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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 05_06_2011
05/06/2011 08:09 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 6, 2011

 

This week, Osama bin Laden, the master terrorist, was killed by U.S. forces. The reaction has been varied and in most cases predictable.

                Naturally, we would expect that some would react with great pleasure in knowing that the murderer was finally located and killed. Instantaneous demonstrations took place outside the White House and in New York City. Celebrations made it clear that overcoming evil was something to sing about. Don’t be surprised by it. In the U.S., where good versus evil has been national theme since the days of the Cold War, this age of terrorism only intensified it. The street celebrations and the gleeful Facebook postings, while uncomfortable on one level, perfectly reflected what Americans have been raised to understand about evil and what to do about it when it’s defeated. Whether it’s a wall that divided Berlin, or the death of bin Laden, evil is evil and when it’s destroyed there is a reason to rejoice.

                However, there are also reasons that others believe our joy should be strongly mitigated by the repercussions of the terrorist’s death. Bin Laden was not a wall; he was a figurehead to thousands of terrorist followers. Whether or not he still held power among all the ranks of the Taliban, is not the only issue. What likely ranks higher in the minds of the Taliban, is the audacity of America to take out its legendary leader. Surely, the Taliban doesn’t need to see us rejoicing to know that we are ecstatic with the success of the U.S. forces! Will the world witness terrorist acts in reaction to bin Laden’s death? How could the answer be an unequivocal “no”? Even a “maybe” is enough reason to temper our displays of joy.

                President Obama, who skillfully addressed the situation and approved of the operation, understands the position we must take in the U.S. as a world power and leader of nations. Rejoicing at the White House fence should come when the age of terrorism comes to a conclusion, much like the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of a communist Europe. Until such time, the death of bin Laden is merely a piece in a very large puzzle to take down the organizations of terrorism. The hard part is that we have been waiting so long to find some justice. So, some will dance in the streets, others will sit pensively, and our President must show measured restraint when we succeed, because tomorrow is another day in the same war against terror.

                My suggestions are founded on Jewish wisdom. First, we don’t “turn the other cheek” as matter of scriptural dogma; we seek justice in order to compensate those who are wronged in order to restore them to wholeness, to the extent that we can. Pursuing bin Laden and capturing him, dead or alive, met the litmus test for justice. Second, we have learned that evil is not an external temptation we must avoid; rather, it is an internal quality that we must prevent from masking the good that we are born to pursue. When evil overcomes us and we sin against God’s creative acts, we destroy life in our path. Individuals are held responsible and called to account. There is no sadness that bin Laden is no longer among us; but, there is considerable and gross disappointment and horror that a man with such charisma could have organized a nation of terrorists, but not a nation of mindful, learned, industrious and contributing Muslims.

                Finally, I would urge you not to be surprised by the dark humor surrounding the events of this recent week. Remember that during the darkest days of the Holocaust, Jews were prolific in their humor against the horrendous situation they faced. Books on Jewish humor include chapters on Holocaust humor. It cut the pain; it gave the Jews power over their oppressors; and, it served as a legacy of their will to live even if they didn’t survive. A classic bit of humor suggested that Hitler would die on a Jewish holiday. Asked which Jewish holiday, the answer was predictably, any day Hitler dies will be a Jewish holiday.

                There’s much to think about this week. Let’s begin by welcoming Shabbat, a day of rest and thanksgiving. Let it be a time when you set aside your challenges and anxieties for time to replenish your personal resources. And, let it also be a time to thank God for our nation, its leaders, and the resolve to pursue justice and civility in a world that is sorely lacking both.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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