THE MERCY OF FOOLS

"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 Ark of gopher wood; make the Ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you should make it -- 300 cubits the length of the Ark; 50 cubits its width; and 30 cubits its height. A window shall you make for the Ark, and to a cubit finish it from above. Put the entrance of the Ark in its side; make it with bottom, second and thirds decks. And as for Me -- Behold, I am about to bring the Flood waters upon the Earth to destroy all Flesh in which there is a breath of life from under the Heavens; everything that is in the Earth shall expire." (Gen. 6:5-17). After giving Humanity 120 years to repent of their Evil (see Rashi -- Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, b. 1040 - d. 1105 -- on Gen. 6:3), God destroyed the entire (non-aquatic) antediluvian World, save for Noah and his family (and the animals permitted to enter the Ark), on account of the Evil that it had continued to perpetrate utilizing God's Image.

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 Israel. So I have said to you: Send out My Son that he may serve Me, but you have refused to send him out; behold! -- I shall kill your first-born son.'"'" (Ex. 4:21-23). Furthermore, God commands that Israel take revenge upon its enemies, which, by definition, also constitute God's enemies: "HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites …’", but: "Moses spoke to the people, saying, … inflict HaShem’s Vengeance against Midian.’" (Num. 31:2-3). In fact, God even demands that the gentile nations praise the Jewish people on account of the Vengeance to which these nations will be subjected during the End of Days: "O nations: Sing the praises of His People, for He will avenge the blood of His Servants; He will bring retribution upon His adversaries, and He will appease His Land [and] His People." (Deut. 32:43). Finally, prophesying about the End of Days, the Prophet Isaiah, describing the Vengeance that God will wreak upon the nations who have persecuted the Jewish people, declares: "He donned Righteousness like armor and a helmet of Salvation on His Head; and He donned garments of Vengeance as His Attire and clothed Himself in Zealousness like a coat. Just as there were [previous] Retributions [against His enemies], so shall He [now] repay Wrath to His enemies, Retribution to His adversaries; He will pay Retribution [even] to the distant lands. From the West they will fear the Name of HaShem, and from the rising of the sun [they will fear] His Glory; for [their] travail will come like a river; the Spirit of HaShem will gnaw at them." (Isaiah 59:17-19).

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 Saul, Israel's first monarch. Although ordered by God to destroy all of the Amalekites as revenge for their earlier unprovoked attacks against Israel, King Saul nevertheless spared its ruler, King Agag, y’mach sh’mo (cursed be his name), because Saul had pity on the defeated King. When the Prophet Samuel learned of this he, at the instruction of God, stripped Saul of his crown. As the Hebrew Bible relates: "Saul struck down Amalek, from Havilah to the approach to Shur, which is alongside Egypt. He captured Agag, king of Amalek, alive, and the entire people he destroyed by the edge of the sword. Saul, as well as the people, took pity on Agag, on the best of the sheep, the cattle, the fatted bulls, the fatted sheep, and on all that was good; and they were not willing to destroy them; but the inferior and wretched livestock, that they did destroy. The Word of HaShem then came to Samuel, saying, 'I have reconsidered My having made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not fulfilled My Word!' Samuel was aggrieved [by this] and he cried out to HaShem the entire night. Samuel arose early in the morning to meet Saul. It had been told to Samuel, saying, 'Saul came to the Carmel and set up for himself a place [for an alter]. He turned and descended to Gilgal.' When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, 'Blessed are you to HaShem! I have fulfilled the Word of HaShem.' Samuel said, 'And what is this sound of the sheep in my ears and the sound of the cattle that I hear?' Saul said, 'I have brought them [into captivity] from the Amalekite, for the people took pity on the best of the sheep and cattle in order to bring them as offerings to HaShem, your God, but we have destroyed the remainder.' Samuel said to Saul, 'Desist, and I shall tell you what HaShem spoke to me last night.' He [Saul] said to him, 'Speak.' Samuel said, 'Is this not so? -- Though you may be small in your own eyes, you are the head of the tribes of Israel; and HaShem has anointed you to be king over Israel. HaShem sent you on the way, and He said, "Go, destroy the sinners, Amalek, and wage war with him until you have exterminated him." Why did you not obey the Voice of HaShem? You rushed after the spoils, and you did was Evil in the Eyes of HaShem.' Saul said to Samuel, 'But I did heed the Voice of HaShem, and I did walk the path on which HaShem sent me! I brought [into captivity] Agag, king of Amalek, and I destroyed Amalek! The people took sheep and cattle from the spoils -- the best of that which was to be destroyed -- in order to bring offerings to HaShem, your God, in Gilgal.' Samuel said, 'Does HaShem delight in elevation-offerings and feast-offerings [as much] as in obedience to the Voice of HaShem? Behold! -- to obey is better than a choice offering, to be attentive [is better] than the fat of rams. For rebelliousness is like the sin of sorcery, and verbosity is like the iniquity of idolatry. Because you have rejected the Word of God, He has rejected you as king!' Saul said to Samuel, 'I have sinned, for I have transgressed the Word of HaShem and your word, for I feared the people, and I hearkened to their voice. But now, please forgive my sin and return with me, and I will prostrate myself to HaShem.' Samuel said to Saul, 'I will not return with you, for you have rejected the Word of HaShem, and HaShem has rejected you from being king over Israel!' Samuel then turned away to leave, but he [Saul] grabbed the hem of his [Samuel’s] tunic, and it tore. Samuel said to him, 'HaShem has torn the kingship of Israel from upon you this day, and has given it to your fellow who is better than you. Moreover, the Eternal One of Israel does not lie and does not relent, for He is not a human that He should relent.' He [Saul] said, 'I have sinned. Now, please honor me in the presence of the elders of my people and in the presence of Israel; return with me, and I shall prostrate myself to HaShem, your God.' So Samuel returned after Saul, and Saul prostrated himself before HaShem. Samuel then said, 'Bring me Agag, king of Amalek.' And Agag went to him submissively. And Agag said, 'Surely, the bitterness of death has passed.' And Samuel said, 'As your sword made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.' And Samuel cut Agag into pieces before HaShem in Gilgal. Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his home at Gibeath-shaul. Samuel never again saw Saul until the day of his [Samuel's] death, for Samuel mourned over Saul, but HaShem had reconsidered His having made Saul king over Israel." (I Samuel 15:7-35).

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 Israel to show mercy to those who seek to kill or injure Jews, declaring: "'When you go out to the battle against your enemies ...' (Deut. 20:1). What is meant by 'against your enemies'? God said, 'Confront them as enemies. Just as they show you no mercy, so should you not show them any mercy.'" (Tanchuma, Shoftim 15); and: "You are going to war against your enemies and not against your brethren. It is not Judah against Simeon or Simeon against Judah such that if you fall captive they will have mercy on you. ... It is against your enemies that you are waging war. If you fall into their hands, they will show you no mercy." (Sifri, Shoftim 192). Furthermore, our Sages teach that when we kill Evildoers we are doing a double kindness, saying: "The death of the Evildoers is beneficial to them and beneficial to the World. The death of the Righteous is bad for them and bad for the World." (Sanhedrin 71b). We can understand why it is good for the World to rid itself of an Evildoer who oppresses the Innocent, but why is this also good for the Evildoer? The answer is that by dispatching the Evildoer from this World, we are actually doing him a kindness because we are preventing him from committing further Evil, and we are thereby mercifully saving his soul from further descending into Depravity. This is precisely the reason why God removed Enoch from the antediluvian World. As the Torah relates: "And Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God had taken him." (Gen. 5:24). Our Sages explain that: "Enoch was a hypocrite -- sometimes Righteous and sometimes Evil. God said, 'Let Me remove him while he is still Righteous.'" (Bereshit Rabbah 25:1). Clearly, a Jewish leader who shows mercy to an Enemy of the Jewish people is being neither merciful to the Jewish people nor to the soul of their Enemy. Quite the opposite; such a Jewish leader inflicts cruelty both upon his own people and upon the soul of their Enemy. This is why our Sages referred to the exhibition of Mercy under such circumstances as the "Mercy of Fools".

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

 

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