Acharei Mot — Kedoshim

Faith in the Face of Terror in Boston

Once again our nation, our world, witnessed an act of unspeakable violence, cruelty and cowardice on Monday, April 15th. Amidst the celebration of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, tragedy and horror was experienced by our American community. An eight year old boy, waiting to cheer on his runner dad with his mother and siblings, has his life ended suddenly. A 29 year old graduate student from Medford, Massachusetts is cut down in her prime. A young woman from China, studying at Boston University, comes to get the best education in the world and embraces American culture. She too is immediately killed by the bomb blast. Many suffer horrendous injuries. Their lives are changed forever by this senseless act. We will all remember this day of terror on every future Boston Marathon.    As a Rabbi I am often asked the question, "Where was G-d?" I can only answer: G-d is found in all of those people running toward the explosions to help the wounded; G-d is found in the countless gestures of heroism from law enforcement, firefighters, physicians, nurses, first responders, runners, spectators, all of whom lent a helping hand; G-d is found in the consolation to the survivors and to those who lost loved ones; G-d is found in our nation's  outpouring of generosity and kindness; God is found in our prayers;   G-d is found in our outrage and in our determination to bring those responsible to justice.   Most important, G-d is found in our hope. Our Parasha for this weekend begins with the words "Kedoshim Te-he-yu" — You shall be holy because, I, G-d, am holy." We can never give in to despair. We can never throw up our hands and say,"What difference does it make, in the world in which we live, that we should try to be holy? In an unholy world, a world where any manner of evil could and does happen, why should we even bother to follow G-d's laws?" No. We must never throw up our hands and say that life has no meaning, that human existence has no purpose, that it makes no difference whether one acts in a good way or whether one acts in an evil way.   This evening I want to share with you a letter that was first published in Israel in 1956. The author of the letter identifies himself as Yossel Rakover. He is writing from Warsaw in 1943. He too finds himself in circumstances that test his faith. He has been through the most horrible experience. His wife and children have been killed in the Warsaw uprising, and he has found refuge in one of the last remaining buildings in the ghetto, which, as he writes his final testament, in being bombarded by Nazi artillery. He knows he does not have long to live. He writes a letter and buries it, hoping that it will be found sometime in the future. The letter begins: "God, You have done everything to make me stop believing in You.  Now, lest it occur to You that by imposing these tribulations You will succeed in driving me from the right path, I notify You, my God and the God of my father, that it will not avail you in the least.  You may insult me, You may strike me, You may take away all that I cherish and hold dear in the world, You may torture me to death – I will always believe in You, I will always love You! Yea, even in spite of You!”   You have done everything to make me renounce You, to make me lose faith in You, but I die exactly as I have lived, an unshakable believer!  Praised forever be the God of death, the God of vengeance, truth, and law, who will soon show His face to the world again and shake its foundations with His almighty voice.   Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.    Into your hands, O Lord, I commit my soul."  The author of this letter is perplexed by G-d's absence. He is confused as to why G-d seems to have abandoned him at his greatest moment of need — confused, and angry. Yet he refuses to abandon G-d, even as he fears that G-d has abandoned him. He refuses to abandon the idea that there is a moral order in the universe. He holds fast to the belief that this moral order, G-d’s governance of the world, now hidden from sight, will soon become apparent to all and shake every one of us to the foundations of our very being.   We too are perplexed by G-d's absence whenever there is a Boston, a Sandy Hook, an Aurora, a 9/11, a Columbine, an Oklahoma City. We wonder how G-d can allow a gunman kill six people worshiping at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, or thirty two people at Virginia Tech. Our response to these horrors must never be to abandon G-d. Our response must be to redouble our efforts to be holy, to be like G-d. We must open our hearts to the Torah so that G-d can work through us. I close with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, words brought to my attention by one of our students in our religious school, Jacob Baron. King says, "When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love." Keoshim Te-he-yoo — Then –"You shall be holy."