Monday, May 02, 2011

No L'Chaim -- Osama . . . . and Obama's legacy

Today, I heard someone say that, while he would not celebrate Osama Bin-Laden's death in the kind of 'party' atmosphere we've seen from crowds on Times Square etc., he might say a L'Chaim when he got home.

I'm not sure if, while he was speaking, he saw the irony in using the words "To Life!" in making a toast to someone's death.

As some of my classmates in a seminar on Jewish Education at NYU wisely pointed out, today, the Jewish religious tradition has plenty of room in it both for celebrating the death of an enemy and for feeling sadness on hearing of such a death. Perhaps our most famous celebration of death are the sounds we hear every Purim of our children making joyful noises with their grogers every time we recite the name of the hated Hayman -- who wanted to kill all of us -- as we chant the book of Esther. On the other side is the midrash that teaches us that God scolded the angels when they wanted to sing in celebration at the death of the Egyptians drowned during our salvation by God's hand at the Red Sea -- the work of My hands is drowning in the sea and you sing a song?!?!?

As this day has gone on, it has become more and more clear to me on which side of our tradition I stand on this -- I will not be making any L'Chaims. I will not be dancing.

I worked for 10 years of my life in the World Trade Center (Tower 2, 27th floor). Although I was not there on that fateful day and lost no one I knew well, I cannot begin to tell you how many tears I have cried over that disaster, that terrible wound to the city I love so much.

So, no, I will not mourn Bin Laden. I am glad he no longer has the power to kill or maim. But I will not celebrate his death, either -- the loss of something made by God's Holy hands.

I am ever mindful of the dream of the prophets -- that vision that the lion should lay down with the lamb, that the swords should be beaten into plowshares and that we should study war no more.

Please, God, bring it soon, speedily and in our days.


Rabbi Irwin Kula had a slightly different take on Bin Laden's death and our reaction to it. In a post on Facebook, he emphasized the importance of allowing all our voices to be heard:

We human beings are very complicated as we navigate a world we cant help but neatly parse good and evil. We have two choices in response to moments like this both of which have roots and affirmation in our ancient texts...whether understood as god's word or our inner lives manifest:
Proverbs 11:10 "When the wicked perish there is song."
Proverbs 24:17 "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles."
What happens to a culture in which only one of these responses is expressed and validated? What happens to us as individuals when we can only feel the truth of one of these responses?
Seems to me we are never as powerless as our nightmares and never as powerful as our fantasies...


The Hebrew for the Midrash I cited above is

ואמר רבי יוחנן מאי דכתיב (שמות יד, כ) ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה בקשו מלאכי השרת לומר שירה אמר הקב"ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה

It can be found in the Talmud on Megillah 10b (English translation).


A post I made on Facebook earlier, today:

“If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,” 9/11 survivor Harry Waizer was quoted in the NYT. “But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”

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