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The Path to True Victory as We Remember 9/11

Editor’s note: The remarks below were given by Rabbi Fred Guttman on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.
The Baal Shem Tov once taught: “Forgetfulness leads to Exile. Remembrance is the secret to Redemption.”

We have gathered here this morning not only to remember, but also to work toward redemption.

We do so in a world that has yet to learn the lessons of the tragedy from 10 years ago.

Conflict, strife, an earth which is being scorched by our own misdeeds, a Middle East that seems to become more radical and less oriented toward peace, a dysfunctional Congress, joblessness, economic problems, bias, bigotry and racism – all of these are still unfortunately too much a part of our world.

Yesterday in our congregations, we read that we are to “blot out the memory of Amelek” (Deuteronomy 25:19).

Amelek was the evil king who attacked us at the rear as we were crossing the desert. The people in the rear were the weakest and most vulnerable of our community.

Based upon the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, it seems to me that the ultimate way to blot out the name of Amelek, to blot out as it were the memories of the 19 hijackers who murdered almost 3,000 of our brothers and sisters is to being about the Geulah, the redemption through our deeds of repair and transformation.

The problems are great. Maybe we cannot solve all of the world’s problems, and yet perhaps, just perhaps if we can repair our community; perhaps, just perhaps if we can repair our relationships with each other, with our families and friends; perhaps, just perhaps if we can dedicate ourselves to the task of bringing more of the Presence of God into our world; perhaps, just perhaps if we can truly see the other person for what he or she really is, a totally unique manifestation of the Divine, a person who truly is in the image of God; then, perhaps, just perhaps the redemption will come!

Historically, most wars have been fought over economic resources. This war, however, was not a war over resources, but a war over ideas.

Al Qaeda’s main idea is the hatred of the West, western values and our way of thinking. By contrast, historically the greatness of the United States has been our openness to others and their ideas.

We have been a country of immigrants and in our best days, we have been a country that welcomes immigrants and the new ideas that they bring with them.

Al Qaeda has not defeated us and yet the ultimate victory for al Qaeda would be if we became xenophobic as a response.

The ultimate victory would be if we responded to their close-mindedness and their hatred, with hatred.

Sept. 11, 2001, should remind us of the terrible evil which can happen when a group of people feel that they are the only people who have the truth or that their way of perceiving the world is the only way.

In Judaism and Christianity, we are often reminded that the two greatest commandments are to “Love God” and to “Love one’s neighbor.”

Yet by sheer volume, the most frequently mentioned commandment in the five books of Moses is the commandment to be kind to the stranger.

Thirty-nine times we are told to treat with kindness those who we perceive to be different; those who in our world are “the other.”

So let us not forget today that among those murdered included people of almost all races and faiths from more than 90 nations.

Two weeks ago, I was at the World Trade Center site. There is so much building going on there. I am sure that the buildings will be magnificent and that the memorial will be both dignified and beautiful.

Yes, it occurred to me during my visit that the main lesson of Sept. 11 is not merely about rebuilding with concrete and steel, but rebuilding hearts and minds of people.

In the process of rebuilding, hatred will need to be replaced by love, brutality by compassion and evil by goodness.

And God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Sept. 11, 2001, was a day in which the enemies of freedom and human dignity attempted to thrust this world into great darkness.

Redemption seems far off but perhaps, just perhaps if our response to the tragedy of 9/11 were to become more “godly” by bringing more light into our darkened world, could redemption be far behind?

RabbiFredGuttman is rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.