The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought home the horror of terrorism. The strikes not only hit the financial and military nerve centers in America, revealing a gaping hole of vulnerability, but we witnessed the unimaginable nightmare upfront, as images - deeply disturbing and spellbinding at once - were broadcast live around the world. We were also privy to heart-wrenching final moments between loved ones trapped in the office tower and hijacked planes. The atrocity was so enormous it staggers the mind. And it was so intimate as well -- a personal family tragedy replayed over five thousand times.
President Bush is now preparing America for war against the forces of evil that pose the greatest external threat it has faced in 50 years. With the advent of Yom Kippur, Jews across the globe are preparing for an additional war with a relentless enemy who has no state, who knows our greatest weakness and who has infiltrated our ranks – the war against evil within oneself. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the 10 Days of Teshuva. This is the most auspicious time during the year to wage the definitive battle against our moral failings and self-destructive tendencies that disconnect us from our spiritual center, drawing us away from God.
Let's apply the steps President Bush and the American government have taken in gearing up for "the new war" on terrorism to the personal war against the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination.
Here are some of the lessons I have drawn. Feel free to share your own additional insights.
1. "It's War, Not a Crime." If we excuse our moral weakness and think deep down "it's not so bad," we are not serious about undertaking the fight. We need to view it as an intolerable outrage; not a minor misdemeanor. This is war.
2. Determine the Culprit, and Hold Harboring Nations Responsible. In order to wage war, we need to pinpoint the enemy and determine who exactly is responsible. What is the root cause of the behavior you want to eliminate? Without some serious introspection, quite often the core of the problem can remain hidden under a pile of secondary issues. Make sure you attack the real culprit.
It's not enough to go after the guilty party; we need to hold the harboring nations accountable as well. These are the external circumstances that are conducive to violating our moral standards and create a temptation to stumble. Eradicate the accomplices.
3. Invest Significant Resources for Attack. Are you ready to call up 50,000 reserves and spend 40 billion dollars? Real change requires massive effort. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to win.
Forget the band-aids. Teshuva is about the total commitment to make an everlasting change.
4. Put Together a Coalition. Don't fight alone; enlist some help. Work with a friend in developing a certain character trait. Find an insightful teacher who can share his or her wisdom that will help you grow.
5. Don't Stop Until Terror Is Uprooted. Teshuva, repentance, is about the total commitment to make an everlasting change. Forget the band-aids. This is a war that isn't going to stop until the evil has been vanquished. That means it is going to be a long, sustained effort. Victory isn't going to come overnight. Genuine growth takes years of steadfast exertion. Don't stop until you've actually won the battle.
6. Celebrate Victories and Heroes Even in the midst of war we must stop to celebrate the acts of heroism and moments of victory. You succeeded in resisting the urge to make a jibe at your co-worker or lash out at your kids? Take pleasure in the moment -- it's a small act of heroism. This gives us the renewed strength to carry on fighting, and to stay focused on the true good that we are valiantly struggling to live by.
We are surrounded by enemies, both inside and out. May the Almighty give us the wisdom, determination and strength to vanquish them all.