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Sh’foch Chamatcha: Justice, Not Vengeance


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Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy name; for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his dwelling. Pour out Thy fury upon them, and may the kindling of Thine anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger and destroy them from under God’s skies.

Powerful, frightening, “awe-ful” words.

During the Passover Seder, Jews the world over open the doors of their dwellings and speak these words to God, with the nations as their witness; these words that upon a simple read cry out for God’s vengeance upon those who have harmed us and, by harming us, have demonstrated their lack of understanding of the God of Creation.

For too many Jews, the recitation of the Passover Seder is a backward-looking tradition; a recitation of past events and miracles. For them, it does not speak to modern times and experience. To their ears, the beautiful b’chol dor vador … is little more than a lovely melody.

But for God’s people, the past is never only the past. It is always prelude. The words of the Haggadah speak in the present tense, never just in the past. B’chol dor vador is never simply a lovely sentiment; never just a romanticized notion of the “chain of our tradition.”

Those who fail to take seriously the truth of b’chol dor vador or who deny the Pharaohs of their own day are made uncomfortable by the power and passion of the Sh’foch Chamatcha. During the Victorian age, it was condemned in the London Jewish World:

[A]re we still, on each recurrence of the festival which celebrates God’s compassionate love of His people, to pray to the Supreme, “Pour out They wrath upon the heathen…”?

Are we bound to repeat these and such like imprecations, aimless, purposeless, meaningless in our mouths, which gushed from the lips of our ill-used predecessors which such deadly earnestness? Must our prayer-book continue to be defaced by passages which should never have found entrance therein? Are our children to learn from us that prayer to God for mercy may be accompanied by hysterical entreaties for revenge – bloodshed, fire and destruction – on foes long passed away? In a word, must Jewish worship in the nineteenth and each succeeding century remain stained and disfigured by the blackest fruits of the dark middle ages?

These words cast the Sh’foch Chamatcha as immoral. Were these powerful and passionate words truly out of place in the Victorian Age? In our modern world? Has the world truly turned from those “dark middle ages”?

If so, are the words of b’chol dor vador equally as misplaced?

Let us not ever forget that for the Jew, past is never simply the past. If any Jew would forget that truth, perhaps it would be wise for him to consider approximately twenty minutes of one day in one year in one place.

The time: about a month before Passover 2008. The place: Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, a yeshiva founded by the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The Jews: yeshiva students following the example of this gentle, brilliant scholar and leader, immersed in their studies.

8:36 p.m. – A gunman enters the yeshiva and opens fire indiscriminately.

8:36 – The first phone call is received by Magen David Adom from a student inside the building.

8:37 – The first ambulances are sent.

8:40 – The first police car arrives at the yeshiva (the officers do not enter the building).

8:41 – The first paramedic on the scene reports of one person wounded.

8:42 – IDF Capt. David Shapira enters the building.

8:45 – Shapira and Yitzhak Dadon, a part-time student at the yeshiva, exchange gunfire with the terrorist.

8:57 – Magen David Adom operator reports an “end of shooting” and orders medics into the building.

Twenty minutes. In a mere twenty minutes, a scene of scholarship becomes the scene of death and destruction. Eight students are dead. Eleven more are wounded, five in serious-to-critical condition. The perpetrator, a young Muslim, is killed.

Twenty minutes.

The past becomes present. Again.

There is a teaching in Judaism that each life is worth the whole of creation and when that life is lost, so too creation.

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About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


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