Parashat D'varim

Eichah: Where Are We Now?

We should respond to major historical events and to personal decisions with the question, "Where are we morally?"

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Each summer, Shabbat D'varim and Tisha B'Av occur close to the anniversary of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Each year, there is a discussion about whether it was right to drop the bomb when and where we did. I always view this discussion as an exercise in futility. Dropping the bomb was an act of war; in war, armies are concerned with winning, not what is morally right.

Recent publications, however, have shown a deeper and more significant issue: the process that led to the decision to drop the bomb. In the high echelons of the U.S. military, there was very little discussion at all. The generals knew we had the weapon, and wanted to use it. Once the process was set in motion, no one stopped to ask whether the target was the correct one, whether it had military value, or if the A-bomb would usher in a new era in world history. In short, no one bothered to ask what the implications of using this horrifying new weapon would be.

The arguments about the justification for dropping the bomb won't change past history. But we still have the obligation to ask "ayekah"--where are we? We can't undo what was done more than 50 years ago, but we can hope that our leaders will be prudent in the present about decisions with catastrophic consequences.

We should also ask the same question on a personal level. So often, the major decisions we make are not made in dramatic circumstances, but rather on the spur of the moment: Whom can we help today? Are we influenced by that person's race or ethnicity? Do we allow superficial distinctions to deter us from seeing the common humanity in all people? Perhaps most important, once we've started moving in one direction, do we ever stop to evaluate where we're going, and whether we need a mid-course correction? Those are the questions that we should ask on Shabbat D'varim, as we read the first chapters of Deuteronomy.

Rabbinic midrash, or interpretation, tells us that in the wilderness, our people would recount their sins each year on Tisha B'Av, realizing that they bore the punishment for their gravity. Each year, they would be given the message that they hadn't been totally forgiven. Then, just before they entered the land, they knew that the time had come for a new beginning, as God had would finally answer, "I have forgiven."

On Shabbat morning, when we hear the Torah reader intone the word "eicha" let us ask ourselves "ayekah"--Where are we? And if we can answer that we have indeed learned to question the little decisions that can lead to big calamities, then perhaps we will begin to sense a new dimension of God's favor.

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Rabbi James R. Michaels

Rabbi James Michaels is the Director of Pastoral Care at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Rockville, MD.