This past week I read a moving story about the children of 9/11. The story focused on a group of children who were still inside of their mother’s womb when their fathers tragically passed away on September 11, 2001. I was incredibly stirred by this article. What struck me the most was the way each of these children, now nine years old (almost 10), and their mothers had moved on living life to the fullest of their ability all in different ways.
Each and every one of us could tell some story related to 9/11. For some of us it hit extremely close to home as we may have known a relative or friend who was killed on that dreadful day. For others, we may have been thousands of miles away, but still felt the pain of those who were affected by this tragedy.
Each year since 9/11, I always study with curiosity which parasha falls in the week leading up to 9/11 and I try to find some nexus. This week is Parashat Ki Tetzei in which more laws are given than any other parsha throughout the entire year. The focus is much deeper than just a large subset of laws (74 to be exact). The focus of most of these laws is on the family, on preserving life.
The goal of these laws in our parsha is to foster survival, even in the face of unenviable hardship or evil. God wants us to persevere and be strong for each other and grow in our relationships.
There is a story, told by Rabbi Akiva of the Talmud, about a fox, who was once walking alongside a river, and he saw fish going in swarms from one place to another. He said to the fish: “From what are you fleeing?” The fish replied: “From the nets cast for us by humans.” The fox said to them, “Would you like to come up on dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors?” The fish replied, “Are you really the one they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever, but foolish! If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more so in the element in which we would die! So it is with us, says the Talmud. ‘To us Jews,’ concluded Rabbi Akiva, “Torah is our life, just as water is to the fish. If we are in danger in our natural habitat, how much greater will our danger be if we abandon it?”
On this Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, our prayer should be that each of us will muster the strength and resolve to continue living not out of fear, but out of the renewed commitment to democratic and religious freedom. We pray that despite the human acts of terror, each of us can transmit God's love and sheltering presence in the healing we bring to one another throughout this lingering ordeal.
As we prepare to remember those who fell unjustly right in our own “backyard” 10 years ago, let us pray that their memory is forever a beacon of instruction and inspiration: let us vow to live our lives to the fullest. Let us remember the concepts in Ki Tetzei: family, preserving life, and faith in God.
This week, we remember, but as we also prepare for the High Holidays, we learn to be comforted and to continue to do our best to help heal the world we live in.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham