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September 2, 2004

Fear or Fury?

Parshat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

http://www.jewishjournal.com/torah_portion/article/fear_or_fury_20040903

It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed. Almost one year ago to the day, Dr. David Appelbaum and his daughter, Nava, were murdered when a suicide bomber exploded himself at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. Dr. Appelbaum, 50, was the head of emergency medicine at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, and was a rabbinical scholar to boot. He had treated countless victims of terror, Jewish and Arab patients alike. Nava, 20, was to be wed the next day. Alas, she never made it to her chuppah.

These are painful memories that we are tempted to shelve into the recesses of our distant memories. Yet we dare not, just as we dare not forget the holy martyrs of the Shoah and all other martyrs of our people's past.

Is there a Divine message in all of this? How can there not be? Two weeks before the Appelbaum murders, a bus filled with passengers on their way back from the Kotel was blown up. How is it that we read in this week's haftarah (Isaiah 60:18): "No longer will chamas (violence) be heard in your land!" How can we sing the "Od Yishama" song with sincerity as we dance with the bride and groom, reciting the words, "There will still be heard in the cities of Judah and the environs of Jerusalem ... the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride"? The bride's voice was no longer heard -- only the voices of cries at the funeral.

I remember my feelings upon reading the news -- so many conflicting emotions. I was initially filled with profound shock, sorrow and anguish upon hearing the news. Such a pathetic, tragic loss!

But then, the anger set in, and with the anger, all the political fuming: How can we allow these evil attacks to continue? How can the Palestinians be allowed to continue -- even celebrate -- their violence? How can the Israeli government sit on their hands? How dare the international community accuse Israel of destroying the peace process? How can the American government be so hypocritical -- going after Afghani and Iraqi terrorists is OK, but not Palestinians? Is Jewish blood so cheap in the world's eyes?

I found myself emotionally paralyzed by my conflicting feelings. I was, and sometimes still am, a mix of contradictory emotions -- from sorrow, a "feminine," passive emotion, to the "masculine" side of that emotion: anger and rage and a desire to destroy. Then, to fear: fear for my own son in Israel, for all of the sons and daughters of Israel, then to sorrow again, then to anger -- the cycle continues.

This conflict of emotion is really a part of the affliction of living in exile. This week's portion states, "While there [in the Diaspora], God will give you a heart that is ragaz, eyes that are blinded, and a soul of dread" (28:65). What does ragaz mean? There is a dispute between the ancient commentaries of Onkelos and the Talmud. According to Onkeles, ragaz means "fearful." Our punishment in the Diaspora is to suffer in fear. But the Talmud (Nedarim 22a) understands that ragaz means violent anger -- while in the Diaspora, our hearts will be filled with rage against our persecutors.

If our sages cannot agree whether our hearts are to be filled with fear or fury -- two mutually exclusive emotions -- then perhaps part of our fate in the exile is this emotional paralysis and impotence.

The problem goes further. Just when I'm thinking that perhaps I can do something meaningful as a response to all the suffering of my Jewish brethren -- maybe I can do teshuvah (repentance), pray harder, give more tzedakah, more acts of kindness, etc. -- I am suddenly caught by fury against the enemy: "Why should I do teshuvah? It's the enemy's fault!" We sometimes become too infuriated with the politics of the situation to focus on our own need for self-rectification.

But our calling is to rise above exile. Despite the political maelstrom, it is necessary to put the anger aside at some point, and find a personal message, something that speaks to me, about what I can do -- on a metaphysical level -- to make a difference.

The Zohar tells us that if a person cries over the deaths of righteous people, then all his sins are forgiven. This is the reason why the Yom Kippur Torah reading begins with a recap of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's righteous sons who died tragically. One is supposed to think to oneself: "If the flame consumed the great cedars, then what hope is there for the creeping ivy?" If the great Dr. Appelbaum, who devoted his life to Torah, Israel and saving lives, could perish so, what about me, God forbid? This is a great impetus for teshuvah, which leads to absolute closeness with God.

So yes, King Solomon's directive of "Remove anger from your heart" (Ecclesiastes 11:10), at some point is necessary. When presented with the shock of the battlefield, our soldiers are meant to channel their anger in order to destroy Amalek and all our other enemies. But we, who are not on the battlefield, have to at times put the anger aside, so that when coming into the High Holidays, we can allow the deaths of the righteous of the past few years to have personal meaning and act as an impetus to our own spiritual growth.

Let us accept upon ourselves something proactive that we can do for the sake of these holy martyrs before the end of 5764 so that their deaths will have meaning for us. And let us pray for peace and an end to death and suffering for the coming year. May it be His will, amen.

Shana tovah.

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