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Because the Pain is Very Great

In the Wake of the Events of the Last Few Days. Translated by David Strauss.

I write these words out of pain and protest, in the spirit of Yaakov Avinu who taught us that the pain of a serious offense perpetrated against Israel must not be translated into counter injury of local residents and the townspeople of the offenders. Likewise, our patriarch taught us that we must protest against and condemn acts of revenge carried out by Jews, even when they act out of emotional turmoil in the aftermath of a previous attack on their friends and relatives.

The pain is twofold: first, for the terrible tragedy of the murder of good and innocent people who were slaughtered in cold blood by the hands of terrorists. Words do not suffice to express the pain and anger over such a tragedy and we pray that God will send their families consolation and provide them with the strength and faculties to contend with the loss.

The second pain is the pain caused by the acts of revenge carried out in the surrounding villages by erring members of our community. This stain is a moral stain that stains us all, not only because we are all brothers, but also because the public as a whole is responsible for the atmosphere that was created and that made these acts possible. There are several concentric circles that create this atmosphere, but each of us is in one of the circles, whether close or far, and this requires communal soul-searching. An in-depth discussion of the interrelationships between the world of action and the world of thought and between different parts of society urgently needs to take place, but this requires a different framework, and so this discussion will not take place here.

The truth is that these words should have been written by people better and greater than me. More importantly, they should have been written by people who are closer to, and more respected by, the circles and groups of settlers from which the rioters in the Arab villages came. However, since I did not hear sufficiently strong and sharp calls to order, I will allow myself to cry out, if only that people should not say, "since the Rabbis did not object, this shows that they agreed with them" (paraphrase of the Gemara in Gittin 56a). Similar outcries were sounded in the past, but to our shame, the phenomenon has not stopped, and therefore those cries need to be repeated in keeping with the dictum, "'You shall surely rebuke your neighbor' – even a hundred times" (Bava Metzia 31a).

At the outset, before I present my position itself, it is necessary to reiterate the obvious fact that insisting on these fundamental moral principles and condemning acts of revenge do not in any way detract from the pain, sorrow and grief for those murdered and injured by the terrorists, and we must bitterly weep and mourn for them. "Our break is as vast as the ocean, who will heal us?" In addition, it is self-evident and unnecessary to write, that the war against terrorism and its supporters must be carried out with determination and firmness by those who are authorized to do so. The insistence on basic moral principles does not weaken the war on terrorism but rather strengthens it, since proper morality contributes to the war, while defective morality harms it in many ways.

The basic principles detailed below must be stated in clear and unambiguous language and seen by us as morally and religiously binding.

1. Harming someone who has not committed a crime is a moral and religious injustice that goes against all the values of the Torah and the mitzvot.

2. When a moral wrong is committed by a Jew by virtue of his Jewish identity, and even more so when it is committed by a person who is identified as one who observes the Torah and the mitzvot, this is also a desecration of God's name, which is an exceedingly serious offense.

3. The main problem with sowing destruction in Palestinian villages is not the "loss of governance" or "harm to the settlement movement," but the moral injustice. The loss of governance and the damage to the settlement movement are indeed problems, but secondary and subordinate to the main problem. Condemning the loss of governance or the damage to the settlement movement only minimizes the problem and sins against morality.

4. Losing one's restraint and uncontrolled rampage is an instinctive reaction that is driven also by the dark forces in the human soul and not only by the desire for justice. They are included in what the Sages said: "He who breaks his utensils in his anger (even justified anger), regard him as an idolater" (Shabbat 105b).

5. True grief and pain over terrible tragedies do not justify an immoral reaction on the part of those who are in pain and do not allow the harming of others. There is no way to accept such actions with understanding, despite the pain.

6.  Such actions undermine our moral claim against those who harm us.

7. There is a moral obligation to care for and protect a population that is controlled by us. The inability to protect them delegitimizes our rule in those areas.

8. We cannot ignore the historical association of pogroms in Jewish villages throughout the generations and our obligation that is derived from this towards villages under our own control.

9. Opposition to these actions does not depend in any way on the different spiritual and/or political positions concerning the status of the Land of Israel or the policy regarding Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.

10. The forgivingness and indecisiveness of educational, rabbinical, communal and governmental bodies regarding previous manifestations of violence against Palestinians has caused and continues to cause the expansion of the phenomenon and the underestimation of its seriousness.

11.  Creating a public atmosphere that condemns all violence committed by a private individual and against private individuals who are not terrorists can cause a significant reduction in such cases. That is why it is imperative that the educational, spiritual and communal leadership head a campaign that negates the legitimacy of harming the innocent, even in a society subject to struggle and war.

12. The violence towards Palestinian villages is not detached from the violence that exists in Israeli society in general, such as violence on the roads, violence in the family and the like. Dealing with it, in the broadest and deepest sense, is related to dealing with and treating violence in society as a whole.

          I wish to conclude with the golden words of Nachmanides, one of the greatest lovers of the Land of Israel of all generations, who faithfully expressed our moral and religious sensitivity in relation to the exercise of inappropriate power against others subject to our control and the silence about this on the part of those around us – even when the harm is done out of deep frustration in the wake of a previous and painful injury – and what is the price exacted from us for this. This is what he writes about the affliction suffered by the Egyptian Hagar at the hands of Sara Immeinu:

"'And Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from before her face' (Bereishit 16:6) – Our matriarch transgressed with this affliction, and Avraham as well by his permitting her to do so. And so, God heard her [Hagar’s] affliction and gave her a son who would be a wild-ass of a man, to afflict the seed of Avraham and Sara with all kinds of affliction."

May it be God's will that the verse, "And you shall dwell in your land safely," (Vayikra 26:5) be speedily fulfilled in us. 

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