Animals do not choose. If a lion is hungry, it eats. If a bear is tired, it sleeps. If a zebra is scared, it runs. Animals do not debate with themselves before they do something, they do not think in the long-term, compassion, ethics and morals do not play a part in their decisions. You cannot blame an animal for an action it takes.
On Tuesday morning, two men decided to walk into a Synagogue in Jerusalem and shoot, hack and cut as many Jews as they could get their hands on. As of the time of writing, they managed to end the lives of four men. Several more were hospitalised.
These terrorists chose the actions they took that morning. They decided to acquire guns, knives and axes. They selected their target carefully. They had the foresight to find out exactly when morning services would take place. They chose to wait a few minutes before attacking so that the Synagogue would be just a little busier. They had free choice from the very first moment this barbaric plan popped into their head, right down until the very last time they swung the axe and pulled the trigger. Their choices led to the murder of four innocent people, one of them was wrapped in his teffilin and tallis as he lay on the ground, in what is the most heart-wrenching photo I have seen in my life.
To call these men animals is an insult to the animal kingdom. Animals do not have the luxury of choice, these terrorists chose.
The night before this news broke, I was learning Maimonidies’ Laws of Repentance with a friend. We reached a paragraph which discusses the nature of human beings. Maimonidies asserts that no human is born evil, and no human is born righteous. Every human makes multitudes of choices throughout their life which tips them this way or the other. That is the very essence of being human. I really wish I hadn’t been provided with the perfect demonstration of this concept the very next morning.
As a result of the incident which exemplified how to corrupt the concept of humanity, I saw what it means to make the correct choices, and succeed in being human. Just before our daily lecture, my Rabbi was approached and told that his wife wanted him to call her. He dropped everything without hesitation and left the room to contact her. He returned to begin the lesson and told us in a low voice that one of his friends had been killed in the attack, and that he was a little upset. He would have to leave a little early to travel to the funeral. With superhuman dignity and composure, he then went on to give a 45 minute shiur, with a catch in his voice, before he exited to travel to Jerusalem. One of the topics touched upon was dying for the sanctification of God’s name. He chose to act with the thoughtful nobility of a champion of the human race, and that image will stay with me for a very long time.
Being human is about making choices. Do not credit men who choose evil with the title of ‘animals’, an animal is much better than that.