Have We Learned Anything?

I cannot sleep.

I was a little girl when the Cuban Missile Crisis scared the wits out of us. I was in second grade, and I still remember kneeling in the hallway of Overbook School as Sister Mary Martin led us in the rosary. I remember my knees grinding into the floor as I recited the responses. I remember my relief — our national relief — when Mr Krushchev turned his ships around and the threat of nuclear war receded.

When I heard the President threatening North Korea today, snarling like a teenage boy intent on winning a game of chicken, I had to wonder where he was in 1962.

Tonight as I said my bedtime Shema I asked the Holy One to spare us. Not only us, but all the people living in range of a nightmare: the children of South Korea, of Japan, of Guam, of anywhere the North Korean missiles (and any other missiles!) can reach.

A few years ago I had the honor of getting to know a woman who grew up in Fukuoka, Japan during World War II. Fukuoka is 280 km from Hiroshima, and 153 km from Nagasaki. Her home was between the two bombs we dropped on Japan. Later, during the occupation of Japan, she married a G.I. and moved to Georgia.

I did not plan to ask Mairi about her experience in the war. She was very elderly and did not need curious questions. I was only a friend helping out for a few weeks while her son had to be away. But one day something came on TV that reminded her of the bombs and she began to talk about it. I will never forget the pain in her voice, talking about the things she had seen.

And yes, I know that the Japanese had done terrible things in the war. I know Mr Truman felt it was better to drop those bombs. I suspect he had no idea of the horror it would set loose on civilians, things that would haunt survivors to the end of their days.

Now that we know, and we know that the weapons in our arsenals are much, much worse, how can we think of using them? And how could our President think that taunting the North Korean dictator, a man who seems to care little for the welfare of his own people, is a good idea?

I have to wonder: have we learned nothing?

Hashkiveinu, Adonai, Eloheinu l’shalom, v’ha’amideinu malkeinu l’chaim. Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha, v’tak’neinu b’eitza tova mil’fanecha. 

Let us lie down, O Holy One, our Ruler, in peace, and raise us up, our Sovereign, to life. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace, and guide us with Your good counsel. — from Hashkiveinu, the prayer for peaceful rest.

“Guide us with your good counsel” — Yes, guide the leaders of our world, help them to see the paths of peace. Give them wisdom, and give them the courage it takes to step back from the brink.

We ask this of You, who knows the hearts of each of us, and we ask it for the sale of your Name. Amen.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “Have We Learned Anything?”

  1. We or shall I say, those of us who know Hashem. knows He never changes, He does good because He is good. We also know Humans never change, mankind is wicked and his thoughts are forever hateful. I do not worry about the things men are doing, because Hashem is in control, He knows how to deal with mankind. And He will make things good for us. Amen…..

    1. My friend — I admire your faith in Hashem, who most certainly is Goodness, Truth, and Love!! But I am saddened by your view of humankind. Hashem created us in His image, and we therefore have an infinite capacity to produce Goodness and Love, if we choose to walk that humble path. And, while our ability to choose goodness also means we have the ability to choose selfishness and hate, I do not believe all humankind should be judged for the choices of some. In my experience, there are many of us, from many nations and faiths, who are choosing a path of peace and love, rather than wickedness and hate. I pray your life’s journey will bring you into contact with more such people, so that Hashem might restore your faith in humanity. May peace be with you, this day and always, jen

    2. Buzi, while your faith in the Holy One is admirable I must disagree with your assessment of humanity. At the close of creation, God said, “It is very good.” Humanity was part of that goodness.

      Children are born with a yetser harah – a selfish inclination – and have to be taught a yetser hatov, a good inclination. So in some people it is underdeveloped. Yet all of us are made b’tzelem Elohim – in the Image of the Holy One – in every human being there is a Divine spark.

      Finally, history shows us that God will not always “deal with mankind” when human beings get up to foolishness and evil choices. The bitter lesson of the Holocaust is that we are responsible for taking care of one another, and we cannot assume that God will not magically step in and save us.

      This is why I am not swayed when someone comes on here and says, “Rabbi, politics are not your job.” Politics is a tool that must be used to keep the powerful from hurting the vulnerable.

      Kol Yisrael aravim zeh l’zeh – All Israel is responsible one for the other. I would extend that, to say that all human beings are responsible one for the other, and that until we learn that, these things will continue to happen.

      1. shalom rabbiadar you are of course welcome to disagree with any position on my post. yes what HaShem has created is very good and HaShem can use it how ever he sees fit. But we also know hunanity and its desire to constanly promote evil. Shalom

  2. I wish I was as confident as your respondent above. I’m not. I am worried and frightened and angry. And I feel helpless. I too prayed the Hashkivenu last night, with special fervence, and said Modah Ani this morning. But I am still afraid.

    1. Hashem knows what men are made of “Hate”, our Father knows that we fear our neighbors instead of loving them. Man is wicked to the bone and that is why He has to take charge over the plans of men. Hashem heard your prayers…do not worry…..Baruch Hashem.

    2. I’m so sorry, SRQJew – it is a scary situation. I remind myself that there are limits to my knowledge. We do not know for certain the capabilities of North Korea. I do know that there are people around the President – specifically, his chief of staff, who knows what war is. Congress is working on a bill to limit his nuclear first-strike options (http://www.ajc.com/news/national/bill-aims-limit-trump-power-launch-nuclear-weapons/B9EdHCfLV3pSyf70VqUmdK/) and one thing we can do is encourage our congresspersons and senators to get behind that bill.

      I pray that this current situation passes quickly and that wiser, cooler heads prevail.

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