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Israel – Hamas war: Resentment, anger, and atonement

On October 7th, chaos replaced order and life was contaminated by death, like the Torah's postpartum woman, whose traces of death need separation to restore order
Police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, October 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, October 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Tazria describes the purification procedures for a woman after childbirth. She must undergo a period of quarantine, and then bring sacrificial offerings once she is pure.

This seems unfair to us moderns. Why is a woman seemingly denigrated by being designated impure after giving birth?

Last week in Shemini, we saw how important order was, both in G-d’s creation of the world, finite man’s dwelling place in an infinite cosmos, and man’s creation of the mishkan, a finite dwelling place for an infinite G-d. While G-d can exist in all space/time without differentiations, humans need orderly time and space.

Part of creation was making order from primeval chaos. Light was separated from darkness, waters above from waters below, land from sea, earth from heavens. The first order of creation was separating opposite or unlike things from each other.

In women’s wombs two opposing conditions, life and death, meet. Women who have had the misfortune to miscarry or experience a stillbirth sharply experience this incongruity, particularly if we have also been blessed with living children.

The concept of purity has come have connotations of moral judgement. But there is another concept of purity in the natural world. Pure gold does not contain other elements. If it contains traces of zinc or copper, the gold is not defective or bad; it is just not totally and only gold. In the female cycle, life and death, two opposing conditions, intermix. Sloughed-off endometrial lining, meant to provide a safe and nutrient-rich environment for the growing fetus, occurs with both miscarriage and childbirth, testifying equally to death or life.

In addition, childbirth can endanger the life of the mother. Bringing new life into the world risks ending another life. Life and death come close to each other, even if they do not touch. Like gold with traces of other elements, the postpartum woman is considered to have trace elements of death. She is deemed impure, with no implication of being defective. (Notably, purification is also required for those who have contact with dead bodies.) Purification restores the separation required for order.

For Israelis, order was replaced by chaos and life contaminated by death on October 7th. Mass rape, murder, and kidnappings paired with destruction of cars, homes, police stations, and military bases upended the orderly world Israelis had known. Quiet agricultural kibbutzim became charnel houses. A festival of joyful music and dance became a killing field. Bomb shelters meant to save life became death traps. The easy connection to loved ones taken for granted was destroyed as people were ripped from their families. The life-affirming joy of dancing to trance music, Simchat Torah, Shabbat, and family was contaminated by torture, rape, murder, and kidnapping. The sense of an ordered and predictable world was shattered.

Torture and rape inflicted maximum physical and psychic chaos. Victims could not control their own bodies nor protect themselves.

The hostages taken by Hamas also lost any vestige of control, existing entirely at the mercy and whim of their captors. Those who were freed have been carefully protected from news media and their interactions limited to medical personnel and close family and friends until such time as they felt able to expand their circle and tell their stories: a kind of quarantine meant to restore psychic order.

Another psychic disruption is survivor guilt for those who lived when others died, or were released while others still languish in captivity. Since these events, Israelis have told their stories, undergone therapy, and used other means to purify themselves of the PTSD induced by the intrusion of death into life and chaos into order.

But why did the postpartum woman bring sacrificial offerings, and how can we relate that to these events?

Torah commentator Ibn Ezra said that the sacrifices atoned for resentful thoughts or words against husband or G-d during the pain of childbirth. While these feelings are unfair, they are natural.

Survivors and hostages will have to deal with anger: children at their parents for not protecting them, or for dying and leaving them; adults at their spouses for the same. Family members may feel anger at their loved ones, as their trauma persists and recovery stretches on for months or even years. Psychologists working with these families will need to provide ways to deal with resentment and guilt, just as sacrifices did in Temple times.

And Israelis are justifiably furious with their government for not preventing October 7th. A senior Israeli intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, has announced he will resign over the intelligence failures that led to the onslaught. And many Israelis blame their government for not freeing all the hostages, or not freeing them earlier; some have died or been murdered in captivity. There will be elections, and currently serving politicians will be ousted. Careers and reputations will be sacrificed.

Finally, those who perpetrated October 7th are being hunted down and captured or killed. There has been talk of Nuremberg-style trials of those living.

Atonement on the part of those to blame will be had, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. And atonement there must be, for without justice there is no sense of restored order.

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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