How soon we forget.
Americans remember how painful it was, in the hours after 9/11 as we mourned our dead, to see garish, hideous images of people dancing in the streets. Who could rejoice at such a moment, much less take to the streets in a public dance of revenge?
But there they were, moments after Osama bin Laden’s death, dancing in the streets. Fist pumps, flag waving, ugly scrawled placards, chanting “USA! USA!” Bin Laden deserved justice, and he got it. But as his body sank to the bottom of the ocean, some of us forgot how to be great. We forgot that any killing—even this one—is cause for solemnity, because human life is God’s gift; it’s sacred, even if some people have found an ideology—a religion!—that demonizes the enemy and strips his life of divine sanctity. We forgot that we weren’t those kind of people. We don’t do the taunting death dance. We forgot that when we play “You dance on our grave, we dance on yours”, the cycle of revenge keeps filling more and more graves.
When the Hebrew slaves crossed the Red Sea to safety and turned back to see the waters closing over the hated Egyptians, they began to sing, dance and shout. According to the Talmud, God cried out, “My children are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?” The Hebrews could not believe that the “evil” Egyptians were also God’s children. Pharaoh’s troops were seeking to kill the vulnerable slaves, and judgment washed over them in waves. You could hardly blame the poor Hebrews for exulting, but God said, No. No singing. No dancing. Bow your heads in this grave moment, when precious human lives are expiring; pray for the day when the doing of justice will not need to blot out one life to spare another, when “justice shall run down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24).