Shabbat Greetings

This Shabbat, we begin the cycle of the Torah reading once again with Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8). It is in this portion that we read of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel and [God] said, What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground. (4:10) We hear God’s cry in real time since last Saturday’s horrific attack by Hamas against Israel. 

Everyone is rightly focusing on the disgusting things that Hamas has done in the past several days. The world must see what horrors they have committed. And yet, concentrating on the particulars of what Hamas has done may cause us to miss the point.

The problem is not that Hamas started a war on Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holy day.
The problem is not that Hamas slaughtered hundreds of civilians.
The problem is not even that Hamas kidnapped women and children.
The problem is not any one thing that Hamas did.

The problem is what Hamas is in its fundamental essence—evil incarnate. They are not good people who did a bad thing. They are evil people who did a lot of evil things. Israel has no choice but to issue its response in the only language that Hamas and other such groups understand—war. Cynically speaking, I know how this sick game is played. Here is how it will probably go:

(1) Israel will rightly attack or possibly invade Gaza with all of its might.

(2) Soon thereafter, the world will be distracted by something mundane and; as a result, Israel’s suffering will recede from the headlines.

(3) Then, the Hamas media machine will show the world what Gaza looks like after Israel’s attack, complete with funerals and crying children.

(4) Easily impressionable (and usually high) university students at elite schools will demonstrate in the streets, shouting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

(5) The world, beset by amnesia and stupidity, will fail to see the connection between Hamas’s attack and Israel’s response. The United Nations will then condemn Israel for not attacking in a proportional manner.

(6) World leaders will mumble ridiculous platitudes about the “cycle of violence” and the need for peace. Eventually, quiet (not peace) will be restored for the time being.

Mind you, there is a cycle at work, but it’s not a cycle of violence. It’s a cycle of moral relativism on the part of the world’s opinion makers. Editorial pages and expert soundbites fuel decision making in Washington and around the world. Unless these opinion writers and experts can get it through their thick skulls that this is a war of good (Israel) vs. evil (Hamas), the cycle will continue unabated.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza twenty years ago, there was a brief chance to build a Dubai-like paradise with a deep water port. But Hamas would have none of it, and they are the sole reason why Gaza is such a miserable place.

I can’t help thinking of what God said to Cain after the latter committed fratricide in this week’s Torah portion. God asks Cain where his brother, Abel, is. Cain claims not to know and then asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God’s response is unequivocal:

And God said, What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground. The word for blood in Hebrew is sometimes plural, just like the English word waters. In Hebrew, God says, “The voice of your brother’s bloods cries out to Me from the ground.” Why is the plural form used in this verse? Here is Rashi’s answer to the question:

YOUR BROTHER’S BLOOD – bloods – his blood and the blood of his possible descendants (Genesis Rabbah 22:9). Another explanation of why the plural is used: he inflicted upon him many wounds, because he knew not whence his soul would depart (i.e. which blow would prove fatal) (Sanhedrin 37b). Cain’s murder of Abel is both exactly like Hamas’s attack and nothing like it at the same time. Like Cain, Hamas has killed not only hundreds of Jews and Israelis but also their descendants. Like Cain, they attacked with the wild, frenzied violence of a mad dog.

Unlike Cain, Hamas is evil and bears complete moral responsibility for its crimes and their consequences. Nobody had ever told Cain not to commit murder, so his punishment was a nomadic existence rather than death. Hamas knows that murder is wrong. They just don’t care. 

May Israel and all of us know some goodness and Shabbat peace.