Friday, July 18, 2008

When Zealotry Was a Good Thing.

I have to hope that it isn't just Israelis, or for that matter Jews, who are mourning the loss of two Israeli soldiers -- Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev -- not to mention the general sadness over the completely ridiculous and obscene trade with Hezbollah that took place to get their remains back: Two dead bodies for 199 bodies and five live prisoners. I have to hope that the entire world, every humane person, is mournful and disgusted by the entire display. And did I mention that the big released prisoner, Samir Kuntar, was only SIXTEEN when he murdered a police officer, as well as a father and child, and caused a mother to smother her child while she was hiding from Kuntar. Sixteen. And here we are, 30 years later, and Kuntar is freed -- celebrated by those who seek to destroy Israel and the entire Jewish community, to stomp us out. Kuntar, upon his release, despite 30 years in prison with the possibility of repentance, has said that he will return to Israel with a resistance group. He intends to come for us, and he has thousands, if not more, who see him as a hero, a mighty champion.

So one has to wonder -- how long will Kuntar survive outside of prison before someone, be it Mossad or a zealous Jew, murders him in retaliation for what he did to the Jewish spirit and the families of those he murdered 30 years ago?

This was, in truth, the first thing I thought of when I heard about his release. My immediate thought was that surely, he won't last a week. He will be dead, and they will be avenged. And when I stopped to think about this, I realized how incredibly disgusting these thoughts of mine were.

This week's parshah, Pinchas, is -- like most parashot -- fitting to the modern day.

The Torah portion begins with G-d rewarding Phinehas' actions (killing an Israelite man and a Moabite woman because of their immorality, which profaned G-d's name), by granting him a pact of friendship and a pact of priesthood for all time. Now, the outright good about this is that his actions ended the plague against the Israelites. The bad thing, is that he's generally rewarded for outright murder -- of two people at that. Many of the sages agreed with G-d's praise, saying that anyone "who wages war on the enemies of what is good and true is a champion of the Covenant and Peace on earth ..." But postbiblical commentators are incredibly uncomfortable with this (as am I). Is it better that two should die by the hands of a zealot than thousands because of their misdeeds?

I've been thinking about this a lot since the soldiers' bodies were returned, since Kuntar was released, and now, thinking about all the possible outcomes of hasty, thoughtless, zealous-driven rages. I know that plenty with whom I have spoken wouldn't think twice about killing Kuntar if they had the chance. And this, well, it frightens me.
It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his G-d, thus making expiation for the Israelites (Num. 25:13).
So, if someone is to take impassioned action, avenging those who have died and perhaps granting "peace of mind" for Israel, will it be rewarded by G-d? No, I don't think so. In fact, if Kuntar were to die by the hands of a murderer, I have no doubt in my mind that it would result in the murders of many more Jews. Yes, perhaps Kuntar will go on to kill more people, but the amount that he could possibly kill versus the amount that would die out of retaliation for his very own murder is of no comparison.

For Phinehas, the only punishment that he received was that in the Torah scroll, the yod in his name is small, diminished. The sages say that this is because when we commit violence, the yod -- as in the name of G-d or as in y'hudi) -- is diminished. Also in this portion, then, the vav in shalom is written with a break in its stem. Why?

Because peace gained by destroying one's opponent will ultimately be a flawed, incomplete peace.*

*Cheers to Etz Chayim for this profound statement.