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Forestalling the Stage of Acceptance

Forestalling the Stage of Acceptance

It would be tragic to accept the crisis in Israel as a normal part of reality.


Something is terribly wrong with us. Yes, deep down, we are all worried and grief-stricken over the horrible violence in Israel. Yet, if you look around, we don’t seem terribly shaken upon hearing news of the latest terror killings. We take comfort in knowing that this time, “only four people” were killed. We get a bit more upset when the casualty count is higher, but our lives quickly return to normal.

As I write these words, Israel is reeling from another heinous attack that killed three soldiers. Strangely, here in America, I didn’t hear anyone talking about this tragedy. No one seemed outwardly moved or deeply saddened. This was apparently viewed as “just another attack.”

How could it be? How could it be that over 700 Jews have been killed by Arabs, and we are not moved to cry, to pray better, to finally hear the call for repentance?

The answer is quite simple and quite frightening. We are resilient to a fault. We can get used to virtually anything. We are very much like the boiling lobsters.

Like the lobster, we have become so used to Jews getting murdered in Israel that we hardly blink anymore.

The most efficient way to kill lobsters is to take live lobsters and drop them into cool water, and then slowly increase the temperature of the water until it reaches boiling point. This way the lobster doesn't notice the water becoming hotter until it's too late. Had the lobster been placed initially in boiling water, it would have fought with all its might to jump out.

Like the lobster, we have become so used to Jews getting murdered in Israel that we hardly blink anymore.

We all remember Rosh Hashana 2000, when the violence had just begun and how scared we were. The heightened awareness in our prayers was easily perceptible. Who doesn’t recall the fright we all felt when the soldiers were lynched in Ramallah? Each shooting attack on Gilo made us shudder. Remember the summer of 2001 when so many lectures and events were dedicated to the memory of “73 Jews murdered”? And now, we have close to 10 times more!

The question is: Did we pray with more feeling then, at the beginning of this horrible ordeal, or now, after 15,000 terror attacks? It seems that so many of us have reached a stage of acceptance, which has largely removed any sense of mourning, grief, and emotion.


Many of us are familiar with the “four stages of grief” which psychotherapists use to help patients: Denial, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance. Most of us have experienced the first three of these stages in relating to the crisis in Israel. In the beginning, we were in denial, we then became depressed at the gravity of the tragedies, and we were definitely angry at the Arab terrorists. Under regular circumstances, a normal and healthy grief process concludes with acceptance, which enables the mourner to continue and move on with his life. This is vital for any mourner.

But for us to accept the situation in Israel, to stop feeling the reality of the pain, would be the biggest tragedy of all. Unfortunately, we are showing some signs of reaching this dreaded stage.

We sense that we are living in the most dangerous time period for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. The terror has no end in sight, and all the diplomatic and military solutions have failed to stop the attacks. Yes, we must be thankful to God for the hundreds of attacks that were supposed to happen but were thwarted. But, as we are aware, God does not directly bring terrorist attacks. They are the results of man’s free will used for evil.

Why does God sometimes allow the terrorists to succeed? He does so to inspire us to return to Him, to cry out to Him, to improve our service of Him, and to realize we need Him.

As Maimonides (Laws of Fast Days 1:1-3) writes: “It is a biblical commandment to cry out to God whenever a crisis develops. This is one of the paths of repentance. When tragedy strikes, and we turn to God in prayer, knowing clearly that our failings and misdeeds have permitted the crisis to occur and are the reasons why God has not saved us, these prayers and cries will cause the removal of the crisis.” (paraphrased)

This is the purpose of turning to God for deliverance and salvation. We need God to save us, and our spiritual growth brings God’s protection.

If we accept the murders in Israel as a reality of our existence, and fail to let them shake us to our core and improve our spirituality, we squander the opportunity to ultimately end the killings in Israel.


What is the solution?

The Talmud in Brachot 32b says: “Four items require strengthening: Torah study, good deeds, prayer, and integrity in the workplace.” The Sages are teaching that in order to succeed in these four areas, we must always increase our intensity for them. But why are only these four items listed? Don’t all the commandments require strengthening and increased intensity?

The answer would appear to be the following. No rabbi needs to give a sermon in order to inspire his community to eat matzah on Passover. And no rabbi feels compelled to tell his congregants about the importance of coming to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Why not? Because rituals that occur once a year have a dramatic, emotional, even sentimental appeal to us. Strengthening the intensity for such mitzvot is unnecessary. It comes naturally.

On the other hand, Torah study, good deeds, prayer, and integrity in the workplace are challenges we face every day. Anything that we do constantly will automatically and necessarily fail to carry a natural intensity. We know intellectually that Torah study is of supreme importance, and that every word of our prayers has the power to change reality, but it’s hard to maintain these actions without growing stale to them. Anything that we do all the days of our lives, all the time, loses its drama and glory.

This is exactly the issue the Talmud is addressing. The only way is to constantly inspire oneself. As Rashi there explains: “A person must continuously strengthen himself with all his energy.” There are two keys that Rashi mentions: continuity, and with all one’s energy.

In order to succeed in the four areas the Talmud lists, there must be a daily, continuous, concerted, and energetic effort to inspire oneself. Passion will not happen by itself.

In our tumultuous time period, it seems that we need to add a fifth item to the Talmud’s list: Remembering the Crisis in Israel.

Similarly, the constant violence in Israel has made us lose sensitivity to the tragedy. We have become “used to” Jews dying on a regular basis. We therefore fail to become shocked when hearing of these tragedies. Only through daily strengthening, as the Talmud suggests, can we maintain the proper emotion of grief. And only through continual reminders will we strive for spiritual improvement in order to help prevent the attacks.

In our tumultuous time period, it seems that we need to add a fifth item to the Talmud’s list: Remembering the Crisis in Israel. We must, on a daily basis, set aside time (even if only for a brief moment) to reflect on the scope of the tragedies, on the hundreds of dead, on the thousands of serious and permanent injuries, on all the grieving families, and on ways we can improve and grow in order to create merits to earn God’s protection.

Whether it is praying with more intensity, performing a special daily kindness, being more careful in the workplace, or an extra Torah study session, we have all accepted things upon ourselves in order to create merits as a result of the tragedies in Israel. What we now need is to monitor ourselves and make sure we are continuously and consistently performing this growth with all our energy and effort.

And if after all this, we still cannot muster the strength to feel the full extent of the tragedies, we run the terrible risk of accepting the crisis as a normal part of our reality. And if God forbid that were to occur, is that not itself the biggest reason to cry?

February 8, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Patty, February 16, 2003 12:00 AM

Be strong and of good courage

Next Moshe summoned Y'hoshua and, in the sight of Isra'el, said to him, " "Be strong, be bold, for you are going with this people into the land Adonai swore unto their ancestors he would give them. You wil be the one causing them to inherit it. But Adonai -it is he who will go ahead of you. He will be with you. He will neither fail you or abandon you, so dont be afraid or downhearted."

Israel you are so very brave. Look at the horrors you have come out and such recent statehood in May 1948, a very short time, barely a life span, less then 60 years. Look at how G-d has blessed you, see how the land has embraced you and budded since your arrival. A once barren land truly flows with " milk and honey" with all fruits and olives and grapes and vineyards. You have shuls and schools and hospitals and business, you have worked so very hard to make a better life for our children and G-d has truly blessed you abundantly. And still in a time of turmoil you get up every day and you put one foot in front of the other perhaps a bit unsure of what the future holds or maybe even what the day will bring. I want to encourage you today to remain strong and of good courage, if you can not look ahead with cetainties, look behind you, look at the past 60 years, look how far you have come and how G-d has shone his favor on you. The past two years have been very painful, but still better then horrors that led up to 1948. I thank G-d for your bravery and your accomplishments and all the blessings he has bestowed upon you as you worked so very hard. The last 2 years have been almost unbearable but just keep in mind mishpachah, this to shall pass. The L-rd bless you and keep you, know that you are loved.

(11) helene, February 15, 2003 12:00 AM

American press

Unfortunately, as I read the daily local paper, the murder of a couple of Israelis does not merit as particularly newsworthy...guess it doesn't bleed enough to excite the public. However, I always notice almost daily articles referencing the plight of the Palistinians, and their "treatment" by the IDF. Anti Semitism is still rampant in our press.

(10) Anonymous, February 15, 2003 12:00 AM

very to the point but still touching

it was really touching and i really liked it alot! u know its like an awakenig it really makes me think!

(9) andrea, February 15, 2003 12:00 AM

acceptance does not mean endorsement

it is my opinion that only through acceptance can any peace be born, however acceptance is not endorsement. acceptance is simply my way of accepting that g-d's will is what it is, and that it is exactly what it is meant to be. who am i to question it? i do not know better than g-d...

acceptance however, does not mean that i am not free to take action to change the things i can change. to take action in whatever way necessary.

to put it this way...if one finds out one has cancer, one must accept that this is the case. one does not have to like it, but if one does not accept it, why would one get treatment? one does not have to accept that one is going to die, one might decide to fight, but without acceptance, how can one make those decisions?

to me, acceptance is not a bad thing. acceptance means that one understands what is going on, that one is aligning one's will with g-d, and that ultimately, no matter what happens, g-d will decide and it will be exactly as it is.

(8) Anonymous, February 13, 2003 12:00 AM

The Frightening Apathy...

I agree very much with this article and it just strengthens my point of view that something must change - especially in Israel - otherwise the whole situation might become even worse..
People live in the 'Eretz Kedusha' but they have forgotten that in order for this land to be a blessing not a curse they must behave according to its rules...Unfortunatelly the more and more I see just apathy instead of admitting that perhaps there is something wrong...

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