With sadness we mourn the tragic death of three innocent teenagers whose lives were taken away in their prime.  Our hearts go out to the families of the three boys and we hope that our solidarity with them will help ease their pain in this most trying and difficult time. No words can bring their sons back or remove their despair, but sometimes when we feel most isolated and alone, we also realize the extent of our family. In the future, may the collective Jewish people be brought together only in tears of joy.

So what is the next move? I read the postscripts and feel slightly uncomfortable with the communal jockeying for position. So many organizations and associations want to ensure that their names are highlighted in the grief and horror. I’ve been inundated with emails from various organizations that all have a tinge of commercialization instead of empathy.  An hour or two after the bodies were found is not an appropriate time for self-promotion.  For the time being, let the families wallow in their personal loss and sorrow. Our agenda should be limited to ‘Emor m’at’ – to saying very little and waiting until we can be truly helpful to those who need it most. As important as we imagine our collective sadness is, in my eyes it merely emphasizes how little we understand the bitter tears of the parents and siblings of the three boys who will still be weeping long after our tears have faded.

Do we wage war on our enemies and promise a grief stricken Israeli population that we will exact more revenge and rage on Hamas? Will the killing of dozens or hundreds of terrorists bring back our boys, or could it possibly create a new spiral of violence? Is our need for revenge so palatable that we find the guiltless guilty solely by association? Will our desire for vengeance usurp all ethical teachings of the Torah – ideals that we hold to be sacred? Is our faith in the Almighty so selective and meaningless that when our prayers go unanswered we dismiss his omnipotence?

I spoke publicly against the lighting of three candles on Friday nights out of fear of the long-term ramifications. I vividly remember my younger sister’s reaction after my mother’s death. She was only nine-years-old but said it was impossible that momma was dead. She had gone with my mother to a ‘rebbe’ for a bracha (blessing), and he resolutely assured them that my mother would walk her down the aisle for her wedding (The envelope with cash given to his attendant was merely an aside). Her faith in God was forever breached as she fervently held his words to be the sacred word of God. It’s not that God can’t help. I strongly believe he can help, but no one can accurately predict how to ensure God’s intervention. When rabbis speak, some people actually listen and believe what they are saying. What happens when they are wrong? Who picks up the pieces? What should we say to the thousands of candle lighters whose faith has been shattered? I am not speaking to the Rahm Emmanuels of Jewish organizations that would never want to waste a crisis because it as an easy means of proselytizing the ignorant. I’m only concerned about the good hearted and deeply committed who thought their actions could ultimately change the outcome. What are we to say? How do we console the masses? Had we have thought rationally instead of reacting to a crisis, would lighting of candles still be our outlet of choice?

Yet, I and others, prayed and said Psalms beseeching the Almighty to intervene. We cried and sought spiritual guidance but we never asked for guarantees. Theologically I don’t blame God. I can only blame those who were directly complicit in the kidnapping. I am disappointed with the initial inaction of the police but know they are not to blame. I am disappointed that the school was lax in their no hitch hiking policies but they too are not to blame. Victims sometimes make poor decisions but it is inexcusable to confuse the victim with the oppressors.

Many will tout this week’s Torah portion to validate and justify the call for violence and vengeance. However I ask them also to remember that Pinchas was chastised by his peers and condemned for reacting in his chosen manner. It’s not that he was wrong, it is just that violence, vengeance and zealotry is the means used after all else is exhausted. Please don’t misconstrue my words as being against any actions taken by the Israeli government. They have the legitimacy to act in any means they deem as appropriate. The defense and security of the state is usually very thoughtfully planned and rarely reactive. My thoughts regard solely to individual zealots who think the Torah gives them a mandate to act independent of the law. I ask them to remember the lessons of the Talmud on zealousness. It states, “it is the law but we don’t rule accordingly.” In other words, the Talmud is saying that acting in a zealous manner requires honest introspection. Can one have the moral justification? Yes, if you are as holy and purely motivated as Pinchas. Are you?  If you think you are, then think again! The mere arrogance of your thoughts would preclude you.

Y’hei zichrom baruch, may their memories be a blessing to their families and may the unity inspired by grief continue in joy.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Jack Engel

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