Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Parshat Emor
16th Day of the Omer
30 Nisan, 5771
May 4th, 2011

     Of the unbelievable volume of e-articles, blog posts, and facebook status updates in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden, there is one argument - almost an obsession - that stands above all the rest: how should we feel about his death? Is it appropriate to be happy that he is dead? Does celebration somehow mar our dignity or give in to baser impulses?
    This ambivalence is fascinating. That the world is better without Osama brooks no debate, yet many have deep concerns (and very strong opinions) about what kind of emotion people should express in response to his execution. 
     Even Torah is conflicted about this.* The book of Proverbs, the seat of Torah wisdom, says, “When the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.” (11:23) It also says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, nor let your heart be glad when he stumbles. (24:27)
     Those two quotes come from the very same book.
     I understand the root of our concern. We consider that the emotion we display is the sign of why we killed him: celebration means that we were pursuing revenge; stoicism means that we were upholding justice.
     I believe, though that how we feel after such an event is irrelevant to understanding its rightness. What matters are the emotions that preceded the act - the motivations that led us to kill him - and the fact of the action this country took. Actions and motivations cannot somehow be emended by how we respond after the fact.
     That our emotions were murky cannot be denied. Is it possible to edit out the rage that a parent feels for a child’s murderer? that a spouse feels for the killing of a partner? We are not dispassionate creatures.
     The comfort I offer is that, in the final accounting, killing Osama bin Laden was a moral act. Though our Torah envisions a future of perfect peace, it was born with a very earthy justice, and it says:
“Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by a man his blood will be shed, for in God’s image did God create man.” (Bereishit 9:6)
Osama bin Laden set the destruction of God’s image as his life’s work. His death is just. 

* In this, I find the proof of Torah’s wisdom, for to be decisive one way is to be too ethereal, ignoring basic realities of what human beings are. To be decisive the other is to condone the basest of sentiments.

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