I vividly recall standing outside my Brooklyn apartment building that Tuesday, as dusk descended upon a stunned New York City and a stunned world, gazing at the horizon. Plumes of black smoke wafted up to the heavens from the blazing rubble of the World Trade Center, some four miles from where I was standing. It wasn't cold; in fact, it was a gorgeous evening. But I was shivering.

Earlier that morning, upon learning of the brazen attacks, my very first thoughts had been, "Where's my wife? Where's my daughter?" Though I knew that my infant daughter was safe at home, and my wife at the school where she taught, I felt an urgent need to see them, to be reassured that they were safe. Because on that morning, nearly 3,000 innocents lost their lives, and nearly 300 million lives lost their innocence. Americans lost their sense of security. Suddenly, we all felt so vulnerable.

The realization was devastating: we have a mortal enemy. One that has no qualms about murdering each and every one of us: men, women and babies alike.

In no time at all, the Department of Homeland Security was created, constituting the largest restructuring of the U.S. government in contemporary history. Congress hastily passed the (now controversial) Patriot Act, giving the government sweeping powers in the war against terrorists. For years following 9/11, politicians running for national office knew that their position on national security was the most important item on their platform.

Ensuring our collective security became our number one priority, with all the other items on our list of priorities suddenly seeming not so important after all. We were a nation singularly focused on destroying Al Qaeda and protecting ourselves in any and every way possible.

President Bush made it very clear that his total focus was on security and destroying terror networks, and his approval rating quickly soared to a mind-boggling 86%.

And then time has its way of healing all wounds.

Government officials continuously advise us that the mortal threat posed by terrorism is far from gone. The current Homeland Security threat level stands at yellow, "elevated," where it has been since the color code's inception in March of 2002 (with only a few minor upward blips in the interim). In the back of our heads we all know that it can, G‑d forbid, happen again; our depraved enemies have not forgotten about us. The threat is as real today as it was then.

Yet, the sense of urgency has long gone. As early as November of 2006, a Gallup poll revealed that only 12% of Americans felt that terrorism was the government's top priority. Americans' collective level of worry about terrorism, measured in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted this past June, is at 36%, down from 59% in October 2001.

Shortly after 9/11, I recollect hearing that the major news networks all agreed to no longer air footage of the planes hitting the towers, so as not to overly traumatize the American public.

I don't know whether this actually happened or not, but if it did, I’m not so sure the move hasn’t done more harm than good. It may well be a good idea for Americans, and specifically the American leadership, to occasionally go to Youtube and watch the footage. Sometimes it's wise to put traumatic events behind us. And sometimes it can be lethally dangerous to do so.

Of course, this is not to say that we should allow the terrorists the victory of seeing us becoming paralyzed by fear and dread. While our military and intelligence fight the war on terror in their specialized ways, we fight the forces of evil by refusing to flinch. When we refuse to become terrorized, the terrorist is reduced to an insignificant ist. At the same time, however, we must never forget the evil perpetrated against us, and we must always remain wary of the threat that hangs over our head.

Yes, that's quite a balancing act. But it’s a balancing act we need to master in these unique and challenging times.

On a cosmic level, we Jews have been living with this tension for nearly two millennia.

On the 12th of Tammuz 5744 (1984), the Rebbe delivered an emotional talk. You can view part of it here. The talk was delivered in Yiddish; yet, even if you don't understand the language, I'd advise you to watch this clip (it's slightly longer than a minute). The raw pain and frustration expressed transcend the language barrier. The following is a free translation of excerpts of this talk:

The Gaon of Ragachov writes that the destruction of the Holy Temple is an ongoing event. Not a onetime event that happened more than 1,900 years ago, but something that continues to happen every day. This assertion, the Gaon explains, has its source in the Jerusalem Talmud, where it is stated: "Any generation that the Temple was not rebuilt in its days, it is considered as if that generation destroyed it."

Simply put, this means that though more than 1,900 years have passed since the Temple's destruction, still, since today – Thursday of the week when we read the Torah portion of Pinchas – the Temple was not built, it is considered as if the Temple was destroyed today.

And since Jews screamed ad mosai ["how long will this exile last?"] yesterday, and they screamed ad mosai the day before yesterday, and they screamed ad mosai all the days before that, and yet, today the Temple was destroyed, it is obvious how much screaming of ad mosai there must be today!

Imagine the scene: The Holy Temple is being burned down. Standing nearby is a Jew – an ordinarily emotionless Jew, a completely stonehearted Jew – witnessing the destruction as it takes place. Without question, [in his effort to prevent the destruction from continuing,] he would "overturn worlds"!

Says our Torah—the Torah of Truth, the Torah that provides guidance for life: "Overturn worlds." TODAY!

There is no video footage of the Temple's destruction; for this, our mind’s eye will have to suffice.

But how can we be productive and free-spirited people if we are constantly entertaining visions of a burning House of G‑d? To bring this a little closer to home, can you imagine reliving Kristallnacht every day?

In that same talk, the Rebbe addressed this question. He pointed out the incongruity of discussing the Temple's destruction at a joyous chassidic gathering commemorating the release of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, from Soviet bondage.

"But Jews are accustomed to having the impossible demanded of them," the Rebbe explained.

As Jews, we are constantly aware of the tragedy of the Temple's destruction. Every day, we beseech G‑d for the Redemption. We feel a sense of urgency, doing whatever we can to hasten the day when things will be set right. The words of Isaiah (62:1) resonate within us: "For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest..."

Yet simultaneously we go about our business with unbridled joy: rejoicing in the fact that we are Jews, rejoicing in the performance of G‑d's will, rejoicing in our ability to immerse ourselves in the study of Torah, rejoicing in the confidence that Moshiach's coming is indeed imminent.

How do we live with this contradiction?

There is no rational answer to this question. It is impossible.

But, the Rebbe says, we Jews are accustomed to having the impossible demanded of us... and coming through.