The name of our ruthless enemy who callously murdered, raped and kidnapped so many people on our border with Gaza is an acronym formed from the Arabic words Ḥarakah al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, which means the Islamic Resistance Movement. On the other hand, through serendipity, that word, HAMAS, in Hebrew features prominently in this week’s Torah reading.
In the third and fifth verses of our parsha, God uses this term to describe the behavior of the Generation of the Mabul (usually translated as ‘flood’, but is probably closer to ‘cataclysm’). This word is variously translated as violence, lawlessness, wickedness, cruelty, outrage, and immorality.
Rashi, on the other hand, follows the opinion of our Sages and translates it as ‘robbery’. There are two terms in Hebrew for theft. One is G’NEIVA and the other is G’ZEILA. The former is done stealthily; the latter involves violence or weapons. The Chizkuni explains that GEZEL and CHAMAS are both armed robbery, and since we don’t believe in synonyms in Biblical Hebrew, we must ask, ‘What’s the difference?’
The Chizkuni explains that for the crime to be called GEZEL a critical amount must be stolen. CHAMAS, however, describes the act, regardless of quantity pilfered. In other words, CHAMAS describes the violent act regardless of the robber’s gain. With CHAMAS, the perpetrator only cares about performing violence. It’s the cruelty for the sake of cruelty.
Our Sages considered this behavior reprehensible. They said: If there is a box filled with sins — there is no more severe accuser among them than robbery (Sanhedrin 108a). They concluded that the world’s fate at the time of the MABUL was sealed only on account of their sin of CHAMAS.
What makes this sin so severe? Rabbeinu Bechaye suggests that the severity of the CHAMAS is predicated upon the fact that it is extremely difficult to repent from armed robbery, because the perpetrator must return the exact items or (if cash) amount stolen. That’s often hard to accomplish when things are being smashed and destroyed.
The Orchot Zadikim expands this category. He explains that the CHAMAS in our verse includes the judicial system. He avers that our scenario described a total breakdown of society where judges and the judicial system did not provide justice to the weak and helpless. This group historically includes widows, orphans and strangers, a total breakdown in social justice.
According to Rav Ya’akov Meidan this last view of CHAMAS explains the verses at the end of last week’s parsha. In this view of the situation, the B’NEI ELOHIM (Breishit 6:2)and the NEFILIM (verse 4) weren’t celestial beings. They were the strong men who dominated society and wanted to be viewed as godly, a common phenomenon in ancient societies.
In this approach, CHAMAS describes the total breakdown of morality in society. The leaders behave without regard for the well being of those they lead. Actually, that’s a pretty good description of the corrupt leadership in both Hamas and the PA. I heard one respected commentator describing how he has sympathy for the average Palestinian in the street, but none for their corrupt, uncaring leaders. One might say that people get the leaders they deserve, but it’s not hard to feel for the plight of many under Hamas and PA rule.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook observed the First World War and was appalled by the savagery. He wrote: The Torah’s description on the negative human behavior that led to the MABUL is unflinching: ‘
The earth became corrupt…and was filled with crime (CHAMAS)…all flesh had corrupted its way on earth…’the earth is filled with lawlessness (CHAMAS)’. It is frighteningly current and accurate. The world continues to be flooded with corruption, crime and destruction. War is the major activity in terms of commitment and resources.
Things have only gotten worse since Rav Kook passed away in 1935. But there is always hope. Rav Kook continued:
The hearts and minds of so much of humankind are deeply troubled and locked in hatred and fear. The Torah’s call to transform all the evil into good is more critical now than ever. May we be blessed to become powerful agents of goodness, righteousness and repair for the sake of our generations and all humankind.
In the coming weeks, we must pray with all of our spiritual power that the kidnapped be returned, that HAMAS (the terror group) is destroyed as a viable organization and that a stable peace is established on our border with Gaza. But we also must have hope that we find a way forward in a world without the corruption of the kind of oppressors found in our parsha and in the Gaza Strip.
We must pray and fight for the victory of kindness and care for our shared humanity over the rule of CHAMAS (the principle of violence) and all that represents. May the victory be swift and complete.