Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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13 Teves 5764 - January 7, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
On the Capture of a Murderer

A shmuess delivered by HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, on the occasion of the capture of Adolf Eichmann ym"sh

They have recently caught the murderer yemach shemo, and are going to put him on trial. Everyone is talking about it incessantly and the newspapers have whole pages dealing with the subject. We hear public figures saying that we are fortunate to be revenging ourselves on the murderer ym"sh, and that "Hashem is the G-d of vengeance" (Tehillim 94:1).

The truth is that this is all worthless talk and we are far from any understanding of Torah [and especially of this posuk]. Would that we really took the topic of murder so seriously. Why does an earthquake that claims the lives of many thousands fail to engage our attention and doesn't even intrude upon our thoughts?

Why are we so impressed by a murderer? Are there so few murderers in the world? Almost every man is capable of murder! The number of murders that he carries out only depends on his cleverness and his opportunities. Chazal say (Pesochim 49) that one must not walk alone with an ignoramus because he is capable of murder. He has no compassion for himself [because he refrains from learning Torah and doing mitzvos], how much more so will he have no compassion for someone else.

It is frightening to see Chazal's insight into murder. This was said about a Jew who lacks Torah. How much more is it true of gentiles, whose whole power and being it constitutes, as the posuk (Bereishis 27:40) says, "And you shall live by your sword." Without any doubt, as soon as their honor or such is compromised, they are capable of murder.

The truth is that all our excitement is for a different reason entirely. It stems from our lust for victory. They looked for him and searched for him for a long time and in the end they found him. That shows a degree of wisdom and ability. That is what we get so excited about, but it is all worthless nonsense.

Let us see how far we really are from a correct understanding. We rejoice at the capture of a villain ym"sh, as though we were thereby revenging ourselves on the nations and as though Klal Yisroel's position was otherwise happy and tranquil. If we think about it, we will see that the nations are still thinking all the time about how to destroy and exterminate Yisroel. This is their sole aim and ambition. So why are we so happy? It can only be because of our desire to win, and that is not Hashem's way.

A thinking person should reach entirely different conclusions from this story, in fathoming the depths of a human being's abilities and the levels to which it is possible to sink. As long as a person has not worked to uproot his evil tendencies, he can reach the point of literally being like a wild animal! A person actually is an animal and only through Torah can he uproot the animalistic traits within himself.

I once heard an explanation of the posuk in Tehillim (149:7-9), from the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Asher Kalman [Braun] Hy'd (brother-in-law of the Ponovezher Rov zt'l) when we were learning together in Kelm.

"To carry out revenge on nations and to reprove peoples. To bind their kings in chains and their honorables in iron shackles. To carry out the written judgment, will be glory of all His pious ones . . ." Revenge against the nations and reproof to the peoples is glory to Hashem's pious ones but not to those who are not pious. For them, revenge has its roots in the desire for victory and the like and this is not the correct path, even while engaging in vengeance. Only for the pious, for whom revenge is a matter of Heaven's honor, is it glory.

I remember another insight along the same lines that I heard while in Kelm. "And Shmuel said, `Bring me Agag, king of Amolek . . .' And he said, `Just as your sword has bereaved women, so should your mother be bereaved among women' and Shmuel hacked Agag before Hashem in Gilgal" (Shmuel I, 15:32-3).

The posuk makes a point of mentioning that this took place "before Hashem." Even though killing Agag was fulfillment of the mitzvah to wipe out Amolek and moreover, Agag's sword had bereaved many women and he certainly deserved to die, Shmuel Hanovi still examined his motivation in killing Agag and was careful to do it "before Hashem." He acted with pure motivation and was free of any tainted thoughts or personal hatred. His sole purpose was to act "before Hashem" because when killing or revenge involves any other thoughts, Hashem considers it an abomination. Only the gentiles were told, "And you shall live by your sword." Klal Yisroel must be as far removed as possible from murder.

This is mentioned explicitly in the posuk about the blasphemer: "And they took the blasphemer out of the camp and they stoned him with stones. And Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem commanded" (Vayikra 24:23). The Ramban explains the concluding words as conveying, "All the bnei Yisroel acted with the intention of observing and carrying out Hashem's command, not out of hatred for the Egyptian's son who had quarreled with the Israelite but in order to uproot the blemished individual from among them."

This is the correct approach for Klal Yisroel in taking revenge. It should be purely motivated, solely intended to fulfill Hashem's will and increase Heaven's honor. When its source is the desire for victory and the like, though, it is not "Hashem's revenge" but blood lust.

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