Officer Patrick O’Rourke – Who Shall Live? Who Shall Die?

Wow! It’s been 11 years since that horrific, horrific day. On that early Tuesday morning in September 2001, cantors around the world were already rehearsing their rendition of the U’netane Tokef prayer in preparation for the upcoming High Holy Days.

All shall pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict. On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire…

“Who shall live and who shall die? Who before his time?” Those words were echoing in my head yesterday morning as I read the news alert that West Bloomfield Police Officer Patrick O’Rourke had been shot dead by Ricky Coley, a man who barricaded himself in his West Bloomfield home (and later committed suicide). Officer O’Rourke was only 39-years-old and left behind his wife and four young children. His colleagues in the West Bloomfield Police called him “the most-liked person in this building.”

I’m aware that police officers get shot and killed in the line of duty and they go into the force knowing that is a reality. But it’s never happened here in West Bloomfield. I grew up here. I work here. This occurred less than four miles from my home. Tragic just doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for this.

To honor the memory of Officer O’Rourke and to remember those who perished on 9/11 in New York City, Washington D.C., and on United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania I offer this beautiful and moving U’netane Tokef inspired poem written by my late teacher Rabbi Moshe Tutnauer, of blessed memory:

I used to think that the U’netaneh Tokef was written
either by someone old, pondering imminent death,
or by someone who had endured plagues and earthquakes.

And then I watched a plane carrying human beings
Being crashed into a building full of other human beings
And as I saw the ball of fire, and the people jumping, and the smoke,
I began to ponder those awesome words:
         Who will live and who will die
         Who in due time and who all too suddenly
         Who by fire, and who by water
         Who by the sword, and who by wild beasts (humans!)
         Who by starvation, and who by dehydration
         Who by suffocation, and by hurtling objects

I knew that even the angels were confounded
No still small voice could be heard
Only the deafening sound
of fuel exploding,
of buildings imploding,
of humans screaming

So scholars may argue whether U’netaneh Tokef
Was written in the 5th or 10th century
But I know that it was really written last week.

Now the original author had faith –
Perhaps the decree’s bitterness
May be sweetened
By turning into oneself and examining one’s deeds
By turning to God and seeking Divine inspiration
By turning to others and acting justly toward them.

May each of us
Find the way
To cleanse our souls of bitterness
To raise our spirits to Godliness
To open our hands to righteousness

Touch the ones you love
Hear the Shofar’s voice
Taste the apples and honey
And try to make this a sweeter year.

May the memory of Officer Peter O’Rourke be a blessing to his family and may we continue to pray for the souls of the 2,977 victims of the 9/11 attack.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Torah From Terror

Following the Jewish High Holiday season in 2001, I decided to collect the sermons that rabbis had delivered about 9/11. I knew that on September 11 most rabbis already had drafts of their High Holiday sermons completed, but after the attacks that day these rabbis would have to rewrite those sermons. That tragic day left us speechless, but rabbis had to come up with the right words to bring comfort to those sitting in front of them on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the days following 9/11.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 cast a dark shadow on the Days of Awe 5762. Many rabbis, after discarding their already prepared sermons, found their voices and were able to construct the appropriate words to bring a sense of comfort during those uncertain days.

I was in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary at the time and I told my teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman, about my idea for a project. Rabbi Gillman agreed to be the co-editor of the “Torah From Terror” project and we sent out requests to Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis asking them to submit a sermon from either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur that dealt with the 9/11 tragedy. Immediately, the sermons began pouring in. I organized the sermons into the Torah From Terror website.

On this, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks I have decided to reformat the Torah From Terror website. The sermons are now available at http://torahfromterror.blogspot.com. Now visitors are able to leave comments on the different sermons. Also, the search capability is much improved from the original site.

I hope you will visit the Torah From Terror website, and through those words of wisdom you will find comfort and hope. May those words be a remembrance of that horrific day in our nation’s history and may we continue to find inspiration in words of Torah.

Our world has changed immensely in the past decade as a result of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, but we continue to pray the memories of the victims will be for blessings. God bless America.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi Jack Moline on 9/11 Forgiveness

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, commemorations are taking place everywhere. People are discussing how life would be different today had 9/11 never occurred. We are all reflecting on where we were that day and how it changed us. Memorials to honor the dead will take place all over the world.

However, there is one theme that I haven’t heard discussed very much as we mark the tenth anniversary since that dreadful day. Has it been long enough to forgive the terrorists? There are differences in belief among different faith groups when it comes to forgiveness; especially after such heinous crimes. My colleague and teacher Rabbi Jack Moline published his thoughts on this topic in the Washington Jewish Week. I found his words to be fascinating and have decided to post his op-ed in its entirety below.

Rediscovering trust in a future
by Rabbi Jack Moline

On Sept. 14, 2001, I was interviewed on the PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Another panelist, Dr. Thomas Long of Emory University, suggested that the process of forgiveness needed to begin immediately for us. My reaction was visceral, and I suggested that he had illustrated the bright line between Jewish theology and Christian theology: to speak of forgiveness without contrition, I said, was obscene.

I have had 10 years to think about that exchange, as has anyone who remembers it. I still believe it to be true. What made for provocative television then ought rightly make for serious conversation today. Interfaith conversation, and not only between Jews and Christians, has never been more important in this country (and even globally) than it is today. The reason, I believe, is because of what was created, or perhaps accelerated, by the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

You might argue that Americans were naive about the world before that fateful day. What fell away was a sense of trust in our own future. The crises we had faced before were met with steely resolve and a sense of purpose. For reasons sociologists and anthropologists can debate, Americans retreated into two camps. There were those who believed we had not been effective enough in promoting the American values of tolerance and equality, and we needed to redouble our efforts. And there were those who concluded that some segment of humanity was permanently resistant to our truths and needed to be punished or isolated. The loudest voices are not always the wisest, but the extremists on both sides managed to muffle the middle.

What is true of Americans in general is true of American Jews in particular. The frantic way many Jews pursued reconciliation with Muslims in particular was virtually without discrimination. (I attended an iftar dinner at a local mosque that November where I was greeted by the imam, Anwar al-Aliki.) And the sudden rise of people obsessed with the notion that we were repeating the run-up to the Shoah, with Muslims playing the Nazis, played into anger and fear. While our community has always had its extremists, over the past 10 years those people have attempted to define the middle. And absent a coherent alternative, just like in American politics, an ideological tug-of-war has replaced insight.

Israel has become the surrogate for this culture clash among American Jews. It is safe to say that most of the combatants have no intention of making aliyah, thereby making the consequences of their certainty someone else’s problem. Instead of insisting that the Jewish national homeland is a value which we all honor, it has become an issue defining whether you are (depending on your stance) a humanitarian or a bigot, a realist or a victim-in-waiting.

In the process, we have generated a heated rhetoric about Christians, Muslims and others that rely on stereotypes, which, if applied to us, would increase the membership in every one of our defense organizations. Meanwhile, as both extremes point fingers at the other, we contribute to a divisiveness in American society in general that holds us back from addressing the very genuine challenges of our changed world.

It all sounds so political, but in fact it is the essence of spiritual concern. Any approach that dehumanizes our opponents, within or without the Jewish community, violates the intentions of our Creator. Any approach that reduces the state of Israel to a litmus test compromises its real and metaphoric roles as the destination of the in-gathering. Any silence that allows extremism an uncontested platform abandons the pursuit of justice, which is never without dissent.

The 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 occurs in the very heart of Elul, the month of introspection and outreach. The former is a profoundly personal and solitary endeavor. The latter cannot be accomplished alone. They both lead, of necessity, to a place between extremes – of collective engagement, personal honesty and acknowledgment of differences. They both lead to the bright lines between our theologies and the bright light we all yearn to shine. They both lead to a rediscovery of trust in the future and of the role each of us plays in promoting a better world that the one we know.

Rabbi Jack Moline is the spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria.

Do you think we are ready to forgive? Please leave your opinion in the comments section below.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller