A Jewish Response to Terrorism
The news was a strong punch to the Worldwide Jewish gut - four young Israeli soldiers killed when an Israeli Arab from a nearby Jerusalem village turned his truck into a human battering ram and ran over a group of soldiers who had just exited a bus on their way to an educational field trip. I could barely catch my breath when I read the news online and the pain became too much too bear when the papers published pictures of the young faces of the newest victims in the long and tortured journey that is Jewish history in the Exile - and yes, even in modern day Israel we remain in the pre-messianic age of exile.
For those of us who can't get the haunting video images of the attack out of our minds, or for those of us who vicariously feel the searing pain of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors mourning over beautiful lives snuffed out way too soon, we are left with the sinking feeling that the hateful ideology that lead to this brutal attack will continue to spur on more and more senseless acts in the future with no end in sight. What do we do with this feeling of helplessness, this sense that we are trapped and powerless to a national fate that we wish we could change but lack the tools to do so?
Of all of our patriarchs, none could relate to our modern concerns like Yaakov, our forefather Jacob. While it is true that Abraham had to leave his homeland, fight in wars he did not start, and yes, was commanded by the Almighty to sacrifice his firstborn, in each of these tests Abraham realized almost immediate success. He left his homeland but was blessed with the blessings of wealth, fame and children. He fought a war and was victorious! He offered his son as a sacrifice but was stopped at the last moment and was told that he had found favor from on high. Yitzchak too had his fair share of life challenges (it ain't easy almost becoming barbecue!) but lived a life of overall wealth and comfort in the Holy Land.
But Yaakov, poor Yaakov, suffered from one challenge to the next with almost no break in between. He had to run away from his own terror, a brother by the name of Eisav, who was out for his own brother's blood. He worked for his sneaky uncle Lavan only to be tricked out of his hard earned wages time and time again. When things were finally looking up and a marriage to his beloved Rachel was finally at hand, another sleight of hand was in the works and it was Leah, not Rachel, who ended up under the chuppa. It would require another seven years of hard labor to earn Rachel's hand! When Yaakov finally leaves his uncle's home with his wives and children in tow it seemed that peace and tranquility was around the corner. Unfortunately peace was as elusive as ever and the saga of his beloved Yosef's sale as a slave and decades long disapperance began.
And yet, it is this very man who dreams of a world connected by the hip to its creator, a ladder making its way from the earth to the heavens. This is the man who refused to give up in the face of terrorism, deeply painful life circumstances and heart breaking personal loss. What was his secret? What kept him going in the face of devastating realities?
To this question I believe there are two answers which are one. The Sages teach us that Yaakov was the man of Torah, the "dweller of tents," the allusion to the world of the study hall. Yaakov was imbued with the Torah's vision for a better world, a world of spirituality and virtue, a world far removed from the world that Yaakov inhabited. The knowledge alone that the salve to the worlds ailments was in his hands and that this messy world could perfect itself if only it would heed its holy words was surely a comfort to Yaakov. It would be the job of Yaakov and his descendants to make this knowledge available to all and spread the knowledge of G-d and the light of righteousness and goodness to every home that would let its light in. Slowly but surely, generation after generation, the message and vision of the Torah would penetrate hearts and minds and slowly push the needle of moral advancement over time.
The Sages also teach us that Yaakov was given a prophecy foretelling the Messianic age, an age of peace and tranquility, an age when "the lion would lie down with the lamb" and an age where they would "beat their swords into plowshares." Yaakov would not have to hope for a better day to come. His prophetic insight informed him that one day the ladder from heaven to earth would be built!
We too, the children of Yaakov, need more than ever grasp onto and spread our world changing ideology and take comfort in the knowledge that we will see a world transformed by its message. We cannot give up hope! Not now, not ever!
One of the great leaders of the last hundred years, Martin Luther King Jr., a man also living in a time of great travail, moral confusion and terror took refuge in the Biblical promise of a better, more moral day when he poignantly spoke these words: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But make no mistake, this "bending towards justice" is not a natural bi-product of the universe. It bends because WE bend it! It takes shape because WE help it take shape! Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, past chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, related in an article in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 2, 2015) this very point when he wrote, "wars are won by weapons, but it takes ideas to win a peace." We have the "idea" needed to change this world and it is called the Torah. The hope of Yaakov lives within his children, and just as we mourn the lives lost in this most recent terror attack, we continue progressing forward, speaking a message of hope, peace and moral clarity that will no doubt change the world! May we know of a world where terror attacks are but a memory, speedily in our days.