09.13.01   Rosh Hashana: Today the World Trembles


September 13, 2001

Dear reader,

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, experience.

~ 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 to.

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.

 Today 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 everyone’s 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… as it says (Psalms 55:20) ‘G-d will listen and answer’ (Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer ch. 32. Yalkut Mechiri Psalms 177)

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 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… (Midrash, 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 world’s tremble – the tremble of the World Trade Center – into the world’s birth?

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.


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 of humanity.


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. It’s here and now, in New York, in Washington, in every corner of this great country and the world. No one is immune.

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 people’s 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 Chamberlain’s 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 Czechoslovakia’s 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 Israel’s 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 don’t 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… nightmare.

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 war.

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 benefit.

I am not an expert on Islam, but it’s 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 everyone’s 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 global unity.

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 “everyone’s hand” must “be against him,” we must take decisive action against his attacks on life.


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…G-d 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” (ibid 30:1-7).

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.


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 of humanity.

May this evil be eradicated from our midst, and may this Rosh Hashana bring true peace to the world.

*     *     *


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 us.

A fascinating midrash helps illuminate this for us, with an uncanny prediction:

The King of Poros (Persia)[1] 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 years.

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 has arrived.

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 humanity’s 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-d’s 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 like that.

All countries – including the Arab states – must join in this war. And if they don’t, 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 and spirit.

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 sea.”

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. Rambam’s Iggeret Taiman ch. 3. Ramban, Sefer haGeulah shaar 3.

You can now order the tape of Rabbi Jacobson’s elaborate class on this topic.

[1] The kingdom of Poros and the kingdom of Ishmael are one (Maharal, Netzach Yisroel ch. 21. Ner Mitzvah).


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