Albert Wachtel


The very beginning of the Torah, Bereshit (Genesis 1.1), offers a reasoned alternative to the all-powerful, all-seeing, and merciful divinity conventionally worshipped in this mangled world. The Hamas murders, woundings, tortures, rapes and abductions of over twelve hundred Israelis and Israel’s necessary but widely destructive response are the latest horrors of biblical proportion that Jews face. The biblical text introduces what the late Roman era Mishnah calls “Tikun Olam”, the obligation to repair this damaged world.

Bereshit  brilliantly suggests how, faced with this latest horror, humans should proceed.  With so many targeted Jews dying, maimed or kidnapped – what President Isaac Herzog called the largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust – and the unintended loss of innocent Arabs in Israel’s justified counter offensive, the Almighty of later sedraim makes little sense. The reasoning of rabbis in the Talmud to explain why that God allows evil to exist is too tortured to convince. The good God of limited ability, characterized in Bereshit as Ruach (Breath/Spirit), works to improve its imperfectly created universe and last of all creates imperfect humanity, also tasked with improving things. The imperfect physical universe improved by that spiritual being anticipates current physical cosmology in which an imperfect universe is thought to begin with a “singularity,” a big bang, in a non-realm called “not anything,” neither time nor empty space. That is what Bereshit  calls “the beginning”.
When Ruach Elokim brings Earth to order, that divinity creates life, starting with plants and animals in the sea, a sort of Darwinian sequence, with the last creature being “Man”, a word the proto-scientific author finds unacceptable because he wants men and women to be recognized as equal. He therefore follows Man with “Man and Woman, He created him. Man and Woman, He created them,” ending not with the masculine him but with the inclusive them.

We know well that Man and Woman are an imperfect creation, including excellent, decent and indecent people; the good, mediocre and evil.
Israel’s attack on Hamas in response to its evil terrorist rampage is a violent beginning of Tikun Olam. derived in part from that initial biblical work to make things better. When Hamas is eliminated, Israel must undertake to improve the lives of Palestinians,  in Israel ,Gaza and the West Bank. The worship of a singular benign divinity is Israel’s gift to humanity. Let the appreciation of that benign Spirit among believers, non-believers and skeptics begin again as the decent among us work to eliminate evil and improve the world.

It is often the case that out of eliminated horrors decent results emerge. As I suggested in an earlier post, a State of Palestine, carved out of the West Bank and including Gaza, for which the Hebrew word, characterizing the city after which the territory is named is Azza, “strong city”. We can relate the creation of that cordial Palestinian state to a similar sounding word, Asa, healer, after the fifth King of the House of David. Peace, healing and mutual help between Israel and its Palestinian neighbor would be a splendid conclusion to this horrific but necessary war.

About the Author
Albert Wachtel , a PROFESSOR EMERITUS at Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, writes essays on politics, social and literary situations and short stories, often concerning Jews and Israel. His ongoing lectures, short and long are available at YouTube: ProfessorWachtel