Yesterday, a terrorist murdered four young people whose smiles will never again light their families’ homes.
We are, sadly, used to such tragedies here. We know what to expect: the names, the obituaries, the devastating footage from the funerals. We know that it will literally hurt to look at the victims’ pictures, and see them smiling into a future that will never come to pass. We know that we will seethe in outrage when our enemies will hand out candies, and that our allies will respond less strongly than we’d like them to (that is, if they respond at all).
And we know that discordant and opinionated though we usually are, in our hour of need, we come together. United by our sorrow and our anger, we are there for each other, we pray together for the wounded, and we hold each other’s hands through the pain ahead.
Except that this time, that isn’t what actually happened.
The bodies were still lying under the truck when sharp words, hurtful words, filled the air.
“The soldiers ran,” people wrote on Facebook, while the wounded were still en route to the hospitals. “They’re scared because of the Azaria verdict,” some hurried to add, at the very same time that frantic family members were rushing to Jerusalem, desperately hoping that their children weren’t among the dead.
Posts with names and requests for prayers drowned in a sea of political debates, of statements like “the video clearly shows” (as if footage can capture people’s thoughts and understanding and decisions and why) and “but that’s what the guide said” (as if one man’s perception in the heat of the moment, heroic though this man doubtlessly is, can correctly identify what went on in other’s hearts, or amount to a conclusive summary of all the facts of the matter).
While in Armon Hanatziv, shell-shocked soldiers mourned their fallen friends, words like “cowards” and “they should have” and “they must have thought” blossomed across acrimonious debates on social media, tearing us apart.
* * *
Words are easy. It takes very little thought, and even less time, to write a few lines, a comment, a status.
And when we are ablaze with strong emotions it’s even easier. Our emotions practically write out statuses for us.
Once upon a time, words were easy to write, but took time to publish. Today, clicking “Post” takes even less time than the writing itself. Today, words are everywhere.
The words that flooded Facebook yesterday are the kind of words that are easy to write when you’re sitting at home, indignant and pained but ultimately safe. And I know — I truly do — that they weren’t written out of malice. Last night was a time of pain and horror, and people wrote what they wrote because they cared so much.
I get it. I hurt too.
But malicious or not, those words are destructive.
They are the kind of words that confuse facts and interpretation and feelings. They are the kind of words that pitch us against each other at the very moment that our enemies are attacking us, and we need each other more than ever.
They are the kind of words that wound. Just imagine the soldiers who were there on the spot, reading such words later on. Imagine their mothers reading them on their way to the hospital. Imagine the plight of anyone who actually experienced a terror attack in his or her past, and now feels blamed for not doing enough to prevent it.
And words like that? They aren’t merely easy to write. They’re also cheap.
All they require to fuel them is our indignation, our opinions, and our pain.
Silence demands so much more from us. It expects us rise to a different sort of challenge, and use many of the faculties that make us human beings capable of thought. It requires our restraint and consideration, our attention to how our words and actions might affect other people, and our ability to bite our tongue and wait. It requires that like the hero in Ben Zoma’s famous epithet (Pirkei Avot, 4:1), we will overcome and conquer our impulses.
Sometimes we need words. But did we truly need them on the night four families mourned the son and daughters they will never hold again?
“And the wise man shall then be silent,” said the prophet Amos (5:13), “Ki et ra’ah hi –– because it will be a bad time.”