Downfall of the Enemy
How should we feel upon seeing an evil person destroyed?
Tarak Said Paras Handakni was recently killed in a shootout with Israeli forces in Ramallah. Israeli intelligence identified Handakni as one of the murderers of Aharon Avadian, an Israeli father of four from the northern town of Zichron Yaakov.
Out of the hundreds of incidents in the Israeli anti-terrorist campaign of the past few months, why did this one catch my attention? Because Aharon Avadian was not just another victim in the headlines. He was my neighbor.
When word of his murder reached our town that day, an Arab who used to work with Avadian broke down and wept. "I hate Arabs," he said.
What am I to feel? Should I hate Arabs? Should I gloat over the killing of my neighbor's murderer? Or should I feel sadness and disgust over so much hatred and violence?
Some would answer that whatever you feel, you have a right to that feeling. But the Torah viewpoint is different. Not only is the Torah a book of law and history, it is a guidebook for life. There is nothing in life that the Torah does not address.
What the Torah says about such situations, however, seems at first glance contradictory.
On one hand, we have a verse: "In the destruction of the wicked, there is song" (Proverbs 11:10). The Talmud says this refers to King Ahab, who was so evil that the world looked forward to his death, and everyone rejoiced in being rid of him.
Every morning in our prayers we mention the drowning of the Egyptian legions at the Red Sea.
Indeed, we celebrate the destruction of the wicked every morning in our prayers when we mention the drowning of the Egyptian legions at the Red Sea. It was one of the great moments of Jewish history, when Moses and Miriam led the Jewish people in a song of praise and thanksgiving to God. And we recall it with festivity every year at the Passover Seder.
At the same time, the Midrash explains that during the last six days of Passover, we do not say the complete Hallel prayer of joyful praises, because when the Jews crossed the Red Sea, God said, "Since my creations [the Egyptians] are drowning, you should not be singing praises."
IMAGE OF GOD
The Torah tells us about God's decision to destroy the city of Sodom. Abraham comes to God and argues against it. The question is asked: The people of Sodom were known to be entrenched in evil. Why should Abraham care?
The lesson Abraham teaches is that we don't desire that sinners will cease, but rather that sins will cease. Therefore, instead of wishing for their demise, Abraham prayed for them to repent.
Every human being is created in the image of God -- even a terrorist -- and we should pray for their return to sanity.
Jews in Israel just want to be left alone to live in peace.
Jews in Israel don't want to kill Palestinians, God forbid. We just want to be left alone to live in peace.
If Palestinians do not choose the path of peace, and they suffer because of it, we are still instructed not to rejoice at the downfall of an enemy. As the Sages say: "When your enemy falls, be not glad; and when he stumbles, let your heart not be joyous. Lest God see and it displease Him and He will turn His wrath from him [to you]." (Proverbs 24:17-18; Avot 4:24)
The classic commentary, Tifferet Yisrael, distinguishes between the various sources as follows: When it's just a grudge match, when it's only your own enemy that has fallen and you feel a personal triumph, then God may be displeased and you should not be glad. But when the objectively wicked perish, as with the death of Ahab and the drowning of Pharaoh's legions, then we may rejoice -- for it is there that we see the Hand of God punishing our enemies, meted out in a world where the reign of injustice had seemed virtually invincible.
HONOR AND TRUTH
A few words about my neighbor Aharon Avadian.
All that the newspapers told about him in their brief report was that he was a kashrut supervisor. That is probably the least of the things that those who knew him will remember. And yet, his position as a supervisor of kashrut did, in its cryptic way, testify to the extraordinary person that he was. For Avadian was not raised in a religious environment; he was, like his family and friends, educated to a secular way of life. But he was searching for the truth, and he came to the conclusion that the truth resided with the ways of Jewish tradition.
It was not an easy decision. Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson said during the shiva that Avadian struggled for a long time with the great question of what it means to be a Jew. Only when he was certain that it was the right path, did he commit himself.
In the eyes of the Torah, honor is measured in accordance with how much one has fulfilled his potential.
Rabbi Yaakovson, a distinguished Torah scholar, said that he would stand up in Avadian's honor when the latter entered the room. He described how Avadian would protest against this gesture, insisting that it was an insult to the rabbi's greater Torah knowledge. "It was the only time I ever saw him get really angry," recalled Rabbi Yaakovson. "It was only because he loved the truth so much, and he felt that this was wrong. But in the eyes of the Torah, honor is measured in accordance with how much one has fulfilled his potential, how much he's overcome in life. Considering where I came from, and considering where Aharon came from, I had to stand up for him, and not the other way around."
Avadian's modesty and kindness were trademarks. It was an irony of death that it occurred in an area where he was well known for his work as a volunteer in the regional rescue unit. Avadian responded to numerous calls for help in the nearby Arab village. Several residents of that village owe their lives today to Aharon Avadian.
When friends would caution him that it was dangerous to go into Arab areas after the intifada had started, he responded, "Aren't they also human beings? How can I not answer their call for help?"
In the case of Aharon Avadian and the hundreds of other innocent Jews killed by Palestinian terror, there have been no open miracles in the bringing of their murderers to justice. The sea does not split, nor does the earth swallow up the terrorists who assail us every day. Furthermore, even operations like Defesnive Shield will only stop the terror temporarily. Aharon Avadian's killers may have been eliminated, but the killing goes on, and no one knows when it will end.
So while there can be some sense of satisfaction that justice has been done, that some of the wicked have perished, it is hardly a time for song.
The sages of our own generation have often invoked the words of the prophet to describe and define our times: “It is a time of suffering for the Jewish people" (Jeremiah 30:7). It is a time in which the hand of justice is rarely perceived, and the bloody arm of the enemy of Israel is about in all the land.
But we also have to remember the concluding words of that verse: "from it, [Israel] will be saved." When that time comes, when the mighty arm of God is seen clearly in the events of history, then we will be able once again to sing a joyous song.
In the meantime, we pray for all mankind to pursue the path of peace.