Living With Faith and Hope After September 11

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Living with faith and hope after September 11

Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all the families affected by this calamity, and to all New Yorkers, Americans and the entire human race against whom this atrocity was perpetrated.

Dear reader,

Due to the overwhelming response to Rabbi Jacobson’s previous article (see Today the World Trembles), below is a new piece written by Rabbi Jacobson with Yom Kippur’s message of hope to the world that has been shaken September 11th.

We hope that you can use these soothing thoughts both personally and to share with your families, friends and communities, especially as we enter trembling but hopeful into Yom Kippur. Because of the importance of the message, we encourage you to share this article with everyone.

We want you to know that we here at The Meaningful Life Center are working overtime to helping provide solace and clarity in these trying times. As people everywhere are undergoing a new soul search for meaning in life, we are redoubling our dedication to our mission to offering insight and direction as how we can gain control over our lives with all the uncertainty brewing around us.

If you or anyone you know has any specific needs or questions, please call on us. We are committed to do everything we can to serve you.

We need to nourish the grass roots awakening that has consumed this nation and its gravitation to faith and G-d and transform it into a permanent spiritual transformation. Our calling today is to demonstrate leadership and light up the way in which to forge ahead amidst this tragedy, and these new, challenging times.

As Rabbi Jacobson concludes, let us all join together and channel our powerful emotions into positive action. In this Hakhel year let us initiate gatherings wherever possible — to study and pray together, share kind words, give charity. Let us rebuild and reinforce the three immortal pillars upon which our world – both personal and global – stands: Torah, Prayer and Charity.

May you be blessed and sealed in the Book of Life. May we open ourselves to be true channels of G-d’s will, which will certainly empower us to win this battle of good over evil and bring permanent peace to the world.

Yom Kippur: The Birth of Hope

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)

Never have I seen such vulnerability on people’s faces. From my home in New York City to spending Rosh Hashana in Fort Lauderdale, from a lecture in Boca Raton to spending this past Shabbat in the Upper West Side of Manhattan – uncertainty and fear covers life like a thick haze.

We have been rocked at the very core, and people are gravitating to G-d and to each other. We are looking for comfort, for words, for any thing that may give us some equilibrium and return us to our bearings.

I closed my eyes on Rosh Hashana and allowed the sound – the secret sound – of the Shofar to flow through me. Its sound made me feel secure, it gave me something firm to rest on. Its haunting cry resonated like a foghorn allowing ships to navigate in the lonely darkness of night.

As the world trembles in the aftermath of our national tragedy, Jews worldwide gather in these Days of Awe for prayer and spiritual introspection. The destiny of nations is determined in this powerful time of the year. If we allow them, these days can serve as unwavering bearings in these times of uncertainty, giving us the ability to move forward.

What message does Yom Kippur offer us in our current situation?

The answer lies in understanding the root of Yom Kippur. Here’s the story:

40 days after Moses received the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments Moses descends from Mount Sinai only to see that the people have transgressed and built a Golden Calf. Moses breaks the two tablets. He then re-ascends Mt. Sinai to plead with G-d to forgive the people. For eighty day Moses begs and beseeches G-d to forgive, to open the doors of hope after loss. Finally, on the eightieth day G-d relents. That day becomes Yom Kippur: the holiest day of the year – the day that gives us the power to rebuild after destruction.

How was Moses sure that he would succeed? Because he knew the ‘secret’ of G-d: that there is always an opening; that G-d is not bound by His own existential rules of cause and effect, and we have the ability to transcend the forward flow of time itself and grow through a broken past. On Yom Kippur, Moses unleashed the power of teshuvah and introduced a new force into our mortal existence, revealing that nothing can destroy the human spirit. That when we persist and insist we can break down every door, and achieve anything we want. That we can and will bring redemption to the world – when good will conquer evil.

And this power of rebirth is even greater than the initial birth. It took Moses 40 days to receive the Law on Mount Sinai, but 80 to convince G-d to forgive us. It takes much more effort to rebuild after being broken than to build in the first place. But when we finally prevail, it creates a new structure that can never be broken again.

Moses returned on Yom Kippur with a new, second set of tablets, that in many ways are greater than the first. The second tablets come from the depths of pain and demonstrate hope after loss and the good that is greater than the evil. These tablets therefore have the power of eternity being that they can endure and last even through destruction, reminding us that we grow much greater through our pain.

Is there a more relevant message than this today?

The building and worship of a false god of gold (the Golden Calf) was a replay of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. When we dedicate our lives to G-d, then even our material lives are tools to access and express the Divine. However when we create a god in our own image, and we worship ourselves and our man-made gods, we expel G-d from our lives and in its place selfishness and evil emerge. As a result of this selfish evil being reintroduced into the world, Moses shattered the two tablets.

The question then arises: Can we repair them? Can we rebuild after we have been destroyed? And most importantly, how can we rebuild? How do we find the fortitude and power to forge ahead, to fight our enemies and win, to rebuild a better world?

Yom Kippur gives us the unequivocal answer that, yes, we can repair and rebuild. And yes, we can grow and become even greater. And Yom Kippur also tells us how we can achieve all of this. By connecting to G-d, to Immortality.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year because it is the birthday of the single most important ingredient in life: HOPE. That there is healing after loss, that there is hope after destruction. That even after great loss we can rebuild. And rebuild in ways that are greater and stronger than ever before.

This is the ultimate message that we have to share with the world: As we now face a revealed evil that has struck humanity, as we enter our final battle between good and evil – a battle that began with the Tree of Knowledge and extended through the worship of the Golden Calf, and now again tragically resurfaced in this atrocity – we carry the message of Yom Kippur: good can and will prevail.

Yom Kippur – and its second set of tablets – gives us the greatest gift: the absolute confidence and faith that we can overcome any challenge.

As we stand stripped of our security blankets and seeing ourselves naked as we may have never seen ourselves before, we must reach into our deepest resource that always remains burning within: Our faith in G-d, our faith in life, our hope.

Yes, it is quite distressing and disorienting to have our comfort zones taken from us, even more disturbing may be the unknown of what lies within us, when all else is taken from us. Yom Kippur tells us that what lies within is grand, magnificent and extraordinary. It is the REAL YOU. The Divine Image in which you were created, that has the power of the eternal.

What better time to have Yom Kippur with us – the birth of hope.

Let us read, reread and embrace the words of this past week’s Torah portion (of Shabbat Shuva):

Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid or feel insecure before them [your enemies], because G-d is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).

How amazing that these words – without any interpretation – speak directly to our situation today, as if they were just written! It seems that when our veneer is stripped away, our emerging truth is Biblical…

What Can We Do?

One thing that has changed on September 11th: We are no longer complacent or apathetic. Our tragedy has stirred us and awakened an array of feelings and emotions: Grief. Sadness. Fear. Anger. Vengeance. Uncertainty. Insecurity. Depression. And many other sensations.

If we do nothing with these feelings they implode within us. They tie us up and paralyze us. What then should we do with these powerful feelings?

Yes, it’s important to express ourselves, to release and free ourselves of negative feelings. Yet, that is at best damage control. There must be something more we can do with these strong emotions.

Yom Kippur answers this question for us: After the people had inexcusably transgressed and after the tablets were irreversibly broken, Moses unperturbed passionately fought for hope after loss. He adamantly insisted that goodness will triumph. Moses was angry, shocked and profoundly disturbed to see his people worshiping an idol, blatantly transgressing the second commandment merely 40 days after hearing it directly from God. Yet, he took all his feelings, channeled them and charged up that mountain confronting G-d for 80 days to forgive, to open a door, to allow for rebirth.

We must do the same: we must channel our potent reactions into a force for good. Especially after we have witnessed the vehement passion of madmen, our commitment to goodness and love has to be with at least as much passion as the horror waged against us.

Nothing less than a passionate, spiritual revolution of good will justify this terror…

Just as we have been stunned to see how the world that we know can change so dramatically in a matter of minutes, we must recognize that we can equally introduce a new paradigm for life – one in which selflessness prevails over selfishness, love over hate, spirit over matter, good over evil.

And we will need to hold onto this revolution: As time passes and our complacency slowly returns, we must never let go of the window of opportunity that has now opened. We must always remember our absolute commitment to fight for good and against evil. We must always maintain the resolve and confidence that Moses infused us with on Yom Kippur: Good is more powerful than evil. Good will prevail. We can do it. Nothing stands in our way except… ourselves.

A Practical Suggestion

Following the Torah’s statement (cited above) “Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid or feel insecure…because G-d is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you,” comes the mitzvah (commandment) of Hakhel:

At the end of each seven years, on the festival of Sukkot…gather together the people, the men, women, children…so that they hear and learn it [Torah], and they will thus be in awe of G-d, carefully keeping all of the words of Torah. And your children who do not know will listen and learn to be in awe of G-d as long as you live…(Deuteronomy 31:10-13)

This new year, which began on Rosh Hashanah, is a Hakhel year (the end of the seven year period). In previous Hakhel years, the Lubavitcher Rebbe called on us to maintain this beautiful tradition by initiating gatherings (hakhel’s) throughout the year – in our homes, offices and communities, gathering together in unity to study and to connect with G-d and our purpose in life.

As we enter now into the year of Hakhel, and as Sukkot approaches, what better way to channel our strong responses to the assault on our humanity than gathering together in small or large groups to talk, to sing, to pray – to join in one unifying voice, each of us with our own unique musical note, and connect with our higher Divine calling – our mission of spreading goodness and kindness.

It doesn’t take much. Gather a few friends any evening in your home or office, share spiritual thoughts, study G-d’s word, pray and give charity. Commit together to reinforcing the three pillars which hold up the world – Torah, prayer and charity.

Do the same with family, and include your children. Let’s make this a habit, and institute it in a timely fashion, once a week or so. Each group member can alternate as host. Invite in new friends or strangers.

For every force of evil there is an equal and even greater force of good. When we fear evil conspiracies – awful people gathering to perpetrate terrible acts – we must congregate together with even more passion to recommit to our battle for justice and virtue.

If all of us begin congregating and encouraging others to do the same, we can create a massive ripple effect of unity and goodwill, uniting people everywhere in one powerful wave of positive and G-dly energy. And this is what we can do to bring the Redemption to our wounded world.

How fascinating it is that following this tragedy people everywhere, of all ages and backgrounds, naturally gravitated toward faith and G-d. This was not planned or initiated by religious leaders. It is a grass roots awakening, that actually surpasses in power anything our religious establishments have to offer us.

We need to nourish the awakening that has consumed this nation and its gravitation to faith and G-d, and direct it into a spiritual revolution of permanent transformation.

The Torah tells us that “G-d has not found a vessel that can contain blessing except for Shalom (peace).” As Yom Kippur approaches, let us begin by participating and inviting others to participate in upcoming Yom Kippur services. Throughout the upcoming year let us resolve now to join together in unified hakhel’s that create an unprecedented amount of light, more powerful than any opposing force, a unity that manifests the greatest blessing of all: Shalom, peace and wholesomeness for all people – peace in Israel, peace in America and peace in the entire world.

When we see the destruction brought by that part of the world, we must know, as the Midrash tells us, that we should not fear, “the time of your redemption has arrived” (Yalkut Shemoni, Isaiah remez 499. See Zohar II 32a). We are on the verge of a spiritual revolution – not an apocalypse or Armageddon – a transformation from within, a major shift in our perception, that instead of seeing materialism as an end in itself we will see it as a means to G-dliness.

In these days the fate of nations is determined, as we said in the Rosh Hashana prayers. May G-d bless us with the strength to be true channels of G-d’s will and then we will certainly win this battle of good over evil.

Let us embrace our faith, our souls, our mitzvahs. And like foghorns in the night they will lead us to the bright shining shore.

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