we see the ultimate redemption hastened by messiah.