“America’s Shiva Ends”
Erev Rosh HaShanah 5762 Sermon
September 17, 2001
Rabbi Ron Shulman
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
Rancho Palos Verdes, California
Erev Rosh HaShanah, September 17, 2001, marked the end of America’s period of Shiva. After a week of such profound and shocking grief, confusion, anger and upset we began to emerge slowly and cautiously. We prepared to move forward with the routine of our lives. For most of us that remains a monumentally difficult chore.
We are suspended, as is often the case when Shiva concludes. Suspended between the pain and anguish we continue to feel and the things that we know require our attention. We still cannot, we do not, and we may never understand what has befallen our country and the families of those who suffer personally the calamitous losses of this national nightmare. The world tries to comfort us. Condolence calls come from all around the globe. But you and I sit still, ready or not, trying to decide when, how and with what we shall go on.
As with the end of Shiva, we can anticipate still more. After a month, we’ll mark sheloshim – a time of more complete re-entry to the busy-ness and endeavors of our ordinary days. A year from now, time hard to contemplate at this moment, there will be yahrzeit and devoted to the memory of thousands a national, mournful and incomprehensible yizkor.
An e-mail I received from friends in Manhattan describes what so many of you and your loved ones have also experienced. The terror and the desolation, the sense of disbelief, numbness and adrenaline as folks tried to cope and to respond doing whatever they could for whomever called out. “Whatever happens, we are as prepared as we can be. We’ve loaded up on the things we’ll need for the coming days and just trying to find ways we can help others. We are all just glad to have survived, to be alive. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
Survivor sentiments with which I am sure we all agree. No matter how many times we speak of life’s fragility and the simple risks of being, we are never as sensitive to that truth than we are at times like this. But for a last minute decision, a change in plans, the luck of a delay, the distance of a place, and the measure of a moment – none of us can predict the events of each and everyday and their impact on our lives until they unfold before us. We can never know the intersection of other’s plans and intentions with our own lives, or even the unintentional results of their actions.
When we get up from Shiva we appreciate all of this. In our grief and sadness we strive to live with a greater intensity, purpose and vision of each day’s meaning. We want the memory of our loved ones to influence and inspire the next phase of our own experience. We learn to live with them – without them. On the eve of this New Year, let us all reaffirm the preciousness and the promise of the lives we share with those whom we care for and love. Let us pray that all who mourn, all who heal and all who so anxiously await news of a loved one’s fate will eventually be able to renew the heart and spirit of their lives.
The Book of Proverbs declares: (3:25-26) “You will not fear sudden terror or the disaster that comes upon the wicked. For the Eternal will be your trust; God will keep your feet from being caught.” This, too, must be our message tonight. We are safe in our own community. Our country is secure. Our children need us to reassure them. Our friends call upon us to comfort them. Within our communities individuals will ask us to help them.
We will travel and fly. We will attend public events and gatherings. We will continue to meet and greet new and different people. We will live our lives with confidence and poise. For only by cherishing the opportunities of this world, and in a responsible and balanced manner making them the content of our days, do we defeat the enemies of freedom and human dignity who have attacked our values and our way of life.
We gathered on Rosh HaShanah to give voice to the yearnings and issues of our lives. We faced ourselves as we confronted the world in which we live. We celebrated the world’s creation and pondered its destiny. We were reminded of our tradition’s prophetic visions of hope, redemption and renewal. We affirmed the meaning of our people’s covenant through history with God.
Therefore, let us not lose sight of our best principles, nor abandon our ideals. We cannot focus our outrage or our pain toward any particular faith community or group of people. Our nation’s battle is with terrorists and those who support them. Our enemies are those who do not know the moral boundaries of human decency or historical truths. We combat only those whose insanity, bigotry and prejudice offends us.
This is a time for all decent Americans to stand as equals among the diverse ethnicities and creeds in our society, all of which properly call America home. We are one nation, under God, indivisible, who proclaim still our belief in liberty and justice for all.
Our other oath of allegiance: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel, the Eternal our God, the Eternal is One.” Do not confuse the ethical monotheism in which many of us believe with the cruel fundamentalism of terrorists. Pay no attention to those whose offensive beliefs suggest otherwise. No God wills this to have occurred. No heaven awaits those who perpetrate these inhuman and intolerable acts. Oblivion and repudiation are their return. Indeed we pray that God’s gracious, loving and eternal presence shelter the souls of all innocent victims whose sacrifice in the name of democracy and goodness we mourn.
To comfort those who are sitting Shiva when they enter the synagogue for the first time, Jewish tradition suggests this phrase: “HaMakom y’na-khem et’khem b’tokh sha’ar a’vei-lei Tziyon v’yerushalayim. May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” The term for God in this phrase, haMakom, means “the Place.” These words intend a meaning of embrace. May the places of your life and all that you do there bring comfort. May you find the comfort you seek in a place of community, of support, of people, of life and of God’s presence.
As our nation’s Shiva has concluded, I pray that this marvelous and beautiful place we cherish as the United States of America may grant through her citizens, and all good people, the solace and solidarity we seek. I pray that the generous human capacity for compassion and resilience will continue to be present in the challenges and clean up that lie ahead. I pray that this new Jewish year will usher in a new era of community, conviction and conscience for this land and all who live throughout the world. And for each of you and your loved ones, I hope for a year of goodness, contentment and peace.
L’Shanah Tovah. May you sense the righteousness and blessings of God’s presence in this New Year and may God Bless America.