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The Normal Life?

May 9, 2009 | by

In Israel, we cannot go on pretending that all is well and normal.

January 24, 2002 -- in the wake of a terrorist attack on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in which two women were killed and 40 people wounded.

We yearn. We yearn so desperately for someone who will rise up and say, "Enough! We can't go on like this. We can't go on saying, 'Back to normal everyday life; back to ordinary joys and concerns.'"

Yes, ultimately we do have to go on living. But first, we've got to stop. If any glory-seeking Palestinian can hide a gun or a bomb inside his coat, walk freely down any street in Israel, and either begin to shoot in every direction or blow himself up in order to kill and maim and wound as many Jews as possible -- and if, at any given moment, we and our precious children, relatives and friends are walking targets for unknown madmen (and now, madwomen) -- how can we go on?

How dare we go on?


I look out our living room window at a scene of total peace and tranquility -- morning sunlight on Jerusalem stone, the green hillsides of the Judean Hills after a winter rain. We have so much to be grateful for.

But yesterday, volunteers were on their hands and knees on Jaffa Road, cleaning away pools of blood.

The peaceful, pastoral countryside is a gift -- and simultaneously an illusion. We are at war. We cannot go on pretending that all is well and normal. We are experiencing a period in history.

We must not tune out or become numb to the sight and sound of suffering and death.

If we are not for ourselves, then who will be for us? If we do not care about ourselves, who will? If we do not shout out to the Heavens above for protection, for redemption, then who will?

Last week, a young student from Chicago was waiting for a bus in downtown Jerusalem. She is now in Sha'arei Zedek Hospital, minus one lung, shot by the Arab terrorist who decided to turn Jaffa Road into Hell.

It could have been any one of us!

Every week, a group of my neighbors get together to learn Torah and strengthen our trust in the Almighty.

Last week, one young woman expressed concern. She remembers that, after hearing about a terror attack when she first immigrated to Israel, she cried for hours and felt sick for days afterward. Nowadays, she gets back to all her daily activities much more quickly.

How do we keep from becoming used to (numb to) atrocity? How do we stay spiritually awake and alert to the extreme urgency of the situation, and at the same time, go on with all the normal, necessary and important activities of everyday life?


I don't have a definitive answer. What comes to mind, though, is that the Almighty has allowed a specific challenge to evolve in Israel. At any given moment -- at a restaurant, cafe, reception hall, shopping mall, bus stop, school, or any street or sidewalk -- any one of us could God forbid be brutally murdered simply because we are Jews.

Walking out of our front doors to tend to the demands of life entails a risk.

Apparently, we need to become worthy of redemption in this way, or the Almighty would not allow His people to suffer like this.

Of course, we cannot drive ourselves crazy and live in constant fear and tension by constantly dwelling on this. But Jews are used to paradox. We live with the paradox that God is infinitely beyond our conception, and yet cares about every tiny detail of our lives. He is beyond time and knows all that will ever transpire, and yet grants us free will to choose as we see fit.

It is also a paradox that we must go on with our mundane lives, and yet at the same time be aware that we are living in perhaps the most momentous time in the history of the world.

Perhaps this is the answer. Perhaps we, as Jews, need to realize -- no, understand on the deepest level possible -- that nothing is mundane any more.

If walking out the front door is to risk one’s life, then every moment we are alive and breathing is surely a moment of special potential. Every moment is meaningful, to be lived consciously and beautifully. The answer is not to become neurotic and compulsive. It is simply to know that our actions, our mitzvot, our good deeds, our speech, our thoughts -- everything we do -- is potentially precious, meaningful and important.

If we could remember this once, perhaps at the outset of the day -- "Today, everything I do and say and think is precious and important in the eyes of my Creator" -- then perhaps this attitude will also be transmitted to our loved ones, and slowly, little by little, through spiritual osmosis, every Jewish soul will awaken and we will truly merit the redemption for which we so much yearn and anticipate.

Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira wrote:

A person can do mitzvot with his hands, with all of his limbs -- even pray with his mouth -- and yet, all the while, his soul can be sleeping, unconscious. We have to "force" the soul to worship, to be active, and in this way, to bring it into a state of wakefulness and revelation.

In the name of all the precious Jews in Israel, and ultimately for all of us, wherever we live, please, let us all wake up.

Let us all examine everything we are doing, every aspect of our lives, and do our utmost to change. For every moment is precious, and every moment moves us closer to redemption.

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