Thursday, September 12, 2002

This article is from

While you may have seen this already, I thought it was right to share it. I thought this is a perfect sentiment for the day.
Submitted by Ted Perzesty.

Noah and 9/11

September 11, 2002

Over the past year several friends have remarked to me how
much they still feel a pit in their stomachs from 9/11. One
even said she felt as if this was the beginning of the end
of the world. And no wonder. Those suicide hijackings were
such an evil act that they shattered your faith in human
beings and in the wall of civilization that was supposed to
constrain the worst in human behavior. There is now a big
jagged hole in that wall.

What to do? For guidance, I turned to one of my mentors,
Rabbi Tzvi Marx, who teaches in the Netherlands. He offered
me a biblical analogy. "To some extent," said Tzvi, "we
feel after 9/11 like we have experienced the flood of Noah
- as if a flood has inundated our civilization and we are
the survivors. What do we do the morning after?"

The story of Noah has a lot to offer. "What was the first
thing Noah did when the flood waters receded and he got off
the ark?" asked Tzvi. "He planted a vine, made wine and got
drunk." Noah's first response to the flood's devastation of
humanity, and the challenge he now faced, was to numb
himself to the world.

"But what was God's reaction to the flood?" asked Tzvi.
"Just the opposite. God's reaction was to offer Noah a more
detailed set of rules for mankind to live by - rules which
we now call the Noahite laws. His first rule was that life
is precious, so man should not murder man." (These Noahite
laws were later expanded to include prohibitions against
idolatry, adultery, blasphemy and theft.)

It's interesting - you would have thought that after wiping
out humanity with a devastating flood, God's first
post-flood act wouldn't have been to teach that all life is
precious. But it was. Said Tzvi: "It is as though God said,
`Now I understand what I'm up against with these humans. I
need to set for them some very clear boundaries of
behavior, with some very clear values and norms, that they
can internalize.' "

And that is where the analogy with today begins. After the
deluge of 9/11 we have two choices: We can numb ourselves
to the world, and plug our ears, or we can try to repair
that jagged hole in the wall of civilization by insisting,
more firmly and loudly than ever, on rules and norms - both
for ourselves and for others.

"God, after the flood, refused to let Noah and his
offspring indulge themselves in escapism," said Tzvi, "but
he also refused to give them license to live without moral
boundaries, just because humankind up to that point had

The same applies to us. Yes, we must kill the murderers of
9/11, but without becoming murderers and without simply
indulging ourselves. We must defend ourselves - without
throwing out civil liberties at home, without barring every
Muslim student from this country, without forgetting what a
huge shadow a powerful America casts over the world and how
it can leave people feeling powerless, and without telling
the world we're going to do whatever we want because there
has been a flood and now all bets are off.

Because imposing norms and rules on ourselves gives us the
credibility to demand them from others. It gives us the
credibility to demand the rule of law, religious tolerance,
consensual government, self-criticism, pluralism, women's
rights and respect for the notion that my grievance,
however deep, does not entitle me to do anything to anyone

It gives us the credibility to say to the Muslim world:
Where have you been since 9/11? Where are your voices of
reason? You humbly open all your prayers in the name of a
God of mercy and compassion. But when members of your
faith, acting in the name of Islam, murdered Americans or
committed suicide against "infidels," your press extolled
them as martyrs and your spiritual leaders were largely
silent. Other than a few ritual condemnations, they offered
no outcry in their mosques; they drew no new moral red
lines in their schools. That's a problem, because if there
isn't a struggle within Islam - over norms and values -
there is going to be a struggle between Islam and us.

In short, numbing ourselves to the post-9/11 realities will
not work. Military operations, while necessary, are not
sufficient. Building higher walls may feel comforting, but
in today's interconnected world they're an illusion. Our
only hope is that people will be restrained by internal
walls - norms and values. Visibly imposing them on
ourselves, and loudly demanding them from others, is the
only viable survival strategy for our shrinking planet.

Otherwise, start building an ark.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company