Rosh Hashana, Day One

On Sunday I was on a panel on CNN. There was a great deal of talk about love. The Muslim cleric spoke about love. The priest spoke about love. I too spoke about love. But I also spoke about anger.

Islam, I have been counseled, means submission. Yisrael means wrestling with God. We are God wrestlers and must wrestle with this.

I am angry. I am angry at God and at human beings. I am angry at the manifold idiocies and indifference that has permitted such hatred to flourish.

Don't tell me we should not blame God since human beings did this, because even though God gave us free will and we are culpable, I also know that God fashioned our hearts and our world. Must we be angry with those who do evil? Absolutely. We must also be angry at God, for to be angry with God, as Elie Wiesel has taught us, means to be in relationship to God. I feel God in my fury and love God in my bewilderment.

I am trying to focus on my own sins, but it is hard. I know that the magnitude of others' sins does not wipe out my own, but it is hard.

We have wreaked a good deal of havoc in the world. In this time of repentance, we have much to repent for as a country, as individuals. We are not guiltless. We should not let the horror cut off our self-examination.

We are sinners, but we are not deserving of this cruelty. We are imperfect, but we are not evil. This is the face of radical evil.

And it must be fought.

Yes, it is obscene to see the plane go into the building again and again. America's obsession with the vivid image is not our best feature.

But it reminds us that we are called to mobilize our best efforts.

Why are we here? L'ovdo Uleshomro. To guard and tend the garden God has given. We have been given this remarkable corner of the cosmos. And the power to destroy it.

We know this enemy. He is the same one who blew up Sbarros in Ben Yahuda street. He is the same one who blew up the Dolphinarium and ended the lives of scores of teenagers and bereaved their parents.

The name has changed, but we know him.

We know this ideology-driven fanatic. We have seen his face. We are the world's canary in the cave, and though we do not wish to be the first to know, we are.

We must be careful. We have great power. Power means moral choice.

We should feel gratitude that we have such choices. To be powerless is not moral, it is merely powerless. Jews remember too vividly the days we had no power. The millions who perished in Stalin's camps without a word, whisked away at night. The millions who died in concentration camps, and the world turned away because the Jews were expendable.

Do not lament our power. We know too much history. It is the only bulwark blocking the abyss.

Power requires great guarding of the soul, no doubt of it. But Edmund Burke told us long ago that evil thrives on the apathy of goodness. We dare not slide into apathy; remember Yeats' pointed line that the worst are full of passionate intensity. We too must have that intensity.

You cannot tend the garden without effort. That effort should derive from what we cherish, not what we despise.

G.K. Chesterton wrote: "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

This way of life must be more than affluence and comfort. Let us summon what we love, what we cherish, and act in war consonant with the ideas we have fashioned as a free society.

In the tape at the Holocaust museum is a survivor who tells of watching another inmate in the camp praying. "Why are you praying?" he asks. The man answers, "I am thanking God."

The first man is stunned. "For what could you be thanking God? What is there to thank God for in this hell?"

And the second man calmly responds: "I am thanking God that he did not make me like them."

We must be careful. It is our job to defend this country and keep it worth defending. The aim of this war is to fight them without becoming them.

The second point, to put beside our sadness, is our debt. Miraculously, we have been spared. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but for now we are spared.

If you are sitting beside someone you love, take their hand. You are alive.

Tonight, as your children sleep, kiss them. Because you are alive.

Because we know again that life can be taken in an instant.

Like you, I am overcome with sadness.

As I left my daughter, I thought of all the fathers who are not coming home. I cried for those children and prayed for us all.

In her Holocaust memoir Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew, wrote:

"Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears her grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge -- from which new sorrows will be born for others -- then sorrow will never cease."

We have to fight, but without filling our hearts with hatred. This is a time of memory. Let us remember Brian Sweeney, 38, who left a message for the wife he would never again see in this world, in which he said: "Hey Jules, it's Brian, I'm on a plane and it's hijacked and it doesn't look good. I just wanted you let you know that I love you and hope to see you again. If I don't, please have fun in life and live your life the best you can. Know that I love you and no matter what, I'll see you again."

Remember Jeremy Glick, on the plane, who reached his wife. They said I love you over and over again, and he told her he needed her to be happy...and then he was gone.

In that moment, no words of revenge, or of hate. Only love endured.

We are together in this synagogue. This is why the synagogue is here. Maybe you come once a year, or twice, but here we stand. Here we have stood for over two-thousand years, and here we will continue to stand. To rejoice together, to grieve together, to be willing to fight together.

We are people of broken and yearning hearts. And of love.

I would like to close with a poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay that is both a poem and a prayer. It is called "Dirge Without Music." The first and last stanzas read:

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind. Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave. Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

We do not approve. We are not resigned. But we are people of hope and children of God. So we pray.

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