April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Hashem gifted us with imagination. It allows us to reach beyond reality and envision “possibility.” Our imaginations conjure images which our optical eyes cannot observe. Modern media such as movies have dramatically expanded the stretch of human imagination by providing pictorial images of the “possible.” Very little defies the modern imagination.

Except for the horrifying scenes of October 7. Those grotesque images of violence perpetrated against our people were, previously, unimaginable. These appalling images make us insane, fulfilling the Torah’s prophecy that our suffering will be so severe that “we you will go mad from that which your eyes behold.” The images of the past two weeks were unimaginable … unless you rewind the clock 80 years to the Holocaust.

The images were so hideous that Israeli media broke its longstanding policy of not displaying images of horror. Under normal conditions displaying gruesome images stoops to the level of the terrorists and aids their campaign of psychological terror. In this instance however, it was necessary to publicize the shocking images, otherwise the world would never believe that such violence occurred. The army requested that photographers and journalists visit the hardest hit kibbutzim to document the atrocities. Otherwise, the human mind would not accept the fact that homo sapiens behaved like depraved animals.

This request was chillingly reminiscent of a similar request close to 80 years ago. The American GIs who liberated concentration camps also summoned journalists and photographers to record the machinery of death and torture. Had these images not been recorded the world would be incredulous. Sometimes horror is so ghastly that the human mind struggles to fathom it.

What possible purpose was achieved by torturing, raping and disfiguring bodies? What could be gained by murdering octogenarians or by burning babies. Nothing was gained. Only hatred. Simple unbridled hatred.

The difficulty of imagining such bestiality was partially responsible for our being caught by surprise. Perhaps the military envisioned a “limited” invasion attacking surrounding kibbutzim or raiding missions to take hostages for bargaining pieces. Who could possibly have imagined such evil and such blood lust?


Celebrating Man and Facing Evil

For numerous reasons it is difficult for us, as moral beings, to comprehend such pure and revolting evil. Firstly, as Jews, we harbor a positive outlook of humanity, coupled with a deep belief in the dignity of man. Man is the masterpiece of Hashem’s creation, gifted with nobility, virtue and free will. Denying man’s inner nobility is tantamount to denying Hashem’s creation.

However, the gift of free will also unlocks man’s potential for evil. Just as free will empowers us to greatness it also enables us to commit unspeakable horrors. The two ideas are not contradictory. Our belief in the majesty of man doesn’t contradict the belief that pure evil exists. Man is capable of acting with such depravity that he abdicates his right to inhabit Hashem’s Earth.

After 1500 years of barbarism and moral chaos, humanity sunk to the point of irredeemability. The only option left for Hashem was to flood His world and reboot it. The moral collapse and depravity were so severe that, despite His love and compassion for human beings, Hashem was forced to wipe away our world and rebuild it anew.

Just a few hundred years later after another moral freefall, the metropolis of Sedom was turned upside down and salted into barrenness. These biblical incidents warn us that pure evil always lies dormant, waiting to be awakened by men of hatred and violence. Our humanistic belief in the nobility of man must not obscure the fact that man is capable of horrific crimes through which he surrenders his right to live on Hashem’s Earth.


Modern Barbarians

It is particularly difficult for modern man to acknowledge pure evil as it raises a troubling question about modern civilization. Many falsely believed that scientific, cultural and political progress would create a utopian world of understanding and peace, putting an end to violence. Education, enlightenment and communication would bridge all gaps and eliminate hatred and savagery. Decapitation and incinerating bodies would become a relic of a brutal past but would be part of the civil modern society.

These hopes are challenged when pure evil rears its head. Uncomfortable with this question, many offer alternate narratives to contextualize evil. Moral relativism asks us to consider the moral standpoint or the cultural perspective of the homicidal killer. In the absence of any fixed moral standards any and every crime can be understood or at least framed within a broader narrative. Framing the senseless and brutal torture of our people within a movement to “free Palestine” is particularly odious. These butchers wanted to kill and maim whatever they could put their ugly paws upon, not to liberate anyone.

Hopefully, this tragedy serves as a wakeup call. We believe in man, and we believe in progress but we don’t naively deny the existence of pure evil. We struggle to understand the commandment of eliminating Amalek. What possible crime could justify this extreme response? Over the past two weeks we have received part of the answer. Without discussing the legal identity of Amalek, these crimes have made us realize that a nation—in this case, a group of terrorists—can be so murderous and so barbaric that their removal is a service to humanity. Pure evil does exist. We received a sobering reminder about the dark side of humanity. As if we needed a second reminder, 80 years after we defeated Naziism.



It is just as difficult to acknowledge how much the Jewish people are hated. Over the past 200 years many deluded themselves into believing that antisemitism could be entirely eliminated. The first phase of this delusion occurred in the early 19th century as the Enlightenment movement invited Jews into Gentile society as fully privileged members of the state. Traumatized by centuries of torture and persecution, many gladly accepted this invitation abandoning many ancient Jewish rituals and mores, assuming that if they no longer acted “strange,” dressed differently or adhered to tribal customs they would be lovingly embraced. The horrific pogroms of the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century put an end to that myth.

The second phase of delusion occurred when Theodor Herzl mistakenly assumed that the establishment of a Jewish homeland would put an end to antisemitism. Possessing our own state and no longer living as guests in host countries, we could peacefully assume our natural place among the nations of the world. Living among ourselves, we would no longer arouse the jealousy of our hosts nor would we serve as easy scapegoats. Sadly, 75 years after the founding of our state, it is obvious that our return home has only inflamed global antisemitism rather than reducing it.

There is good news, however, as many countries, led by the United States, remain staunch allies of our state, roundly support our battle against evil and find themselves on the right side of history. This is a sharp and welcome break with the past in which we stood alone and faced a world of contempt and hatred. We are no longer alone.

Tragically, antisemitism is baked into the fabric of history. We have made great strides in forming alliances and in curbing this vile hatred but it will not end entirely until history ends, and not a moment sooner. Only the deepest hatred known to man could generate the animalistic barbarism we suffered.

Until Hashem redeems our world we will live with this hate. Not from everyone, but from many. If they hate us more, we must love each other more. As deeply as we can.

The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a masters degree in English literature from the City University of New York.

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