Thoughts on Terror: Only Light Brings an End to Darkness
“It must have been so scary,” is the refrain I have heard over the course of last week.
It was scary, but it was more than scary. We need a word that is deeper than “scary,” a word more poignant, more pointed, that somehow captures what it means for us to live in a world of such hate and such uncertainty. Where is that word?
Is it in the mouths of those who lived through Columbine? Is it in the sleepless nights of those who were in the theatre in Aurora? Does it linger like a ghost in Oklahoma City or where the Twin Towers once stood? Maybe it’s hiding in the falling tears of parents in Newtown or, now, in the aching heart of a devastated community in Boston.
“Scary” is a word for rollercoasters and the first day of school. “Scary” is a word best suited to movies and new beginnings. What happened in Boston was horrible. It was murder. It was terror. And it was terrorizing.
I was a few blocks away on 9/11. The first plane zoomed over my head. I followed it with my own eyes as it collided with the tower. I sidestepped debris.
I was two blocks away from the bombings last Monday. The ground shook beneath my feet, and I had that feeling again that the world was ending. That this was it. It was panic. It was prayer. Smoke billowed over our heads. My cell phone lit up like a star as everyone wondered about me (and I must tell you how heartwarming their care and concern was to me in my time of distress).
The highs of the marathon, this celebration of the human spirit, of doing something good, of supporting a cause, of reaching high for a goal, of actualizing the idea that life has to be lived, of pushing yourself right to the edge in the name of something essential, all came crashing into the darkness and despair of evil.
And so which world is it that we live in? Which world do you want to live in? The world of fear? The world of scary? Or the world of something else, the world of hope?
In the week following our marking of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Day of Independence, I know I choose the world of hope, of tikvah. I choose the world where we rise up, rise above the fear, as so many generations of Jews before us have done. In the week marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, I choose not to cower. I choose the world where people celebrate life, embrace life, work to save lives, and go rushing back in to see if they can help. I choose the world of giving blood and reaching out with a kind word.
Judaism wants us to choose the world of care, of calling one another, of taking community seriously, as we do. It wants us, in the words of our tradition, to love our neighbor and thus to live more, to appreciate life more, to appreciate love more, to love more deeply, perhaps as an antidote to the deep and stretching hate harbored by a sad, shameful minority out there. I choose the world of Torah study and tikkun olam.
Even after last week – or perhaps especially after last week – I choose all of this in the face of pessimism and such abounding and perfectly justified cynicism. I choose it in the face of those who would live in a world of day-to-day negativity and complaint and doubt. I choose the light in the face of the darkness, as I believe our ancestors did, when all might have been dark for them, from Noah to Abraham, Theodor Herzl to Anne Frank. It is only light that ends darkness, after all.
I want our children to understand the severity of such terror, yes, but also know that there is such good in our world, such light, and that we need not live in fear. I don’t. I won’t. And I hope you’ll join me.
Rabbi Benjamin David serves Temple Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, N.J.