Reacting to Provocative Events
The following talk was given in the wake of the Boruch
Goldstein massacre in Hebron on Purim ‘94, but its theme remains painfully
Even though there is a
gemora that says “the best of the goyim, kill,” the rishonim and acharonim
are very clear that, unless he is threatening your life, you cannot just kill
any goy. Rather, what Chazal mean to say is that there is a difference between
goyim and yiddin in a life-threatening situation. One may give the benefit of
the doubt to a Jew who may be acting aggressively toward you; whereas even the
best of the goyim do not deserve the benefit of the doubt, and you can assume
that he does, in fact, mean harm, and act accordingly.
But there is no wholesale heter to kill goyim, even if they
are known to be wicked, hateful people, as long as they are not doing anything
actively threatening. This is true even in a time of war. It is, therefore,
totally false to say that we are presently at war with the Arabs, and therefore
anyone of them is fair game.
There’s a situation in history which is similar, namely the
events in Shechem involving the shevatim, Shimon and Levi. They went to rescue
their sister Dinah, who had been kidnapped, violated, and held captive while
marital terms were being discussed. That Shimon and Levi went and killed Shechem
and Chamor, the kidnappers, who were guilty of a capital crime, to get their
sister back, was entirely justified. Nobody in their right mind would have any
problem with that.
But what justification did they have for wiping out the rest
of the population? True, they did nothing to stop the kidnapping, they were
Jew-haters, they were our enemies; but they were not doing anything to
threaten Jewish life. And Shimon and Levi were not God’s executioners. Yaakov
told them that their act was a chilul HaShem. Their unjustified slaughter made
us look bad in the eyes of the nations, thus giving them a pretext to hate us.
It was like putting a sword in the hands of our enemies.
Shimon and Levi defended themselves, asking Yaakov, “But is
it okay that our sister should be hefker?” They wanted to send a message to
the goyim that Jews are not hefker. Then, maybe other girls would be saved from
Dinah’s fate. Yaakov didn’t respond. You would think that they won the
argument, right? But Yaakov had the last word. Many, many years later, before he
died, he said, “Cursed be their anger,” that they stole the weapon of Esav,
and used it the wrong way. Ah, but it didn’t turn out as Yaakov predicted—-the
goyim didn’t attack them, they ended up getting Shechem, it all worked out for
the good. Why didn’t Yaakov revise his opinion? I saw Nechama Leibowits cite
the statement that “Hatzlacha is not one of God’s names,” meaning that
success has no bearing on whether something is right or wrong. One has to judge
things on their merit, not on the outcome. You have to do what is right,
regardless of what the outcome will be.
Having said all that, it should also be pointed out that the
killing of innocent people—innocent in the sense that they were killed without
halachic sanction—is not something to rejoice over. Indeed, it is appropriate
to feel bad about it. When Yaakov Avinu was confronted by Esav and 400 of his
thugs, the Torah says that Yaakov feared very much—vayeitzer lo. Rashi
says that he was afraid that he would be killed, and it bothered him too that he
might have to kill somebody else. And this was a situation in which it would
have been completely permissible to kill. On the contrary, why not daven, “Give
me a chance, HaShem, to pick off a good number of them.” Better for them and
the world. But if the removal of the wicked has to come about in such a
distasteful way, I may have to do it, but I don’t feel good about it. Rather,
I feel that had I been on the right madreiga, it could have happened in a nicer
The fact that human life had to be destroyed, had to be
wasted, that’s something that should hurt a person. Even if they deserved to
die. When beis din had to execute somebody, they didn’t celebrate and dance
around the person’s grave, singing, “Baruch HaShem, we were zocheh to a
mitzvah you only get once in 70 years.” How did they feel? What did they do?
They fasted that day. And that should point the way for us toward the proper
emotional reaction to such events.