"We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot ever forgive them for forcing us to kill their children" -- Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, 1972.
Although extolled as an example of sublime morality, this infamous statement was -- in reality -- one of the most morally corruptive declarations ever made by a leader of the Jewish people. It reveals the then Prime Minister’s utter ignorance of a Jewish State's priorities, and it demonstrates that which our Sages long ago referred to as the "Mercy of Fools", as represented by the ancient Judaic adage that: "He who is merciful unto the Cruel will eventually be cruel unto the Merciful" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:16).
This misguided statement comprises two interrelated concepts: (1) We should forgive our enemies and not avenge ourselves upon them in retaliation for their continuous attempts to annihilate us; and (2) We should feel regret that, in order to defend ourselves, we sometimes have to kill our enemies.
Both concepts proceed from the truism that, even though our enemies seek to destroy us, they -- like the Jewish people -- are still human beings created "b'tzelem Elohim" ("in the Image of God" -- Gen. 1:27). Yet, this self-evident truth misses the point. The issue is, and will always be: What has a particular human being chosen to do with the "Image" that God has implanted within his soul?
If he chooses to use this "Image" to perpetrate Evil, then he
desecrates the Gift that God has given him, and he forfeits his life in
compensation therefor. As the Torah relates: "HaShem saw that the wickedness of Man was great upon the
Earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always.
And HaShem reconsidered having made Man on Earth, and
He had heartfelt sadness. And HaShem said, 'I will
blot out Man whom I created from the face of the ground -- from man to animal,
to creeping things, and to birds of the sky; for I have reconsidered My having made
them. ... Now the Earth had become corrupt before God; and the Earth had become
filled with violence. And God saw the Earth and behold it was corrupted, for
all Flesh had corrupted its way upon the Earth. God said to Noah, 'The end of all Flesh has come before Me, for the Earth is
filled with violence through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from
the Earth. Make for yourself an
Clearly, God does not forgive unrepentant Evildoers, nor does He regret that He is forced to kill them in order to defend His Image and thereby sanctify His Name. He regrets only that there are those to whom he has given His Gift who have desecrated that Gift by using it for Evil rather than for Good.
What, then, might account for the confused value system represented by the Prime Minister’s statement? Unfortunately, most Jews, being infused with the "morality" of the gentile nations, have come to believe that traits and situations such as Kindness, Mercy, Love, Forgiveness and Peace are inherently and absolutely Good and that traits and situations such as Cruelty, Harshness, Hatred, Revenge and War are inherently and absolutely Evil. But Man's "morality" is not God's Morality. As the Prophet Isaiah, speaking in God's Name, declares concerning God's Morality: "'For, My Thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My Ways -- the Word of HaShem. As high as are the Heavens above the Earth, so are My Ways high above your ways, and My Thoughts [high] above your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).
As is stated in Ecclesiastes: "Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the Heavens: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wreck and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embraces. A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to discard. A time to rend and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. What gain, then, has the worker by his toil? I have observed the task with which God has given the sons of humankind to be concerned: He made everything beautiful in its time; He has also put an enigma into their minds so that humankind cannot comprehend what God has done from Beginning to End." (Ecc. 3:1-11).
According to God's Moral Code, traits and situations such as Kindness,
Cruelty, Mercy, Hardship, Love, Hatred, Forgiveness, Revenge, Peace and War
are, in themselves, neither Good nor Evil but, instead, Neutral. It is only the
specific circumstances in which, and the particular motivation with which, a
particular trait is exhibited or a particular situation is initiated that
determines whether such a trait or situation is Good, thereby creating a
Kiddush HaShem (Sanctification of God's Name), or
Evil, thereby creating a Chillul HaShem
(Desecration of God's Name). For example, Revenge is a holy obligation, and its
implementation is a Kiddush HaShem under the
proper circumstances. Consequently, the God of Israel describes Himself as
a God of Vengeance, and He identifies His Exercise of Vengeance with His
Imposition of Judgment against Evildoers: "HaShem
is a Zealous and Vengeful God; HaShem is Vengeful and
full of Wrath; HaShem is Vengeful to His adversaries
and reserves Hostility for His enemies. HaShem is
slow to Anger, but He has great Power and He will not absolve [Evil]."
(Nahum 1:2-3); and: "The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees
Vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the Wicked. And Mankind shall
say, ‘Truly there is a reward for the Righteous. Truly there is a God Who
judges on Earth.’" (Psalms 58:11-12). Also, with respect to the
foreordained Egyptian Exile, although Exodus-era Egypt is merely fulfilling a
role assigned to it by the God of Israel (see Gen. 15:13-16), He purposefully
stiffens the resolve of its evil Pharaoh only so that He may exercise a
horrific Vengeance against it as punishment for its enslavement of the Jewish
people: "HaShem said to Moses, 'When you go to
return to Egypt, see all the wonders that I have put in your hand, and perform
them before Pharaoh; but I shall strengthen his heart, and he will not send out
the people. You shall say to Pharaoh, "So said HaShem,
'My First-born Son is
However, just as a trait such as Revenge may be Good,
a trait such as Mercy may be Evil. This is so because Mercy is
holy and its implementation is a Kiddush HaShem only under
the proper circumstances. If the circumstances are improper, then the
application of Mercy becomes a great sin which creates a Chillul
HaShem. No better example of the wrongful application
of Mercy can be found than the chronicle of the downfall of
If God's Reaction to the substitution by Saul of his judgment for God's Judgment seems overly harsh, then please consider the consequences for the Jewish people of Saul's misplaced mercy: Prior to his execution by the Prophet Samuel, King Agag, y'mach sh'mo, was able to sire children, and one of his descendants, Haman the Agagite (see Esther 3:1), y'mach sh'mo, almost succeeded in annihilating all of the Jews residing throughout the vast empire of 6th Century BCE Persia; in fact, the narrow avoidance of this catastrophe is commemorated annually as the Jewish holiday of Purim. The story of King Saul demonstrates the grave sin of not taking Revenge upon an Enemy of the Jewish people and, instead, repaying the Enemy's Harshness and Cruelty with Mercy and Kindness.
Our Sages, shuddering at the consequences of misplaced mercy, have
emphasized that it is a great sin for
Now addressing the import of the Prime Minister’s foolish statement: Hypothetically, would anyone (even Golda Meir) suggest that, as a human expression of Godly Mercy, survivors of the Holocaust should have forgiven Adolf Hitler and his Nazi hordes, y'mach sh'maihem, for torturing and gassing their children at Auschwitz and other death camps, and, at the same time, should have also regretted that the Allies, in order to defeat Nazi Germany, were forced, not only to kill German soldiers, but, as well, to destroy Dresden and other German cities, thereby inflicting massive casualties upon Nazi Germany's civilian population? The answer is NO -- and not only because this hypothetical query concerns Nazis. After all, there is no essential difference between the Nazi masses and the Arab masses in their raw hatred of the Jewish people; there is only a difference, to date, in their success rate in annihilating Jews. However, it is distressing, indeed, that most Jews would dismiss, as morally perverse, a proposal of forgiveness and regret towards the Nazis, yet would applaud, as the epitome of righteousness, the Prime Minister’s infinitely more dangerous immorality. Why more dangerous? -- that is self-evident: The Nazis were Yesterday's Enemy, but the Arabs are Today's Enemy. While, in the last 70 years, not a single Jew has been murdered by the Nazis, during this very same period tens of thousands of Jews have been murdered and maimed -- and continue to be murdered and maimed -- by the Arabs.
Finally, the secular founders of the modern State of Israel dreamed of creating a "normal" country which would be just like the gentile countries that comprised the remainder of the World. For them this meant a Jewish nation-state with minimal Judaic influence. However, regardless of one's view of Judaic law, it is simply not normal -- even from a secular humanist standpoint -- for any nation, including the renascent Jewish State, to forgive its enemies for seeking to destroy it, and to simultaneously feel guilty for defending against, and achieving victory over, them.
Just as Golda Meir made horrific errors in failing to prepare Israel for the disastrous Yom Kippur War (which took place in the year following her infamous statement), she was wrong, and she had no moral authority, either to forgive our enemies for murdering those whom she was sworn to protect or to regret our righteous destruction of their advancing armies. If Golda Meir had not been so ignorant of Judaic law she might have, instead, proudly declared her absolute obligation, as a Jewish leader, to protect Jewish lives without regard to the consequences, as is required by the Torah: "... You shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed -- I am HaShem. ... You shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am HaShem." (Lev. 19:16-18), meaning that a Jew, especially a leader of the Jewish people, is obligated to fearlessly and tenaciously act to protect his fellow Jew's life to the same extent that he would so act to protect his own life.
Lastly, the Prime Minister might have also quoted the famous commentary of Bonastruc ça Porta, better known to the Jewish World as Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides, b. 1194 - d. 1270) on Deut. 7:16 that: "Through the Mercy of Fools all Justice is lost."
© Mark Rosenblit