For all of us who were old enough on 9/11 to understand the meaning of those terrible towering billows of smoke drifting from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, visible from as far away as Connecticut, and seen worldwide electronically, the death of Osama bin Laden cannot but strike a chord in that place in our hearts that seeks to see revealed justice in our world.
After all, one of the basic tenets of the Noahide Laws1—the universal law of humanity—is, as G‑d tells Noah upon his exit from the Ark, “Shofech dam ha-adam, ba-adam damo yishafech”—“he who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood shall be spilled.”
Yet we understand that this is not out of a Divine concession to a desire for revenge; vengeful feelings are unworthy of a human being, as stated in Parshat Kedoshim (Lev. 19:18).
Rather, we grasp that there is no place in the world for a person who does not respect the image of G‑d that is each one of us.
Idol worship is considered one of the most serious sins in Judaism. Yet the idolater doesn’t actually deny the ultimate existence of G‑d; he simply sees Him as too great to be involved with a mundane world, and claims that He appointed “vice presidents” to run its day-to-day affairs, and that these “sub-gods” are what should be worshipped.
By contrast, the murderer, who does not hold human life in awe, rejects the idea that we are created in G‑d’s image, that G‑d assigns value to each one of us. He rejects the reflection of G‑d because he denies G‑d any power other than to be mirror of his own ego. He seeks to replace G‑d; his god, however fervently he worships him, is an image of himself. He worships himself, and therefore seeks to kill, and denies the value of the life, of all who are not in his image.
This is a worse idolatry than any ancient pantheon, because it places a man of flesh and blood in the place of G‑d. Only when his mortality is exposed by his death is his pretension of being G‑d eradicated, and order is restored. The world is distorted by the very presence of those who deny the image of G‑d and the right to life of others.
But there is something about this that must say far more to us. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, in everything we hear or see, we must find a positive lesson in our relationship to G‑d. What is the positive message from all of this?
Let us begin by thinking of all the effort by so many people that went into performing this act of justice, this act of negating evil. How much money, how much technology, how much human ingenuity has been expended to fulfill this task that has been urgent for a decade?
Imagine now if we act upon the understanding that at the root of all this trouble lies a world far too unaware of the universal code, the Noahide Laws, that G‑d gave all humanity—preserving its diversity by the very generality of its laws, yet demanding above all one thing: absolute respect of the right of each individual to live in peace the life G‑d gave them.
That peace exists for it to be used to make the world a place of goodness and kindness, as the Rebbe was wont to say in encouraging the observance of these laws. However, to get there practically, we must consider Maimonides’ statement (Laws of Repentance 9:1): “When a person is occupied in this world with sickness, war and hunger, he cannot involve himself with either wisdom or mitzvot.”
Here, I believe, is the lesson we can learn from the entire effort and operation to get Osama:
Let us try to devote the same massive effort and brainpower that have been used for war, to take away hunger and disease, and to teach and demand (in peaceful ways), that all people accept the Divine image of every other.
Then we will have taken the very evil we have today eradicated, and turned to truly good and harmonious uses the power and ability that the response to this has evoked. We can then move towards that time of which Isaiah (2:4) writes, “Nation shall not lift a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
And it is, in particular, our—the Jewish people’s—task to evoke this, to be the catalysts that inspire this new focus. We see this from the preceding verse:
“And many peoples shall go, and they shall say, ‘Come, let us go up to the L‑rd's mount, to the house of the God of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we will go in His paths,’ for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)
And as anyone who studied chemistry knows, a little catalyst goes a long way.
The universal law given by G‑d to Noah upon his exit from the Ark, so by their observance, the world never again be so guilty as it was in the antediluvian period