Our small group stands around the grave of Tehilla Nathansen, may her blood be avenged, bent over the books of Psalms in our hands. It is a year after her brutal murder. The sizzling sun beats down on our heads as our hot tears course down our cheeks. We could never have envisioned a scene such as this prior to the 22nd of Av (August 19th) of last year. Who would have dreamed that our very own closest and dearest would become "victims of terror"? Living with the nightmare of the Intifada for nearly four years never made it something that could happen to us.
The heat I feel in the cemetery is intense, but nothing to compare with the heat of the flames of a bombed out bus. My pain at losing a granddaughter is deep, rivalling the pain and the horror of hearing that my daughter Chany and her entire family were on that bus #2 coming back from the Western Wall. Where was I then, and where am I now? Where was Chany, her husband Metanya and their three children then compared to where they are now? In truth, I can only thank God for the miracles He performed for us and the healing He bestowed upon us. And even though we have lost Tehilla, we know she is dwelling in one of the loftiest places in Gan Eden.
Standing at the grave site, presented with a puzzling aspect of God's compassion, my mind tries to fathom what it is exactly that He is trying to tell us.
I will always remember Tehilla with love and longing, a sweet and precious child not yet three years old. At the same time, I will never forget that God is good and that our loving Father is taking care of us every step of the way. As the holy words are intoned "Keil moleh rachamim -- Almighty One, full of compassion" my mouth speaks Your praise.
Standing at the grave site, presented with a puzzling aspect of God's compassion, my mind tries to fathom what it is exactly that He is trying to tell us. The Almighty doesn't "punish" in the typical sense of the word. He sends us travail to chastise and educate us. God's way of retribution is midah keneged midah, measure for measure. He educates by pointing out our flaws through the so-called punishments He sends us. Sometimes we heed His message and sometimes we don't.
Sometimes He taps on the door and we open immediately. But sometimes He taps and we don't open. It might be that our house is on fire, and in that case, He knocks loudly to get our attention. If there is still no response, He then bangs with all His might. But if we are in a spiritual coma and don't hear Him, He has no choice but to break down the door and throw us out the window lest we burn to a crisp in the conflagration and go lost forever. He throws us out the window and, oh, how much it hurts! But He does it to save us.
I continue to wonder: Why did He choose a suicide bomber to teach us, to educate us, and not some natural catastrophe? And what is it we have to learn about ourselves through the scourge of terrorism? It is of the utmost urgency that we get the message. I had been grappling with this question the whole past year.
I had no small list of "messages for life" that I had learned from the piguah, the terror bombing. As soon as we were released from the hospital last summer and came home to Zichron Yaakov, I began speaking to women's groups and in the girls' schools about our experience. I talked about all the wonderful things that had taken place right after the bombing. There were the countless acts of kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God's name, that came about through the many interviews we had with the media, and through our interaction with hospital staff and anyone else we came in contact with. I had been witness to limitless acts of chesed, loving kindness, from so many people, too numerous to recount. I had felt intensely the achdus, the bonding and togetherness, of acheinu Bnei Yisrael, of our brothers and sisters of the holy nation of Israel. We still had to learn the valuable lesson of how to actualize this unity in the 'good' times of our life, and not only experience it in times of crises. But, even so, there was that amazing feeling of all of us pulling together as one family after the bombing. Indeed, I could write an entire book on the positive outcomes of the piguah.
Lessons and messages from the Almighty -- I had plenty of them to think about and to internalize into my life. But there is something else, something beyond the obvious. I come back to that frightening question: What is it about terrorism that points out our flaws?
What is it exactly that makes a person turn into a suicide bomber? I never lived in their society, but it's no secret that the 'volunteers' are brainwashed into doing what they do. The style of education of their youth has been videotaped and recorded for all to see; it merely takes a few clicks of the mouse as one browses the Internet to uncover their hate campaign.
Their leaders' words build up images of holy martyrdom in the minds of the youth. They are taught that the more they hurt, maim and kill their 'enemies,' the holier will they become. The evil words have the ability to create a longing, an aspiration in the young and vulnerable minds to attain that honored place in heaven that is awarded the suicide bomber. And one by one, the brainwashed killers commit to do the barbaric act that their perverted minds call an act of heroism. Words and images have the power to do that!
Words of tumah, evil impurity, and the images they create have the power to destroy, to bring destruction onto innocents. If we go back to the maxim of midah keneged midah, measure for measure, this must be telling us that we are deficient in the way we are using our words. Otherwise the evil words of the enemy would not have the power to harm us.
We know that words have the ability to build as well as destroy. Our sages have explained to us that the reason God created the world with amirot, with sayings, is to teach us a fundamental message. Was it necessary for God to say, "Let there be light"? Could He not have merely willed it to be? But ten times He said, "Let there be... Let there be..." to teach us that words have the power to build and create.
On the positive side we can use our mouths to give tehilla, praise, to God. We can use our mouths to pray to Him, to learn His holy Torah and to calm our troubled minds with the healing words of Psalms. We have the ability to give words of love and comfort to those more unfortunate than ourselves. We can give thanks and words of appreciation to others for their kind deeds done to us. We can strengthen others with words of hope; guide others with words of wisdom and advice. We can express empathy as others spill their woes into our listening ears. Through our words we can build within our fellow Jew the belief that he is worthwhile, that all he does makes a difference in the eyes of God and, literally, affects the world. There is no end to the beautiful and constructive usages of our words.
But, are we not perhaps guilty of using our God-given ability of speech in negative ways as well? Much has been written about the destructive powers of lashon harah, evil speech. Since the Chofetz Chaim has awakened us to the need for watching our tongues we have made great strides forward in this area. Many books have been written and learning programs begun to aid us in achieving this goal. Today, thank God, there are communities in which one would be ashamed to speak lashon harah for fear of antagonizing his listeners and bringing a rain of protest upon his head.
Perhaps there are those of us who are guilty of certain kind of terrorism, a terrorism caused by words?
Yet, it seems the movement has not spread quite enough. Apparently there are still too many Jews who have not eliminated evil speech from their vocabularies, who are still guilty of ona'as devorim, of paining people with words.
My mind takes me a step further. Perhaps there are those of us who are guilty of certain kind of terrorism, a terrorism caused by words? Could it be that the physical terrorist that is destroying us is a manifestation of the emotional terrorist that exists amongst ourselves?
Who is an emotional terrorist? I remind myself of something I had read. Dr. Miriam Adahan explains in her article "Dealing with Emotional Terrorism":
When we think of terrorism, we usually think of suicide bombers and other such heinous criminals. Just as dangerous are the emotional terrorists (ETs) who work at a more subtle level, destroying people's hearts and minds. A murderer destroys bodies, while ETs are "identity thieves," out to destroy people's sense of self-worth. To do so, they use four main weapons: intimidation, shame, guilt and confusion. They are everywhere, including our homes, schools and places of work. APD (Abusive Personality Syndrome) is a terrible disease, a kind of spiritual SARS, infecting everyone who comes in contact with them. Victims often suffer auto-immune illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, lupus, MS or cancer... ETs often seem perfectly fine to outsiders. They may be the oh-so-friendly chaps in shul, the charismatic community leaders. You'd never know that at home, they erupt in violent explosions, relentlessly stalking their victims (usually their spouse or children) with devastating criticism, threats and false accusations against the people they are supposed to love and cherish.
The first step in this battle is to name the illness and identify the signs of this disease. Although we can all display these traits at times, the person with APD does so with greater frequency and intensity.
Yes, I conclude bitterly to myself, our society does suffer from emotional terrorism. Focusing on Tehilla's grave I see so graphically what the Almighty wants of us. "Rid yourselves of the terrorist within your midst and then the terrorist from without will have no power to harm you!" At that moment a commitment forms itself within my heart. I would work on ridding myself of any vestige of emotional terrorism that I might harbor within. I would work towards building people, rather than knocking them down, with my words. I would begin a campaign to eliminate the Emotional Terrorist from within my circle of acquaintances in whichever way I had at my disposal. I would work on educating the people I knew and had influence upon to join me in my quest.
At the same time as I was purifying my mouth from any taint of terrorism I would use that precious vessel as it was meant to be used -- for divinity. The words I choose to use would be ones that would uplift myself and others and bring us closer to God. I may not be able to maintain that level 24 hours a day, but enough of the time for me to feel that God is proud of the way I am using my words.
The sun is still fierce in its intensity, but I had not felt the discomfort during my reverie. I am suddenly comforted in a small way. I knew from the first moment that Tehilla's death was not in vain, but now I know so on a deeper and more profound level. It has become a catalyst to educate and to move me in a very specific direction.
Tehilla, your name was given to you prophetically by your parents, for it represents your essence. Your death has brought the meaning of your name, praise, into the forefront of my consciousness.
Tehillat Hashem yedabeir pi -- forever more shall my mouth speak Your praise (Psalms 145).