The horrific events of September 11 ought to serve as an urgent call for the Jewish people to reclaim its mission statement articulated at the moment our faith was born, 3800 years ago.
How did the Jewish faith come into existence?
The Midrash describes the birth of Judaism with the following cryptic parable:
The Lord said to Abraham, “Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house.” To what may this be compared? To a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a palace in flames. He wondered, “Is it possible that the palace lacks an owner?” The owner of the palace looked out and said, “I am the owner of the palace.” So Abraham our father said, “Is it possible that the world lacks a ruler?” G-d looked out and said to him, “I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.”
Abraham’s bewilderment is clear. This sensitive human being gazes at a brilliantly structured universe, an extraordinary piece of art. He is overwhelmed by the grandeur of a sunset and by the miracle of childbirth; he marvels at the roaring ocean waves and at the silent, steady beat of the human heart. The world is indeed a palace.
But the palace is in flames. The world is full of violence, bloodshed, injustice and strife. Thugs, abusers, rapists and killers are continuously demolishing the palace and its royal inhabitants.
What happened to the owner of the palace? Abraham cries. Why does G-d allow man to destroy His world? Why does He permit such a beautiful palace to go up in flames? Can G-d have made a world only to abandon it? Would anybody build a palace and then desert it?
The Midrash records G-d’s reply: “The owner of the palace looked out and said, ‘I am the owner of the palace.’ G-d looked out and said to Abraham, ‘I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe.’ “
What is the meaning of G-d’s response? Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, presents the following compelling interpretation:
Note that the owner of the palace does not make an attempt to get out of the burning building or to extinguish the flames. He is merely stating that He is the owner of the palace that is going up in smoke. It is as if, instead of racing out, the owner were calling for help. G-d made the palace, man set it on fire, and only man can put out the flames. Abraham asks G-d, “Where are you?” G-d replies, “I am here, where are you?” Man asks G-d, “Why did You abandon the world?” G-d asks man, “Why did you abandon Me?”
Thus begins the revolution of Judaism-humanity’s courageous venture to extinguish the flames of immorality, injustice and bloodshed and restore the world to the harmonious and sacred palace it was intended to be. Abraham’s encounter with G-d in the presence of a burning palace gave birth to the mission statement of Judaism-to be obsessed with good and horrified by evil.
o o o
One year ago, on September 11, 2001, we, too witnessed a palace going up in flames.
Yet our palace-unlike Abraham’s palace-could be destroyed because we, the Jewish people, have neglected the covenant crafted between Abraham and G-d during that fateful day, 3800 years ago.
For too long, many Jews have succumbed to the lure of the popular notion that there is no such thing as absolute evil behavior. “Though shall not judge,” has become our cherished motto. We have been taught to probe and understand the underlying frustrations compelling the aggressor to follow his extreme route.
This sophisticated and open-minded point of view has allowed us to sustain an ethos of boundless tolerance, accepting all forms of behavior as just, since at the core of every mean act lies a crying heart.
Few ideas have been rejected in the Torah with so much passion. Judaism places as its highest ideal the creation of a good and ethical world. Consequently, the refusal to take a stand on what is wrong, results in its victory. For example, a non-judgmental view of a suicide bomber, may appeal to our compassion and understanding, yet in reality it is a display of extreme cruelty to the innocent victims who will die at the hands of frustrated militants.
Judaism, in its impassioned attempt to turn the word into an exquisite palace, created absolute universal standards for good and evil. These standards are defined by the Creator of the universe and are articulated in His manual for human living, the Torah. Taking the life of an innocent person is evil. No ifs, buts or why’s. The killer may be badly hurting but that never justifies the evil of murdering an innocent human being.
Yet, tragically, we have become numb to our mission statement. For six years Israel has displayed tolerance toward terrorists, neglecting our most cherished doctrine that the preservation of human life reigns supreme over every other consideration. The result of our moral confusion is devastating: Thousands of innocent Jews and Arabs are now dead and terrorists the world over have learned that they can continue their despicable work without serious consequences.
Good people of the world are waiting to be inspired by our four-millennium long heritage of standing up to evil and banishing it from G-d’s palace.

Yosef Y. Jacobson has lectured to audiences on six continents and in 40 states. He is the author of the tape series “A Tale of Two Souls” and “Captain, My Captain” and the soon-to-be-published book “The Comedy of Marriage.” To receive his weekly Internet essays on Judaism, mysticism, and psychology, e-mail [email protected]