Naomi Shemer, the Israeli poet, wrote a song entitled, Al Kol Eleh. The words begin, ‘On the honey and the bee’s sting, on the bitter and the sweet.’
Shemer was trying to explain through the medium of poetry that much in life comes with mixed emotions; good and bad, real and surreal.
The assassination of Osama bin Laden has been a mix of emotions for me:
I am glad he is no longer in this world. He was a terrible person and guilty for many deaths before and after 9/11.
I feel an incredible sense of pride towards our troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over the world.
There are no words to adequately describe the courage it took our leadership – from the commander in chief to the generals and advisers – to green-light the plan.
I am proud of President Bush, who rightly began the manhunt for this evil villain and, I am indebted to President Obama for completing the task.
There is no proper way to say thank you to the forever-anonymous brave men and women that rappelled down ropes with guns and infra-red goggles to fulfill a mission on behalf of an entire nation.
But, even with all of those feelings, I cannot celebrate a death. It does not feel right. It does not feel Jewish. When I saw hundreds of young people chanting and cheering in front of the White House, at Times Square and with Ground Zero in the background last evening before the President addressed the nation, I had a hard time differentiating between us and them.
Judaism is quite clear; sometimes people need to be punished for their crimes. The Torah and Talmud explicitly state that one is justified in taking a life when defending their own or another’s life. However, nowhere are we obligated, encouraged or even allowed to celebrate such a death.
There is a well-known Midrash that teaches about the children of Israel crossing the Sea of Reeds. When they successfully make it through and the Egyptians are wiped out in the crashing waves while in chase behind, the Israelites begin to dance and sing and offer the Az Yashir hymn. The children ask God to join them in their jubilant dance. God snaps back to the celebrants, “How dare I dance with you when my creations were just wiped out.”
Obviously, God was complicit – if not fully responsible – for the death of the Egyptians that looked to enslave and punish the Israelite people. But, it was not something that God endorsed celebrating. Along those same lines, just a few short days ago, when we gathered around the table for our Passover Seder, we took from our overflowing cup and poured out some wine for each of the ten plagues. We observe this ritual because we cannot drink from an overflowing cup when other people, in this case the Egyptians, had to suffer.
Fast forward to this generation. The Jewish people took comfort in the capture and subsequent trial of Adolph Eichmann but, I found no accounts of Jews or gentiles, in Israel or abroad, dancing in the streets or handing out candies or baking baklava when he was hung on that fateful day in May of 1962. Most in Israel were quite satisfied with the court’s verdict but they did not rejoice or drape themselves in flags and proclaim sovereignty on the street corners. It is no different today when Israeli leadership is forced to take out radical and evil terrorists foresworn to her destruction. With Eichmann and Hamas militants, then and now, people heard the news, paused for a moment and went on with their days, fully aware of the very real juxtaposition of the bitter and the sweet; the stinger and the honey.
Osama bin Laden’s death does bring a sense of justice to the senseless murder of thousands of innocent people. Our world feels a bit safer, even if just for a short while. Still, our tradition teaches us that our job is not to celebrate or applaud or chant hymns but, to pause and reflect on the painful circumstances that led us here in the first place.
May this unique moment in our American history be filled with pride and reflection. May our response serve as a model to all of our neighbors of what makes US different. May it bring peace to our world.
God bless our Troops and
God bless the United States of America.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner