Parashat Beshallach – Mercy for the cruel? - Rabbi Meir KahaneThe water came back and covered the chariots and the horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh, who were coming behind them in the sea – there remained not a one of them. (Ex. 14:28)
“The ministering angels sought to sing G-d's praises [when the Egyptians drowned at sea]. G-d responded, 'My handiwork is drowning at sea and you would sing?'” (Megillah 10b) Who can retell the distortions of G-d's valor perpetrated in recent generations! The deliberate distortion of “My handiwork is drowning in the sea”, as if we must glumly avoid gladness when our enemy falls, has become the steady fare of those who consume the alien culture [of the secular Western world]. G-d, Merciful Father and Creator of all life – righteous and evil – certainly does not sing or rejoice when His evil children die. Despite their wickedness, they are still His, and what father will rejoice at his son's death, even if that son be the most evil on earth?
All the same, G-d does not hesitate to kill His handiwork, as when He drowned the Egyptians. He does not sing; He does not rejoice; but he drowns His handiwork at sea. True, He, Himself, neither rejoices nor allows rejoicing or song in Heaven, but others, the Jewish people, He does cause to rejoice.
In fact, He requires them to sing. Our sages said (Mechilta, Beshallach, Mesechta Devayehi, Ch.2): “The L-rd will fight for you” (Ex. 14:14): That is, “Will G-d perform mighty wonders for you while you just stand in silence?” Israel asked Moses, “What should we do?” and he responded, “Extol and exalt! Sing the praises, glory and majesty of the Master of all warfare, as it says, 'Let the high praises of G-d be in their mouth' (Psalms 149:6)”... Israel then opened their mouths and sang G-d's praises.
Because of their arrogance and wickedness, G-d drowned His handiwork in the sea and commanded Israel to sing praise and thanks to G-d, so as to inform the world that “The L-rd will reign forever and ever!” (Ex. 15:18).
Forgiveness and love for an enemy? Mercy and sorrow over his death? Here is Midrash Avchir, quoted in Torah Shlema, Ex. 14:31, letter 210: “Israel saw the great work” (Ex. 14:31): When G-d wished to drown Egypt, Uza, Egypt's angelic prince stood before G-d and said:”Master of the Universe! You have been called righteous and upright...Why do you wish to drown the Egyptians?” ... Just then Gabriel rose up, took a mud brick and stood before G-d saying, “Master of the Universe! Shall You have mercy on these who so harshly enslaved Your children with mud bricks?” G-d immediately retracted, judging them strictly and drowning them in the sea.
Sorrow over the death of the evil? Over Israel's enemies? The Torah's very defining good and evil in real, absolute terms constitutes a declaration of war against the [contemporary secular Western] culture of the nations and of the Hellenists [secularized Jews] who adopted it. That culture preaches that no one absolute good or evil can be determined, since all ideas and concepts, including those defining good and evil, are the product of human thought. Both those who deny the existence of a Supreme, Omniscient, Omnipotent G-d Who is the source of wisdom and truth, and those who admit the existence of a Supreme Being yet deny Torah from Sinai, i.e., that G-d set forth a blueprint in the Torah, hold that we cannot attach special status to one “good” over another.
Tolerance and pluralism are the ultimate principles of that alien culture. Since followers of that culture cannot determine with certainty what evil is, they cannot eradicate it from the world. Mercy toward the cruel is not a good trait. Quite the opposite, one is duty-bound to separate oneself from the evildoer even if this is a difficult step, and even if it appears cruel. The cruel, wicked person will influence goodness and corrupt it. There can be no coexistence between evil and upright people – only separation.
The mitzvah of eradicating evil from our midst requires us to hate it, as in Psalms 97:10, “Those that love the L-rd hate evil.” It is the duty of him who loves G-d to hate evil and evildoers, for they are G-d's enemies. Nonetheless, in the alien [contemporary secular] Hellenist culture, the themes of love and hatred have been so entirely distorted that it is a terrible crime to speak of hatred as a halachic duty in the right time and place. False love finds a hundred different ways to overlook evil. Advocates of that culture have transformed all such traits as cruelty and revenge into an evil that must be shunned. Such is not the Torah's way...
G-d, Creator of the universe and all that it contains, also created attributes, ethics and values. He created and defined them, assigning every single trait its time, place and purpose. As King Solomon said (Eccles. 3:1-8): To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to dance; a time to cast stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
Everything has a season. There is a time for every attribute and value. G-d created them all and assigned each a purpose, place and time. There is a time to love – but also a time to hate. Anyone incapable of hating those who G-d commanded us to hate is a sinner and heretic and he brings destruction to the world.
In the final analysis, if someone does not know how to hate properly, he cannot love properly. Whoever is unready for war in the right time and place, mandated by G-d, is a sinner and heretic precisely like someone unready for peace. G-d, Who created the world, understands “the minds of His beasts” (Prov. 12:10) in all their detail. He, Who understands and listens, examining man's inner recesses, knows that there is a place for mercy, peace, love, kindness and forgiveness, but simultaneously a place and a need for “cruelty”, so to speak, for war, hatred, killing, uprooting wickedness from the land and destroying evil from the world. What would one not do to save and defend one's household, family and friends from their enemies, to rid their world of danger, to frustrate the evildoers' designs? What would one not be ready to do to the evildoers themselves?
Precisely with this in mind, G-d, Merciful Father of the universe, gazed down and saw the danger posed by evil and wickedness threatening His righteous dear ones, innocent of all wrong. He understood that it is an unpardonable sin to take pity on those of whom it says, “Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness” (I. Samuel 24:13), thereby facilitating their cruel treatment of the righteous and innocent. Whoever takes pity on an evildoer, leaving him free to treat the righteous with cruelty and abuse, is not merciful but cruel. Anyone incapable of hating evil and evildoers can never love the righteous. The death of the wicked is infinitely preferable to the death of the righteous, and eradicating evil is infinitely superior to eradicating good.
Quite the contrary, when G-d destroys evil and evildoers, He is not showing kindness just to the righteous and innocent but to the evildoer as well. He does a kindness to the evildoers when He removes them from the world, for He thereby prevents their doing evil and increasing their sins. This represents a great gift from G-d which lightens their punishment in the Afterlife.
We find this regarding Enoch, of whom it says, “Enoch walked with G-d, and he was not, for G-d took him” (Gen. 5:24). The Midrash comments (Bereshit Rabbah 25:1): “Enoch was a hypocrite – sometimes righteous and sometimes evil. G-d said, 'Let Me remove him while he is still righteous.'” This is the true, definite meaning of our sages' utterance above, “The death of the evildoers is beneficial to them and beneficial to the world.”
It is beneficial to the world because the evildoers stop oppressing it. It is beneficial to the evildoers because G-d is saving them from themselves.
G-d established a time and place for love and for hate, and in the right time and place, each is a duty and a commandment. The Torah never contained, and never will contain, a concept of “groundless love”, just as the Torah absolutely rejects the concept of “groundless hate”. In G-d's attributes, nothing is “groundless”. Rather, there is a clear reason for all required behavior – with love and hatred warranted in their time and place. It is our duty to carry them out lawfully and as commanded, without, G-d forbid, confusing them.