September 11, 2001

The horror. The outrage. The feelings of helplessness and vulnerability that every American, and millions beyond America's borders, have woken to this morning.

What can we, as individual members of the family of man, say? We can, to the extent that such a thing is possible, share in the sorrow of the bereaved. We can pray for the survivors and for their loved ones.

We can acknowledge our guilt.

Because we are guilty. A handful of cold-blooded murderers committed the slaughter at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but their deeds are but the most vile manifestation of an evil of which we are guilty.

We are guilty in that we have profaned the sacredness of life. In our arrogance, we have come to regard the divine gift of life as malleable, bendable to our aims. We recognize no limits — everything is doable, we just need to find the way.

And that is the ultimate evil. Once we enthrone the end over the means, nothing is sacred. The end may be holy or evil — it is almost irrelevant. We may construct edifices of laws and norms to regulate what may and may not be done — they will be stretched, bended and revised to suit any set of "values". If it is acceptable to step on another human being to propel oneself upwards on one's chosen economic, social or religious ladder, then ultimately someone, somewhere, will believe himself justified to annihilate 5,000 "infidels" to achieve whatever it is that he desires to achieve.

Until we restore the unequivocal, inviolable sacredness of life, there will be "extremists" who will carry our sin to its horrific, but perfectly logical, extreme.

Eight hundred years ago, the great Jewish sage Maimonides wrote:

"This is the path of teshuvah (repentance): when a tragedy befalls the community... they should acknowledge that it is the result of their negative deeds... and this will bring the removal of the suffering from upon them. However, if... they say this is an occurrence in the course of the world, and this tragedy just happened to happen, this attitude is from the path of cruelty, for causes them to cling to their negative ways" (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fasts, 1:2-3).

May the new year bring only goodness and light to all the peoples of the world.