Itís a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

A Rosh Hashanah Sermon
by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander

September 1965

The movie, "Itís a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," is a rollicking farce. The real thing is a dreadful reality. We reside in a "mad, mad, mad, mad world."

The New York Times on August 1 [1965] wrote as follows:

At 8:15 a.m., August 6th, 1945 -- just 20 years ago -- the Enola Gay was 31,600 feet above the unsuspecting city of Hiroshima. The great plane lurched as the 9,000 pound Little Boy left the bomb bay; immediately, Captain Tibbets (the pilot) put the plane into a violent left bank and turn.

"Make sure those goggles are on," Tibbets said over the intercom to Caron (the tail gunner). The captain called, "Keep watching and tell us what you see."

The world went purple in a flash before Caronís eyes. Hiroshima was obscured in a violent fireball of convulsive smoke. The Enola Gay and her accompanying observation ships were shaken as if they were beaten with a telegraph pole.

The bomberís crew, looking back on what they had wrought, saw only boiling dust and dancing flame -- a perfect mushroom cloud.

"My God, what have we done?"

"My God, what have we done?" A city was destroyed. Thousands of its people -- noncombatants -- went up in smoke. Others were maimed. Few escaped the fallout. Tyranny, however, was brought to its knees. A cruel, vicious enemy was defeated. The explosion at Hiroshima hastened the end of a war that was almost spent in any event.

But, what happened to the victors?

In sixty seconds, man was catapulted into the nuclear age. We still stand aghast at the unlimited possibilities of this vast power that was released at Hiroshima. "Like clay in the hands of the potter," so are these forces in the hands of man. They contain the potential of unlimited good, as well as the threat of total destruction.

The explosion at Hiroshima ushered in a period of extreme anxiety. We have been engaged in a cold war between the Eastern Communist bloc and the Western democracies. The world is kept in constant ferment as the powers jockey for dominant position. The entrance of China into the family of nuclear nations has served to further intensify the dread that a trigger-happy, irresponsible megalomaniac might bring about a sudden, catastrophic, fiery holocaust. We live in a sickening awareness that we, and all we love, all we know, all we possess can be erased in the blinding nuclear flash of one atomic warhead.

My friends, it is with these sobering thoughts that we read once again the classic biblical drama of the Binding of Isaac. It has inspired composers, artists, and dramatists. It is the "passion play" of the Jewish people. Modern students of the Bible see in this story a protest against the ancient practice of sacrificing human beings to appease the gods and against the ritual of throwing children to the moloch to be consumed alive in the flames of its altar.

All of us know this beautiful story: The call came to Abraham, our Patriarch, "Take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, and bring him up as a sacrifice." As Isaac was lying bound upon the altar, the Midrash -- further embellishing the story -- tells us that he looked up at his father and said, "Father, I fear for you, lest your paternal compassion cause your hand to tremble and you thus invalidate the sacrifice." But as Abraham was about to lower the knife to cut the throat of his son, the Torah relates, a bat kol -- a female voice called from heaven -- "Abraham, Abraham -- Al tishlach yadcha el haínaar -- do not raise your hand against the boy, and do him no harm, for now I know that you fear God since you have not spared your son, your favorite son. And Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a sacrifice in place of his son."

Thus the Torah proclaims to the nations that children need not be sacrificed to prove loyalty and devotion to God. By deeds and by life is Godís presence made manifest.

As civilization progressed, paganism lost its attraction. Even animal sacrifices gave way to "service of the heart" in the form of prayer. Religion called upon man to live for his faith, not to die for it.

Over the years, great scientific strides have also been made. Earthbound man became an explorer of space -- the moon and the planets are within his reach.

Technology has progressed to relieve man of many onerous tasks. For example, our ancestors, in order to eat bread, had the backbreaking chores of tilling the soil, sowing the seed, harvesting and threshing the grain, kneading the dough, and finally backing it in crude ovens. We buy our bread in the bakery or have it delivered to our homes! Automation has relieved the farmer and the baker of drudgery. Our conditions for living are immeasurably improved.

On the other hand, we have made little progress in conducting our international affairs. We continue to draft our boys into the armed forces and to send them off to far-off battlefields. Instead of swords and spears killing individuals, explosions slaughter thousands.

An article in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine depicts 18-year-old boys coming to the draft board to register. Some are accompanied by their parents -- hearts are in a turmoil, yet very few give speech to their innermost misgivings. Looking at their parents, the boys seem to say, "Fear not, lest you invalidate the sacrifice." On the other hand, the parents seem to say to their children, their beloved ones (sometimes their only one), "Fear not, God be with you." And thus, they are "bound over" to the military, potential sacrifices to the "god of war."

The voice of heaven, a bat kol -- a female voice, the motherís voice if you will, cries out: Al tishlach yadcha el haínaar -- "Do not raise your hand against the boy and do him no harm!"

The heart-rending cry of humanity can be heard pleading, "Has not the time come that international differences be settled in places other than the field of battle?"

 

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