A Jewish boy celebrating his Bar Mitzvah this coming Shabbat would have been born following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th, 2001. Born already in the post 9/11 world, today’s Bar Mitzvah boy has lived his entire life under the shadow of Islamic terrorism. When I was the rabbi of a synagogue, I had many opportunities to speak to Bar Mitzvah boys and explain to them the significance of the milestone they had reached. Thirteen years following 9/11, I believe that America can learn many important lessons from a Bar Mitzvah.
Jewish tradition recognizes that maturity comes after thirteen years. The religion doesn’t make demands on kids who are free to goof around, and cuts some slack to children who are often somewhat immature and naive. “Bar Mitzvah” in Hebrew literally means “son of commandments” because when a boy turns thirteen years old (or a girl turns twelve), he becomes obligated to accept and fulfill the 613 commandments of the Torah and joins his place as a responsible member of the Jewish people.
I would often tell Bar Mitzvah boys that while they might still feel like a kid, in God’s eyes they are now a man, responsible for their behavior. They must be more mindful of the consequences of their actions and inactions and recognize that they are now a role model for younger children who look up to them.
Thirteen years ago in an incredibly audacious act of war, Al Qaeda jihadists caught America off guard by hijacking four planes simultaneously and killing close to 3,000 innocent people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA. Shaken to the core and not fully aware of the dangerous realities presented by Islamic terror, America often responded over the past thirteen years like a child. As a result of this administration’s frequent childish behavior, Islamic jihadists have become greatly emboldened, terror organizations are quickly developing into terrorists states and the world is a lot more dangerous a place than it was thirteen years ago.
Upon the Bar Mitzvah of September 11th, America needs a rabbi who will remind the great superpower that it is responsible for its actions and inactions and that it must serve as a role model to the rest of the world. The country with the strongest military needs to man-up and take decisive measures against the brutal terrorists no matter what they call themselves be it al-Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, Hezbollah or Hamas. These terror groups all have the same jihadi ambitions and pose an urgent threat to freedom everywhere in the world.
Like a thirteen-year-old, the United States must remember that sometimes inaction speaks louder than action. It can no longer stand idly by while civilians are massacred in Syria or allies are invaded in the Ukraine. By shirking its leadership role within the global community, America risks losing more than a century of political, diplomatic and military achievements.
Finally, like a Bar Mitzvah boy, America needs to recognize that there are many nations that still look up to it as a role model whose leadership is needed today more than ever. As the first country founded on Judeo-Christian values of freedom and democracy, the United States has decisively led the world through great challenges before. It has previously led the world to victory by uniting allies from around the world to stand up to evil. Despite the recent blunders of the current administration, America still has the wherewithal to lead the community of nations by supporting Israel and providing a much needed moral compass.
As we remember the many victims of September 11th, we pray that after thirteen years their ultimate sacrifice was not in vain. The greatest credit to their memory will be to look back upon the past thirteen years and collectively remind our leaders to learn the lessons of a Bar Mitzvah. If America assumes its mantle of leadership, than like a Bar Mitzvah boy, it will continue to grow, mature and develop.