An Address on September 11, 2002

The word for compassion has existed since the first language; so has the temptation to kill; and it is the struggle between these two capabilities, we can call them the higher and lower man, that is really the history of mankind.

We know in our bones that when we kill, we must inevitably pay for what we have taken. We try to bargain down the consequences or rationalize the effects by prayer, atonement (i.e., catharsis) ,or animal sacrifice. Our ultimate bloodletting attempt to restore the social order has been and continues to be selective human sacrifice.

But when you sow the wind you reap the whirlwind.

We are all familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac; it is in our annual Rosh
Hashanah Torah portion. Abraham sacrificed his son. That the angel stayed his
knife-stroke is our later Biblical interpolation to show the end of human— and the
substitution of animal— sacrifice, or the beginning of conscience.

The real story is between the lines. As they approach the altar, it is very plain that Abraham knows exactly how to perform the ritual. He ties Isaac's hands and feet and places him on the altar, which already had twigs and firewood for the fire. The Bible doesn't say that this is what happened in the past; but the implication is that Abraham is the symbol of a changed covenant, where the human sacrifice no longer has to die.

But human sacrifice has continued down to our own time, in fact has been brought to mechanical perfection by modern political weaponry. For an historical proof we need not look beyond our own Jewish experience where we were the sacrifice in massacres, pogroms, and WW II. Substitute in women, black people, Indians or Chinese in our national American history..

The proximity of violence is always below the surface of daily American life. Just look around us and see murder glorified as catharsis, dominating our popular literature and imagination, constantly percolating the subliminal message on the television, the pulpit, and especially on the political stage, that might PROTECTS right, or in other words that the evil of killing actually restores the social order and leads to good.

This contradicts the wisdom of every religion. We express that wisdom in Judaism with the saying of Hillel, when he saw a dead soldier floating down a river: "You have killed and have been killed, and he that killed you, he too will be killed."

Ruling groups have successfuly instilled the fear that, without sacrificing the blood of humanity, usually of the innocent and young, who most believe in their elders, we cannot have social order. So there is a schizophrenic split between our wisdom and this cultivated temptation to kill, running loose and unbalanced in the world. It hit very close to home last year.

We mourn those innocent lives, sacrificed when a group of alienated Arabs used murder as a symbolic religious act to achieve their ethnic dignity and revenge. (It is obscure at this moment why so many things went wrong with our national defense procedures that permitted this crime.)

Immediately and in turn, our ruling group stirred sufficient fear and hysteria in a traumatized population to take revenge in a distant starving land, Afghanistan. Neutral observers have estimated 5,000 non-combatants were killed in their homes, courtyards, and on roads they ran down trying to escape a million to one firepower.

Now, non-combatants is a euphemism; let us say innocents; and in innocence there is no greater or lesser. In America and Afghanistan, skyscrapers and mud huts, all the massacred people were innocent.

And all these actions, the killing and the vengeance, we know instinctively, are far from any moral source, because we know what murder is and what scapegoating is. By co-incidence, or maybe it isn't co-incidence, our Yom Kippur service describes scapegoating: placing the burden of collective guilt upon a convenient target and condemning it to death.

This is animal sacrifice, in which the ancients substituted their best unblemished possessions instead of themselves to clear their sins. (We won't look into the question of whether we own other nations and peoples and may therefore dispose of them as chattel.)

The distinction between the archetype of Abraham and the modern parable we have just witnessed remains starkly clear, that Abraham sacrificed HIS son; Jepthah in Kings 11 sacrificed HIS beloved daughter, just then coming into womanhood, and the two innocents accepted death, believing that it would lead to a better world or the survival of their community. And that was awful. But we in our time are witnesses to something at once more cowardly and more horrible, the sacrifice on two continents of
thousands of innocent strangers, robbed of their lives and bodies, robbed of their names and individualities to maintain an ever more bloody social order.

And we, the survivors, also have been robbed, of our human role to fully mourn the dead and advance the human.

Grief in the collective psyche is wholesome--it means to reflect and understand, to seek and apply wisdom, to put to rest the souls and carry forward the power of the dead, and of their death, because the power of death can last a long time in terms of its impact on the living.

Much of this human instinct to grieve has been utilized by the present government, one could say vulgarized or blasphemed, for political gain. Any constructive grief we might have achieved since our countrymen were immolated has been politically capitalized into mob revenge, from which we know there can come no peace and no restoration of the social order.

It falls to us to clarify that human sacrifice is godless and benighted; that animal sacrifice--and dehumanized humans are degraded to animal sacrifice— is a sin in the Hebrew sense of the word--the wrong path; that peace is achievable by human means; and that manufactured war spectacles which both excite and dupe the mass imagination are living manifestations of fascism parading as patriotism.

It also falls to us to reclaim rightful grief, and I dare to say that we have fitfully slept every night and mourned every day since those atrocities were set in motion: We speak in our own names now and for the sacrificed innocents, who continue to speak with us, though without a voice.

Mankind is fully capable of dealing with the enormous powers of destruction we have fearfully created, and which reverberate as potential within us all. There is no need to despair or to look to the future for some solution. We need only be true to the higher self. For when we are true, we comfort the dead and inspire the unborn.

Y'verechah Adonoi v'yeesh m'rechah; yah-air Adonoi pahvav ailechah vee'choonechah. Yee-sah Adonoi pahvav ailechah v'yahsahyim l'chah shalom.

May the generations of Holy Light bless and keep you, become as a countenance to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, and forever turn to you and give you Peace. And let us say, Amen.

WJ Ray

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