By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The New York Times reports that in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, people are questioning “whether ‘justice’ was done… and whether the American troops made any effort to capture bin Laden alive or simply executed him. And some think that the scenes of celebrating Americans were indecorous at the least…
“The disquiet is mostly among those on the left and among the elite in the news media,” the article continued, “but it is reminiscent of the atmosphere during the Bush administration and the war against Iraq, when the United States was criticized for unilateralism, arrogance, disrespect for international law, triumphalism and recourse to overwhelming military force.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel got in trouble when she said that she was happy that the effort to take out bin Laden was successful. She came in for some heavy criticism. Even a member of her own conservative party told the media that he “wouldn’t have used those words. That is a vengeful way of thinking that one shouldn’t have; that’s medieval.”
That was the way people spoke and thought in the olden days, came the rebuke. We, modern, thoughtful people, don’t think or speak that way.
Modern liberal man seems to think like President Barack Obama. His predecessor, George W. Bush, set out to bring democracy to Arab countries. But Obama, speaking in Cairo in June 2009, said, “I know there has been a controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years…” He went on to talk about the war in Iraq, started by Bush, and then said, “So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed [on] one nation by any other.”
Does that make any sense to you? The leader of the free world apologizing for American attempts to foster the best system of governance known to man upon other countries? Why was he apologizing?
In 1981, when there was an opportunity to institute democracy in Poland, then-President Ronald Reagan jumped at it, as he did when he sensed his bully pulpit could give a final death knell to Communist Russia and he told “Mr. Gorbachev” to “tear down this wall.”
Bush so believed that democracy would solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem that he forced Israel to permit Hamas to run in the elections for Gaza, after Ariel Sharon made the mistake of pulling Israel out of the strip of land in a misbegotten attempt to bring peace there.
But his successor stood by as the Iranian people tried to rid themselves of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, much as he is doing now, as the people under the rule of Iran’s best friend, Bashar al-Assad, try to stand up to him.
Make no mistake about it. Lev melochim vesorim beyad Hashem. The fact that such a monumental change of leadership can occur in a country, as happened with the transfer of power from Bush to Obama, is indicative of this. For years, there was one hanhagah. Then it changed. Until last week, bin Laden was able to hide out in the open. Then, the man who begrudgingly took over the war on terror and shut down much of its “distasteful apparatus” was forced to give the go-ahead to have bin Laden killed.
We don’t understand why the hidden Hand of Hashem guides history this way. It will only become apparent in hindsight, when the last chapter of the story is written, but there are lessons we can study now. Foremost among them is how we should react to what transpired.
The sefer of Tehillim represents a rushing flow of ahavas Hashem and d’veikus, expressing Dovid Hamelech’s yearning for the Creator. In his song, he tells us one of the definitions of a person who loves Hashem.
“Ohavei Hashem sinu ra.” Those who love Hashem hate evil. They revile and abhor wrongdoing and falsehood, because really loving an ideal means hating its opposite; and Hashem is the essence of good; His Torah is the essence of Truth.
Thankfully, it has become fashionable to wax poetic about the ahavas Hashem part. The sinu ra portion is a little less fashionable. It doesn’t appeal to the current liberal mindset or to the modern world’s preoccupation with being broadminded and accepting.
Underneath the hyperbole and spin, many people across the world who consider themselves thoroughly modern and cultured are a little queasy about the shooting of bin Laden. They don’t feel the “rinah,” the joy that a pure heart experiences “ba’avod reshaim,” because political correctness has laid claim to their consciences and attitudes.
It’s a condition that goes way back, almost to the first page of our history.
Avrohom Avinu was not only the father of our people. He mastered the art of compassion. It was he who asked Hashem to wait while he cared for a group of hot, hungry, thirsty nomads. Yet, the same Avrohom who prayed for the city of Sedom had little compassion for fictitious pursuits. When the opportunity presented itself, he took hammer in hand in an attempt to destroy the falsehood around him. His efforts earned him a death sentence. As his family looked on, he was thrown into a fire.
Avrohom’s brother, Haran, looked on with a mixture of horror and uncertainty, unable to resolve his respect for his saintly brother with the clear evidence of the fact that his was the losing cause.
“Im Avrohom menatzei’ach ani mishelo. Im Nimrod menatzei’ach ani mishelo,“ Haran proclaimed. “If these flames consume Avrohom, then I am with Nimrod, but if Avrohom is saved, then I am with him.” He didn’t bear a moral compass or value system. He thus couldn’t bring himself to take a side. All he wanted was to emerge a winner.
Like a typical modern man, he called out, “Sign me up for the winning team.”
Avrohom emerged unscathed, but Haran wasn’t as fortunate. The fire which had grown cold and powerless around Avrohom Avinu, returned with a fury around Haran, consuming him and his inability to take sides.
The Maharal teaches that the name of this unfortunate figure reveals his essence. The letters of the name Haran – Hey, Reish and Nun – have something in common: each is a middle letter. Hey is the mid-point between one and ten, Reish is the mid-point between Alef and Tov-one and four hundred, while Nun is the halfway mark between one and one hundred. Haran’s place was in the middle.
Spiritual people who are truly honest and G-d-fearing don’t take a poll before aligning themselves with the truth in any given argument or battle. They aren’t afraid to take sides. They know that there is only one correct way and one right answer.
This, says the Maharal, is hinted to in the name of the oheiv Hashem, Aharon the kohein gadol. His name is composed of the same letters as Haran’s. There is one difference, however. His name begins with the letter Alef. This is a sign that his ability to seemingly walk both sides, as the oheiv shalom and oheiv ess habrios, is a reflection of following the word of Hashem at each juncture. The correct path is neither the one on the right nor the one on the left. It is the one that the Torah calls for in each situation.
As followers of the divinely written Torah, we recognize that there is an absolute truth, and thus we know that there are positions – and people – that are either right or wrong.
We, bearers of a royal torch, who were bequeathed the Toras Emes, have an obligation to rejoice when evil is eradicated from the world. We are obligated to work towards the goal of minimizing the ra in the world. Our chinuch inculcates in children a love for the truth and a drive to seek out the truth. We teach our children and remind ourselves to always be truthful and never lie, cheat or steal. We are charged to hate sheker and be committed to do what we can to rid the world of it.
When sheker receives a blow, as it did last week, we should rejoice. This is not a physical joy. It is not a joy that an evil person was killed and not a joy that blood was spilled. It is a joy that a personification of evil, ra, was silenced.
In fact, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz would say that the method for a person to determine his level of ahavas Hashem is to test his hatred of ra. The degree to which a person is able to tolerate ra and not totally despise it is indicative of how much he is lacking in ahavas Hashem. Of course the hatred must emanate from his ahavas Hashem and not be based upon other considerations.
My colleague, Rabbi Yisroel Besser, recounts in his biography of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld that a searching young soul once explained to Rabbi Freifeld that his worldview called for unconditional love of all people and ideas, and that he couldn’t bring himself to hate anything or anyone.
“If you don’t hate,” replied Rabbi Freifeld, “then it means you don’t love either.”
We just read this past Shabbos, in Parshas Emor, of the “ben isha Yisroelis vehu ben ish Mitzri” who committed a cardinal sin. The people hurried to Moshe Rabbeinu, who locked up the mekallel as he awaited Divine instructions.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu instructed Moshe Rabbeinu that the mekallel was to be killed in the public square. It was, as Rashi says, a “maamad kol ha’eidah,” a public event.
Yet, it was an event with an introduction. The Torah breaks its account of the mekallel as Moshe teaches new halachos about protecting human beings from harm and delineating the punishment of one who strikes and maims another person.
Before we eradicate evil, the Torah is saying, we have to ensure that our own appreciation of the value of a human being is perfect and that we are sensitized to the danger of harming another person.
Then, against the backdrop of this awareness, the Torah continues with the fate of the wicked person. “And the bnei Yisroel did as Hashem commanded them.”
Committed anew to the sanctity and purity of human life, they could march as one in fulfilling the task of eliminating evil.
In his book, Decision Points, former President George W. Bush recounts a very emotional trip he made to lower Manhattan immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001. He relates the raw pain he felt as he was driven through the smoldering remains of buildings and the jarring anguish of seeing emergency workers covered head to toe in ash as they searched relentlessly for evidence of human life, fighting against reality in their search for survivors.
He describes his approach to Ground Zero, and the lack of light in the nightmare zone, the air an eerie gray curtain of ash, smoke and debris, the ground a trail of shattered glass and puddles from the sprays of water used to fight the fires.
The president of the United States walked up to the workers, their faces lined with fatigue and resilience. One soot-covered fireman told him that his station had lost many good men. Bush writes how he tried to comfort the man but was unable to, as “that was not what he wanted. He looked at me square in the eyes and said, “George, find the ones who did this and kill them.”
“It’s not often that people call the president by his first name, but that was fine by me,“ writes the president. “This was personal.”
The president perceived that decorum and propriety dictated that he be addressed as Mr. President by every citizen. Yet he recognized the raw, authentic pain of the fireman, so he looked aside from the breach of protocol. The firefighter’s hate for the enemy was a result of his love for his country and his fallen comrades.
We need to remind ourselves of the firefighter’s message: It’s personal. Really caring about the world around us means that we rejoice when it becomes a better, safer place. It means that we aren’t apologetic about admitting the truth: Osama bin Laden was more animal that human. The world is a better place without him in it.
Navy SEALs are very much in the news, as they are the ones who were given the task of apprehending and killing the world’s most wanted man. Lt. Cmdr. Eric Greitens, of the Navy Reserve, wrote in this past weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal about what it is that makes a SEAL:
“What kind of man makes it…? That’s hard to say. But I do know – generally – who won’t make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength, the kids covered in tattoos announcing to the world how tough they are, the preening leaders who don’t want to get dirty, and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars but have never been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show.
“Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training… made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men, who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too.
“Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.”
Those who love others, those who have giant hearts, are the ones who have the ability to persevere in the most difficult situations and fight the forces of evil. They have the ability to look evil in the face and take the shot, ridding the world of the menace that person represents.
So while the liberal thinkers on the left race to find the platitudes to express their enlightened views and engage in differing forms of moral equivalency, affording respect to those who engage in what can only be described as evil, we say the opposite.
The Torah lights our path, telling us that the truth brooks no falsehood. There is a complete, whole truth, and when something is anything but that, it is a lie. As Torah observant people, we must abhor anything that is not the truth. We must endeavor to engage in a truthful, pure, way of life, displaying a complete aversion to anything impure or dishonest in any facet of our lives.
“Ohavei Hashem sinu ra.”
We strive to be ohavei Hashem, and thus, by extension, we hate ra. It’s personal.
And with hearts filled with gratitude to the Ribbono Shel Olam, with rinah over the downfall of the one of the most prominent symbols of evil in our age, we ask “Kein yovdu kol oyivecha Hashem,” as we pray to soon witness the day when the ultimate truth will be apparent to all. Amein.