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Home » Beshalach, Israel, Politics

Beshalach: Love of LIfe

Submitted by on February 1, 2009 – 2:30 amNo Comment | 2,027 views

Red Sea

An entire nation had narrowly escaped; the army of murderers, bearing down on them just a moment earlier, now drowning in the ocean. G-d had orchestrated a brilliant rescue. Jews stood huddled on the far shore watching their captors toss helplessly about on the surging waves of a plunging sea and slowly lose the fight. Inexorably they sunk to their watery grave. A cheer went up from the multitudes. A song. An ode of praise to the Almighty who had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Accompanying the swelling of joy and outburst of emotion was a chorus of angels who poured their spirit into passionate song; exulting in the praise of the Lord. But G-d stopped them; arrested their momentum with a Divine frown. “My handiwork drowns in the sea,” lamented the Creator, “and you… you sing songs?” (1)

These are the ethos of the Jewish people. Our enemies rise up against us with the perfect intention of killing us. We defend ourselves and protect our families. We take up arms to destroy the enemy… before he destroys us. In the conduct of war lives are lost. But we never rejoice. We never celebrate the loss of life. Not even when the lost life belonged to the enemy.

Life Over Death

In the autumn of 2008 we were treated to a startling illustration of this Jewish value. Jews in Southern Israel had been treated to daily bombardments from Gaza that arrested mobility, destroyed property, killed several, maimed many and caused widespread psychological damage. Yet when the Israeli Defense Force entered Gaza to stop the rockets not a single Jew rejoiced. There were no parties in Sderot and no celebrations in Ashkelon. Our Bubbies did not hand out candy and our mommies did not dance in the street. Our men did not shoot off their guns and our children did not dance cartwheels.

The enemy infrastructure was being demolished; his cities were pounded, his soldiers cut down and his capabilities severely diminished. for love of life - innersreamThere was widespread support for the incursion yet there was no joy in it. There was a sigh of relief in the absence of bombs. There was grim satisfaction in that life was returning to normal, but there was no joy. Jews do not rejoice when their enemies fall. (2) They are happy to be rid of the danger, but they would rather obliterate the sin than the sinner. (3)

Abraham

This trend was established by our patriarchs. Abraham was drawn into a war against the four Biblical Kings in an effort to liberate his nephew Lot, who was taken captive. In the course of his attack Abraham was forced to kill many of the enemy’s men. He vanquished the enemy and liberated his nephew along with the other prisoners of war. He was hailed as a hero and greeted with great fanfare by the liberated nations. Yet he was apprehensive.

G-d appeared to Abaham and said, “Fear not Abraham, I am your shield.” (4) What worried our dear Partiarch? Our sages explained that Abraham worried over the soldiers that he had been forced to kill. These were enemy combatants who would have killed him had he not killed them. Yet Abraham was unhappy to have blood on is hands. He feared that he was now spiritually sullied or compromised. G-d consoled Abraham. Fear Not. You have done well. You acted justly. (5)

Abraham was comforted of course, but he did not rejoice. How could he? His hands had become an instrument of death. No Jew can celebrate that. We are all Abraham’s children. Our father’s trait has been handed down to us.

Jacob

Abraham raised his children to “know the ways of G-d.” (6) Indeed, Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, our third patriarch, was also forced to prepare for battle. To Jacob’s relief the battle never materialized, but when he first heard that his brother Esau was approaching with 400 men Jacob prepared for the worst.

He prepared in three ways. (7) First he readied his sons for battle. Then he prayed to G-d. Finally he sent a gift of appeasement his brother. Eau was indeed appeased and the battle was averted, but Jacob still had a chance to teach us how to avoid battle whenever we can. Negotiate with your enemy. Offer to appease him. Be prepared for war, but use it only as a last resort. However, if it would come to war, Jacob would fight. With all the skill and ferocity he could muster.

If it comes to war, then fight he would, but with a heavy heart. The Torah tells us that he was worried and pained as he prepared for war. We can understand worry. Everyone fears war. We fear for our lives. Why was he pained? Our sages taught that he was pained because he would be forced to kill others. These others were combatants; people who would kill him if he did not kill them first. They would be downed in a fair battle. Yet Jacob was pained. His heart was heavy. No morally upstanding person can relish ending of another’s life. (8)

Cycles of Violence

The pathos of morally upstanding people does not permit murder with impunity. Rage and feelings of revenge aside, poverty and oppression notwithstanding, morally upstanding people do not respond to suffering with murder. Aggression does not create terrorists, exploitation does not create suicide bombers and suffering does not beget violence. No one knows more about suffering and exploitation than the Jew, yet Jews never responded with mass acts of terror. There have been individual Jews who have committed terrible acts, but the Jewish community and leadership have by and large greeted such violence with mass condemnation and revulsion.

All the suffering in the world cannot corrupt a soul. The tender soul cries when blood is spilled. It aches when revenge is carried out. The insistent voice of the soul is not silenced by suffering; on the contrary it is made more sensitive to suffering. The only thing that corrupts the soul and turns human beings into killing machines is indoctrination. Children taught from their youth to glorify terror and to celebrate suicide are raised in a culture of death. These children are easily manipulated and turned into hardened terrorists. These children are the ones who sow mayhem and death across peaceful streets and innocent families. These children dance and sing when innocents are attacked.

They don’t dance because they are oppressed. They dance because this is what they are taught. They are taught to glorify death. To celebrate the spilling of blood and rejoice with the suffering of others. Terrorism is not created by the world’s aggression, but by Radical Islam’s culture of death.

It is important that we understand the distinction lest our guard is lowered where we are most vulnerable.

Footnotes

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 39b.
  2. Proverbs 24: 17-18.See also Ethics of The Fathers, 4: 19.
  3. Psalms 104:35. See also Babylonian Talmud Brachos, 10a.
  4. Geneis 15:1.
  5. Rashi ibid. See Bereishis Rabbah 44:4 for a slightly different version.
  6. Genesis 18:19.
  7. Genesis 32. See specifically Rashi’s commentary to 32: 9.
  8. Bereishis Rabbah 76:2.
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