What We Can Learn from September 11th

Disaster, explosion, fire. Many are dead, so many. And for those who are left, there is an inner collapse: the self-assurance, the feeling of safety, and the belief that America is different. There is also a growing personal fear and suspicion.

In a matter of minutes, life changed utterly – for those who were harmed, for their families, for the city of New York, for the United States as a nation.

As we try to get our bearings again, we must think and reflect. Coming to a crossroads, one must pause awhile to set the course for the next move.

One important consideration should be the distinction between the evildoers and the carnage they produce.

We must remember there is no justification for such evil; all the more so, there is no justification for the murder of so many innocents. The doers of evil must be condemned and punished, not in a spirit of vengeance and hated, but as a way to cleanse the world.

There is no forgiveness for them, but there must be a process of purification for us.

The circles of suffering continue to grow, enveloping first those close to the direct victims, who loved and depended on them; then those who were their colleagues, neighbors, friends and acquaintances; and finally, strangers, who share the national grief.

It is far beyond our capacity as human beings to understand, to give an answer that will be true and satisfactory for us. Only the Almighty and All-Knowing knows, and what He knows is beyond our comprehension. We should not seek to invent “explanations” that suit our needs or our prejudices.

Rather we must all, the wise as well as the ignorant, be humble and say simply, “We do not know.”

Nevertheless, we can and should try to draw some message from these events. Most of the things we can learn are things that we actually knew beforehand but forgot.

We can learn, for example, that material power, buildings and businesses are far weaker than we thought, far more prone to disaster and collapse.

We can learn and perceive the might of the spirit and take far more heed of it.

We should understand now more than ever that the big divide is not between matter and spirit, but between good and evil. That the divide is not an entity beside us, but something that can enter within us.

We must take care of the soul, and we should try to distinguish between good and evil, in spirit as well as in deed.

And above all, we should learn that we cannot be neutral and distant about issues of good and evil. We cannot stand on the side, not for pseudo-intellectual reasons, nor out of laziness, and not for our comfort.

We have to join the struggle.

We have to take sides.

We have to put ourselves on the side of light against darkness, beginning at home and extending into the larger society, dealing with ourselves and with others.

We must remember that there is one humanity, spanning the far reaches of the globe that shares a common destiny.

When others suffer and we think that these are just “others,” we lose not only morally but also practically. There are no “others.” There is only “us” – the close “us” and the remote “us.”

We should learn that we can change.

Yes, we are connected to our past knowledge and our previous experience, but we can grow. The great hope is not in finding some solution.

Rather, it is embedded in our ability to make new decisions, to make new choices. The Divine spark in us is the power of free will. We can and should use it to make the right choices. The guiding message is already written, in the Bible: “See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil- choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:15-19).

Let us begin today.