Sermon - Ki Tavo SEPTEMBER 13, 2003 RABBI MOSHE P. WEISBLUM
I want to dedicate the sermon today to 9/11 victims and to other victims of terrorism in Israel and in the world.
In this week’s Torah portion, G-d blesses us and assures us that we will have the ability to tolerate many crises. There is much prophecy throughout this portion. Even though the passage has a strong warnings about things to come, it also contains many blessings. One of the blessings is that, as a people, the Israelites will always unite and another blessing is that we will have the strength to endure hardships and trials.
Just two days ago, we all commemorated the terrible tragedy of 9/11. This appalling event happened while the entire world watched the horror on television. It goes beyond words to try to describe the sorrow and empathy we felt as we saw the many widows and orphans that were left behind as a result of the attack. So many individuals were traumatized, not just by losing their loved ones, but also by having to face the new reality of fear in their life. The roots behind this attack have been spread around the world through terrorism. We as Jews suffer greatly by carrying the pain and reality of constant terror attacks in our holy land of Israel, as well.
This week, we saw two terrible incidents-- one event involved a person that I knew well. The New York Timesdescribed this individual well; Dr. Applebaum was a wonderful human being. As a physician, he never charged anyone in a time of a crisis that could not pay. He was on call 24/7 at Sha’ari Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem as he was in charge of the Emergency Department. During the past three years he saw increasing carnage and tragedy. The day before his daughter’s wedding he visited her as she had pre-wedding jitters. They went to the Café to have some special time together. As they left the shop, the explosion killed both of them.
Can you imagine, what more agony and sorrow one can feel than Mrs. Applebaum felt as she buried her husband and daughter on the same day, and not just an ordinary day, but the day of her daughter’s scheduled wedding---a time of joy turned into an awful day of terror. People in Israel don’t take the time to think about what happened. They have to clean up the mess, bury their loved ones and get back to life as soon as possible in order to not let the terrorists win.
In the Torah, G-d gives us the directives in how to conduct our lives despite hardships, suffering and crises. Even though I have a very ambivalent feeling, I want to share some personal insight with you concerning reaction to a tragedy.
On 9/11/01, I went to pray at a Shivah House, the house of mourners. By the afternoon of 9/11, there was a big television screen set up. More than 100 people were there, with eyes glued to the television set. There was a fellow there who was a Holocaust survivor. He said, "Look at the television, see all of that, all of that is happening because America is supporting Israel. To me he said, "You Rabbi… you are preaching support for Israel, and this is what happens."
When I came home, I really understood that I was a multi-generational rabbi. But I still felt that this was something that not just hurt him personally and deeply, but it is something that I myself had to feel for all the people. The reality of hearing such a reaction from another human being, particularly from a Jew who suffered like that was harsh. It is imperative that I do not judge him since I did not go through what he went through so can’t gauge his reactions to events such as this one. My wife told me that I could not judge him because his experience has clouded his view, and I should not take it personally.
On the other hand, I called a friend of mine in Jerusalem after the tragedy last week to convey my condolences to the Applebaum family. I asked him how people there were reacting. He told me that people there only unite at a time of crises. In so many places, just a few minutes after the explosion, suddenly everyone is together, whether left wing or right wing, Sepharadi or Ashkenazi, secular or religious, it does not matter the differences in their background-- everyone comes together to try to help.
Why do we as humans only unite so easily in times of crises? Why don’t we learn to be there for each other all the time? If we will love our neighbors all of the time, we will learn to appreciate life and we will learn the meaning of life. Now we are nearing the High Holidays. It is important to seek G-d’s blessings to be able to endure and go on during times of crises but it is also a blessing to learn from one another and persevere together through the good days as well as bad days.
In these days of awe, may G-d listen to our prayers and accept them with compassion, so that all of us will continue to serve faithfully and continually here in America, in Israel and the rest of the world. May the Almighty bring speedy healing to everyone and peace to our world.