Rabbi Steven Morgen

The following sermon was delivered during the 2001 Jewish High Holiday season following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It has been included on the Torah From Terror website as a resource and retains the copyright of its author. Please cite the source accordingly.

Rabbi Steven Morgen
Congregation Beth Yeshurun - Houston, TX

Rosh Hashanah Family Service Introduction 5762

Our Father Our King, deal kindly with us for the sake of Your name.
Our Father Our King, annul every evil decree against us.
Our Father Our King, annul the designs of those who hate us.
Our Father Our King, frustrate the counsel of our enemies.
Our Father Our King, destroy the power of every oppressor and adversary.
Our Father Our King, silence the mouths of our adversaries and those who accuse us falsely.
Our Father Our King, send a perfect healing to the sick among Your people.
Our Father Our King, repeal the evil sentence that may be decreed against us.
Our Father Our King, inscribe us in the Book of freedom and salvation.
Our Father Our King, cause salvation speedily to spring forth for us.
Our Father Our King, bring to judgment those who have shed the blood of Your people.

I did not make up the words of this prayer in the past few days. I took them, as I am sure you know, from this Prayer Book that we use for the High Holy Days. We will recite these words tomorrow morning as a congregation. How many of us have recited these words, year after year, in a monotone, mouthing an ancient formula that seemed dry and dusty on our lips? In the wake of this tragedy, these words now convey a timely and poignant meaning.

Our country is mourning the loss of so many mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. The victims of a savage barbarism, and a blind hatred. We feel grief and loss. We feel astonishment and anger. We seek healing and solace for bereaved families. We seek justice, and the punishment of the perpetrators of this abhorrent act. And we seek, ultimately, the promise of peace that will come when the descendants of Cain and Abel finally put down their swords and spears.
And several of the lines from this prayer – Avinu Malkenu, Our Father Our King – speak to us tonight, as they will tomorrow morning. They give form to the many swirling and often confusing thoughts and feelings we have at times like this.

We know that we are going to face many serious challenges in the coming months. We know that we are going to face evil tyrants. We know that we are enlisting the aid of other countries to fight with us for freedom and civilization. We also know that this may take some time. This battle will not be won in a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. We know that there are always risks involved when confronting evil. But we also know that civilization cannot endure under the threat of this scourge of terrorism, and so, if we value freedom, civilization, and justice, we really, unfortunately, have no choice.

We are praying then, to our Creator, who as a Parent, loves us very much and has tried to guide us in proper behavior. God gave us a Torah, a book of laws that commands us to pursue Justice. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, Justice you shall pursue. It commands us: Lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha. “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” The Talmud teaches us that someone who pursues another to murder him, must be stopped, even at the cost of the pursuer’s life. As a parent, God has tried to teach us the difference between right and wrong. God has charged us to do what is right and bring to justice those who commit evil.

But as a parent, God also wants us to be decent and thoughtful human beings. Our Torah teaches us “Ve’ahavta lereyakha kamokha” – love your neighbor as yourself. We must come together with our neighbors and comfort those who have experienced loss. We must come together as a nation and heal our wounds, stand united in love and in determination.

Our tradition teaches us that when God told Abraham about the plan to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God wanted Abraham to argue with Him. God wanted Abraham to say “How can the Judge of the whole earth not do Justice? How can You destroy the righteous with the wicked?” And so, when we pray to our Father who wants us to be moral, ethical people, we must also realize that to the extent possible we must separate the wicked from the righteous. All Arabs are not evil. All Muslims are not evil. Our fight is with those extremists who believe that murdering innocent people is the will of God. That the unprovoked, dreadful destruction of monuments and buildings is a Divine Mandate.

We are praying to our Father in Heaven that He help guide us as we do what we must. That our President and his advisors may be inspired with God’s wisdom to discern the difference between what must be done and what must be avoided.

We are praying to the King who created the entire world, and all its inhabitants, who endowed humankind with the ability to choose between good and evil. Who commanded that we do good and shun evil. We are praying that this King will understand our actions, and that we will be inspired to do His will, to uphold all that is good and true and to blot out what is evil.
As we pray our prayers tonight and tomorrow, let us pray with devotion. Let us reflect upon all that has happened this past year in Israel, and what has happened to America last week. Let us pray that we will do what we must to protect our way of life and that our efforts will be successful in the months ahead so that next Rosh Hashanah, we may come to see the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision of all humanity living in peace and freedom: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.”

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