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Winning the War Against Despair

by Colonel Jacob Z. Goldstein


Library » Philosophy » Pain and Suffering » The Purpose | Subscribe | What is RSS?


One of the first tasks you learn as a soldier is how to shine your boots. No matter where you’re stationed or what your mission, your day begins with polished boots. When my men and I arrived at Ground Zero, fires were raging out of control and the smoke was burning our eyes. The first thing I noticed was the ash. Cars, people, buildings—everything was covered in ankle-deep ash. Some time later it occurred to us that many people who had been inside the World Trade Center had been completely burned, cremated by the intense heat of the explosions and fires. This ash was their remains.  

I did not clean my boots that night. How could I? Would it make a difference? Within four hours I would be back outside, amid the carnage and destruction. I have not shined my boots since September 11, and when my mission here is complete and I am no longer needed at Ground Zero, these boots will be buried, never to be worn again.

Inside every person there is an incredible reservoir of hope and strength... September 11th exposed this hope in each and every person

The question I hear every day, from soldiers, civilians, politicians and rescue workers is, “How could G-d allow this to happen?” They ask me this as I walk on the ashes, as I climb over destroyed buildings, and as I see a constant stream of families in mourning, peering over the barricades. I could tell them that there are people who choose to do good and people who choose to do evil. But what do I say to the thousands of innocent people who are suffering, the victims and the bereaved? What can I offer? I can only try to offer hope.

Essentially, my job is hope. I am not trained in desert warfare, I cannot fly an F-16, and I get stuck sometimes just trying to send e-mail. But I do know the value that Judaism places on hope and faith. The Talmud teaches us that even if the blade of an enemy’s sword is at one’s throat, one must never give up hope.

Inside every person there is an incredible reservoir of hope and strength. I have seen it in our Armed Forces for 26 years. But September 11th exposed this hope in each and every person.

I saw hope in a firefighter who stood on burning debris with his boots melting, hoping to find survivors. I saw hope in the eyes of a rescue worker who pulled a Yarmulke (skull cap) out of the wreckage and gave it to me, hoping that I could find out to whom it belonged.


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On pain & suffering

Posted by: Anonymous, Fresno, CA on May 27, 2006

Psalm 23

I find this to be comforting in troubling times.

...even though I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death...I will fear no evil...

for thou art with me ... thy rod and staff...comfort me...

and the rest you can read...


Philosophy » Character

Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
The head-covering worn by Jewish males. Serves as a constant reminder of the existence of a Higher Being. Also known as a Kippah.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.