Rosh HaShana and September 11 coincide this year.
Those of us who were living in New York City seventeen years ago can probably recount every moment of how the day unfolded.
I remember taking my son, Dov to two year nursery school. It was the first day that the parents did not have to stay with their kids. I dropped him off and went upstairs to my office at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale when my husband, Josh called and told us that a plane hit the Twin Towers. As most people began to evacuate the city, Rabbi Avi Weiss decided to go downtown and see if he could help. After the second plane hit, the nursery school told me to pick up Dov as they as the building was being evacuated. We went home and the TV kept showing the footage of the attacks over and over again. The next day, there was still no school. We went to the park and could smell the fire from the burning buildings.
A few days later, I received a call from the Amit offices. They asked me to give a lecture at the Amit National Convention entitled “Faith in Times of Crisis.” That was an extremely difficult speech to prepare.
I began the class with the story of the creation of humankind which takes place on Rosh HaShana (Breisheet 1:27) “And God created the person in God’s form (Tzelem Elokim), in the form of God, God created him, male and female, God created them.”
We see from here that all of humankind is created in God’s image and it is up to each person to live up to God’s expectations.
In this week’s Parsha, Nitzavim (Dvarim 30:19) we read: “I call to witness against you this day the heaven and the earth that the life and the death I have set before you, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendents.”
God gives us free will, God gives us a choice, but God wants us to choose life.
The terrorists were insistent on death and destruction. They chose the curse.
The rescue workers and others who tried to help chose the blessing.
Where did those who tried to help get their boundless energy?
In Breisheet 29:10, when Yaakov first saw Rachel, something totally out of the ordinary happened. Usually, all of the shepherds were needed to roll an extremely large and heavy stone off of the well. Yet, “When Yaakov saw Rachel…he stepped near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well.”
Ramban explains that the Torah brings this story to teach the idea from Yishayahu 40:31: “They who wait for the Eternal shall renew their strength.” Yaakov was coming from a journey, he was tired, yet he alone was able to roll away the stone, a task that required all of the shepherds.
When put in a difficult situation, when necessary, we find an inner strength that we did not know that we had.
The Talmud, Shabbat 104a explains a verse from Mishle (Proverbs 3:34) “If to cynics he will act cynically, but to the humble he will grant favor?” If one comes to defile himself, they provide an opening for him; but if one comes to purify himself, they actually help him- even opening a new door for him. In other words, if someone wants to transgress, God is not going to stop him, but if someone wants to do something good, God will help him.
We clearly see which path God wants us to choose from the end of the story of Kayin and Hevel. After Kayin killed Hevel, God said to Kayin (Breisheet 4:10) “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Where was humankind on September 11?
There were those who used their Tzelem Elokim to try to save people. They chose the good path. And then there were the terrorists who chose death and destruction.
The fact that this year Rosh HaShana falls out on September 11 reminds us that we each have a choice for how we will conduct ourselves in the upcoming year. May we remember those who used their Godliness to choose the correct path and may we each do what we can in the fight against terrorism.
May the memories of the victims of September 11 be remembered for a blessing.