Views on the News

Osama Bin Laden is Gone

May 5, 2011 9:58 PM

Contemporary Impatience

One of the first articles appearing on CNN the morning after Osama Bin Laden's assassination included reactions from people on the streets of America. One reaction that particularly drew my attention read, “I never thought this day would come; I had given up hope.”

The war on terror is ten years old, and during the course of the decade much has been accomplished! Yet the average person on the street assumed that Bin Laden would never be caught simply because he was not captured within the first few weeks of the war. To me this attitude highlights the short term focus spawned by the advent of the twenty-four hour news cycle.

Time used to be measured in decades, if not centuries. It took a full century before the conflict between England and France was resolved. Those who lived through the first few decades of that war knew that it would eventually end. They did not lose hope simply because the conflict was not resolved within the first three decades.

Historians use a long yardstick for measuring time. They understand that events taking place at the beginning of a century can play an important role at the close of the century, even if they go relatively unnoticed for the first eighty years.[1]

But today, if something does not happen immediately we relegate it to the “impossible” pile. If it hasn’t already occurred, we simply assume it cannot and will not. Yes, on an intellectual level we knew that intelligence agencies worldwide were working systematically to track down Bin Laden. Nevertheless, we abandoned hope of success. We assumed that if Sadam Hussein could be arrested in a matter of weeks, so could Bin Laden. Since years passed and Bin Laden remained at large, we decided he would never been found.

Stale Prophecies?

A story is told of a man who climbed a mountain and called out, “Dear G‑d, is it true that for You a thousand years is but a moment?” As his voice reverberated across the hills a thunderous echo roared its response in the affirmative. The man rapidly fired off another question, “Is it true that for You a million dollars is but a penny?” To which the distant roar again replied affirmatively. Humbly the man asked, “G‑d, can you spare me a penny?” To which G‑d replied, “Of course. But in a minute...”

As a rabbi, I often encounter a great deal of skepticism when I mention the detailed prophecies that promise the coming of Moshiach. I believe this skepticism is a product of our times. So much time has elapsed since the prophecies were delivered that many have simply lost hope. If it was going to happen, they muse, it would have already occurred.

I fully agree with the sentiment that we have waited far too long. Our current exile spans nearly two millennia! It is high time for Moshiach to come. We cannot afford to wait, but we can much less afford to rescind our faith. Yes, it has been two-thousand years, but, as the Psalmist wrote, to G‑d that is a mere two days.

Short Term vs. Long Term
The second reaction that caught my attention read, “This is a great victory, the war is finally over.” How absurd! There are scores of detached terror cells across the world that must be confronted and defeated before the war will be won.

Here, once again, we observe the fallout of the twenty-four hour news cycle. We have stopped thinking of long-term goals. Instead we seek instant gratification. To us, in this moment, the death of Bin Laden is real but the continued war on terror is elusive. We want a story now. We want a victory now. It is difficult for us to look beyond today to a goal that justifies the additional time it will take to achieve.

Yet no truly worthwhile goal can be reached in one day, and the goal of the Moshiach is no different.

The Goal Of History

G‑d charged Adam and Eve with the task of bringing G‑dliness into our physical world.

The world floundered briefly with the onset of idolatry and lawlessness which led G‑d to send the flood. But shortly thereafter, Abraham picked up where Adam had left off and began to nurture a new breed - one that was familiar with G‑d and faithful to His precepts, one that lived a moral life and infused the world with goodness.

It only took 1,948 years till Abraham was born, but G‑d never lost hope. Even so, had you asked anyone in Abraham's day if he would succeed in changing the world your suggestion would undoubtedly be met with scorn. Abraham was one person up against all of civilization. How could he possibly succeed? Yet only four centuries later G‑d gave the Torah to Jews at Mount Sinai.

In our framework, four centuries is an eternity. But in retrospect, four hundred years was a very short amount of time to succeed the way Abraham did.

Still, receiving the Torah was by no means the end of Abraham's work; it was only the beginning.

Every generation since has helped add another layer of golden bricks to the Divine edifice that this world will become when the era of Moshiach descends. Each generation brings one more layer of order to an otherwise chaotic world. With the passage of time we have gone from one man who believed in a single G‑d, to billions who share a strong belief in monotheism. We have progressed from a world that devalued life and ridiculed education to a world that embraces life and strives to live ethically. We have transformed the world from a place in where debauchery was the norm to one in which it is reviled.

There is no doubt that we would like to accelerate the work and complete it in a much quicker fashion, but this is the pace G‑d set, so this is the pace at which we toil. Every day we grow inexorably closer to redemption. It is a work in progress; long in the making, but no longer so long in coming. That it has yet to arrive does not mean it will not come. It only means that when it finally does, and it is certainly on hand, our rejoicing will be all the happier and our gratitude so much the greater.

[1] The idea that eighty years is a long time is not entirely unjustified. The Torah describes fifty years (the period between Jubilees) as forever. Yet even that is longer than the ten years we gave ourselves for Bin Laden's capture and demise.

Reflections on the Demise of an Archterrorist

May 2, 2011 1:52 PM

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

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