Who should I hold responsible; playing the blame game


To forgive is not a religious mandate; to forgive is an act of piety reserved solely for those deserving of being forgiven.

Rabbi Jack 

I have no moral justification to forgive or forget those who killed six million of my family. I have no moral justification to forgive or forget those that continue to murder my brothers and sisters in Israel. And I have no moral justification to forgive or forget those that slaughter innocent civilians and seek the destruction of the American people and their way of life.
The mere mention of the cities Paris, Jerusalem, and San Bernardino is sufficient to transmit a frightening vision, one that continues to rear its ugly head without respite. Until the world’s leaders find the courage to confront the underlying ideologies that permeate and foment radicalization, intimidation fear will continue. Yet it seems there is little political will to make tough choices, to be resolute in words and convincing in deeds. Some would rather hypothesize that the upsurge in radicalism can be attributed to happenstance or randomness. The writing on the wall is ignored or misinterpreted as it fails to fit into their ideologies. Others are so beholden to regimes that sponsor terror that they are more willing to protect the perpetrators than the victims.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa, the father of Syed Farook, the San Bernadino terrorist —who is also named Syed Farook—identified himself as a “liberal,” meaning that he is open to Western ideas and lifestyle.  He painted his son and estranged wife as “conservatives,” or rigid adherents of Islam. “My son said that he shared [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] Al Baghdadi’s ideology and supported the creation of the Islamic State. He was also obsessed with Israel.” The report continues, “I told him he had to stay calm and be patient because in two years Israel will not exist anymore. Geopolitics is changing: Russia, China and America don’t want Jews there anymore. They are going to bring the Jews back to Ukraine. What is the point of fighting? We have already done it and we lost. Israel is not to be fought with weapons, but with politics. But he did not listen to me, he was obsessed.”

While it’s understandable why he wanted to taint his ex-wife and son and absolve his responsibility, is it really a stretch to contemplate the father’s “liberal” views may be a precursor to his son’s radicalization? Or perhaps that the continuous barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric should make the father complicit in the crime. My moral compass may be overly sensitive but it seems obvious to me that if you raise your child to be a hateful bigot, he may actually choose to respect your words in deed. How a father imagines that expressing an invective diatribe against Israel, has greater benefit to his son than examining why Abu Bakr is not the perfect role model is beyond my limited comprehension.

Words can have a profound impact on portraying a person or people in a derogatory light. In this week’s Torah portion we discuss the story of Pharaoh’s dream; his wine steward recalls a slave who had an uncanny ability to accurately interpret dreams. But instead of referring to him with dignity and appreciation for all he had done, he states:V’sham Eetanu nar ivri – And there with us was a young child, a Jew. Joseph, a middle aged adult, was portrayed as childlike and to add insult to injury, as a Jew. His denigration was calculated and the intention was to diminish Joseph’s value in the eyes of the Pharaoh.

As for Syed Farook, I am inclined to find fault with the father, yet it behooves me to do just the opposite. The Haftorah that is read on Shabbat Chanukah states that Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of Israel, is being judged by God with Satan salivating on the side ready to denounce him. The prosecution seeks to hold him accountable for the behavior of his children yet God intervenes and finds him innocent of all charges. The father may have played a role, but ultimately the choices were made by the perpetrators of the crime and those that aided them in carrying it out.

A number of years ago I met with two clean cut and well-mannered young men. They had both grown up in a secular Jewish household and felt Judaism held limited value or spirituality. They chose to abandon Judaism and pursue careers as Buddhist monks. Their mother explained that she was proud of her Jewishness but believed in a universal theology. She tried not to stifle her children and decorated her home with a holiday tree. In her mind she believed she had provided them with a traditional Jewish upbringing: attending High Holiday services and contributing to the annual UJA campaign. Was the mother indirectly responsible? Perhaps her decisions and actions influenced her sons, however, the ultimate decision was not hers to be made and she can’t be held responsible for her children.

Guilt is much easier to apportion than to resolve. Remember the old radio show that asked: who knows what lurks in the hearts of man? The shadow knows. Well, I guess from a philosophical perspective humanity as a whole shares some collective guilt. Yet acknowledging guilt does little to solve the problem. The fires of hatred have already done irreversible harm; the air we breathe is forever tainted with the blood of the innocent and the freedom we have known has been severely curtailed.

The cities of Paris, Jerusalem, and San Bernardino have been forever transformed. An indelible stain leaves evidence depicting humanity’s failings. Yet just as the human heart is resilient, so too is humanity itself. If the miracle of Chanukah reveals that the weak can overcome the mighty and the minority can triumph over the majority. I would make a minor addition and add the phrase: and those who terrorize shall fall by the hand of the terrorized.

Throughout the Torah we are taught that to vanquish our enemies is a mitzvah. That we are obligated to ensure that they will never have a chance to commit future atrocities. We are never expected to forgive the likes of Pharaoh, the Greeks or the Romans, nor should we consider forgiving those who commit heinous acts of terror. Forgiveness may be a magnanimous gesture, but only when its reacting to remorse and repentance. Turn the other cheek, I hear you say. Sorry, different religion.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Jack Engel

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