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Vaera, Terrorism and the Hardened Heart

This past week was a painful and harrowing week. The attacks in Paris at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket remind us once again of terrorism’s reach. In this age of terror the daily routine of going to a supermarket and what should be the uneventful drawing of cartoons become courageous. Ordinary, everyday acts, become acts of bravery.

What do we do? We muster our courage and steel our hearts by saying that it could never happen here. We say, “Paris was heading in this direction.” Or, “I don’t frequent places that are likely to be attacked?” Make no mistake. Shopping at the local kosher butcher is no more dangerous than the frequenting of the nearby Whole Foods. Terrorism instills fear in its randomness.

While terrorism may appear to be directed at harming lives its greatest danger is how it attacks the heart. And it is within the heart that we can achieve victory. Here is how the heart must respond.

First we must come to recognize that there is unmitigated evil in this world. Much of it comes from radical Islam. Calling our current struggle a war against terror is unhelpful. Terrorism is a tactic. It is not an ideology. Just as we once waged war against Nazism so must we battle Islamism. We must therefore wage a war of ideas against this ideology of hate.

Our military and police can prevent attacks and stop the advance for example of ISIS and Al Qaeda, but the war will be won in our hearts. And so we must hold fast to our commitment to a pluralistic society. We must continue to preach the democratic ideal that competing beliefs can not only coexist but also give rise to beauties that we might be unable to see if only surrounded by like-minded believers. In difference, and disagreement, holiness can be realized.

We must not harden our hearts against Muslims or those who are different. The ideas of pluralism and openness are what make us great. This is part of the allure of Paris. Holding such freedoms forever in our hearts is the first response.

The second is also a matter of the heart. We must never lose hope. Hope is the root of faith. Judaism continues to believe that tomorrow can be better than today. Despite the world’s tribulations we defiantly believe that it can be redeemed. The world can be made better.

For two thousand years our people, for example, refused to let go of the hope that one day we would return to our ancient land. Every summer I for one reassert that hope when I board a plane to travel to Jerusalem. Today’s Jerusalem is a modern city built on an ancient hope. That is what our faith is made of.

We waited a long time for the realization of this dream. We witnessed some of the darkest years history ever witnessed. Still hope remained secreted within our hearts.

This is our faith. No matter how vicious evil becomes hope will triumph. “I believe in perfect faith in the Messiah’s coming. And even though the Messiah is delayed, I will continue to wait every day.” One day the idea that harmony will exist in the midst of differently held, and even competing, beliefs will rule the day.

That is a battle of the heart.

This week my heart grows hard. It becomes increasingly inured to death and pain, terror and fanaticism. It responds with statements of distance, “It can’t happen here.”

“The Lord said to Moses: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart…” (Exodus 7:3)

Can my heart traverse the distance? Can my heart achieve victory?