Stark Contrast: When Shabbat Coincides with 9/11


        The Sabbath immediately before Rosh Ha’Shana this year falls out on the fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s a strange combination. Shabbat sanctifies the mystery of creation. 9/11 reminds us of death and destruction. Shabbat depends upon and increases love. Terrorism depends upon and increases hate. Sabbath rest is an expression of freedom. The horror of 9/11 is an expression of tyranny. Shabbat calls upon us to remember justice. Terrorism calls its adherents to rationalize injustice. Shabbat is a representation of dignity. Terrorism is a representation of degradation. Shabbat teaches that humans are more than machines of labor. Terrorism teaches that human beings can be transformed into machines of massacre. Shabbat proclaims that life is sacred and that existence is meaningful. Terrorism proclaims that life is expendable and that existence is meaningless. Shabbat conveys that holiness is attainable for everyone. Terrorism conveys that holiness is reserved for “true believers”.

        Still, we are confronted with the fact that not only can Shabbat and 9/11 coexist, they can even coincide. The presence of the one does not negate the presence of the other. We cannot move 9/11 to  a different point in the week every time it falls out on Friday or Saturday just because it doesn’t fit our definition of what Shabbat should be. In a reverent reversal of Torah’s famous words “to everything there is a season” The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote:

A man doesn’t have time in his life

to have time for everything.

He doesn’t have seasons enough

to have a season for every purpose.

Ecclesiastes was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment.  

to laugh and cry with the same eyes,

with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them.

        The thinking behind Shabbat and the thinking behind terrorism are irreconcilable. They share no common ethic, feeling or goal. But sometimes, as is the case tonight, they share a common time. We cannot conveniently ignore Shabbat because today is the anniversary of 9/11, nor can we refuse to think about 9/11 simply because today is Shabbat. Like it or not, time makes multi-taskers of us all. Let us make of these hours a time to recognize the violence that took place on this day, and a time to rekindle the hope of peace at the heart of each Shabbat.

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