Temple Beth Joseph of Herkimer, New York

A Conservative Synagogue in New York’s Mohawk Valley

Eulogy on an Early Autumn Day

September 2016

15 years ago, on September 11th, the world witnessed a tragedy of human making & of divine proportion. The shocking events which occurred that day left me somewhat bewildered & forced me back to my desk to recompose my sermons & try to make sense out of tragedy, some order out of chaos. No sane individual, nor perhaps even the slightly maladjusted, can take any comfort or find any meaning in such an insane & barbaric accomplishment as was unleashed against the good people of the United States of America on that horrific September morning. Those who perpetrate such violence, or condone it, have either lost the Divine spark which marks them as human beings or have intentionally shed themselves of it. The souls of those who found justice in the barbaric spilling of innocent blood are worthy of God's tender mercy for, as a human being, I find it impossible to forgive or forget.

Perhaps there are those who can watch a documentary or read a book about that day & gain a measure of solace; but for me, viewing such a documentary or reading such a book would only invoke deeply seated feelings that I do not wish to experience. For some, it is important to make sense out of tragedy, to gain some measure of control by understanding the events. I am not one of those people. Tragedy, Jewish, American, or otherwise is senseless. The book of Job does not provide an adequate explanation of tragedy for me.

Several reasons & explanations have been tendered as to why such a tragedy as 911 befell these United States. They include, among other things, America's support for Israel, America's restriction of Israeli policy with regard to terrorism, ineffectual leadership, substandard performance of the intelligence community, poor domestic protection policies, American decadence & arrogance peaking God's wrath. There were even some Americans who would place a good deal of the blame on the ACLU, the federal court system, abortionists, pagans, feminists, secularists, liberals, & homosexuals. In throwing God out of the schools & destroying millions of babies, it would seem these subversive elements in American society have opened the door to God's fury & brought down upon America a devastating tragedy which was "probably what we deserved."

All of these arguments are the same & I have heard it all too many times before. It has reared its ugly head in regard to the Holocaust, it justified lynching black Americans, it is the cry of every rapist: If the woman had worn different clothes & walked down a different street, or perhaps not been a woman, she would not have been raped. The victim is at fault; don't blame the perpetrator for the crime. Comforting though it may be for the victim to be put back in charge of his or her own destiny, a canard such as this, which shifts blame from the perpetrator to the victim, is a crass miscarriage of thought & a philosophical crime. Victims of hate, victims of terror, victims of lust are just that - victims. They are not to blame, nor is God. By blaming God for the misery that some human beings are all too willing to heap upon others, these pietists deny the most cherished principle of our holy religion, that human beings are free to make their own moral choices &, in so doing, commit themselves & their societies to the inevitable consequences of their actions. To blame God or to blame the victim frees the true criminal from his moral culpability. Those who would adopt this morally bankrupt & indefensible view have much for which to atone.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva relates the story of a fox, who was once walking alongside a river, & he saw a school of fish swiming from one place to another. He said to the fish: "From what are you fleeing?" The fish replied: "From the nets cast for us by the humans." The Fox said to them: "Would you like to come up on dry land so that you & I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors?" The fish replied: "Are you really the one they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever, but foolish! If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more so in the element in which we would die! So it is with us, says the Talmud. If such is our condition when we sit & study the Torah, of which it is written, For that is your life & the length of your days, if we neglect it, how worse off shall we be!

In the spirit of Rabbi Akiva, I would suggest that those Jews who don't study Torah & Talmud, those who don't pray to God regularly, those who have never put on tefillin or read the psalms, those who go about their regular business on the Sabbath & holy days - these are the ones who will be least able to weather the storm when the hurricane hits &, if centuries of history has anything to say about it, sooner or later, it will hit.

Thus, on this anniversary of the 911 tragedy, again, it behooves me to shed a tear in genuine sorrow for lives that should not have ended so abruptly, for those who all too easily let time sweep such events under the carpet, & thoe who have no firm anchor against such evil. Know also that this same tear is shed for the remnant of a human being that finds victory in destroying God's creation. Know also, that same tear is shed in acknowledgement to a God who, in spite of tragedies such as 911, offers to us the vision of hope & salvation.

שלום וברכה
-shalom uverakha-
(peace and blessing)
Rabbi Ronald B. Kopelman