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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2001 / 9 Tishrei 5762

Don Feder

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The Divine amidst the rubble -- ON Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown this evening, Jews are called upon to reflect on our deeds of the past year. Besides examining the contents of our own hearts, in light of our national nightmare, it's well to contemplate the nature of evil in the world.

Interviewers are trained to ask dumb questions. (They actually teach a course on this in journalism school.) So, I wasn't surprised to hear a radio reporter ask a priest, "How do you respond to the people who say they can't believe in a G-d who would allow something like the World Trade Center bombing?"

The good padre responded simply that there is evil in the world -- something our grandparents understood without being told.

Either G-d exists or He does not. "How can I believe in a G-d who lets ... the Holocaust happen, a child die of cancer, (fill in the blank)?" What are you going to do, punish G-d for not having made the world according to your specifications by refusing to believe in Him?

Why is there evil in the world? Why is there greed, lust, bigotry, envy, violence?

As G-d said to Job, "If you understood me, you'd be me."

A subcategory of doubt concerns the faith of the terrorists. We are reminded that the hijackers probably prayed to G-d as their planes slammed into the World Trade Center.

Yes, and the guards at Auschwitz went to church on Sunday. For hundreds of years, Europeans burned at the stake those they called heretic due to doctrinal difference over where authority lay in the Christian church.

While faith aspires toward heaven, religious institutions are worldly and so fallible and prone to corruption. The Nazis killed in the name of patriotism; communists in the name of compassion (liberating the downtrodden). Are their crimes indictments of these virtues?

On some college campuses, there's an intellectual rein of terror underway in the guise of promoting tolerance. The culprits are those who march in jackboots under the banner of diversity, not the concept of forbearance.

When G-d gave mankind free will, he created the possibility of evil. It is free will that makes Auschwitz, gulags, killing fields and the horror of Sept. 11 possible.

Would you prefer a world in which the Golden Rule was programmed into our genetic code in such a way that it could not be overridden? But then people wouldn't be people as we know them, but robots. Without choice, morality is impossible.

The same free will that makes horror possible, makes heaven possible. Hitler and Osama bin Laden chose their paths, so did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler.

A world without cruelty would also be a world without caresses -- without love, friendship, service and kindness, without romance, poetry, songs and smiles, without Michelangelo, Mozart, the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire's feet, Judy Garland's voice, and Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.

When we were children, G-d took us by the hand and led us to virtue. ("He guideth me in straight paths.") He gave us a book filed with guidance, an instruction manual for the universe, that showed us how to avoid the ugliness around us and nurture the good.

If we choose to ignore His instruction -- worse yet, to pervert His words -- is He to blame?

The secular have difficulty with the vale-of-tears worldview -- that we were put on this planet for more than cable TV and Internet shopping. But what else makes sense?

In the last letter to his mother, a British airman who died in World War II wrote: "The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. ... Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace."

Which brings us back to what Jews call the Day of Atonement -- a time of reflection and judgment.

All deeds are seen and thoughts are known. G-d does not directly intervene to save those on a doomed flight or in a targeted building. But He comforts the bereaved. He takes the victims to an eternal abode. And He punishes those who mar His creation.

As a rabbi who lost his entire family in the Holocaust said: "For believers, there are no questions. For skeptics, there are no answers." Hey, that even fits in a sound bite.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate