Friday, September 22, 2006

Terror and response (post 9/11)


It’s true – and this everyone knows already – that when suffering befalls us, we are obligated to take stock in our actions and do teshuva, because, as Chazal say, “There is no suffering without sin, and no pain without transgression”. The Rambam writes that it is cruelty (achzorius) to allow suffering to happen without attributing it to our sins. It’s like when a father slaps a kid in the face, and the kid says, “I trust my father that her must have had a reason to slap me, but I am not capable of figuring out why”. The purpose of the slap is to teach a lesson, and if the kid refuses to learn, then I guess another punishment is necessary, r”l.


So the first, most basic response is Teshuva, but it has to be accompanied by ruthless objectivity. Meaning, I am certain that everyone will say in response to this, “We have to speak less loshon horah, respect each other more, do more chesed and learn more Torah”. People love to look at themselves and say, “We can improve”. But they do not like to say, “We have to CHANGE”. There is a big difference. Improvement means you have a certain value that you are striving toward, but you have to strive harder, more, better. Of course, regardless of how hard you strive there is always room for improvement. People are willing to commit to improve, but of course since there’s always room for improvement and always will be, the determination of whether they actually did as much as they could do to improve is impossible to make.

Then there is “change”. As opposed to improvement, where you have to try harder to do what you already are doing, or at least want to do, change, in this context, means to wake up and to realize that there are many aveiros that people are not trying to work on at all, but merely live our life accepting them as part of our lifestyle. People don’t want to think about these aveiros because responding to them means not only some vague commitment to “try harder” but to measurably and visibly make changes in your lifestyle.

That is why if someone says, “Jews are being killed in Israel. It’s because we talk loshon horah, we don’t respect each other enough, and don’t pray with enough kavanah”, people will accept that. But if someone says, “Jews are being killed in Israel. It’s because married women do not cover their hair, because people go mixed swimming, because boys and girls mix in ways they should not, because people read and watch and log on to places they should not”, people will get mad and offended. Why would we accept only certain aveiros as capable of causing death and not others? Is it because we are reluctant to admit that our very lifestyle needs to be changed? Or that we only want to accept responsibility for something that we can always say, “We’re trying”, or “There’s ALWAYS room for improvement?”

Whatever. Our first response to tragedy is to ruthlessly audit our actions and admit to ourselves that our sins – not only loshon horah and disrespect for each other – is causing Jews to die all over the world. When Achan sinned by talking from the spoils of Yericho, Jews were killed, and that was one person, one sin. Everyone knows what their own sins are, and Hashem is showing us the possible consequences of them. And better he should show us in Olam hazeh…. At least now we are getting a warning. Sins are the most destructive thing in the universe.


The World Trade Centers were probably the most monumental structures in the whole world. I’ve been in many countries, and I have never seen anything like them in terms of overwhelming hugeness. Watching them being blown away shakes us up, and we are shocked at the sight of something so big being obliterated like that.

The reality is, though, that destruction is nothing compared to what our sins do in Shamayim. This world is nothing. It’s a puny, little speck compared to the universe at large. And the universe itself is less than a puny speck compared to the Olamos HaElyonim, the majestic upper worlds that are closer to Hashem. This entire universe is a little joke compared to the universe upstairs.

And the damage that a few planes can do down here is nothing compared to the utter destruction what sins can do up there. Up there is a world that lasts forever, is built of the goodness of our Mitzvos, and is beautiful and majestic beyond our comprehension.

When we do a sin, it is like atom bombing the most majestic city in the world. All the suffering, the screaming, the destruction, the horror and the ugliness, happens in Shamayim. It’s hard to envision what such a thing looks like, but the destruction of something so big and majestic that horrified and shocked so, is a small minuscule Moshol of what we do to Hashem’s world, to our own eternal Gan Eden world, and to this small world too, when we sin.

After 120 years, we will live forever and ever, for millions and millions of years until eternity, in a world that we make. Our Mitzvos build towers. Our aveiros tear them down. The horror and the shock of seeing the WTC torn down is nothing compared to our shock and horror of seeing the towers built by our Mitzvos torn down by our own actions. We are all going to have to relive the experience of the world trade center destruction in the next world. It will be not the death of others, but our own death over and over being experienced then, the pain and anguish will not be watched but intimately felt.

It won't be some business offices that will be destroyed but our own homes, built by the sweat of our brows. That we will see crashing down around us, where we will be trapped between vaporizing heat waves and jumping to a crashing death. Our deaths, our homes, our horror, and our tragedy – it will all be so personal and up close. Taking place in the deepest part of our souls. We will see it happen, experience it, feel it in the most painful way. And we will think about those beautiful towers and the city that we built with our mitzvos and get sickened by what was and what could have been if not for the destruction taking place before our eyes. And we will wonder at the evil of the terrorists and what kind of animal would destroy such an infinitely beautiful city created out of the stuff of Mitzvos, and torture such beautiful peaceful souls created in the Image of G-d. We will watch, helplessly as the most beautiful and majestic structures go down in smoke and ashes, destroyed by suicide hijackers. We will watch and not be able to stop them, and we will wonder how Hashem could allow such beauty to be destroyed – beauty that was created by a Jewish soul – a chelek elokah mima’al – a part of Hashem Himself. Infinite beauty and majesty. How could Hashem allow it? We will scream out at the injustice and the evil of the perpetrators, the death and destruction they are causing. The sorrow, the horror. The lives snuffed out at their hands, and we will demand justice. We will scream to Hashem to reveal the identities of the cowardly pilots and bring the criminals to justice. And we will demand to know, how such pain and horror could exist in the Olam HaEmes.

And Hashem will then answer us. And all the horror and pain that we saw until then will pale in comparison to the horror and pain and shock that we will realize that we didn’t grow much from when we lived in the Olam HaSheker, that just like we had eyes but refused to see Hashem’s justice in this world, we still are blind in the next world, too blind and deaf and dumb to understand the justice and ways of Hashem, because at that moment, when we scream in pain and horror at the destruction of the infinite beauty created by our mitzvos, Hashem will allow us to see the entire picture. And when see that whole picture, we will then know the horror and pain of Gehennom itself, worse then experiencing our own deaths thousands and thousands of times over, and being helpless to stop it.

Because we will then see that the pilots, the terrorists, the masterminds behind this destruction…

… is us.

We did the aveiros, we knew what they would do, we were warned, and we destroyed our own world. And one avairah is like dropping ten thousand suicide planes on G-d’s world. On our world, that we created with our mitzvos.

But it will be too late, then.

“Today is the time to do them [the Mitzvos], tomorrow is the time to reap their reward.”

We have a choice. Let’s make it before it’s too late.

Let’s learn from the terrible destruction that we just saw.

Rosh HaShanah is coming. Let’s do teshuva.


Ari Schonbrun is one of the heads of Tomchei Shabbos in the Five Towns area of New York. I know him personally. His office was on the 101st floor in World Trade Center
#1. He told Arutz-7 how his life was saved by "miracle after miracle
after miracle:"
"I was on the 78th floor, about to enter an elevator for the 101st floor (I happened to have stayed home an extra ten minutes in order to help my son with some schoolwork...), when I heard a tremendous explosion. All the electricity went out. I entered an office where I saw some light, and someone was on the radio, I tried to get her to get some help, but she couldn't do it because there were too many people. Then I told the floor's fire warden that we have to get out… he said OK, we can go down the emergency steps, but we couldn't find them, there was only smoke all around. I kept walking and I found a man saying, "Here, here," so about 15 people went down the steps there. A co-worker of mine named Virginia was hurt, and she kept saying, "Don't leave me, don't leave me." I went with her and we started going down. My cell phone was dead, but after we went about three floors, all of a sudden the phone started ringing. It was my wife, and I told her, "Joyce, I'm OK, I'm OK," over and over. Then someone asked me if he could use the phone and I said sure, and again - the phone was totally dead. I felt that it was just a miracle that my
wife got through. "Virginia kept saying, 'Don't leave me,' and I said to everyone,
'Make way, there is someone wounded here,' and they let us through. At one point she said she couldn't go any further, and I said, " Virginia, you just have to!" We finally got down to the bottom, and the police directed us where to go outside, and I looked around and finally found someone to help [Virginia] - only then did I look around outside and see the second building on fire. I couldn't understand, and I said, "I know that there was some bomb in the first building, but why is there a fire
in the second building?" - because the whole time until then I didn't hear or know anything else... So then they told me that two planes had crashed, one into each building. We had had absolutely no idea. At that point Virginia still didn't let me go, she said I have to go with her even to the hospital. I said I don't know if they'll let me, etc. But she said I had to, and they let me in the ambulance, and we were apparently the first ambulance that left from there… When we got there, I found out that the second building fell. And I know that if I hadn't gone with Virginia, I would have stayed there walking around, and who knows what would have happened to me. I'm telling you, it was just miracle after miracle after miracle that saved my life… Just like in the story of Purim…"


The Gemora says "ain misah blochet v'ain yesurim blo avon" - there is no death without sin and no suffering without trangression. The Rambam writes that it is a Torah obligation to attribute all death and suffering in our community to our sins, and that someone who doesn’t do that is guilty of gross insensitivity (achzorius). The Torah, which was written by G-d, tells us that such deaths are attributable to sins, and that it is our obligation to look at it like that.


As far as the "hints" to the terror attacks in many places, I can find you tons. And I can interpret those hints to mean many other things as well. It's easy to find hints, but what’s the point? We know the Torah written by Hashem knows everything. SO what’s the difference if we see it or not? The only value it has is, it can convince people that the Torah is "for real." But there are so many real proofs to the Torah that relying on these things only weakens us, since you can find such "hints" anywhere, depending on how you interpret them. Such hints are found everywhere, regarding everything.


Several years ago every Rabbi in this country had his shabbos shuva drasha made for him. September 11th happened so close to Rosh Hashanah that everyone just had to talk about it. And rightfully so.

They said that we should take it as a message from Hashem to do Teshuva; that we should wake up and realize that we, too, in America, are vulnerable to terrorism and all sorts of atrocities, and that we have been complacent for so long, confident in the ability of our the two oceans to protect us from what happens all the time in Eretz Yisroel, and now we see it is not so. We are in danger here, too.

And they were right, of course. We are indeed in danger here. And so many of us reacted appropriately. We made assemblies, gathered together to say Tehillim, to daven, to do Teshuva. We davened like most of us have never davened before, because we were so scared of what was going to happen in the future. (My son’s Rosh Yeshiva predicted right after September 11th that in three weeks Jews would not be able to walk the streets anymore, because they would be blamed for what happened.)

And now, years later, we look back and realize that NOTHING HAPPENED. Not a single person in this country was killed or even hurt by any terrorist in the past two years. Not a single incident, anywhere in this country, from coast to coast. There were attempts – the guy with the shoe on the airplane, and others. They caught on the average maybe one terrorist or suspected terrorist daily since 9-11-01.

But nothing happened. All our predictions were wrong – we were safe, Boruch Hashem, and may the Chasdei Hashem continue.

But the question is: Have we maintained that level of Teshuva and focus on our Ruchnius that we had those years ago when we were scared? Have we davened for the past two years a single tefilah as intense as we davened on September 12th, 2001? Have we been as careful in our observance of Mitzvos and Torah learning as we were then? Or have we slackened off, because Hashem blessed us with safety, back to business as usual?

If we have not davened or learned during the past years of peace and safety as well as we did on September 12th, what message are we sending to Hashem?. Do twenty five hundred people have to be killed in order for us to return to Him? If so, then we have put ourselves in terrible danger. If we are only that frum when Hashem sends tragedies into our lives, but when Hashem shows us open blessing and protection we are complacent, what does Hashem have to do in order to get us to return to Him? What are we telling Hashem that He has to do in order to get us to return to Him?

There is no question, no doubt, that the only reason nothing happened here in the past two years is Chasdei Hashem. It is so easy for terrorists to accomplish their horrific missions. Have you ever walked into Penn Station or Grand Central Station in New York City? You’ll see National Guardsmen and police galore, but we all know that there is nothing to stop a suicide bomber rachmana litzlan from just walking in. No metal detectors, no security, nothing.

What would it take for someone to drive a car loaded with explosives into the front of a Yeshiva or Shul? Rachmana Litzlan! It is so easy, we are so vulnerable, so weak, so available to any evil doer that wants to make us victims.

The evil ones threatened. They promised. They assured us that more attacks will come. And they could have come so easily.

But nothing happened. Nothing. Not a single incident in the years since. If this is not open Hashgachah and Blessing from Hashem what is? Yet does it motivate us to return to Him the way we did back then? Do we only return to G-d when thousands of people are killed?

THAT – and only that: the message that we send to Hashem, “See? If you have thousands of people killed we will get better, but if you openly protect us against all odds, we are complacent” – is what puts us in danger.

The Medrash says that it is not the suffering that causes us to daven, but rather the need to daven that causes the suffering. Chazal give a moshol: The king was traveling down the road with his entourage when he heard the screams of a woman in distress. The King sent his soldiers to check it out, and they found a band of robbers attacking the young lady. They killed the robbers and brought the women to the King. She thanked him profusely, and they all went on their way.

The King, however, decided he likes the woman and wants to marry her. So he sent her messages and roses, and invitations to come to the castle but she did not respond. She had no interest in talking to the King. There was nothing the King could do to get an audience with this women.

So what he did was, he sent a band of robbers to attack her while he was nearby, and he waited for her to scream “King! Help me! I’m being attacked! Please!” and then he sent his soldiers to save her, again. It was only then that she was willing to come talk to the King. When she needed his help. So the King had no choice but to make her need his help.

So, too, the Medrash says, Hashem wants our Tefilos. He makes life good for us, he begs us, kivyachol, to come talk to Him. He wants us to return to Him but we refuse. So Hashem has no choice but to send attackers after us.

Then we pray. Then we do Teshuva. Then we talk to the King.

It’s the need to generate Tefilah that creates the Tzoros, not vice versa.

My wonderful friends– the King has been continuously sending us roses for the past many years! And He made it quite obvious that our good fortune here came only from Him. In 2001, if you had to predict what this country would look like today, what would you have said? What were we all saying? Yet Hashem showed us that for whatever reason – maybe its because no country in the history of the world was ever so good to Jews and Judaism as the United States of America; no country in history! – or maybe for another reason, but one way of the other, Hashem has shown us His grace, His Influence, His shefah and His blessing in abundance, far beyond what we had a right to expect! Far beyond what any of us expected.

The King has been sending us roses, because He loves us and wants to make us His queen. For the past years the roses have been coming, daily. The most valuable gifts – gifts that we begged for – peace and safety – have been delivered to us daily by His Majesty. Hand delivered. In person..

The Chasam Sofer was once gozer taanis because of a certain Gezeirah that happened to his community in his days. But before the Taanis was supposed to have taken place, the Gezeirah was nullified. The Chasam Sofer said that they still have to fast on the designated day, because we dare not return to Hashem only when impending doom hangs over us.

Everyone wants to know what we can do to help our brothers in Eretz Yisroel. What we can do is show Hashem that we do not need suffering to make us return to Him. Not our suffering, and not the suffering of our brothers abroad.

Please, everyone. Starting tonight, for the next 10 days [Aseres Yimei Teshuvah] is a time that the King Himself created to return to Him. It’s easier now than it is throughout the year to do Teshuva. The King is now not only sending us roses, but is standing right next to us with His arms open for us to throw ourselves into. What happens next – to us and to the rest of Klall Yisroel – is up to us.

My wishes and prayers for a Kesiva Vachasimah Tovah to all of the frumteens community – the most awesome people in the world – and all of Klall Yisroel, for a Kesiva Vachasimah Tovah – the greatest year ever, and may we all be zocheh to break our anonymity on this site when we all meet to witness the Salvation and Simcha of all Yisroel, Amen.



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