On the day that we commemorate the sacred martyrs of the Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Osama bin Laden (may his name and memory be blotted out) – terrorist extraordinaire and diabolical mastermind of al-Qaida – met a bloody end at the hands of the American armed forces.
There is a certain poetic justice that the individual who never tired of calling Israel “the Great Satan” (America – whose Twin Towers in New York were demolished, whose Pentagon in Washington was attacked, and whose 3,000 citizens were killed in a heinous attack planned by this madman – only merited the title of “Small Satan”) finally received his death penalty on the day we promise never to forget the evil crimes perpetrated against us by murdering bigots.
As I visited educational institutions teaching about the significance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I couldn’t help but feel a certain satisfaction and even joy despite the deep, dark clouds of Auschwitz and Treblinka. I kept hearing in my own mind the verse, “In the destruction of the wicked there is exultation” (Proverbs 11:10). Were these feelings of vindication over the death of our generation’s King of Amalek appropriate? And is revenge a legitimate Jewish emotion, especially in light of the prohibition against nekama (Leviticus 19:18)? Our portion of Emor lists the festivals, including the Festival of Matzot, which just passed. As we know, unlike on Succot – when Hallel (Psalms of Praise) is recited every day – on Pessah only half of Hallel is recited during the last six days. In fact, our Rabbinic Sages teach us that the Almighty stopped the angels from singing praises when the Egyptians were being drowned in the Reed Sea: “The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and you are singing songs of praise?” And do we not learn in the name of Shmuel Hakatan, “At the fall of your enemies you shall not rejoice”? When the Nazis marched into the small Polish town of Boyan, they took out the three Jewish leaders – the rebbe, the dayan (judge) and the parnas – and forced them to dig their own graves. Before being shot, the rebbe asked to recite a very short prayer: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not created me a gentile.”
The Nazi murderer burst out laughing. “Foolish Jewish pig! Do you not realize that if only you were a gentile, you could continue to live?” The rebbe looked directly into the eyes of his evil executioner and said, “If I have to live in these impossibly difficult times, when my world is divided between those who are murdering innocent people, and innocent people who are being murdered, I would rather be murdered than be murdering! Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem ehad.”
It is our good fortune that today we are faced with a third option, one
that did not exist for the Rebbe of Boyan. We have the possibility of
defending ourselves against those who wish to destroy innocent lives.
I remember a talk I gave 33 years ago to a group of nineyear- olds in
Kibbutz Ein Tzurim. It was on Tisha Be’av, and I was trying to explain
to them the horrors of the Holocaust. As I described a kinderaktion, in
which hundreds of children were rounded up for Auschwitz, one young boy
raised his hand: “But rabbi, where was Tzahal [the Israel Defense
Forces]?” I kissed him on the forehead, joyous in the knowledge that a
new generation was growing up without any knowledge of life before the
One cannot love good without despising evil; those who are silent in the
face of evil are ultimately collaborators with the evil that is being
perpetrated. It is to this end that we are commanded to “destroy the
evil within our midst” and to “blot out the memory of Amalek.”
It is fascinating that the verse does not command us to blot out Amalek,
but rather the memory of it. I maintain that the best way to do this
would be to convert Amalek – at least to acceptance of the Seven Noahide
Laws of Morality. The Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 99) suggests that Timna, the
mistress of Eliphaz, son of Esau, wished to convert to Judaism, but was
rejected by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Disappointed, she went to live
with Eliphaz, and the child they bore together was Amalek (Genesis
36:12) .The talmudic lesson derived from this is that she should have
been accepted. There is even a talmudic tradition that the descendants
of Amalek taught Torah in Bnei Brak! If conversion is impossible,
however, then evil must be destroyed. And one has a right to rejoice
when an evil individual – ready to act against innocent people – is
prevented from doing so, as in the case of bin Laden.
Remember that God chided the angels for singing songs of praise at the
Reed Sea – the angels, who could not have been harmed by the Egyptians –
but not the Israelites; as we all know, they did sing.
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.