Selected Sermon/Article
2001-11-04 Parshas Vayerah by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Sacrifices, Terrorists and Freedom fighters
Sermon Parshas Vayerah 11/4/01 'Sacrifices, Terrorists and Freedom Fighters' In an international chess competition many years ago, a man named Frank Marshall made what is often called the most brilliant move ever seen on a chessboard. Playing against an equally skilled Russian master, Marshall sacrificed his Queen -- an unthinkable move, to be made only in the most desperate of circumstances. But it turned out to be a brilliant move -- so brilliant, that Marshall won the game.

When spectators recovered from the shock of Marshall's unusual tactic,they showered the chessboard with money. Marshall had achieved victory in a rare and daring fashion -- he had won by sacrificing the Queen.

In chess, sometimes you have to sacrifice something that is very important to achieve a goal that is even more important; namely, winning the game.

Sacrifice, and a willingness to undergo hardships for the right cause has long been a hallmark of Jewish greatness, as well. Nowhere is the importance of sacrifice more evident than in this week's Torah portion, Yayayrah. Avraham is commanded by the Almighty to bring up his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice on an altar. Avraham is told to 'bring your son, your only one, the one you love" and bind him on an altar at Mount Moriah.

Avraham's trust in God instilled the attribute of faith in his children, and his children's children until today. The Talmud refers to the Jewish people as 'Ma'aminim, bnai ma'aminim' -- believers, the sons of believers. While a Jew might claim to be an atheist, we don't have to scratch too deeply to find the 'pintele Yid' -- the spark of a Jewish soul -- burning in the heart of a Jew under even the most trying of conditions. The Russian Czar Nicholas I, in his efforts to destroy Jewish life, demanded that each Jewish community provide soldiers for his forces. These young men, called 'Cantonists,' were typically drafted at the age of 12 and served in the Russian army for 25 years. The Russian hope was that these young Jewish men would eventually convert to the Russian church. Although a few Jewish soldiers did give up their Jewish identity, the vast majority remained true to their faith.

It happened during this period that a gathering of many rabbis took place in St. Petersburg during the High Holidays. There was some discussion as to which rabbi would be given the honor of leading the Rosh Hashanah services. Just before services were to begin, a group of Cantonists walked into the shul, and announced that one of them would lead the davening.

Seeing the puzzled looks upon the faces of the rabbis, the chosen young Cantonist lifted his shirt, exposing his back. The flesh was a mass of scarred tissue, testifying to the many beatings he'd endured to maintain his Jewish faith. With no further discussion, the Cantonist was given the honor of leading the services.

Enthusiasm, fervor, and willingness to sacrifice are admirable traits. But at what point does a willingness to sacrifice hardship for the right cause become irresponsible zealotry -- or even worse, terrorism? US Secretary of State Colin Powell was recently quoted as saying 'One mans terrorist, is another man's freedom fighter.' How do we know where to draw the line?

Mohammed Atta, one of the key organizers of the September 11 terrorist attacks, left behind a 5 page handwritten document in Arabic. It included instructions for a last night of practical reminders, Islamic prayers, and spiritual encouragement. I'd like to quote for you some of what Atta wrote.

Everybody hates death, fears death. But only those, the believers who know life after death and the reward after death, would be the ones seeking death.....You should should ask G-d for guidance, you should continue to ask G-d for help...continue to pray throughout this night. Continue to recite the will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life.

Is certainty of Heavenly reward a guarantee of Heavenly reward? Does one become a 'freedom fighter' simply because one believes one is a freedom fighter? Let me provide you and Secretary of State Powell, with a working definition of 'terrorism'

"Terrorism is to deliberately harm innocent men, women and children, for the purpose of terrorizing them to accept your demands."

No freedom fighter will take hostages or harm innocent people in order to achieve his freedom, no matter how desperate the situation. One cannot do evil to achieve good. By their own definition, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, PFLP and Arafat's Tanzim are terrorists. They proclaim from the mosques and rooftops their wish to kill every Jewish man, woman and child -- with drive-by shootings, lynchings, and suicide bombings.

Israel is hunting down these Arab terrorists, who are actively engaged in planning and executing additional terror against Jewish civilians. We should utterly reject the chutzpah of those -- even within the United States government -- who try to make the victims of terrorism into the terrorists themselves.

When it comes to terrorism, we have to have a clear definition, take a firm stand, and work to educate others.

When it comes to religious sacrifice, we have to have an objective source of truth and guidelines. HaShem never intended that Yitzchak should actually be sacrificed. Avraham was told only to 'bring him up as a sacrifice' -- not, to 'offer him as a sacrifice.' Without guidance from the Torah, religious fervor can easily lead one to become a mass murderer.

May we continue to be nurtured from the spirit of sacrifice of Avraham Avinu, as we saw this week in the parsha of the Akeida. And may Hashem enlighten our eyes, and the eyes of all peoples of the world, to distinguish between the type of sacrifice that G-d wants, and the type of sacrifice that he abhors.

Good Shabbos

--- excerpts from essays written by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, and Rabbi Yehuda Appel