Rabbi: Soar for greatness

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a day not only to remember all of the precious souls who died that … Continued

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a day not only to remember all of the precious souls who died that day, but also to take a longer view of the impact—both positive and negative–of that awful day on our lives and our country.

I will never forget that day.  I was leading my congregation in prayer that morning at the exact moment we first heard the sounds of fire engine sirens racing down the streets of New York City’s Henry Hudson Parkway.  Never did I imagine how much we would all need to pray in the coming days.
As a rabbi I am especially sensitive to the way that the terrorist attackers misused and abused religion and God’s name in perpetrating their attacks.  

When we look back at that event 10 years later, one of the most comforting things to see is how the American Muslim community has overwhelmingly denounced the attackers as not speaking in their name or in the name of Islam.  

Furthermore, I think that the American Jewish and American Muslim communities have come closer in response to that attack. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I know that since 9/11, I have gone out of my way to foster more relationships with the American Muslim community, and I feel that that has been equally reciprocated by my Muslim neighbors.

However, 10 years later there is also cause for concern.

In the Bible, the archenemy of the Israelites is the evil nation of Amalek.  The Israelites are commanded to always be wary of Amalek.  The rabbis explain that the sin of Amalek was that they literally “cooled off” the Israelites.  What this means is that the rabbis teach that when the Israelites departed from Egypt the whole world was in awe of the miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the sea.  The world respected and admired the Israelite nation.

But then along came Amalek and attacked the Israelites.  In doing so, they cooled them off.  They did so in two ways.  First they showed that the Israelites were vulnerable to an attack.  And second, they introduced a horrible cynicism into the narrative of the Israelites’ miracles.  They said we are not impressed with the miracles that God did for you and therefore we can and will attack you.  

And you know what it worked.  The attack of the Amalekites caused the Israelites to believe less in their own destiny.

Cynicism spreads, even when it is spread by our enemies.

Looking back at 9/11, I think that al-Qaeda fostered an increase in cynicism in our country.  For many of us it was the first time we experienced a major attack on our own country.  Until that moment we were living in blissful ignorance of the dangers around us.  There is something very positive about blissful ignorance.  It allows us to believe in the impossible.  It allows us to think we are capable of things that a rational person wouldn’t think are possible.  

And after all, isn’t this the story of America?  We have always been the nation that believed we are capable of great miracles and works of genius.  We declared that we would put a man on the moon and we did it.

But now I worry that we have lost some of our confidence.  Al-Qaeda punctured our belief in ourselves and we need to remember to ignore them.  Al-Qaeda’s greatest threat is not the physical, but the attack on our belief in our own destiny; they have spread disbelief and cynicism throughout our land.  
But they are wrong.  We are a great country and we are capable of doing great things.  
So this 9/11 let us remember the dead.  But let us also remember the great things we have accomplished in our history and promise ourselves that despite the evil intentions of al-Qaeda we will continue to soar for greatness.

Shmuel Herzfeld is a rabbi at Ohev Sholom in Washington, D.C.

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.