Rising from the trap of victimhood

Responses matter. You are not merely the product of what happens to you. You are also the product of what you do with what happens to you. And even beyond what your responses to events tell you about yourself, they also tell others a lot about you.

The painful news of yet another terrorist attack in the heart of Tel Aviv last night has elicited some telling responses.

Some, regretfully, dismiss it as yet another attack in an endless conflict. Our approach is to dismiss something else: victimhood. It would be natural to become defined by the injustice of the senseless murder of two 27-year old, childhood friends –  Eytam Megini who had been looking for wedding venues with his fiancé, and Tomar Morad, who had just landed a great new professional opportunity. But victimhood has never been the Jewish way. Instead, we turn pain into a touchstone to heal.

Then there are those who, horrifyingly, use the attack as a stimulant for grotesquely engorged celebration. Rather than dwell on what it means to instill in your children this kind of response to bloodshed, we choose to stimulate a fresh firmness into our core priorities. As in how Israel continues, even today, to resupply the only working Field Hospital in Ukraine.

And then there are some who remain silent when Israelis are murdered, yet speak-out when Israel rises to defend itself. Instead of insisting that they look themselves in the mirror and consider the implications of this lopsided posture, something we certainly wouldn’t oppose, we choose not to be silent about a couple of important things: 1) We’re careful not to demonize Arab communities. Included in the millions of Israelis who are Arabs, are several of 13 killed in the last four terror attacks, including the police officer who gave his life to stop the B’nei Brak terrorist, who his fiancé eulogized as ‘my hero of Israel.’ 2) Beer Sheva, Hadera, B’nei Brak, Tel Aviv – the sites of the four recent terror attacks – are only disputed territory for those who strive to eliminate the one and only nation-state of the Jewish People.

Tonight is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath. It annually introduces the week in which Passover begins. There are many explanations for why it has its name. Commonly, Elijah the prophet ushers in a ‘great and awesome day’ that heralds the messianic era (Mal. 3:23). Perhaps we can adopt another explanation, one that appreciates greatness of spirit in our People. It’s captured in how we respond, in the brilliant alchemy that saves us from the trap of victimhood. It doesn’t wait for the world’s pity, even as it appreciates the genuine empathy that is forthcoming from so many. It helps us resupply the firmness of our larger purpose. And it enables us to reclaim the sacred trust that resides deep within us.

The opening words of Israel’s anthem – and please watch this spontaneous response from the heart of Tel Aviv last night – the best response. Hatikva begins with the words, “As long as I have a heart” which tenderly salute this greatness of spirit. It’s essentially saying, “As long as I have a dream, as long as I breathe, someone trusts in me. And I will return that trust. I too will trust. I will make my response a mighty force of kindness and caring in a world so hungry to regain trust in these virtues.”

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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