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The Jewish Approach to Tragedy

The Jewish Approach to Tragedy

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The enormity of yesterday's atrocities has only begun to slowly sink in. It hasn't really -- there's no way that our minds can deal with so much raw pain and suffering.

There's no way we can ever understand why such a thing could happen, nor how human beings could possibly be torn to such extremes: the unfathomable hatred and depravity of the terrorists who threw away their lives in snuffing out so many thousands of others and those who support them and applaud them, and the selfless bravery of the rescue workers who risked or gave their lives trying their utmost to save and help total strangers. We can analyze, theorize, and philosophize to no end, but what good would that do?

The Kabbalah teaches that there is generally balance in our world, forces of both light and darkness, good and evil. Darkness serves but one purpose: to be transformed and converted to light.

A great darkness has been released in the world, a series of coldly planned actions unprecedented in their wanton and random destruction. If we allow this darkness to engulf us, all of those people will continue to suffer, as will we all. But, we don't have to give in. We have the ability, hard as it may be, to fight back: to build out of the ashes, and to create light out of the darkness. We can choose to add in acts of goodness and kindness, and to do random wanton acts of good in memory of, and counter-balance to, the horrors that have been perpetrated.

The Jewish approach to tragedy has always been twofold. On the one hand, we grieve. There is no way any human being can ignore the terrible and tremendous pain being suffered by so many people. However, we do not allow the grief to become all-consuming. We must turn tragedy into triumph, and ashes into rebuilding. We cannot allow those who would destroy us to be successful, by being paralyzed by our sorrow. Let each one of us find ways to add in positive acts of goodness and kindness, of charity and prayer.

That's what the theme of these coming weeks will, indeed must, be. We will not lock our doors in fear; we will not retreat into hiding and grief. Rather, we will enter a New Year filled with sadness, but also with purpose, with tears, but also with optimism and joy. This is the only fitting memorial we can create for the thousands of lives shattered and lost.

By each of us adding a little bit of light to the world, we can hopefully ensure that our world will never again be marred by pain and darkness, until we merit the sounding of the great shofar, with the onset of a better time.

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September 12, 2006
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