Rejoicing over Bin Ladin’s death? One Rabbi’s Musings

A man who did great harm is no more. On Yom HaShoah, a day on which we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust and our communal pain, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in a special operation by US Navy Seals. Like many of you, I turned on the tv and saw scenes of rejoicing and jubilation in New York and Washington. It was a natural response. As President Obama said: “Justice has been served”.  I sincerely hope that families of those who have suffered from the tragic loss of their loved ones on 9/11 and throughout his campaign of terror now have some sense of closure, even though their pain continues. I felt a certain sense of relief that this man who demonstrated an utter contempt for human life was gone. And then I had a sense of dis-ease. I think I know why.

Reason #1:

A teaching came to mind that I want to share with you – from a midrash connected to the Passover story. When our ancestors crossed over the Red Sea safely and witnessed the drowning of Pharoah’s army who had been in pursuit, not only they, but the angels, too, understandably rejoiced. The midrash teaches that the angels invited God to celebrate, but the Holy One declined, saying, “How can I rejoice when the work of my hands (my children) are drowning?”   A different perspective: King Solomon wrote“When the wicked perish,  there is a joyful song.” There are many more texts that capture the tension.

Reason #2:

Bin Laden may be dead, but his cause certainly isn’t. It would be foolish for us to be overly celebratory and ignore responses from others who do not share our world view. As we learned from the Holocaust, heinous acts can happen anytime and anywhere in which we neglect to see the humanity of our fellow human beings.

Maybe we’ll draw a little closer to one another, be a little more compassionate, a little less fearful? Maybe peace will now be just a little bit closer?

The darkest times come before light….


Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman

Congregation Kehillah of Arizona