Adam Jacobs

The Living Dead Are Real

“No one cares if you die, Lisa, because you’re dead already. Your heart is cold.”

– Susana, Girl Interrupted

For a while now I’ve wondered about our culture’s fascination with zombies – from the six acclaimed seasons of The Walking Dead to the dozen or so zombie video games that were released in 2015 alone (Resident Evil, Dead Island 2, etc.). Clearly, people are obsessed with the idea of mindless, decomposing former humans whose only goal is the consumption of live flesh.  Why is this?

On the one hand I suppose we can suggest that it just makes a good story.  The “bad guy” is a standard element of any engaging tale and it’s easy and satisfying to dispense with moral ambiguity and enjoy the spectacle of the heroes dispatching the beasts one by one.  I wonder though, if there’s more.  They say that art imitates life and I think it abundantly clear that these unfeeling creatures are quite real, share many of the features of the fictitious ones and, disturbingly, are currently on the march.

Israel is currently enduring the latest wave of its local walking dead. Jihadis are coming out of the woodwork to plunge knives into the chests and necks of innocent victims caught in the path of evil.  There is no discrimination in this brutality save one – male, female, old and young all share the same fate – provided that they are Jews.

After these incidents I often hear people processing out loud – “Who could do such a thing!?”  What do you have to be to have the capacity to stab (or stone, shoot or detonate) a child? The answer should be obvious – you would have to be dead inside.  I’ve read that those who train suicide bombers sometimes briefly bury them in coffins to get them used to the idea that they are going to die. Their sole reason for emerging from the ground is to carry out the depraved designs of their masters.  How apropos.

In a palpable sense, the battle between Israel and her enemies is that of the forces of life and death.  Judaism teaches that evil people are considered to be dead already – a pulse and some brain activity are not sufficient to qualify as living.  Being alive means struggling to fulfill the purpose of creation – to engage in battle and subdue the darkness within us all.  This is our definition of strength and our earthly mission. The Mishna says “Who is strong? One who overpowers his (negative) inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, and one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”

When we choose to battle our own demons and emerge victorious, our ethical side is elevated and our spirituality illuminated. Conversely, the more we succumb to the darkness (complacency,anger, jealousy, fear, etc) the more negative and unethical we become.  At a certain point, after too many decisions to side with the dark side have been made, the Rubicon is crossed and it becomes extremely difficult to return. Sometimes entire cultures, overpowered by their own darkness, take aim at whatever victim they designate as the chosen recipient of their existential pain – for in truth, the force of evil would prefer to be good but has lost its capacity to access it.  As such, its overwhelming desire is to take aim at the light and attempt to degrade it to its own level (i.e. the BDS movement) or to destroy it (wars, intifadas, etc.) in an effort to erase the awful reminder of their failed and rotting internal worlds and cultures.

Note well on whom pure evil sets its sights.  The victims are the living and the perpetrators are the living dead.

“Choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

– Deuteronomy 30:19

About the Author
Rabbi Adam Jacobs is the Managing Director of the Aish Center in Manhattan. He was born and raised in New York and has lived in Boston and Jerusalem, where he received his rabbinic ordination. He completed his B.A. in music from Brandeis University and has a Masters of Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory. He is a blogger for the Huffington Post’s religion section and has a penchant for writing and teaching about the uplifting, beautiful and unexpected aspects of the Jewish tradition. He was recently featured in the documentary film "Kabbalah Me" and has published a collection of essays called The Forgotten Light. Rabbi Jacobs now lives in “the burbs” with his wife Penina and their five children.
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