Monday, 7 July 2014

The Murder Of Mohammed Abu Khdeir & A Failure Of Godliness

I find that i'm still trying ot come to terms with the information i heard yesterday evening, that a small group (3? 6? A number between 3 and 6?) of Jewish Israelis were the ones who kidnapped, beat, burnt and killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It is so shocking to me, and i'm sure to us all, that Jews could be capable of such cruelty.

As many people are saying, they are not the only ones culpable. Throughout our history as a nation, we have always been held responsible - by G-d - for the sins of a minority. In the book of Joshua, Achan is the only Jew who disobeys G-d's command to not touch any of the loot after the battle of Jericho. He takes some money and a cloak, secretly, with no one else knowing. As a result of his breach of conduct, the Jews lose their next battle and some 30,000 men die. I - and many others before and after me - ask myself, is this fair? Why should the whole nation be punished because one man couldn;t control his greed? The commentators answer that kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh - all of Israel is mixed up one in the other. If all of Israel had been united in serving G-d, Achan could not have even thought of stealing. All of Israel deserved punishment, because there was something lacking in all of Israel that made his act possible.

And the trend has continued. A few books later, King David is pursuing Shim'i ben Geira. Shim'i takes shelter in a city, and David's captain Yoav demands that the city hand over Shim'i or else he will destroy the city. One wise woman recommends that they hand over Shim'i, who is a traitor to the King and deserves the punishment of death, and they do. Generations of scholars endorse her decision - if he had not been handed over, then all the town would have been killed along with him, since their decision to hide him effectively expresses their support for him against King David.

What is my point? There must be something lacking in our whole nation if some of our own people can behave with such cruelty, vengefulness, and bloodthirstiness. My rav, Rabbi Ari Kahn, explains that we are not allowed to kill simply because each person is created b'tselem Elokim - in the image of G-d - and thus when we kill a person, we wipe out a small expression of godliness in this world. It is only when we lose sight of a person's tselem Elokim - when we fail to remember that the other is also created in the image of G-d, when we are incapable of seeing the godly in another human being - that we are able to kill that person.

Clearly, whoever the Jewish murderers were had become unable to see the tselem Elokim in Muhammed Abu Khdeir. Their incapability of viewing him as a person is what enabled them to treat him with such cruelty. My thought is that this is the fault-line which is running through us all, and which made it possible for them to behave in this way. We are not just failing to view the tselem Elokim in Palestinians, we are failing to see it even in our fellow Jews. Just in my own town of Beit Shemesh, just in the last few months, we have done a very good job of blinding ourselves to each other's tselem Elokim. And it stretches across the nation and around the world. Across the religious spectrum; across the political spectrum; across the ethnic spectrum, Jews blind themselves to the godliness inherent in those with whom they disagree. This is the fault-line that was always present within us.

Over 18 fraught, hopeful, fearful days, Naftali, Eyal and Gilad formed a bridge across the fault-line. Charedi, dati, chiloni, right, left, center, in Israel, out of Israel, chassidish, litvish, sephardi, ashkenazi, man, woman and child - we davened and hoped and feared together. Their tselem Elokim threw our own into greater relief. We united on their behalf in a way that - i think - we haven;t achieved since before the Romans arose, let alone fell. They became OUR boys. That the murderers who made it clear just how great is our failure to recognise the tselem Elokim in each other did so as 'revenge' for Eyal Gilad & Naftali's death is painfully ironic. The fault-line is split into a chasm.

I'm neither a talmid chacham nor the daughter of a talmid chacham, and feel free to disagree. But i see a clear connection between our long-running failure to see the tselem Elokim in our brothers next door, and the failure of 3/6/3-6 Jews to see the tselem Elokim in Muhammed Abu Khdeir. And I speak to myself as much as to anyone - and i don't think it's easy. We need to restore our ability to see the godliness inherent in each other. Someone's gotta do it.

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