October 20, 2023 / 5 Cheshvan 5784
Two weeks, fourteen days, three hundred and thirty-six hours, twenty thousand and one-hundred-sixty minutes. How do we count time in the lives of the hostages’ captivity?
The borders of Israel still rage.
The pain of loss still lingers.
The sounds of sirens still wail.
The suffering of innocence still remains.
The anger of vengeance still burns.
The tears of pain still fall.
The hope for peace still unclear.
But what about the hostages?
The promise of their release still silent.
There is a certain type of evil in the world where a person’s life is stolen by another. In fact, the Torah is absolute in its punishment of such crimes. “One who kidnaps another, whether having [negotiated] or still possessing the victim, shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16) And in case this was not clear enough, the great sage Rashi explains that the Torah reiterates the consequence in Deuteronomy 24:7 to ensure that there is no confusion of punishment for this crime.
But we don’t live in biblical times. Because if we did, then we might be creeping toward an era like that of Noah. A time of such evil in the world that Gd needed to bring about the great flood in order to wipe the slate clean and start again, or as Gd describes it in this week’s Torah portion, a time where, “The earth became corrupt before Gd,” a time when, “The earth was filled with Hamas (lawlessness).” (Genesis 6:11)
We are taught to value life above all else. We are taught that mercy is a virtue of Gdliness and that there is no higher value than to protect human life above all things. But we are also taught that to have a just society, judgment and accountability are essential. It was in last week’s Torah reading that we are told that we were created in the image of Gd, a Gd who is both merciful and just. And it is the struggle between these two ideals that demonstrates our Gdliness.
Following my column last week, I received an email that chastised me to “quit p***ing and moaning” and that we should just “Turn the Arab/Muslim world into a parking lot.” Well, Mr. Disgruntled, that’s not the Jewish way.
Am I angry, yes! Do I want retribution, yes! Do I seek justice, yes! But do I want the hostages returned as soon as possible, yes even more! Do I value the innocent lives in danger every day this war drags out, yes even more! And do I want peace for my mother to live out the rest of her life never having to hear a missile explode in her neighborhood or sirens sending her to a shelter ever again, yes even more!
Newsflash! We are imperfect beings. But our imperfection is a divine gift. Our daily struggle to be the best version of ourselves is the definition of living. If we allow one side of the mercy-justice scales to always outweigh the other, then we lose one of our greatest Gdly features.
Israel has been a light unto the nations, a beacon for ethical and moral clarity in the depths of terror, aggression, and evil like no other nation-state. It is our Homeland, even if our home is not physically there. Israel’s military is a “Defense Force” created to protect those inside its borders. It is not an aggressor tasked with policing other nation-states’ ills.
When Gd created the earth, Gd said to Adam and Eve, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it.” (Genesis 1:28) But when Gd re-created the earth after the flood, Gd told Noah to only, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1) No longer were we commanded to control nor subdue it.
Our ancestors became a society of “lawlessness” because they stopped listening to one another. They stopped working together toward a common understanding, vision, and outlook. How will Israel ever achieve peace with its neighbors if we cannot have a simple discussion with our neighbors without tensions flaring and emotions boiling over? Our boundaries with our friends are not life-threatening, and yet we struggle to respect one another’s differences. What does that say for Israel’s safety and security along its borders?
My intention is not to p*** and moan, but if that’s what challenging us to be more civil, more respectful, and more humane is, then maybe I should do it more often?
May the Gd who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bring our hostages home speedily, in good health, and with their dignity and mind able to lead happy and healthy lives in the future. And may we be strong for them upon their return, providing them the support, stability, and light to help them through these dark days, because we are…