A response to recent events

BY: Alex Tsykin

I will respect the desire to refrain from politics on this blog. I only wish to say something about the nature of kedushas yisrael. Three innocent Jewish boys were murdered. An innocent Arab boy was murdered. These are both horrendous crimes. The question has been repeatedly asked, why is it that we do not react the same way to both events. Why are we more saddened by the death of the Jewish boys? The answer to me is clear: they are our family. I hate it that an innocent Arab boy was murdered however, he is not family. He is simply another innocent sacrificed to people’s (in this case Jews’, see Jonathan’s recent post about how this is even worse than murdering a Jew) endless hatred.

The lions share of this weeks parasha (parashas Balak) was devoted to the story of Bil’am (according to Rashi it is actually the entirety of the parasha). The Gemara in Berachos 12b states that parashas Balak was considered for inclusion in Shema instead of parashas tzitzis (since it also contains zechiras yetzias mitzrayim) however in the end the decision was taken that it should not be, since it is very long. The Gemara does not ask why it is that we need to include zechiras yetzias mitzrayim at all in the keriyas shema. Keriyas shema deals with the most primal and basic of human religious urges, the acceptance of God and the acceptance of His commandments. Why do we need to mention the extremely particularistic motif of the exodus from Egypt in this context? It would seem that this is exactly the point. Our experience of God includes both the general human experience and the particularistic Jewish one, and they are intertwined. For this reason at the beginning of Shema we read a passuk addressed to the Jewish people.

Indeed, all through Jewish tradition and liturgy in particular, we find an intertwining of universalistic and particularistic motifs. See, for example, Pesukei Dezimra (the hallelukahs and Vayevarech David) and Kiddush on Shabbos. Our religion tells us to address God both as humans and as Jews. This is the attitude which is meant to pervade our lives, and it extends to other areas of our religious existence as well. For example, it is forbidden to levy interest on a loan from a Jew, but permitted to do so from a non-Jew. Why? The Ramban provides a telling answer:

רמב”ן דברים פרק כג

וביאר בכאן שיהיה רבית הנכרי מותר, ולא הזכיר כן בגזל ובגנבה כמו שאמרו (ב”ק קיג ב) גזל גוי אסור. אבל הרבית שהוא נעשה לדעת שניהם וברצונם לא נאסר אלא מצד האחוה והחסד, כמו שצוה (ויקרא יט יח) ואהבת לרעך כמוך, וכמו שאמר (לעיל טו ט) השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וגו’, ועל כן אמר למען יברכך ה’ אלהיך – כי חסד ורחמים יעשה עם אחיו כאשר ילונו בלא רבית ותחשב לו לצדקה. וכן השמיטה חסד באחים, לכך אמר (שם פסוק ג) את הנכרי תגוש, וקבע לו ברכה, כי הכתוב לא יזכיר הברכה רק בצדקה ובחסדים, לא בגזל ובגנבה ובאונאה:

That is to say, while we may not mistreat a non-Jew, for that is a function of our shared humanity, we are not automatically obligated to respond to him with the greatest of kindness. According to the Ramban there is not problem in doing so, but we are not obligated in it. In the same way as it is wrong to lend money to your brother at interest, so too it is incorrect to do so to another Jew. With a non-Jew it is permitted, not because he is a not human being in the full sense of the word, but because he’s just not your brother.

So too here. While we should be sad and appalled when an innocent is killed, it triggers a general human disgust at such a crime, just not a particularistic Jewish sadness at losing one of our own.

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