By Mark Mietkiewicz
In 2001, September 11 occurred less than one week before Rosh Hashanah (as it does again this year.) Rabbis dispensed with the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sermons they had prepared and wrote new ones to help their congregations grapple with the horrors they had just witnessed. Theirs were words of grief, anger and consolation.
Thanks to the efforts of two men, we can still learn from those words today. Rabbi Neil Gillman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Jason Miller in the rabbinical school at JTS, have been preserved over 100 sermons on the website, Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11. http://www.torahfromterror.blogspot.com
Reading through these sermons is a sobering experience. Three years ago, we vowed that things would never again be the same. For most people, life has returned to its familiar rhythms. Not so in this website where you feel the raw emotions and hear the questions which had so few answers. Some excerpts from Torah from Terror:
Rabbi David B. Cohen, Congregation Sinai, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
When the children of Israel defeated the Canaanites, Deborah composed a song to bless God and the Jewish people. Near the song’s end, Deborah spoke of the mother of Sisera, the murdered Canaanite general: “The mother of Sisera looked at the window and moaned through the lattice. ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?” (Judges 5:28) The Midrash states that the mother of Sisera cried, screamed, and moaned one hundred times while waiting for her son to come back from battle. According to the Bible, the Shofar is sounded only nine times on Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis of the Talmud expand the number to thirty times. Yet for two thousand years the tradition has been to sound the Shofar 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. Whence the number one hundred? Every Shofar blast, we are told, corresponds to one of the 100 anguished cries and moans of Sisera’s mother. If the Bible bewails the death of one of Israel’s enemies, how much more might we cry out for friends and neighbors we’ve lost this past week. How many agonies will our hearts have to bear? http://www.torahfromterror.blogspot.com
Rabbi Wayne Dosick, The Elijah Minyan, San Diego, California:
My holy father used to tell the story of Yom Kippur, 1942, the first Yom Kippur after Pearl Harbor, the first Yom Kippur that America was at war in World War II. In the small Orthodox shul which he attended, the men sat downstairs, and the women sat upstairs in the balcony. As the chazzan chanted the Kol Nidre prayer, when he came to the words, M’Yom Kippurim zeh ad Yom Kippurim habah, alenu l’tova… “From this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur, may it be for us for good…” a great cry arose from the balcony and washed across the whole shul. The wives and mothers had just sent their husbands and sons to war, and they greatly feared what would happen from one Yom Kippur until the next. Then and now, the days that unfold, one by one, from one Yom Kippur until the next, tell the tale of our lives. And the great question always looms, “Who shall live, and who die? Who shall live out the measure of days, and who will be cut off mid-way?” The answers to those questions, we know, are in God’s hands. Yet, this year, as we gather for our Yom Kippur worship and meditation, we are filled with wondering. For the Divine response that was given to us this year is bewildering, and overwhelming, and filled with pain. http://www.torahfromterror.blogspot.com
Rabbi Ruth M. Gais, The New York Kollel at Hebrew Union College, New York City:
Thousands lived. Thousands died and are still buried in the pit of death.
I have no answer why some lived and some died.
I have no answer for why there is such hatred in the world.
Ani Ma’aminah be’emunah shlemah
I do believe with perfect faith
I do believe with perfect faith that God is good.
I do believe with perfect faith that God is the creator of good and evil.
I do believe that God has granted us free will to choose one or the other.
I do believe that God has not hidden His face from us.
I do believe that God reveals that face through every act of love and mercy and pity that we do. http://www.torahfromterror.blogspot.com
Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11 contains 138 sermons from rabbis in 25 states and three provinces. If you have access to a sermon delivered following September 11, 2001, the website’s creators would like to hear from you. http://www.torahfromterror.blogspot.com
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Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.