Looking back on the 20 years since 9/11, what is the most important human rights lesson you draw from the American response to those attacks?

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster

“God has told you, O person, what is good, and what the ETERNAL requires of you: Only to do justice and to love chesed, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

About ten years ago, when T’ruah started fighting to end solitary confinement, I asked a friend who was an attorney at the ACLU Prison Project why it mattered that rabbis were speaking out to end this form of torture; it seemed like the ACLU’s strategy of lawsuits and legislation would be much more effective. She replied, “We have a mercy deficit as a country, and rabbis can talk about mercy in a way that other activists cannot.” She was right: Those who speak from a moral voice can amplify the cries of those affected by abuses until they become a rallying cry for change, a demand that as a society we be motivated by chesed on an systemic level.

The rallying cry of the Jewish social movement, which emerged with such strength after 9/11—Tzedek, tdedek tirdof—occurs in Deuteronomy to elevate the significance of an impartial judiciary. But it is also a commitment to law over revenge, order over chaos. Since 9/11, the United States seems like it has mistaken one for the other. Or rather, we exact vengeance under the guise of law and justice, but in so doing achieve neither. We tortured. We substituted drone strikes for trials. We went to war to stop terror, and in so doing, decimated the countries that we believed were at fault. We killed Osama bin Laden rather than adjucating his crimes in a court of law. Each of these and so many other steps were exercises in might, acts that made us feel safe but did not in fact make us safer, in the process destroying the safety and rights of so many. It takes real humility to understand that what might feel like the right solution is actually unjust and ineffective.

That’s why I love this verse. How do we ensure that we are governed by a commitment to justice grounded in chesed? Micah orbits those commitments around a sacred path of humility. Hubris says we move forward without reckoning with the consequences of our actions. Humility requires truth and reconciliation.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is the Executive Vice President of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. From 2007-2021, she worked at T’ruah, most recently as Deputy Director, and directed “Honor the Image of God: A Jewish Campaign to Stop US-Sponsored Torture.”

Booklet Section: Remembrance, Prayers for Healing & Peace, Meditations
Source: T'ruah