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Friday, September 12, 2003

Avoiding Depair, Taking Action

by Rabbi Saul J. Berman
As the absolute unadulterated horror of the recent bus and cafe bombings sinks in, and the morally uneven cycle of Palestinian terror against civilians and Israeli defensive retaliation against terrorists resumes, I feel increasingly hopeless and helpless. There is actually some comfort in accepting that the entire situation is totally beyond our control, that there is nothing we can do but weep and pray.

But to submit to such despair would violate what Rav Nachman of Bratslav called “the sin of willed weakness.” For in reality, there is much that we can and need to do at this very moment in time. There is a combined material and spiritual response which can impact on the political and personal reality of the situation. The following are some elements of such response.

1. Call friends and acquaintances in Israel; let them know that you worry about them, that their safety is on your mind and that while you can’t really feel their pain and fear, that you care, fear and pray for them. Ask them if there is anyone you can call who needs to be reassured of their safety.

2. Engage in political advocacy. Now is the time to contact Congressmen and Senators, to write letters and e-mails to the President. Urge them to continue support for Israel, to allow and aid the building of the fence, to press for the Palestinian Authority to actually dismantle terrorist organizations, to displace Syria from Chairmanship of the Security Council, to be tougher on Saudia Arabia for its promotion of the ideology of terror.

3. Travel to Israel and purchase Israeli products. Two years ago, early in Intifada II, dear friends needed to change their travel plans to Israel. Instead of just canceling their flights and hotel reservations, they offered us the opportunity to go in their stead. We were deeply grateful, they were enriched by their kindness to us and their support of Israel. So, make a pledge to travel to Israel now through the Go Israel initiative; if you can’t, make it possible for someone else to travel in your place. The flow of tourists and trade is essential to Israel’s morale.

4. Renew your consideration of the possibility of Aliyah. Admittedly it is hard to think just now about bringing one’s children to a place where the enemy not only lacks respect for the lives of civilians, but intentionally
targets the most vulnerable and defenseless (What bravery, Oh Muslim warriors!) But the richness of Jewish life, the opportunity to shape Jewish history and the capacity to make a real difference in an emerging economy, culture, and integrated religious society, need to constantly arouse and inspire thoughts of Aliyah.

5. Teshuvah (recognition of wrongdoing, regret and reform) is always appropriate in times of trouble. But the Prophets constantly remind us that G-d’s primary interest is in repentance in the area of human relations. So,
now is the right time to be evaluating our relationships to children, parents and spouses, to employees and employers, to current and former friends, to teachers and students. Do we hear well? Do we speak respectfully? Do we support those in need, materially, emotionally and spiritually? Do we expose our vulnerabilities to those we love? Do we express gratitude to people and to G-d? Such evaluation can lead to reconciliation, improvement and repair of the relationship to others, and thereby, of the relationship to G-d.

6. Direct attention to the relationship to G-d is also necessary at such critical moments. Improvement in this realm need not require greater severity and ascetic withdrawal. It does require greater integrity and conscious attentiveness to meaning in the performance of Mitzvot. Now is the time to bring God more energetically into our homes and our workplaces, enabling His values to be manifest more overtly in our behavior.

7. Finally, prayer. Prayer is necessary but not sufficient in the process of eliciting Divine aid. We are required to utilize our own wisdom and our own energies to try to achieve the desired change. As we do all we can in purely human terms, we are entitled to turn to G-d to petition His aid, to ask Him to add the strength of His shoulder to the effort, to enlist His support as a partner in our endeavor. Of course, we know from the outset that our own efforts will ultimately only be successful if they conform to G-d’s will, but if we fail to assume direct responsibility, we might miss the opportunities for salvation which God makes available only to those ready to grasp the moment.

Two Hells
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav taught that there are two hells awaiting sinners in the world to come. One is the hell of fire, which awaits those who sinned sins of passion. The other is the hell of ice, which awaits those who sinned the sin of willed weakness. We must avoid despair, sustain hope in the possibility of peace, and engage energetically in both material and spiritual actions to bring comfort and help, hope and peace, to each other -to our brothers, our sisters and our cousins in G-d's land.
EDAH's weekly free online video of Rabbi Berman teaching on Parshat haShavuah is available here.

This week's video is dedicated to the memory of Dr. David Appelbaum of Shaare Zadek Hospital and his daughter Nava Appelbaum. May G-d send comfort to the family and peace to Israel.