Monday, May 02, 2011

Celebrating Death

With a Big Thank You to my colleague and friend Andrew Belinfante for some suggested edits and adjustments I am re-posting....incorporating some changes.

Celebrating Death
Judaism is certainly not a religion for the faint of heart. The faith has its fair share of vengeance and retribution - the tradition is not all peace and non-violence. On Purim, one of the most important and least celebrated Jewish holidays, we publically read the story of Esther to commemorate the ancient narrative. When we do, those listening cheer at the mention of the name Haman (the antagonist who set out to kill the Jews in the story). On Passover we ask God to Pour Out the Divine Wrath upon those who seek destruction and specifically seek out to destroy Jews and Judaism. Truth be told, to say that Judaism is all peace would be to ignore some parts of the tradition and some elements of our narrative and law.

There is some nuance in all of this though - the tradition's commands and world-view is all about the eradication of evil not the death of human beings. We cheer at Haman's name not because we want his death, but rather because we want the death of his ideas, the world-view which makes acts of violence, terrorism and destruction acceptable. We cheer Haman's name because we recognize in doing so the true power to bring down evil acts. To diminish Anti-Semtisim, racism and hatred of any kind in the world sits in our hands, in our feet (literally in our cheers) as human beings. This is a Jewish imperative. We "boo" Haman's name not because we wish death upon others but because as Jews our mission in the world is to help shape the universe into one where hatred, violence and bigotry are not only not lauded, but simply not tolerated.

Our singular purpose on earth is to be a light onto the nations- a light which shines life, peace, acceptance, intelligent debate and disagreement which ends conversations and does not end lives. Each time Judaism cheers for the downfall of something it is not doing so for the individual human life - no matter how evil he/she is - it is doing so in order to teach us of our obligation to erase evil, hatred and bigotry from the world. This might not be obvious from the outside – it may look like we are cheering for the death of Haman or asking God to punish our enemies – in both cases though it is our responsibility to ensure the world knows our faith lies in the striving toward goodness and the diminishing of evil. We must ensure the outside world adapts this intention too in cheering for the death of anyone.

When I saw the cheering crowds outside the White House after the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I found myself uncomfortable and even worried—worried about whether we were not following a pattern of behavior we so despise. Don't we chide Islamic extremists celebrating at the downfall of Israel or Israeli's—of America or Americans? We have all looked on disgustingly at these rallies and asked ourselves, “Where is the value on human life?”

Do not misunderstand; I am comforted too there is a little less evil in the world today. Bin Laden was a perpetrator of violence beyond my own conception. Too many innocent people are lost because of his hands and his words—this is a man who had so much blood on his soul. I am proud of our military and covert agents from the government who risked their lives for our protection. I am comforted in knowing that for the families of the victims of 9-11 there is some sense of justice in response to their tremendous losses. I find myself wanting to shout out the call of the prophet Isaiah “Comfort, comfort my people” – offering them what I think we all need most which is comfort and hope in such a broken and destructive universe.

As a Jew, I am not celebrating the death of another human being, no matter how evil he was. I am living in the hope that Bin Laden's death only represents the beginning of the downfall of evil. I am reminding myself of my responsibility to seek ways to diminish evil in the world and I am praying for those victims of terror whom he perpetrated unspeakable violence against that today is a day of comfort and hope. I choose not to celebrate—instead I choose comfort, hope and the continued prayers for our redemption, to a world more peaceful.

I am offering my gratitude to those who risked so much to bring us a little more peace and security in the world—who brought us a little closer to the just world we seek to build. I am spending my time not in a celebration rally but in performing acts of chesed (loving-kindness) so with my limited human capacity and time I am able to try and fulfill the words of the prophet Amos "let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an unfailing stream".

Perhaps I am naïve or maybe you disagree with my read of Judaism - but I prefer to hope, pray, and act through justice and seek redemption rather than celebrate. "Comfort, Comfort my People" - may those who work for our military and government feel our gratitude today and everyday and may those who lost loved ones in 9-11 find comfort and closure.


Suzanne said...

I had mixed feelings about Bin laden's death--I too worry about the mass celebrations--your comments help put the elation at the death of such an evil man into perspective--you are one enlightened young woman--thank you

mo said...


Juli said...

It left me uneasy, reading the FaceBook comments on bin Laden's death. I couldn't put my finger on it until I read your piece. Thank you.