This has been a complicated and dramatic week. Since late Sunday night we have struggled to understand the facts, comprehend the implications, and process an avalanche of emotions, commentaries, judgments and predictions in the aftermath of the elimination of Osama Bin Laden.
In a situation such as this, I believe that our tradition guides us to circumspection and the integrity of embracing conflicting emotions. When Pharaoh's troops were drowned in the sea as they pursued the escaping Israelite slaves, our ancestors turned around, saw that they were safe and burst into a song of praise to God who had redeemed them from Egytian slavery. At the same time, the Midrash teaches us, God would not allow the angels above to sing along with the Israelites . . . because in the drowning of that murderous Egyptian army God's own creatures lost their lives. So let us acknowledge the justice of the taking of the life of Osama Bin Laden. Let us mourn those whose lives he destroyed. And let us accept the sad reality that one of God's creatures used the free will given to him by God to choose a life of evil.
I was deeply moved by an essay written by a colleague of mine. Rabbi Arnie Resnicoff His military career began in the rivers of Vietnam's Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence in Europe, before his decision to attend rabbinical school, at the urging of a Protestant Chaplain in Vietnam. Following ordination as a rabbi, he served with the Navy for almost 25 additional years as a U.S. Navy Chaplain. After retiring from the military, his positions included appointments as National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee and Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary (SECAF) and Chief of Staff (CSAF) of the United States Air Force, serving at the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General.
Rabbi Resnicoff generously granted me permission to share with you a few excerpts from the essay he posted to the closed e-mail list of Conservative/Masorti rabbis:
I would say that looking for one man, hidden by others, who could be anywhere in the world, is not just like looking for a needle in a hay stack, it is looking for a needle in some haystack among many haystacks, with all those haystacks actively taking steps to hide the needle (among other needles) and putting out "needle disinformation" at the same time. President after President used our forces to find this man, and I praise them all for their efforts, and I praise them -- along with President Obama -- for showing that despite those who believe that America will never be there for the long haul, we have the courage, the know-how, and ultimately, the heart, to continue the fight despite the odds -- and ultimately to win. In some ways, finding Bin Laden was more difficult that achieving President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon. We should not be taken in by TV shows and films that give false images to the contrary, just as we should not be taken in by those TV shows or films that show war as clean or romantic.
I praised the Israelis whose courage and expertise touched our hearts during the Entebbe raid, and I am grateful that our leaders, beginning with President Obama, are praising the Americans in our military -- and in organizations like the CIA, who worked alongside the military -- to make this operation a success. I knew nothing of this operation until the news broke last night, but it is obvious that our leaders, beginning with the President, exercised an almost unbelievable amount of patience, waiting to be sure that the mission would be a success. When the Seals learned that their rescue helicopter had crashed -- and so, if they continued with the mission, they might not have any escape route -- they did not hesitate, and continued to bring Bin Laden down. We will hear further stories of heroism and courage -- physical courage and moral courage -- as the story of this mission is shared. It is a time to be proud of our military today, even as we recognize that it is far from perfect. We can rejoice today, and continue to work on the problems tomorrow.
When I went from Naval Intelligence to JTS, I used to joke that I had traded in my clearance from "top secret" to "top sacred." As a former Intelligence officer, I take special pride in the role of intelligence officers in this success. But as a former chaplain -- and still a rabbi -- I do offer a blessing for what has happened. Perhaps the blessing should be one as simple as the shehekhiyanu, giving thanks that I have lived long enough to see even a portion of justice done when it comes to a monster like Bin Laden, and perhaps -- because I know enough about the military and the intelligence world to understand the difficulties involved -- at least an echo of the Hanukka blessings, where we remember both the miracles of the past, and the miracles we witness today.
Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff