Revenge is never Jewish

I feel let down by my people’s leaders in Israel. 

It boils down to this: We are not allowed as humans to seek revenge.  Revenge does not belong in the realm of humans.  Torah is the core and root of our identity as Jews.  Our collective consciousness is linked directly to Torah.  We learn that kol netivoteikha shalom—all pathways of Torah are Shalom.  When a Jewish leader calls for revenge, or uses rhetoric that escalates tensions and violence, it is in in opposition to Jewish values and Torah. 

We are all feeling pain, anguish, fear, sorrow and frustration from the horrendous killing of three innocent boys; Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad.  It feels at times unbearable to me- all the more so to their closest loved ones.  I believe our response is to hold our own children as tightly as we can to let them know how much we love them and what they mean to the future of our people.   We now need affirm life and to continue, no matter how difficult, to pursue peace.  When Jewish leaders use rhetoric that advocates an “us and them”consciousness they have lost their way, and no longer merit leadership in the Jewish people.  When our leaders teach that “We sanctify life and they sanctify death,”  when we see the Palestinians as our enemy and when we seek out revenge we are eclipsing our tzelem Elokim, our Divine image and we are extinguishing our Jewish soul spark from within.  We are desecrating God’s holy name and we are diminishing the holiness of our people.  In the Shema we declare God’s unity. We call God Eḥad—The One.  Is it possible to understand God’s unity on one hand while turning the Palestinians into an Other? 

There is a kabbalistic teaching that the right side of the tree of life connects to ḥesed, to free flowing love, to mercy, to kindness.  The left side of the Tree of Life connects to gvurah, containment, to judgment, to discernment.  The Ben Ish-Ḥai—a 19th century Baghdadi rabbi, mystic and Jewish leader—has a teaching that for me resonates deeply.  There are times in prayer when we are to turn and bow to the left, and there are times when we are to turn and bow to the right.  When we are imitating angelic and Divine beings, we turn first to the left.  When we are being our human selves—we turn to the right first.  The Ben Ish-Ḥai stresses this when teaching about the Birkat Kohanim, the blessing we receive from Kohanim (Jews from the clan within the tribe of Levi who served as priests, healers and connectors in the Temple) on Festivals in Diaspora or when the prayer leader—sh’liaḥ tzibbur—chants this prayer during the repetition of the Amidah, the leader first turns to the right because the Kohen is clearly human.  When the prayer leader is chanting and leading the Kedushah prayer when we are invoking Isaiah’s angelic vision the shliaḥ tzibbur turns first to the left.  There is a powerful teaching at the core of these prayer movements.  The core teaching is that we humans must always begin from a place of ḥesed, of free flowing love.  Only beings that are extensions of Divine Source can begin from a place of gvurah, a place of judgment. 

We humans cannot allow for pure judgment because our consciousness is too narrow our minds too small for us to hold The Truth, we are only capable of holding truths.  The Truth, which often manifests as a paradox, is reserved only for the Holy One.  The big Truth only exists in the realm of God.  For us humans the place of absolute justice is void of Shalom, simply because we lack the capacity to understand absolute justice.  This is why we are obligated to judge others b’kaf z’khut, with the benefit of doubt.

As Jews we begin with ḥesed, love and kindness and from there we turn to judgment and discernment because love like water without a container is useless.  As Jews we also know that we need to take care of our selves. We must in this world at this juncture of history be vigilant, be strong and be wise to ensure the safety of our families and our communities.  We are not pacifists.  We intimately understand absolute need for security and why we may not let down our guard, What I feel we need to remember is that the Jewish way is to begin with ḥesedand from that foundation we can move to gvurah.  The process of combining ḥesed and gvurah will bring us compassion.  Compassion allows for strength and power that is tempered with love and yields righteousness.  Revenge is a sign of weakness.  Revenge is a trap and an obstacle to justice and an obstacle to Shalom.   Revenge will not comfort the parents of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-ad.  Revenge teaches our children that we are faithless.  That all we have left is lashing out.   For a little while when there was still a glimmer of hope that the boys will return home, there was a sense of unity and solidarity within our nation.  We must remember that unity, we must invoke new hope and allow our ancient wisdom to be our guide towards compassion, righteousness and—God willing—peace. 

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An inclusive, warm, and progressive Conservative synagogue in Victoria, B.C.

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