September 13, 2001
At the request of so many of you and in response
to the need for some words of comfort and clarity, below is
a special piece written by Rabbi Simon Jacobson addressing our
great national tragedy and what it means for us from a Torah
perspective Today the World Trembles/Today the
World is Born: Confronting the Horror, Fighting the War Against
Humanity and Rebuilding Life after Our National Tragedy.
Rabbi Jacobson presents several angles and perspectives
on this overwhelming catastrophe, which we hope you can use
both personally and share with your families, friends and communities,
especially as we enter trembling but hopeful into these Days
of Awe, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
As Rabbi Jacobson concludes, let us all join together
in one united voice of strength and support for all our friends,
and against all the enemies of humanity. Let us rebuild and
reinforce the three immortal pillars upon which our world
both personal and global stands: Torah, Prayer and Charity.
Designate time each day to:
~ Study Divine wisdom and what is expected of
us. Why we are here, what is the real purpose of our lives and
what provides us with true and permanent security.
~ Pray. Open your soul and emotionally connect
with G-d. Pray for all those that have suffered and for all
your needs. Pray that we all should have the strength to move
forward, to rebuild and create a more sensitive world.
~ Give additional charity money, time,
~ Commit or intensify your commitment to mitzvot
implementing into action the Divine laws, adding in acts
of goodness and kindness. Commit to a new mitzvah this New Year
a newfound sensitivity to the sanctity of life. Light
Shabbat candles, don Tefillin, eat kosher, keep Shabbat, or
any other mitzvah you choose.
~ Speak with your children and educate them in
this same spirit.
~ Review and begin eliminating the little
evils your life envy, anger, hate, gossip, speaking
ill of others, and all other pettiness that we often succumb
Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to
all the families directly affected by this calamity, and to
all New Yorkers, Americans and the entire human race against
whom this atrocity was perpetrated.
May this evil be eradicated from our midst, and may this Rosh
Hashana bring true peace to the world.
From all of us here at The Meaningful Life center,
we wish you and your close ones a very blessed, healthy year,
filled with light, joy and unity. A year that will transform
all our trembles into births.
the World Trembles
Today the World is Born
Confronting the Horror, Fighting the War Against Humanity
and Rebuilding Life after Our National Tragedy
He [Ishmael] will be a wild man. His hand
will be against everyone, and everyones hand will be
against him (Genesis 16:12)
Why is he called Ishmael? Because in the future
G-d will listen to the cry of the nation for what the children
of Ishmael will do in the future, at the end of days
it says (Psalms 55:20) G-d will listen and answer
(Midrash Pirkei dRabbi Eliezer ch. 32. Yalkut Mechiri
The King of Poros (Persia) will bring destruction
to the entire world, and all the nations will be outraged and
and Jews will be outraged and confused, and they
will say: where shall we come and go, where shall we come and
go? G-d will answer them: My children, do not be afraid. Everything
I have done, I have done for you . Why are you afraid. Do not
fear, the time of your Redemption has arrived
Yalkut, Isaiah remez 499)
Three chaotic wars will be perpetrated by the
children of Ishmael at the end of days
one at sea
one on land
and one in a large city which will be harder
than the previous two
and from there Ben Dovid [Moshiach]
will sprout and we will witness their destruction, and from
there we will go to Eretz Yisroel (Midrash ibid, remez 506)
The world has trembled and we are all traumatized.
As Jews who have seen the abyss and not only survived
but flourished, we are behooved to lead and show the way to
deal with horror and grow through the process. To shine a light
even in the darkest of times. To face horrendous loss with dignity,
to feel the pain of so many and not become demoralized. To stand
up and defend our cherished beliefs, with a sober look at the
evil without being consumed by it.
We are approaching Rosh Hashana, the birthday
of the world and humanity, the day that determines the destiny
of the entire world. Indeed, this infamous Tuesday morning was
the third day of Selichot prayers for forgiveness said
in preparation for the New Year.
The Rosh Hashana prayer Hayom Harat Olam
rings more relevant today than ever. Harat means
both tremble and birth. Today
the world trembles/ Today the world is born.
How do we transform the worlds tremble
the tremble of the World Trade Center into the worlds
When circumstances are so overwhelming, we must
turn to forces beyond our own limited minds and experiences.
We must access our inner faith, as one terrorist attack survivor
said: You appreciate faith when you have nothing else
besides faith. Torah offers us a Divine blueprint for
life both in times of normalcy and definitely when life becomes
unbearably unimaginable. Looking into Torah helps us rise above
the paralyzing emotions and utter confusion; it gives us a broader
view and helps us put things into perspective. Above all, it
allows us the dignity to cease being victims, to realize that
though we cannot fathom these events, we have the power to do
something about it. We may never know why senseless tragedy
strikes yet we have the strength and aplomb to forge ahead.
HONOR THE LOSS
Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to
all the families that have directly suffered as a result of
this calamity. This is not only THEIR pain, it is OUR pain.
We have been reminded as never before that we are one people,
one organism, and we all share in this catastrophe.
This atrocity was perpetrated not just against
some individuals, it is directed against all New Yorkers, Americans
and the entire human race, regardless of race, color or religion
black or white, Jew, Moslem or Christian, man or woman,
west or east. All of us are children of G-d, and the loss of
one child irreversibly affects the entire family.
Let us join together in spiritual introspection,
in Torah study, prayer and charity as one united voice of strength
and support for all our friends, and against all the enemies
CONFRONT THE EVIL
As good people we find mad terrorism inconceivable.
That is a tribute to our morality. But also to our naiveté.
We have now stared evil in the face. Our shock and trauma is
not only about the enormous loss of life and the sheer unbelievable
fact that the two towers of the World Trade Center symbol
of the free world have been flattened. The trauma is
much deeper: we have looked evil in the eye, something we have
never seen before, and we are numb with shock
Unprovoked not in the middle of a war,
not on a battlefield our city has been attacked, thousands
of innocent people killed, and we still have no inkling why.
Why were we targeted? Why would some madman go to such lengths
to destroy our two great structures? How has it threatened them
and what do they stand to gain? I cry with America. Cry for
a nation that has been so benevolent and charitable, and suddenly
so viciously attacked with such blind hatred
As good people
we ask why? And this big unanswered why is because
we have seen for the first time naked evil evil that
has no purpose except destruction. And that utterly shocks and
shakes up all good people. That serves homage to our virtue.
Americans have been so fortunate, so protected.
Our geography has kept us away from all the major wars that
have ravaged this Earth. This comfortable facade is now gone.
Our prosperity has completely obfuscated the stark contrast
of good and evil. All our cable channels and websites have provided
distractions that have allowed us the luxury of denial
creating an illusion of false security and comfort.
This illusion has now been shattered. Security
in this vulnerable world is contingent on some form of denial.
This denial has been taken away from us. And when that happens
it crystallizes our true beliefs, what it is that we are ready
to fight and die for.
Seeing and recognizing evil is a blessing. Indeed,
the book of Daniel refers to crystallization and clarity
of things as a blessing and sign of Messianic times.
Now we must face the truth: There is a terrible
evil in the world. And it threatens us. No more denial. No more
argument that this is just isolated to Jerusalem and the Middle
East. No, no. Its here and now, in New York, in Washington,
in every corner of this great country and the world. No one
How will we rise to the occasion? Is it enough
to deal with the symptoms by eliminating the horrendous criminals
that perpetrated this? That will not even bring us back to the
situation prior to this tragedy. We must once and for all, destroy
the infection. Anything less will be a dishonor to those lost
and their families, and to our higher calling for truth.
When faced with evil we have three choices: 1)
Denial, look the other way, ignore it. 2) Be terrified and intimidated
by it. 3) Fight it. But in fighting it there are also two choices:
1) Attack the symptoms, or 2) Destroy the root, and eliminate
the possibility of any future atrocities.
We can no longer ignore it. We must not be intimidated
by it. We must fight. But not just with vengeance and retaliation
to punish those responsible, but at the root.
Being a good person does not mean naïvely ignoring
evil that is stupidity. Goodness means looking obvious
evil in the face, fighting it with all you have, and still remain
standing with dignity. The argument that we should not
stoop to the level of the terrorists is tantamount to
fear of facing the truth. That is not being a good person, that
is a coward.
We must make it the call of our times that our
country and every country on earth must eradicate this evil
from the face of this earth. Fundamentalism is an individual
choice, but no country can tolerate it when it affects other
peoples lives. NO ONE has a right to deprive another of
their freedom and life.
Passionate madness as misguided as it may
be is more powerful than complacent sanity, which often
results from material prosperity. We have now been challenged
as never before to define and fight for what we stand for, what
we are ready to die for. And we must do so with no less passion
and devotion as the evil being waged against us.
In the past there have been those that argued
for the pacification of the terrorist cause
we must understand why they would do this and eliminate
their incentives and similar hollow arguments. The absurdity
of this attitude was amply demonstrated by Lord Chamberlains
illusion of vanquishing Hitler. As Chamberlain deplaned in London
waving his arms in victory with a peace agreement in hand, crying
we have peace in our times, we have humbled the
tyrant Hitler by appeasing him with Czechoslovakias Sudentenland,
Hitler was already moving into Czechoslovakia and Poland
Restraint in the face of war called terrorism
is catastrophic. Appeasement, Churchill said, is feeding a crocodile
in the hope that he will eat you last.
The nature of evil is such that when you do not
stem it, it grows. Witness all the attacks on Israel. When the
Israeli leadership began showing weakness and doubt, the terrorists
began to rise up in arms. With every additional concession the
Arab audacity grew, in direct proportion. Lack of a strong definitive
position creates demons that can and have perpetrated the unthinkable
acts we have witnessed today.
The weakness of Israels position against
its enemies brought on the intifadah and merciless attacks on
its citizens. Every cause has an effect. The ambiguity caused
the tragic effects in that region. When you dont learn
the message from the first effects, the effects intensify. And
when there is a breakdown at the strategic front line in the
heart of the Middle East, the next step is the attack on America,
which we can ignore no longer. The suicide bombings in Jerusalem
have now become an American reality and
Unfortunately it took the tragic loss of thousands
of lives to wake us up to the spreading cancer of terror.
America must now lead the world in this war waged
against humanity. And all countries of the world must join this
Many are asking more privately than publicly
due to the politically incorrect nature of the issue
(yes, for some the mask of political correctness
still lingers) is this a war against several extremist
Moslem fundamentalist groups or against the entire Arab/Moslem
world? Is Moslem fundamentalism an integral part of Islam and
all the countries that live by Islam?
I believe that the answer to this question lies
exactly where it should lie squarely with the Arab world.
America must challenge them to answer this question clearly
and unequivocally. No more time for ambiguities and double talk.
No more room for moderates using extremists for their own political
I am not an expert on Islam, but its hard
to believe that suicide and murder are condoned. Does a Moslem
have to murder the evil infidels of the West to
achieve his religious goals? Is there room for such an interpretation
of Islam? Let the Arab/Moslem world answer that question once
and for all, so that we all know on which side they stand.
What does the Torah say?
Let us read the Biblical description of Ishmael:
He will be a wild man. His hand will be against everyone,
and everyones hand will be against him.
This does not make Ishmael evil. The Torah simply
defines his personality type. Just like the Torah description
of the Jewish nation as a stubborn people is not
derogatory. Every nation has its disposition. When we clearly
recognize that personality and respect it, it can be channeled
for the good and need not be evil. When we deceive ourselves
and deny his personality or we arrogantly try to shape him to
be like us, then we have sown the seeds of what can ultimately
turn to true evil.
Arab mentality is fundamentally different from
that of American and other democratic systems. Most Arab countries
have lifetime leaders that are not democratically elected. Many
are dictatorships. Hopefully, these leaders will be benevolent
despots. But these countries and these people think and behave
differently than we can ever imagine. However, if we deceive
ourselves into thinking that they need to be like the West,
that by giving Arab nations the Internet they will become Americans,
then they become resentful. We must not arrogantly assume that
Western culture is superior, and the third world will slowly
come on board as they grow economically. We can live peacefully
with all the nations of the world only when we recognize and
respect our diversity. Harmony within diversity is the key to
I remember visiting Israel in 1972, and the same
Arabs, with the same hatred toward Israel, did not lift their
heads in defiance. Why? Because they saw a forceful, unambiguous
and definitive position, and they respected it. They need to
see clear and strong leadership. When they experience uncertainty,
it only fuels ferocity, that can lead to violence, to the point
of taking lives (see Bereishit Rabba 45:9).
We need to recognize that a wild man
whose hand will be against everyone can turn extreme,
and we must therefore always be vigilant in our firm stand and
position, one that allows no ambiguity.
And once we allow extremists to perpetrate terror,
and his hand is against everyone, then
we have no choice and everyones hand must
be against him, we must take decisive action against
his attacks on life.
SPIRITUAL WAKE UP CALL
However, this is not only about a battle against
evil. It is more importantly a time to embrace our true core
value system, to reconnect to our purpose and what we stand
for and are ready to die for. Indeed, the battle against evil
is one with the battle of good. If we do not recognize and eradicate
the evil around us, we cannot embrace the good.
Until now America could have gone on with the
illusion of prosperity masking any lurking evil, allowing only
Israel to suffer the consequences of the enemies of civilization.
Now, when the streets of Lower Manhattan and Washington D.C.
look worse than any nightmare in Jerusalem that we have been
watching on TV 6000 miles away, this illusion has been stripped
away. Our comfort zones have been shaken at the root.
Now, in the words of the Torah portion of Tuesday,
September 11 (Deuternomy 29:15-28), our gods of gold and
silver have been destroyed. We can no longer rationalize
and say I will have peace, I can do as I see fit,
the complacency has disappeared together with the two great
towers on the Manhattan skyline turned into smoke
as it was blotted out from under the heavens, and
sulphur and salt has burned all its soil, nothing can
be planted and nothing can grow.
And all the nations will ask, why
did G-d do this to the land? What was the reason for this great
display of anger? It is an effect of abandoning
our covenant with G-d. But why should the majority
suffer because of the crimes of the few? Because we
are responsible not for that which is hidden, but for the revealed
evil among us. We are responsible for each other, and
when we see evil we must, absolutely must react to it, or it
will haunt us (see Rashi ibid:28).
And then in the portion of the day after
(Wednesday, September 12): You will reflect on the situation,
and you will realize that you must return to G-d
with all your heart and all your soul. G-d will
then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you
will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your
ancestors. G-d will remove the barriers from your hearts.. thus
you will survive
G-d will then direct all these curses
against your enemies and against the foes that pursued you
After so many years of our comfortable prosperity,
now, the battle of good and evil has become a reality
a battle of life and death here in the United States.
Suddenly, all the distractions of sports, games,
entertainment, nightlife all our pettiness and meaningless
activities have melted away. New Yorkers greet each other
with a new cordiality. Nothing remains except the stark truth
of our own integrity.
The call of our times is a spiritual one. As our
mighty structures crumbled before our very eyes, as war hit
Lower Manhattan, as you drive through the eerie silent ghost
town once called mighty New York we have been humbled
in ways that no human deserves. Our man-made cultures have been
exposed. We are now left with the only thing that matters: our
souls. Materialism has been exposed as no more than a means,
a vehicle for our spiritual values. And that is our hope, the
fuel that sows our future. Our soul gives us the strength to
prevail, and grow.
Indeed, the name Ishmael means G-d will
hear. Why is he named Ishmael? Because in the future
G-d will listen to the cry of the nation for what the children
of Ishmael will do in the future, at the end of days, as it
says G-d will listen and answer.
Yet, we must do our part. We must learn from the
experience and not return to the delusion of materialism as
an end in itself.
REBUILDING THE PILLARS
With the shattering of our physical pillars
pillars in more ways than one we must learn to recognize
the true eternal pillars upon which this world stands, both
the world at large and our personal world (which is a mini-universe,
a universe in microcosm):
Upon three pillars the world stands: Torah,
Service, Gemilat Chassodim.
Let us recommit to reinforcing and rebuilding
these three pillars:
Torah: Join a Torah class. Add a few minutes of
study each day, consistently.
Service: Say an extra prayer. Suggested Psalms
20. 23. 150
Gemillat Chassodim: Give additional charity. Add
in acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us build and strengthen our immortal pillars,
make them stronger than ever. And their immortal strength in
turn will hold us up and make us stronger.
We have the power to comfort our trembling world
and give birth to a new one.
Let us join together in one united voice of strength
and support for all our friends, and against all the enemies
May this evil be eradicated from our midst, and
may this Rosh Hashana bring true peace to the world.
* * *
THE COSMIC MEANING
What does all this mean? After we deal with the
present and immediate needs, the initial shock, the loss, we
must soon being looking ahead at the bigger picture.
All events of this magnitude signal the launch
of a new paradigm. All trembles on this enormous scale usher
in the birth of a new world. At this new juncture no one can
predict the enormous changes and the new paradigms ahead of
A fascinating midrash helps illuminate this for
us, with an uncanny prediction:
The King of Poros (Persia) will bring destruction to the entire
world, and all the nations will be outraged and confused
and Jews will be outraged and confused and say: where shall
we come and go, where shall we come and go? G-d will answer
them: My children, do not be afraid. Everything I have done,
I have done for you. Why are you afraid, do not fear, the time
of your Redemption has arrived
Arab terrorists have now attacked the entire
world [New York, financial capital of the world, the Pentagon
in Washington D.C.] and we are outraged and confused.
And we must not be afraid and see it for what it is.
After all the pain and loss, this revelation of
evil in our world is also a clarity to enable us to once and
for all eradicate it, and once and for all recognize our true
spiritual and moral values to rise above our own selves
for the greater good. We must recognize that this can help launch
us into a higher state of awareness that the time of
redemption from material blindness to spiritual light has arrived.
We can and must shine a light into the darkness
that has covered the earth and the clouds that have engulfed
the nations a new type of light of love and consideration,
one that will last long after the darkness and clouds lift.
The struggle with Ishmael is not a modern one.
It is a historical and cosmic one that goes back thousands of
We stand at the threshold of a new world. America
has been protected on this side of the hemisphere from the primal
Biblical battles of the Middle East, and from the wars that
ravaged Europe, climaxing with the two world wars. We were groomed
and nurtured to grow into a powerful, independent force of good,
and with our distance we had the ability to influence the globe
with our sense of justice, without the destruction that kept
humbling European countries.
We have now grown up. We have abruptly been dragged
into the reality of deep-seated passions that defy our relatively
naive attitudes. But we are ready. We are ready to mobilize
the world all countries of the West and East for
a final fight against all forces of destruction.
And this is the final frontier. Nazism and Fascism
have fallen. So has Communism. Now we are faced with the last
powerful remnants of the demonic force of terror.
This is the meaning of the Midrash: Do not fear,
I have done all this for you
the time of your Redemption
The onus is upon us. We must see through the fog,
confusion and outrage and rise to the occasion we must
muster every ounce of strength to embrace our spiritual roots,
the solid foundation of our country: In G-d we Trust, E Pluribus
Unum (from many, one), and All Men Are Created Equal
all men and women of the entire world.
We have no hate in our hearts as we honor our
dead, as we comfort our sorrow, as we poise ourselves to do
what we must do.
It should not be called retaliation or vengeance.
It is our sacred duty to rally all of humanity against the cancer
that plagues us and expunge every form of evil that remains,
and kindle humanitys powerful and inherent force of good.
The enemy is not Muslim and Arab. All men are
created equal, with inalienable rights granted by virtue that
we are all G-ds children, created in the Divine Image.
Everyone has the right to practice and believe in their unique
way. The enemy is anyone who breaches the universal and absolute
law of hurting or killing another person. Of denying and robbing
any person of their fundamental, G-d given rights. And the enemy
is any country or group that harbors, allows and tolerates people
All countries including the Arab states
must join in this war. And if they dont, then they
have declared war on humanity.
The world has not changed forever (as many are
saying). The exact opposite is true. It has returned to its
original state: an obvious war between right and wrong, good
and evil, light and dark.
What has changed is that we no longer can deceive
ourselves from these truths. This type of change though
utterly unsettling confronts us today. We grieve over
our losses, but we take on this wake up call. Better to discover
this brewing evil before the destruction can get worse.
America has matured and is now faced with its
greatest challenge since the creation of this great country:
To bring true freedom and unity to the world. One that respects
the diversity of all peoples and nations. We must lead the world
in the final war to eliminate all evil and teach everyone not
to tolerate it.
And as America goes to war in the physical sense,
all of us must wage spiritual war against selfishness
and narcissism. We must declare and demonstrate in action that
we no longer will tolerate injustice of any sort. With our souls
stirred as our vulnerabilities have been exposed, as we are
shaken awakened from our complacent reverie as our conventional
superficial security blankets have been pulled from us, we stand
at a defining moment in history. Before us lies the unprecedented
ability to open a new chapter and introduce a new paradigm where
our material existence is not an end in itself but a means for
the sublime and the transcendent, a seamless fusion of matter
As the world trembles in this Rosh Hashana season,
we should see these trembles as birth pangs preceding the birth
of a new world. A time when there will be no war nor strife,
all nations will serve one G-d with one consent, and there will
be no more evil and no more destruction
for the world
will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the
We now have our greatest opportunity to shine
and fulfill our true destiny: to bring this world to Redemption.
For more on this see: Zohar II 32a. 8a. III 212b.
Rambams Iggeret Taiman ch. 3. Ramban, Sefer haGeulah shaar
You can now order the tape of Rabbi Jacobsons
elaborate class on this topic.
 The kingdom of Poros and the kingdom of Ishmael
are one (Maharal, Netzach Yisroel ch. 21. Ner Mitzvah).