Once again, terror struck our nation in the vibrant streets of Tel Aviv, Israel.
Two terrorists, dressed up like Orthodox Jews, opened fire in a popular restaurant, killing at least four innocent Israelis, and injuring many more.
The scene, according to many eyewitnesses, was gruesome. Lifeless bodies, alongside uneaten birthday cakes, were lying in pools of blood. A young woman who witnessed the attack revealed: “Everyone was hysterical. People were shouting, ‘Terrorist! Terrorist!’ People were crying; some fainted.”
“Sometimes, God is beyond understanding,” my mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once shared with me. Indeed, our finite, human minds, will never fully comprehend the infinite G-d. Still, our shattered hearts cannot contain the suffering.
Nonetheless, we cannot continue on in silence. The holy Baal Shem tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, encourages us to learn something from everything one sees or hears. And so, here are two humble thoughts, that will hopefully provide some clarity and direction in the midst of this painful darkness:
1. Absolute evil exists, and it must be fought, with unwavering determination.
It is about time we stop offering excuses for evil perpetrators about their ‘challenging upbringing’ and their ‘poor life situations’. Evil is not a relative force; evil is absolute. It has no justification. And it must be treated as such. Too often, we rush to justify – or, at least, explain – why evil happens. “The terrorists live in dire, and oppressing circumstances,” many suggest. Others blame the culture in which they live in. “It’s not their fault,” someone told me the other day. “These terrorists are brainwashed, that’s all.”
But if it isn’t ‘their fault’, then whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the innocent victims?
It is high time we recognize evil for what it is. In the words of King David, “those who love God, and goodness, hate evil” (Psalms 97:10). Indeed, to know good, means that we must also be able to know, recognize, and hate evil. For if we cannot do so, with utmost clarity, how will we ever be able to stand up to it to ensure that good ultimately triumphs?
2. Choose life!
Amidst this horrifying terror, a fascinating juxtaposition appears: Here stood a group of innocent Jews who were embracing life, its leisure and its joys. There stood their murderers, determined to destroy and spew evil and death.
We are told to “choose life, so that you and your children may live,” (Deuteronomy, 30:19). But these evil men chose carnage and annihilation. The sanctity of life that we cherish so deeply disturbed those who hate it so fervently.
The Israeli Government will certainly do what it can to eradicate this evil and, hopefully, prevent any further attacks. But our response must be more personal; it must speak to the values that fill our souls. Where there is evil and darkness, we must create goodness and light. We must respond to this act of terror that sought to destroy a house of God, with acts of prayer and good deeds that seek to re-establish the house of God, in our hearts, in our minds, and in our homes.
This is a quiet heroism – there are no flamboyant shows, no dramatic gestures that capture attention. It is not enough to focus on what we are fighting against; we must also know what we are fighting for.
Let us leave our marks on this world for good. Let us fully realize our God-given skills and talents. Let us “choose life” and fill our years with actions of goodness and deeds of kindness.
Without a doubt, goodness, and life, will then eventually prevail.