This Shabbat cannot come soon enough. Tomorrow we will read the Haftarah which begins נחמו נחמו עמי, and unlike in previous times I have heard this, I feel as though I am in need of consolation. Relating to the tragedies commemorated on Tisha B’Av has never been easy for me and I never have been able to link the words of Yishaya to the destruction of the Temple, so this week, I think I am taking the easy way out and applying the meaningful words to our times today.
This past week has been a trying one for Jews everywhere. In the name of our religion we have seen both murder and attempted murder, spurred on by the vitriolic environment regarding each instance. Let’s break down each example. On Thursday, during the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, a disturbed man, raised and reared in the Ultra-Orthodox community, stabbed six fellow Jews, claiming he was acting in the name of God. The Torah is clear on it position on Homosexual behavior. It is even clearer in its position on murder. No doubt everyone from all sides condemned this vicious action, but the condemnations were too late, the blade had already sliced through holy Jewish skin.
Gays have long been the subject of mocking and disdain from the Orthodox community, selected for certain discrimination while other, equally objectionable issues go undiscussed. For example, the popular Orthodox news site, Yeshiva World News headline regarding the stabbing read “Charedi man stabs 6 in Jerusalem Toeiva Parade” using the Hebrew word for abomination. The site has also routinely called gay marriage, “Toevia Marriage” to marginalize the Homosexual community. Now is not the time or the place to discuss the acceptance of Gays in the Torah world. Now is, however, the place to discuss what happen when a group is so casually marginalized and treated as sub-human. Attempted murder is what happens, and the rhetoric is at least partially responsible.
Allow me to explain. In the early 1990’s the Religious- Zionist movement was fighting as hard as it could to oppose the Oslo Accords which Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was pushing. There was legitimate concern, but the rhetoric of the community reflected more than that. The term “Rodef” the term for a man who is out to kill you, who you have a halahic obligation to kill first, was casually tossed around, and lo and behold, a member of the Dati-Leumi camp who studied at a Yeshiva High School, attended a well-known Hesder Yeshiva, and was accepted to Bar-Ilan University, Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Rabin.
Of the voices that spoke loudest and clearest after this fact was Rabi V’Mori Rav Aharon Lichtenstien ZT’L, who, in a famous sicha, took responsibility for Amir’s actions. In his words “Today, we hide behind the phrases, “a wild weed,” “from the outskirts of our society.” But if a day before the murder we would have proudly said “See what we have produced” we must say it now as well – “See what we have produced.” It is indefensible that one is willing to take credit when the sun is shining should shrug off responsibility when it beings to rain.”
To bolster his point, Rav Lichtenstien quoted a passage from the Gemara in Yoma (23a-b) which talks of two priests who were rushing up the ramp in the Temple to perform the sacrifices of the day. One priests came near the other, drew a knife, and stabbed the other in the heart. R. Zadok, stood on the steps of the Sanctuary and quoted the verse from the Bible about the Egla Arufa (the cow whose neck is broken when a murder is committed and the culprit is not known. In that case, the elders of the city make a proclamation claiming that “our hands did not shed this blood”) Rav Aharon asked the obvious question: why in this circumstance was that passage referecend? R. Zadok knew exactly who the killer was. It was the other priest!
Rav Aharon answered that R. Zadok was attempting to show that the principle behind Egla Arufa is collective guilt. The murderer is the one who holds the legal guilt, but the society has a share in it. Clearly, in the Gemara’s case, there was an atmosphere which engendered hatred and jealously among the priests (this likely references disputes in the Second Temple period about who the proper priests in the Temple should be) Again, in Rav Aharon’s words
Collective guilt is not established in order to
remove or excuse individual responsibility; family, society,
upbringing and climate do not remove personal guilt. Jewish
tradition insists on personal responsibility. But egla arufa
teaches that there is another level – that beyond the
individual guilt, there also is a level of collective guilt
Today, the Torah community shares that guilt. We have allowed a society to foster hatred towards a group specific group, and have not stood up to cool the water. It has, unfortunately, tragically, and quite predictably boiled over.
This would be bad enough, but there was a second instance this week where a similar phenomenon played out. I am more hesitant to apply this principle with regards to the macabre murder of a Palestinian infant earlier this morning as all the fact of the case are not in, but it seems to be a similar situation occurred. Recently, several books and articles have been published by the extreme right-wing of the Torah world which attempt to draw biblical parallels regarding today’s situation with the Palestinians. Often times, imagery about both a Rodef, and the biblical group the Philistines, about whom the Jews are commanded to kill man, woman, and child is invoked. Are we then surprised when Jewish extremists kill children?!
There is no doubt that these murderers do not represent world Jewry. But there is equally no doubt that Jewry in some way produced them.
Why then, after indicting the religion about which I care so much about, am I consoled? In this week’s Haftara, we are reminded time and time again that God is great and man is feeble. The consolation which Yishaya offers is that God is the ruler of all and that man knows not. In the Navi’s words “הלוא ידעת אם לא שמעת אלהי עולם ה’ בורה קצות הארץ לא ייעף ולא ייגע אין חקר לתבונותו” “Do you not know? Have you not heard? God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the world does not tire nor gets weary. There is no searching of his understanding.”
The Navi tells us that God is the Lord of all and humans cannot fathom his ways. In other words God will take care of what needs to be taken care of. I can think of no better answer to men who murder in the name of God.
Here is hoping for a Shabbat full of Shalom and Menucha.