Selected Sermon/Article
2001-09-19 Rosh Hashana Second Day by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Attack on America: How Should We Respond
America still mourns from the Tuesday of Terror, a day that none of us shall ever forget. I've been groping to find meaning in the tragedy that befell humanity, and have found a small measure of understanding in the thoughts which I shared with you yesterday.

I promised in yesterday's sermon that today we'll take a more practical approach. There's a time to understand, and then, there's a time to respond. The time has now come to develop a framework for a proper Jewish response to the events of September 11, 2001.

Lets first try to understand, ladies and gentlemen, why there exists a need to respond.

We know from personal experience that we usually don't get far when we try to figure out what God had in mind. The Torah teaches us, however, that pain and suffering are languages of communication. Moshe, Job and countless serious Jewish thinkers knew that while we might not understand why any given individual suffers, suffering, nevertheless, demands a response. If we place our hand too close to a hot stove, our hand instinctively jumps away. A toothache prompts us to visit the dentist. The appropriate spiritual reaction to even minor pain and suffering is to seek the ways of life we need to change. How much more so does the cataclysmic events of the past week call out to us to search and examine our ways, and seek to change.

We heard the 100 blasts of the shofar yesterday, as we will again in a few moments. The shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a spiritual alarm clock. 'Wake up, you slumberers!' -- it calls to us at the beginning of the New Year. 'Seek, search, and examine your ways, and draw yourself closer to your Creator.' Do any of us here really believe that the close proximity of the events of September 11 to Rosh Hashanah was merely coincidental? The louder God sounds the alarm, the more He desires to get our attention, and the more insistent He is that we respond.

I relate to the way that God deals with us, the way I deal with my own children. When bedtime comes in the Smason household, for example, the children will be informed quietly and gently that it's time for bed. If they don't react to my initial request, what do you think I do? I do the same thing you did, when you were raising your children; I turn the volume up a notch. If, after several louder statements, my little customers still haven't complied, I'll say to them 'do you want me to be a happy tatty, or an angry tatty?' Parents are pleased when their kids pay attention. Noncompliance tells us that they don't really care, so stronger measures are needed to gain their cooperation.

I'd like to propose a three point plan of action in light of the events of the past week. I'd like you to know, my friends, that these suggestions are offered with my deepest and most sincere prayer to the Almighty that they inspire both you and I to respond appropriately, and that our collective efforts will find favor in His eyes.

Does the name "Minouro Yamasaki" mean something to any of you hear? I see from your puzzled expressions that the name doesn't ring a bell. Minouro Yamasaki has a St. Louis connection, in that he was the designer of our Lambert Airport terminal in 1954. Of greater relevance, Mr. Yamasaki also happened to be one of the two chief designers of the World Trade Center Complex, built in 1973. I'd like to quote for you a statement that this American born architect made on the occasion of the dedication of the World Trade Center Complex:

The World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a living representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation his ability to find greatness.

In 1973, Mr. Yamasaki stated his hope for the WTC ; that it should become a representation of humanity, dignity, cooperation and greatness. I believe that the vision of this architect was fulfilled on September 11, 2001. How so? The deaths of the more than 400 New York City firemen, policemen and rescue workers in the bowels of a burning World Trade Center,as they rushed in to save the lives of those who were trapped, will stand forever as a representation of the most lofty and noble attributes of man.

I came across a cartoon on the op-ed page last week that showed two inner city children trading sports cards. One boy said to his friend, "I'll trade you two Michael Jordans and a Barry Bonds, for a New York City fireman."

This courage of those true American heroes demands that we too care for one another. Their heroism in the face of the chilliong loss of life and destruction, demands that we lay down those things that separate us! No more sinas chinam -- needless hatred! No more loshon hara! Isn't it time to forget our petty squabbles? On a dark day when the world was shown the depths of inhumanity and the total disrespect for the sanctity of human life, lets bring a new light into our homes, into our shul, and into the world, by improving in the coming year the way we treat people.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is plan number one.

A second thought.

We know that on Rosh Hashanah, two books are opened in the heavenly court: the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Every moment of existence we are choosing one or the other: awareness or numbness. Clarity or doubt. Reality or illusion.

Each moment of our lives can be lived to the fullest -- or wasted into nothingness.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we were clearly focused on a goal. We know that we're not even scratching the surface of our potential.

In a sick, misguided way, even the terrorists were fighting for their cause. What's our cause?

If you'd like a suggestion for a cause, let me oblige you with a very Jewish one: Pledge yourself to fighting for good, for justice, for truth. Look around and see the problems facing us today. Ultimately, we should each be committed to a cause. Whether it's political reform, or fighting racism, helping our shul to grow and flourish -- everyone has to be dedicated to something.

Once you have a cause, make a plan to implement positive change into your daily life. Start slowly, taking one small step at a time, so not to be overwhelmed. Keep your eye on the goal and gauge your progress every day.

The third point of my three point plan for responding to the tragedies of September 11, is to sign up. Sign up for what, you might ask? On Kol Nidrei evening, I'll be introducing to you a year long program that our shul will be embarking upon. I'll let you in now, if you like, on a sneak preview of the program. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else. OK?

Titled 'To Pray as a Jew,' this next year at Nusach Hari Bnai Zion will encompass a multifaceted project for all members. A coordinated program will integrate the sermons, our classes and a whole new range of youth and adultactivities. Nine different segments on the theme of tefilla -- prayer --will provide each and every one of us with a tremendous opportunity for a full year of spiritual growth in learning and improving our ability to 'Pray as a Jew.'

I'd like to ask you to help me. I want you to encourage me. I want you to encourage others, when I share more details of this program with you on Yom Kippur. And I want you to consider joining and participating in a way that you haven't participated before.

This morning, I've suggested that we respond to the World Trade Center tragedy in three ways. One, to improve the way we treat people in the coming year. Two, to come up with a cause, with a goal, and to think about how you can put it into effect. And three, to join me and our shul in our 'To Pray as a Jew' program in the coming year.

The time to respond in the three ways I've suggested, or however you feel fit to respond, is now. Concretize your feelings about the World Trade Center tragedy. Say out loud: What did I learn from this? What I am going to do about it? And if I'm not going to do anything about it, why not? Rosh Hashanah is upon us, the day of judgment, when we're asked to justify our own existence.

I've chosen to speak on both days of Rosh Hashanah about the events of September 11, because the attack on America was a wake up call that we can't ignore. In twenty years, I'd like each of us to be able to say, 'This is what I changed, and this is how I changed, because of what happened twenty years ago." Can you imagine how it will feel to change? Can you imagine the pleasure we'll give HaShem, if we pay attention, and respond?

America was wounded with a wound unlike any other that this great country has experienced before. And each of every one of us was wounded, as well. I believe, though, ladies and gentlemen, that America will rise to the occasion. May the Almighty give the President and officers of this country the wisdom and strength to lead us against the forces of evil. May the Almighty give us the insight to understand the lessons to be learned and the courage and wisdom to respond in ways that please Him. And may you, your families, all of Klal Yisrael and all decent people in the world be blessed with a year of good health and brocha.

Good Yom Tov