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Finding Love and Peace in Our Battle against evil
Rabbi David Aaron
How odd that a violent act of killing would be rewarded
The Israelites were seduced by the Moabite women to serve the idol of Peor. When Zimri, the prince of the Shimonite tribe, publicly takes the princess of Midian to be with her sexually, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, kills them both and thereby stops the plague against the people. For this zealous act G-d rewards him with a covenant of peace.
How odd that a violent act of killing would be rewarded with a covenant of peace. Here, however, lies the secret to how much love and peace there should be at the core of a true battle against evil.
And as for the slanderers, may they not have hope and may all the evilness in one moment be lost. And may all Your enemies be quickly cut off and all the deliberate sinners, quickly uproot, break down, crush and subdue, quickly in our time. Blessed be You, YHVH, who breaks enemies and subdues deliberate sinners.
From the daily Jewish prayer, Amidah
This blessing is the famous 19th benediction of the Amidah even though the Amidah is called the Shemoneh Esrei, which means "18". The sages added this blessing later in Jewish history, when many Jews were collaborating with the Romans who were ruling the country at that time.
It is difficult to imagine that when the sages first composed the Amidah, there was no prayer that G-d protect us from our enemies. After all, the Jewish people have had enemies since the beginning of our history. As we recite in the Passover Haggadah, "In every generation they come upon us to destroy us?" Why, then, did the sages not include this blessing from the very beginning?
At that time in our history, there arose a new enemy the malshanim, slanderers. These were not Non-Jews. They were Jews who were undercover apostates and slandered their fellow Jews to the foreign government ruling in Israel, causing disastrous problems for the community. There were so many malshanim at the time that almost every Jew was suspect. The Talmud recalls that if a cantor leading the prayer service began to stutter at his recital of this blessing, he was immediately suspected of being an enemy of the people.
COMPASSION ON THE ENEMY
The sages and prophets of the Great Assembly wrote the Amidah with great precision. Therefore, it was a critical matter to choose the right person to write this additional blessing. After serious deliberation, the Great Assembly chose Shmuel HaKatan, "Little Shmuel."
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Why couldn't any one of the sages write this request? Is it really that difficult to express the desire to wipe out our enemies? Yes, it should indeed be difficult to express such thoughts.
Shmuel Hakatan was known in Pirkei Avos (part of the Mishna called "Ethics of the Fathers") for saying, "When your enemy falls, do not take joy." Someone who finds any joy in destroying another person could not have written this blessing with the necessary precision. Shmuel HaKatan had the right intention love for G-d, not hate for people. Through the teachings of Shmuel HaKatan, we learn that a Jew should want our enemies to repent and ascend higher in their service to G-d. And if indeed war is unavoidable, as was the case of Pinchas, then it must be waged with the deepest sense of love for G-d and not hatred for people.
We now can see the tremendous love for G-d this blessing required. Anybody can write a blessing that expresses the desire for our enemies to fall. The words "kill them," "destroy them," "wipe them from the face of the earth," come to mind. Only someone with the purest of intentions solely out of love for G-d, and without any hate whatsoever could have the precise attitude required to express the ideal desires of generations of Jewish people.
A close reading of the blessing reveals its accuracy. It does not say, "Slice them into little pieces" or "torture them." Rather, it describes a corrective process tikkun. We first ask G-d to cause the "malshanim" to give up all hope that their diabolical scheming will have any impact. Then, "within one moment all evil be lost from the earth." Note that it does not ask for "rashaim" (evil people) to be lost, but "rishah" (evilness).
In his book Midos Haraaya, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains that whenever we pray that G-d deal with our enemies, we never pray for the destruction of the enemy himself, only his evilness. We do not want to see people die unless there is no other way to stop them from doing evil.
The continuation of the prayer is provocative: "and may all Your enemies be quickly cut off." Cut off from where? Why doesn't it say, "Kill them"? There are many ways to define the phrase "cut off." It can mean end their supply, discontinue their support or cause them to lose their footing (and perhaps even their funding), among other things. A careful reading of the Amidah reveals that we do not want our enemies to be killed, just defeated.
In the end, we ask G-d only to subdue them. But the repentance of our enemies is a long process. First, they must be uprooted so they have no grounding. Then they must be broken down and humbled. We could pray, "May You be abundantly manifest as one who kills and destroys our enemies." But that's not how the blessing ends. Instead, it exhorts, "May You be abundantly manifest as one who breaks enemies and humbles deliberate sinners." Clearly, this blessing was written with tremendous love and sensitivity, in the hope that evilness not evil ones will be cast from the earth.
Indeed, Judaism teaches that we must not ask for the sinners to be lost from the land, but rather that the sins be lost from the land. We learn this lesson from the Talmudic story of Bruria. The wife of great sage Rebbe Meir, Bruria was well known as a Torah Scholar a woman possessing vast Torah knowledge. The story goes that a man shares with her that there is someone in his community who is harassing him, and he is praying for G-d to destroy him.
"You fool!" she admonishes him. "The verse in Psalms states, "May the sins be cast off from the land" not the sinners. In other words, we pray that sinners repent, not die.
There is a remarkable Midrash that relates that Pharaoh, the one of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people, suffered from leprosy. His advisors tell him that bathing in Jewish blood can cure the ailment, so Pharaoh orders his men to slaughter Jewish children for this purpose. Another Midrash, however, explains that after the exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh repents and gets a new job as king of Ninveh. In the story of Jonah, G-d commands Jonah to go to Ninveh and tell the people there to repent. When Jonah finally arrives with G-d's command, the king says, "I know this G-d. Let us not start up with Him." All the people of Ninveh then repent.
Judaism has such a forgiving attitude toward our enemies that the greatest thing we can do for them is to pray for their repentance. This is an incredible testimony that we are supposed to want those who kill us to repent form their evil ways rather than die.
SUMMARY AND PARAPHRASED
This prayer should be said with tremendous love for G-d and not hate for people. It expresses our hope that evilness not evil ones be cast from the earth; that G-d's enemies and those who sin against Him be subdued and repent.
And as for the slanderers, those who vilify their fellow Jews to foreign governments, may they not have hope and therefore, stop scheming against us and may all the evilness (not the enemy himself, but only his evilness) in one moment be lost. Motivated by our love for You and not because of personal vendetta we ask: and may all YOUR enemies be quickly cut off from any backing or support that sustains their wickedness so that they will quickly capitulate in defeat; and all the deliberate sinners, quickly uproot, (cause them to lose their footing and falter) break down, crush and subdue, (progressively humbling them towards total surrender and repentance) quickly in our time. Blessed be You, May You be abundantly manifest G-d, who breaks enemies and subdues deliberate sinners.
The more we believe that G-d is always breaking enemies and subduing sinners and we sincerely want to free ourselves from their threat, the more the blessings for love and peace can penetrate and become manifest in our midst.
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G0d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G0d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2012, Rabbi David Aaron