Monday, May 02, 2011

Is it okay to celebrate Osama's death?

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Today, after ten years of trying, US Navy Seals and CIA operatives killed him in his compound in Pakistan.  

Americans are elated. Outside the White House, they sang, cheered and waved flags. At Ground Zero, a decade's worth of pent-up emotions exploded into joy and calls of "Obama got Osama!". Barack Obama announced that "Justice has been done" and European Union Parliament president, Jerzy Burzek declared "We woke up in a safer world". 

A safer world? That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the burning question for many is "Should we be celebrating?". Street-jubilation and flag-waving is distasteful to us. We've seen it too often on Palestinian streets, the flags, the singing, the gunshots as they've celebrated Jewish deaths. We are a nation obsessed with life, fixated on peace and repulsed by killing. Yes, we're glad he's gone. Yes, we abhor the terror that the Bin Laden's of the world perpetuate. But, do we celebrate death- albeit of our enemies? 

"When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, lest G-d sees your glee and directs His anger against you," warns the Torah. 

Jewish holidays don't celebrate the deaths of our enemies, but the rescue of our people. While we recall the demise of Haman on Purim and of the Egyptians on Pesach, we focus our attention on the fact that our nation was saved, rather than rejoice at their suffering.

We've just concluded Pesach. On other festivals, we sing Hallel, a series of praises to thank G-d for His miracles. On the last two days of Pesach, however, we only recite an abridged version of these praises, because these days recall when G-d drowned the Egyptians. G-d even stopped His angels from singing praises at that time, because He insisted that it would be wrong to sing while people are dying. Remember, we're talking about the  Egyptians, a depraved nation of slave-drivers who were our nation's arch-enemies for two centuries. Still, no singing.

Likewise, King David, in Psalm 104, calls for sins- not sinners- to be eradicated. 

Exactly twenty years ago today, the Lubavitcher Rebbe challenged us, his followers, and the entire Jewish world in an unprecedented way. He made an impassioned public address in which he said: "I have done everything in my power to bring Moshiach, now do everything in your power to bring him!" That Osama was killed exactly twenty years later to the day is no coincidence. But, it gives us no license to celebrate.

As the media that trumpeted Osama's death, it also reported heightened security and warned of possible anti-West retaliation. One tentacle of the terror-beast is gone, but the beast is as fearsome as ever. Now is a good time to remind ourselves that Purim only became a festival after the war was won, not as soon as Haman had been killed. The "war on terror" has not yet been won. We don't have time to celebrate Osama's death because the threat of what he represents is very much alive. 

When the Rebbe spoke of bringing Moshiach, he referred to a time of global peace; a time where goodwill pervades society and all people focus on Divine-connection, rather than vice, jealousy and hatred. He spoke of a world where sins dissolve and sinners come round; where you no longer fight for liberty and safety, because the perpetrators of violence "get it" and put their weapons away forever. The Rebbe insisted that we dare not rest until that idyllic world becomes reality. 

If good men still need to kill to free the world of evil, we're not yet ready to celebrate. There is still much work to do.


(Click here for another perspective on this question. Excellent article.)


Keith said...

Thank you for this insightful essay Rabbi.

Anonymous said...