Be good, but not naive
For the past three millennia, Jews have faced many enemies. It’s logical that Judaism has ideas about enemies and advice on how to handle them.
Yet, over the centuries in the diaspora, we sometimes have forgotten our traditional approach and borrowed non-Jewish ideas. Let’s rediscover the original Jewish approach. For all clarity, Judaism is not a religion. After all, there are Atheist Jews. Rather, Jews are a People with a shared culture and history, and an important part thereof is Judaism.
The aim of spreading Jewish wisdom is not to make more Jews observant or more Gentiles into Jews. Rather, we got knowledge to teach it. In that process, our students will teach us, but we stay the teachers.
Jewish Ideas About Enemies
First and foremost, the main fight between Good and Evil is inside of most of us, not between human and human (and certainly not between G^d and Satan—see below). Free Will is the ability to invest energy and time to go for options that may be less comfortable but that are morally superior. In the Olympics, one or three are winners and the rest losers. In a Jewish competition, everyone wins. And, when you conquer a passion and let morality prevail, you are stronger than one who conquers a city.
G^d is all-Good. So, how there be Evil in the world? The purpose of Evil, because that too is G^d-sent, is Good. But not as a glorification of suffering. Rather, Evil is here for us to fight it, to reject it. Just like going against the resistance in a home trainer builds our muscles, going against Evil builds our moral muscle. G^d tells Abraham: I’ll destroy Sodom. He replies: But … No different from someone falling ill and us sending for a doctor. That’s not opposing G^d, Heaven forbid. It’s doing what G^d expects of us. Evil is an invitation to us to protest, resist.
The Rabbis teach us that the Satan is a central and very holy Angel. He’s not a rebel, as some Gentiles have it, but a faithful agent and messenger of G^d. The Sages teach that the Satan has three functions: First, he entices us, then, he kills us (in that function also called the Angel of Death), and then, he officiates at the Heavenly Court as the Prosecutor. In the end, G^d will slaughter the Angel of Death. All is well that ends well. Judaism totally rejects classical Christianity. Worse than constructing the Trinity, after-all still an attempt to represent Monotheism, is that its view is Bitheistic.
Anger means you know better than G^d. It’s a form of Idolatry. The alternative is to argue G^d and understand that’s welcome.
Surprisingly, we are not primarily victims of antisemites. Rather, any Jew-hatred coming our way is G^d’s way of telling us to improve, especially in unity with Jews we don’t feel close to or love. That is the best way to prevent or stop Gentile attacks. It also communicates that G^d wants more unity and less infighting. It also reminds us that complacency is not the way and that we are morally superior—and should act it.
The Biblical Amalek is presented to us as intrinsically evil. However, Maimonides explains that still, it can repent and become holy.
But in any case, the Talmud tells us that when someone sets out to murder you (or someone else), you get up and kill him, if there’s no other way to stop him. The Devil is in disregarding the details. The Ten Commandments say: Don’t murder, not: don’t kill. However, we’re not allowed to kill from hatred. Capital punishment is something a Jew would never seek (unless brainwashed by a non-Jewish culture). G^d put on Jews the obligation to consider the death penalty, yet if a Rabbinic Court would execute more than one person in seven years, the Sages call it a bunch of murderers. Some say: more than once in 70 years! The court’s job is to find loopholes, not to convict. If someone needs punishment, G^d can take care of it.
G^d chose the Jews as His representative. This “privilege” concerns higher expectations of us, not favoritism. For that, He chose nice people. Muslim Arabs should have a good look at what a sweet People we are. How would other Peoples have treated them?! In a further attempt to wake Jews up from being naïve, we are told: Hope for the best; prepare for the worst. Even when we find ourselves with a sward on our throat, we repent one more time, but meanwhile, we need to think about a way how to escape. Martyrdom, though a victory, must be avoided. “May G^d revenge their blood” means we won’t. Our revenge doesn’t return to us what was lost.
The Torah calling someone an enemy may mean: a fellow Jew we’ve had a falling out with. When his donkey falters, we should help immediately. Not to let the animal suffer (it’s innocent and confused). And to get over any unhelpful resentment. We can learn to care without any reason or wish for gain. Free love can help us overcome irrational hatred and get to the final Redemption. And by helping, we might actually start to like them again.
You Never Know …
We people have an ability to radically improve on the spot. Someone too stingy to give a dime to charity can suddenly give his life defending others. Not only can others pleasantly surprise us. The Torah demands that we give others the benefit of the doubt. NB: Not to hold our breath for the most wicked to repent. The Sages warn: When we’re nice to the cruel, we’ll end up being cruel to the nice.
“There are two kinds of people; people who divide people into two groups and people who don’t.” Judaism rejects a belief in two supernatural superpowers, but it also doesn’t believe that there are two kinds of people, saintly vs wicked. When my kids asked permission to read Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, I said: As long as you remember that people do not come in two groups as portrayed there. People whose majority of deeds are wicked rabbis call wicked. When most of their deeds are saintly they call them saintly. And, most people are somewhere in-between. Only, if you continue wicked behavior, it tends to become second nature, as the story of Pharaoh shows. All of us have free will, or we wouldn’t be guilty or meritorious for our deeds. Volition is not that you’re free to choose good or evil (as most western philosophers now hold) but rather the ability to make an effort to free ourselves to a higher moral level. Convictions do not mean we could have done better but that we should have done better.
Some people become so steeped in evil that they might lose the predicate Jew or even human. Avoid them and keep them out of power.
We should pray for repentance of the wicked rather than for their destruction, and for peace, and a non-violent Redemption.
The Torah counsels us to give inhabitants of an enemy city we lay a siege to a chance to flee. Strategically, that’s smart. Then, they won’t fight till their last breath. But, I add, that’s also more humane.
There are wars of aggression, defensive wars, just wars, and unjust wars, but on top of that, war crimes. In war, not all’s allowed. The Torah was the first to say so. If you need wood to fight a war, you’re not allowed to cut down fruit trees. You can’t just destroy without thought about the future.
The nice character traits, that Jews should have, tend to make us naïve. But, we should remember there is a place and a time for every personality. Jacob was only ready to be a Patriarch when he could trick the wicked.
No one should blame the victim. So, no one should blame Jews for having trust issues. Jews learned to love people before we can trust them. A great feat born from necessity. However, we often flip between being paranoid and completely naïve. We should remember that trust must be won and give exceptional and ordinary people a chance to show that they want to be our warm, close, dependable allies and friends under all conditions. The greatest challenge seems not that they hate us but that they stay timid. They can’t uproot antisemitism while staying people pleasers.