The New Hero

I’m generally hesitant to voice my opinion on political matters. Maybe it’s because I have this fear of reinventing the wheel or because of how difficult I find it to formulate a nuanced view on charged issues. Yet, recent events have compelled me to write something, if only to gather my thoughts.

Evil is afoot.

When a thirteen-year-old child, with the reasonable expectation of forfeiting his life, sticks a knife into the neck of another thirteen-year-old complete stranger who is riding his bicycle, this cannot be dismissed as a result of the “occupation”, the amorphous and convenient mantra of politicians and other rabble-rousers (an intelligent conversation about this topic can be put off for another time because it is not relevant here).

It cannot even be chalked up to the perceived encroachment on the religious status quo of the Temple Mount, which even a few cursory questions to said terrorist would reveal. And it is not merely the manifestation of a mindless hate that sprouts forth from the fundamental principles of a religion that many claim is rotten at its core (a debate I don’t know enough about to weigh in on). No, at its source, what is currently taking place in Israel is a manifestation of a trouble that in my mind is more dangerous and frightening.

It has to do with becoming a hero.

We are all born into a mysterious and terrifying world. We try to make sense of why we’re here and why we, who are here one day and will be gone the next, actually matter. We tend to bind ourselves to some guiding ethos that will invest our paltry existence with meaning (usually something outside ourselves unless we’re artists or schizophrenics), with the rays of a cosmic heroism.

There is a burgeoning movement in the world, a maniacal wave that is gathering steam in my lifetime, and whose culmination is perhaps the nauseating popularity of ISIS, according to which the height of a viable framework for cosmic heroism is the killing of the greatest number of unknown and innocent human beings for the indefinite purpose of perpetuating fear and suffering. It is a satanic cult that is threatening to swallow whole every value that morally anchored individuals hold dear. It is a direct and sweeping challenge to the way I personally make sense of the world.

The advent of terrorism has been so central a factor of my life. It has left its mark on even the most benign aspects of my daily living, affecting my experience while traveling, while shopping for a new pair of pants or while vacationing on a beach with my family. Yet, despite its stark prevalence, I haven’t managed to wrap my head around the gnarled and perplexing path that has led a significant slice of fellow human beings to willingly lay down their lives for the sole purpose of killing and maiming strangers — often children and the elderly. I can think of no greater abasement of a life form on this planet (I challenge a zoologist to find me any animal who will risk its life to kill other animals for such a purpose), and yet, here terrorism is to stay.

And now, earlier this week and a short drive away from my home, a thirteen-year-old boy was willing to die so that he could have the delight of viciously stabbing another child equal in age, a child he essentially knew nothing about other than the likelihood that he was a Jew. It is maddening.

In my mind, there’s only one force strong enough to lead a youth on such a path, to cause his parents to swell with pride as he leaps into this abyss: Heroism. The perpetrators of these crimes have been swept up in a maelstrom of evil and have found this manner of treachery as the sole act that gives their life a greater meaning. In these parts of the globe, one of the many signs of this phenomenon is the outward joy of the populace — the candy, the singing and the gunfire in the air — that greet a successful butchering of innocent and helpless victims that has caused nothing other than death and suffering.

Don’t be mistaken. It is this same drive — and not gun laws — that lies at the heart of the student who chooses to smuggle a gun into school and indiscriminately shoot at students and teachers who he may or may not have rubbed shoulders with for months and years prior. This is perpetrated by the shooter only after he has arrived at the conclusion that only the execution of such an atrocity (that preferably will end in his death) can imbue him with some cosmic significance, that can establish his eternal legacy.

Anyone who dismisses these twisted acts that we’ve been increasingly witnessing in the world to some convenient motive that happens to jive with his or her worldview is either a liar or naïve.

Any right-minded person who believes that he or she doesn’t have to fight this church of evil tooth and nail, wherever and whenever it may reveal its hideous face, is either a fool or a coward.

About the Author
Daniel Light is an aspiring novelist, an Orthodox rabbi and an attorney who tries to help get the invaluable inventions of one of Israel's premier scientific institutions to market.