Steven Saks

May God Avenge their Blood: Chayei Sarah 5784

The first eulogy in the history of our people is the eulogy that Abraham offered on behalf of his wife, Sarah, our matriarch. Though we don’t have a text of the eulogy you can imagine Abraham concluding with the phrase, Zichrona Levarcha, of blessed memory. It is customary to add the phrase, Zichrona Levarcha after mentioning the name of a deceased Jews. However, when mentioning the name of Jews that were martyred, murdered for being Jewish, our tradition teaches that stating that their names should be remembered as a source of blessing is not sufficient, for it doesn’t convey our righteous indignation over the manner in which they died. Therefore, after mentioning the name of Jews who gave their lives in acts of Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name, we follow with the phrase Hashem Yikom Damom, may God avenge their blood.  

Unlike other faith traditions, we do not believe in forgiving the unforgivable. God grants free will and holds people accountable for their actions as far as we are concerned. The Av Harachamim memorial prayer is a case and point. Though Av Harachamim means Father of Mercy, this liturgical piece speaks of a God seeking vengeance for the Jewish martyrs of the crusade.  Biblical verses included in the prayer speak of God “as an avenger of blood” taking vengeance on behalf of the innocent who were cut down.  

Referring to God as a “Father of Mercy” as he exacts revenge on the wicked is a reminder of Maimonides statement in his philosophical work, The Guide to the Perplexed, that  extending “mercy to the wicked- is cruelty to all beings.”  Notice that Maimonides doesn’t simply state that extending mercy to the wicked is cruelty to the innocent, he states that it is cruelty to “all beings.” For not only is one allowing the wicked to continue to prey on the innocent but one is allowing the wicked to continue to abuse the free will they were blessed with while continuing to degrade their God given souls through their cruelty. Yet, you may object to the idea of taking vengeance based on the command, “you shall not take vengeance” (Lev. 19:18). Yet, Nachmanides explains that the prohibition against taking vengeance only applies when money is of no factor.  When it comes to monetary wrongdoing and even more so, to the spilling of blood, vengeance is appropriate. Furthermore, the verse qualifies the command “you shall not take vengeance” with the words, “on your people.”    

The Torah is subtly acknowledging that external enemies will arise who are so irredeemably evil that it is not possible to make peace with them.  Unfortunately, vengeance is the only appropriate response. When speaking to the next generation before entering the Promised Land, Moses reminds the people, “not to forget” to “blot out the memory of Amalek,” for their merciless attack on the weak. Without mentioning Amalek by name, the Haggadah reminds us” that the spiritual descendants of Amalek” continue in their attempt to eradicate the Jewish people  by declaring “in every generation they arise to destroy us. A generation ago the Nazis arose with the mantle of Amalek in hand and today Iran along with its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah do so. 

One would expect that there would be universal revulsion to Hamas’ murderous rampage and Hamas’ apologists would be shunned.  Though that has not been the case as evidenced by events on campuses throughout the United States and on Europe’s streets, there was a bright spot of hope this week on Capitol Hill. Twenty two House Democrats joined with House Republicans to do the legislative equivalent of declaring that the blood of Hamas’ victims should be avenged, by taking the rear step of censuring one of their own, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. The Michigan lawmaker became only the 26th member of the House of Representatives to be censured. The censure resolution condemned Tlaib for”promoting false narratives” around the October 7 terrorist attack and “calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.” This is a reference to her use of the phrase “from the river to the sea” [Palestine shall be free]. Though Tlaib defended the use of the slogan as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate,” it has been rightfully viewed by groups such as the Anti- Defamation League as a call for the destruction of Israel and anti-Semitic in nature. The inescapable result of Palestine stretching from the river to the sea would mean the end of the Jewish state. 

As we read this week of the first funeral in the history of our people, we say “thank you” to  those in the House who voted in favor of censoring Tlaib, especially the Democrats, who took on a member of their own caucus, in order to reminding the world that Jewish blood is not cheap. 

About the Author
Rabbi of Sons of Israel, Woodmere NY. Vice President of Morasha Rabbinical Fellowship (affiliated with the Union for Traditional Judaism). Served as president of the Rabbinical Association of Delaware.
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