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The Terrorist in Our Midst

Friday, 17 June, 2016 - 1:16 pm

There aren’t any words to adequately describe the pain and suffering that transpired in Florida this week. Our prayers are with those that perished and their families.

Nor are any words of condemnation sufficient for such horrific crimes.

Yet, we must reflect. We must adjust. We must reach out to our fellow neighbors and Americans.

The questions abound.  How can such a tragedy occur? What can we do to prevent it from happening again?

I’ll leave the technicalities to the authorities and politicians. But, here’s something to think about on a spiritual level.

Once, Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch remained closeted in his room for a few days, refusing to see visitors. It was unprecedented and it seemed that the great Rebbe was involved in a deep spiritual struggle.  His followers could hear him crying endlessly in his room.

When asked about this strange behavior, the Rebbe explained:

“Whenever someone confers with me on spiritual matters, and in particular when one asks me for a path of penance, I endeavor to find their spiritual 'issue' or shortcoming, albeit on a more subtle level, in myself. In doing so, I am able to relate to the person's spiritual standing. Consequently, and being in 'his' shoes, so to speak, I can seek out the most appropriate spiritual remedy.

Earlier this week I was visited by an individual who sought a penitential path for a terrible sin he had committed. No matter how hard I tried, however, I could not find his transgression, however remotely, in myself. Thus, I wasn't able to help him. After grappling with this for the past few days, I was finally able to help him…"

In the spirit of this story, it’s important for us to look inward – rather than simply outward – when confronted with atrocities. If it occurs in our orbit, it must have meaning in our lives.

But, how can I relate to a terrorist? How can I see myself as a cold-blooded murderer? Isn’t that precisely what separates America and its values from these types of people and groups?

Here’s an interesting lesson from this week’s parsha, Naso.

The kohanim (priests) are instructed to bless the Jewish people as follows:

May the Lord bless you and watch over you. May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.

Rashi explains the initial blessing to be a blessing for material possessions. The end of the verse refers to G-d’s protection. This means that no thieves shall attack you and steal your money.

The Chassidic Master point out that this blessing also carries spiritual weight. Allegorically, it means that G-d should bless and grant success to our efforts to refine ourselves and serve Him wholeheartedly. And may He guard our successes so that the forces of evil not hijack the spiritual excitement we generate in prayer and transform it afterwards into righteous indignation or an awakening of physical desire.  In other words, spiritual awakening is a fragile experience. It has the potential for great heights. But, it can easily be misconstrued, hijacked, and dragged into the worst places possible.

It goes without saying that those who claim to be waging jihad in the name of G-d are simply wrong, criminal and evil.

Sometimes, however, it’s possible that we have a tiny terrorist inside of us.  The voice that wishes to hijack a moment of inspiration and turn it into an excuse not to show up for work. The voice that tries to abuse the sacred time of prayer for negative thoughts.  The voice that attempts to commandeer a holy festival into just another moment of merrymaking.  That’s the terrorist inside of us.

We may not have the capacity to single-handedly eliminate every terrorist walking this planet. But we do have the full control and resources to eradicate the terrorist within.  That’s probably a good place to start influencing the world.

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