Two headlines jumped out at me simultaneously. “News flash: A contingent of the IDF in Turkey rescued a 10-year-old boy who had been trapped underneath earthquake rubble for four days.” And also: “News flash: The Pally brothers, 6-year-old Ya’akov Yisrael and 8-year-old Asher Menachem, were brought to rest after they were murdered in a Muslim terrorist attack on Erev Shabbat in Jerusalem.”
Two headlines, two worlds separated by an unfathomable abyss. While Israeli rescuers would go anywhere on earth to save children whose lives are threatened following a natural disaster, a terrorist in Israel intentionally drives into a crowded bus stop to murder children in Shabbat clothes on their way to a family Shabbat gathering.
In the Torah portion we read last Shabbat morning, it’s simply written: “Thou shalt not murder.” Without explanation or elaboration. Murder is simply forbidden. Rashi, the Torah’s most famous commentator, does not comment on these words.
Although the idea of committing murder is inconceivable to us, our sages did find parallels to this evil act. “To whiten the face of another person in public is equivalent to spilling their blood.” In other words, embarrassing someone in public is akin to murder since such emotional distress may turn the face white, as if the blood had been drained from it. “To refrain from giving tzedakah is akin to spilling blood.” Each of us can behave with greater sensitivity towards others, especially the needy, since everyone has been created in the image of G-d. By acting in this manner, we will elevate the souls of the murdered and hasten the recovery of the wounded.
The classmates of Ya’akov Yisrael and Asher Menachem probably learnt a lot this past week about “Thou shalt not murder.” Today, their two friends will not come to school. If only the entire world would study this commandment.
On Unity, Working As An Emissary, And The Power Of Women
Good morning from New York. Here are a few lessons I learned here at the annual gathering of the women emissaries of Chabad.
- Unity is not a cliche. Particularly against a backdrop of internal strife in Israel, the outreach activity of 6,000 female Chabad emissaries throughout the world is significant. It is a testimony to the possibility of those who disagree finding common ground. The love for a fellow Jew and finding the good in everyone are essential components of living together in harmony, in recognizing that what we have in common is greater than what divides us.
- Our mission is for all ages. In the front row, the most veteran emissaries, who will never retire, are seated. Behind them young mothers are seated with their babies who have just recently been born. No, there is no maternity leave for emissary mothers.
- The power of women. The success of these emissaries is proof that a very public life is possible within the framework of traditional Jewish observance. On the contrary, Torah and Chasidut and faith have given these women the strength to be a wife, a mother, and an activist, even in faraway places, initiating projects and building Jewish institutions from scratch.
- We don’t see the whole picture. The thousands of smiles on the faces of the women in their group picture obscure the fact that their lives are far from perfect. I heard a lot about difficult challenges, loneliness, and homesickness. These women are not sorry about their chosen path, but those of us on the outside see only their successes and none of their struggles.
- Everyone is a potential emissary. The goal of these emissaries is to make their work infectious: Even though we don’t appear in the emissaries’ picture, we all have the potential, wherever we are, to be one of them, to enrich the lives of others. We don’t have to take up residence in Kathmandu or Mexico, but only need to change how we look at and act upon those around us.
Thank you to the thousands of emissaries for the past few days. You have given me much food for thought.
On Hold: The Goodness That Will Surely Come
Some things are hard to accept. The world is supposed to be a good place, mostly wholesome and happy. Yet there are evil acts that ruin everything. This week a border police officer, Asil Sawaed, was murdered by a 13-year-old boy. What’s going on here?
Among the Ten Commandments that we read last Shabbat is this: “Thou shalt have no other G-ds before me.” A Midrash explains that the word for “other” (acher) is similar to the word for “delay” (ichur). We can see the connection between these words “since they (other G-ds) delay goodness from coming into the world.”
In other words, the bad delays the appearance of the good. What a horrible price we have paid throughout history for this delay that prevents arrival of the good, due to those who worship other G-ds – of terror, war, violence, and anti-Semitism.
But Rav Kook found a comforting and empowering message in these same words. Evil only delays goodness. Ultimately, the warped perspective that sends a 13-year-old to murder cannot long endure. Even the vilest acts cannot deter the eventual and inevitable arrival of all that is good as – one day soon – all that is evil will be vanquished.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin