Stephen Daniel Arnoff
Author, Teacher, and Community Leader

Know us by our might and by our kindness

This past Shabbat, I went back to the beginning, looking for meaning and comfort, and read the first chapters of the Book of Genesis alongside the first and last chapters of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

With one eye, I tracked with Harari the emergence of Sapiens over billions of years from the millions of species and trillions of possibilities that might have emerged instead of us. With the other, as I read the Creation stories I know by heart, I came to a moment in Genesis 6 when everything falls apart so soon after it all began:

The Lord saw how great was human wickedness on earth—how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted having made humankind on earth. With a sorrowful heart, the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth humankind whom I created—humans together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.

In biblical terms, literally moments after Creation, our ancestors spawned such evil in the world that the Creator wanted to destroy it.

I think we all know how God must have felt – to look at the world as it is, to see the horrors inflicted upon innocent people by the perversion of humanity called Hamas, a bloodthirsty pack slaughtering babies and torturing children and celebrating the desecration of all we hold holy.

It’s easy to look at the face of humanity today – from the the funerals marking the murders of entire families in the South to the tires burning in Amman over an errant jihadi missile blamed upon Israel to the entitled, arrogant Jewhate from one Cambridge all the way to another – and to raise up our hands with God and say: “Enough with this species. Every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time. Blot us out. We don’t want to be here anymore.”

But Jewish tradition at its core is the opposite of Hamas’ cult of death. Judaism’s central practical teaching is “Choose life.” This is also what our species, a miraculous combination of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and beasts of the field and birds of the sky and creatures of the sea, are engineered to do. We were created to choose life.

In this light, our first order of business today is to survive. Flight is not an option, so we will fight and we will win. You will know us by our might. We will crush and dismantle Hamas not just to protect ourselves and our children, but also, because we are human, to avenge the lives Hamas has taken. Yet as Harari teaches at the conclusion of his book, survival alone is not enough for our species. Choosing life means more than just being alive. “[A] a meaningless life,” he says, ”is a terrible ordeal.”

After we raise our eyes from the desolation upon God’s earth, the evil that has terrorized it, the losses we will forever carry, like God who found Noah, we will look for the signs of life that can be nurtured to become a new world that means something to us.

Yes, in these days, you will know us by our might. But in these days and the days to come, you will also know us by the meaning we make; you will know us by our kindness.

The stories of Israelis and Jews and allies rising up to make meaning and choose life through kindness in tandem with fiercely supporting the call to survive are astounding. Hundreds of millions of dollars raised. Hundreds of thousands of meals and care packages delivered. Thousands of children from twenty-four schools around the world that my daughter and her friends helped organize for a mi-sheberech prayer for our soldiers and our captives. Countless acts of loving kindness everywhere.

We – Israel, the Jewish people, all of us – are not content only with survival. God didn’t create us just to hang around. We were created to do good. As in the Beginning, if we cannot overcome evil, Creation itself is not worth preserving. It is by choosing kindness, meaning, self-knowledge, and community that we make life worth living.

First, we choose life. Then we make it mean something. There is no better way of making life meaningful than holding our sisters and brothers close, and providing respite, love, and support for those who need our help. This is true now more than ever.

About the Author
Dr. Stephen Daniel Arnoff is the CEO of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and author of the book About Man and God and Law: The Spiritual Wisdom of Bob Dylan.
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