Becoming warriors of peace amid thoughts of revenge

Had one particular e-mail not arrived in my inbox Sept. 11, the day would have turned out to be nearly impossible to bear.

Within hours of the horrific attacks that ripped at America, this e-mail made me pause and take a moment to reflect. It was from Avram Davis, the founder and co-director of Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish study and meditation center in Berkeley.

"Please take time today and sit in meditation and prayer for the sake and souls of those who died today and those who lost loved ones," his e-mail said. "Please say Kaddish for their souls and ask that the merit of your meditation and prayers be given to strengthen those who grieve…Think not of yourself, but make yourself a vessel of blessing and support for others."

He went on to acknowledge that the assaults would rightfully cause us to feel anger, and as the days have passed and the human toll has made itself clear, that rage has surely grown stronger for many of us. Nearly three weeks after the blasts, I still find myself overcome with images of human suffering. Of people leaping to their deaths. Of sobbing relatives hoping for word of their missing loved ones. Among those unaccounted for is the son of my mother's dear friend. He was to be married this past Saturday.

There are some who believe we shouldn't mount a military response; I am not among them.

Yet Avram urged those who place themselves under the umbrella of Torah to accept the difficult challenge of remaining focused on thoughts of peace — even when the mind is filled with thoughts of revenge.

"The Torah path is not a pacifist path, it is a warrior path," he wrote. "We are permitted to fight. But we are forbidden to hate. The heart of this must be that we rededicate ourselves to what will, over time, bring the greatest healing." Even as victims, he said, "We must be warriors, but warriors of peace, of mercy, of compassion."

I was struck by the gentle nature of his words, and comforted knowing that others were reading them at the same time as me. I work for a news organization, and from the minute word of the plane crashes began trickling in, we were frantically busy fielding stories about the fast-unfolding events. So busy, in fact, that there was virtually no time to stop and try to absorb the reality that thousands and thousands of fellow Americans were dead or critically injured.

Then came Avram's e-mail, which afforded me a moment of silence, a measure of spiritual solace and a much-needed sense of community on what will likely be the most devastating day many of us will ever witness.

In the days following, I received other e-mails from Jewish leaders and organizations, and I found them similarly soothing. But the timing of Avram's, during the first hours of shock and confusion, had a defining effect on my ability to process the early implications of the disaster.

On Sept. 11, and in subsequent days, I've been struck over and over by the central place faith and prayer hold in times of crisis. Across our nation and around the world, people have gathered in houses of worship in record numbers to seek comfort in each other's presence and in words of sacred meaning. As our country faces the possibility of a protracted and precarious military entanglement sure to produce its own human losses, I feel certain prayer will continue to hold a key place in the lives of many.

I know it will for me.

For now, though, my own small prayer is akin to Avram's: that the countless people whose lives have been forever ruptured will take some comfort in knowing that people of faith everywhere have them in their hearts and thoughts. As we continue to pray for the healing of our fractured nation, may we never forget those who suffered unspeakably, those who survived against the odds and those whose astounding acts of bravery reminded us what it means to be human.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.