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Israel-Gaza War 5784: Acharei Mot – Admitting Error, Rejecting Molech

This week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, describes the priestly rituals on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Among the sacrifices brought that day by both the High Priest and the children of Israel were hattat offerings, from a root word meaning “to aim and miss.” They were sacrifices made to atone for mistakes.

What is noteworthy about this Torah portion is the message that, like the common people, the religious leader also had to acknowledge mistakes. Everyone was expected to take responsibility for their failings—but leaders first, leading by example.

And the text also tells us something strange: that the blood of the hattat offering also brought atonement for mipishehem l’chol-hatotam, “for their rebellious sins among all their mistakes.” (Leviticus 16:16) Evidently, even our deliberate infractions are a kind of mistake, for if we truly could see how much damage and hurt they cause, we would refrain from doing them

This Torah portion teaches us that acknowledging and atoning for mistakes is no less important than for deliberate sins. But shouldn’t we be cut some slack for our errors, committed without malice? Yet if I spill coffee on your best suit by accident, as opposed to throwing it on you, your suit is still ruined, and I would be expected to pay for cleaning it.

Some leaders in Israel today understand this concept. Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva recently announced he was stepping down over his role in the failures that led to October 7th. “The Military Intelligence Directorate, under my command, failed to warn of the terror attack carried out by Hamas,” he announced. “We failed in our most important mission, and as the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, I bear full responsibility for the failure.”

Of course, Haliva did not deliberately ignore signs of the impending attack. He and other Israeli intelligence experts mistakenly thought that Hamas did not have the capability to mount a serious incursion, despite the signs reported to them by military observers near the border. But a leader, even more than “ordinary” people, must take responsibility for his or her mistakes and make a sacrifice. As Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.” As well as Haliva, the head of the Shin Bet and the IDF have acknowledged that they bear responsibility for the debacle of October 7th. Other Israeli leaders should do the same.

How different has been the response of the Hamas leaders. Far from admitting to egregious sins or even a tactical mistake in bringing devastation on their own people, they arrogantly say that not only do they not regret the attack, they would do it again. Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya recently reiterated this, while denying that Hamas targeted civilians. No wrongdoing or mistakes here!

Not surprisingly, their attitude is shared by those they lead. An interrogator with Israel’s Unit of International Crime Investigations said that the captured Hamas terrorists he questioned felt no remorse for the crimes they committed on October 7th.

Acharei Mot goes on to warn the people against committing the sinful practices of not only the land they have just left, Egypt, but the land they are going to. Among other things, they are commanded not to sacrifice their children to Molech, a Canaanite god. (Exodus 18:21)

Both Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank teach their children from a young age that it is praiseworthy to martyr themselves in the process of killing Jews and taking back the land of Israel. Like the ancient Canaanites they claim to be descended from, they sacrifice their children and in doing so, profane the name of G-d.

As former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

When all of Israel’s leadership owns their errors and apologizes, stepping down for new and better leaders, that will be one (but only one) necessary step in the country healing from the wounds of October 7th.

And when the Palestinian leadership takes ownership of and responsibility for their willful sins, when they stop raising their children to kill both themselves and others, there will be a chance for the two peoples to live side by side in peace.

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can be found at https://kosherkitty.wordpress.com/about/ and @KosherKitty1.
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