Shmuley Boteach

Challenging God when teens are murdered

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz response to the tragic murder of the three teens, whom I understand he knew personally, is moving. But it is also odd and requires a rejoinder.

Rabbi Steinsaltz says that in no longer being alive the teen boys are “attached to the Almighty’s mantle, in a closeness of everlasting fondness and permanent remembrance before Him.”

Such ideas sound more Christian than Jewish. We are a nation that values life, not death. We do not believe people are better off in heaven but have a mission here on earth. The place of these three young martyrs is not at the Almighty’s mantle but at their parent’s dinner table and at soccer games with their siblings.

Rabbi Steinsaltz goes on to defend the notion of prayer, saying that those who supplicated God for the safe return of the teens should not feel forlorn because “each and every prayer that was said created some kind of an elevation in all the higher worlds, and these requests and supplication will bring light and deliverance.” Respectfully, this is not what we need to hear at present. Nor was it the path of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to whom Rabbi Steinsaltz just dedicated a biography. To the contrary. The word “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God.” We have a right to challenge God, to ask him why our prayers for these boys was met with silence, why our supplication was seemingly ignored. God himself commanded us to “choose life” and we have a tradition that He commands us nothing that He Himself does not practice. So why did God, on this occasion, not choose life?”

Rabbi Steinsaltz says that “these prayers are there, and they are a source of grace and mercy for us and for the entire world.” How so? The boys are dead. They deserve to be alive. They were good, religious kids whose only sin was to want to spend the Sabbath with their families and obey the Ten Commandments by honoring their parents.

I am a religious man and an orthodox Jew. But religion is degraded when it offers empty platitudes and empty comfort.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s words smack too much of religious resignation and humble spiritual submission. The Rebbe was famous for uttering the words “Ad Mosai.” How long. How long, Oh Lord, will innocent children die at the hands of terrorists? How long will the Jewish people be the target of murderers? And how long will you allow it, Oh Lord?

Moses famously challenges God to remove his name from the Torah if the Almighty will devour the Jews for their sins. Have we learned nothing from his spiritual audacity?

Rabbi Steinsaltz rightly inveighs against any thought of revenge, and indeed, if a revenge killing – and we as yet know no details – was carried out with the tragic murder of the Palestinian child found dead in the woods than this action is an utter abomination against all things Jewish and is repugnant in the extreme. My Jewish heart goes out to his Islamic parents.

But even so, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s advice that our principal response should be to “do Kaddish” is appropriate for the grieving parents who have suffered an unmentionable tragedy and whom we seek to comfort in their moment of unspeakable pain.

But it is inappropriate for the rest of us. Our response must be renewed vigilance. Israel must strike at the terrorists who did this so that they can never harm innocent children and teens again. Israel must sow fear in the hearts of the wicked so that they know that Jewish blood is not cheap, that every child murdered comes with an awesome price.

Rabbi Steinsaltz says “each and every one of us should also act as best he or she can in order to do Kaddish – by studying more Torah, by fulfilling one more mitzvah, by our physical actions or by giving of our time and money to those in need.” That is good, but secondary advice. Now is not the time to focus only on doing the ritual mitzvos. Now is the time to protect and safeguard life.

Now is the time for Israeli special operation forces to weed out the terrorists. Now is the time for the brave men and women of the IDF to hunt down the kills and utterly uproot their terror network.

For three thousand three hundred years the Jewish people have performed the mitzvos and have been the most devoted nation to God in the history of the world. We have produced Rabbis and scholars, pious people and religious devotees. And still they have murdered and killed us.

Now is the time for military resolve. We built an army to keep us safe and to never have to rely on other nations for protection. We need G-d’s salvation at every moment. We need God’s deliverance at every second. We need’s God’s love for our very lives.

But the Torah is clear. “And the Lord will bless you in all that you do.” In this context doing means supporting the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces to find the terrorists and neutralize them so that no parent has to ever prematurely say kaddish, God forbid.

Rabbi Steinsaltz says that “although our hearts are filled with weeping, we should also make sure that they will also be filled with joy… Let us thank God, rejoice in our being the chosen ones, and endeavor to fulfill our mission with faith and joy.”

I disagree. Now is the time for weeping and time for physical resolve. Joy cannot come to us until we take action to safeguard Israel’s citizens so that they can live in their land in peace. Israel has no quarrel with our Arab brothers and sisters. But we will wage eternal war against those who seek to murder us, as they did these innocent teens, for simply being Jewish. We are not chosen to die but to live. And rather than thanking God, we should be challenging the Almighty to send the Messianic redeemer so that, as the prophet promised, at the end of days “death will be consumed forever.” Only then will there be complete joy.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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