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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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Sh’foch Chamatcha: Justice, Not Vengeance


Twenty minutes. Eight innocent students.

B’chol dor vador.

The mother of one of the students, sixteen-year-old Avraham David Mozes, said, “God picks the most beautiful flowers for His garden. He sees him as an angel, and we should thank Him for the privilege of raising him for sixteen years. Sixteen years of purity and integrity and kindness.”

What would our Victorian writer say to Avraham’s mother? Would he still decry the “hysterical entreaties” of the Sh’foch Chamatcha? Would he recognize the stains of the blackest fruits in those twenty minutes?

How are we, mere human beings, not to cry out for vengeance in the face of such cruel actions? How can we not cry out to God, “Pour out Thy wrath…”

Yet, if we do, we, like the Victorian writer, would be missing the deeper lesson of the Sh’foch Chamatcha. That the words of the Sh’foch Chamatcha are a pained and passionate response to the cruelty the world has inflicted on our people is clear. Each instance of this cruelty, however, quickly becomes a mere historical event. A temporal footnote.

Like the tragic medieval events and circumstances that prompted the rabbis to include the words of the Sh’foch Chamatcha in the Haggadah, they are not enough to provide the theological foundation for later generations to pause in the midst of the Seder and beseech God to “pour out” His wrath upon the nations. Even that these events occur b’chol dor vador is not sufficient theological justification.

Sh’foch Chamatcha is not an expression of vengeance but of justice and geulah. After all, geulah is a fundamental theme of the Haggadah and of Passover. What we know is that geulah did not and will never recur without the full and unqualified belief of the Jewish people that God punishes the wicked. Our morality finds its first voice in Abraham’s words (Bereishit 18:25). “Shall the Judge of all the earth not deal justly?”

The Gaon of Vilna made clear that it is not our higher hope that the wicked suffer but that the righteous prevail. The righteous cannot prevail until the wicked are consumed or, perhaps more correctly, until wickedness is eradicated and the wicked perform teshuvah.

After the defeat of Amalek – the prototype of the nation and people “that know Thee not” – God promises Moses, “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven” (Shemot 17:14). God’s promise is eternal. It stands not only for the Amalek of old but for all those who follow Amalek’s methods and tactics, all those who attack the rear guard – the weak, the aged, the women and the children.

It is sensible to hope and pray that God will punish all those whose goal is to humiliate and defeat the Jews for no reason other than our being the Chosen People. We do not, however, seek God’s punishment against those who “know Thee not” through active revenge. We are a people of peace and of justice. We do, however, place our faith in God and pray to Him, the One who does proclaim that “vengeance is mine” and who, in due time, will “pour out His wrath.”

On Shabbat, we pray to the God of Mercy, to Av Harachamim, to recall with compassion, “the devout, the upright and the perfect ones; the holy congregations; the hundreds of thousands of martyred Jews who gave their lives for the Sanctification of the Name.” We do not pray for the strength to avenge our martyrs with a sword. We do not pray for the weapons to bring destruction upon our enemies. We are not motivated to repay murder, destruction, and violence with murder, destruction and violence.

No. We pray to God that, in His own time, He will choose how to atone for the innocent blood of His servants. We believe with perfect faith that the Avenger of blood will remember them. Life. Decency. Integrity. These remain our goals and our ideals.

Yet decency and integrity demand we pray fervently and trust that He may, “before our eyes, exact retribution for the spilled blood of His servants” and fulfill His vow, “O nations, sing the praise of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants and He will bring retribution upon His foes; and He will appease His land and His people” (Devarim 32:43).

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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