Published November 2023
THE RIGHT TO LIFE
Jews are an argumentative people. If you disagree, that only proves my point! Differences of opinion in Israel this past year reached such a degree of intensity, that many thought that the country was on the verge of a civil war. People wondered whether Israel would ever again achieve unity.
On October 7 that elusive unity returned to Israel thanks to Hamas. The unspeakably cruel and barbaric attacks of Hamas on Israeli villages, kibbutzim and even a music concert made evident to one and all that differences were minor and inconsequential, compared to what united them as a people. Before the Hamas terrorists perpetrated their attacks, they did not first inquire of their victims: Are you Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist; do you count women to the minyan or call them to the Torah. Hamas did not ask these questions any more than did the Nazi storm troopers in the 1930’s and 1940’s when they rounded up Jews for the concentration camps. As far as the enemies of our people are concerned, “a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and every last one should be exterminated.”
Israel is today battling for the right to live. There is nothing more fundamental or elemental than that. Their right to life was affirmed by Abraham on that fateful day when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, in response to what he believed was a divine command. Suddenly just before the crucial moment, when Isaac was supposed to be slain, Abraham heard the voice of God, exclaiming: “Don’t hurt the lad. Don’t do anything injurious to him.” God informed Abraham through that pivotal episode that He wanted Isaac to live and Abraham to live and all Jews and human beings to live.
That imperative was affirmed with incomparable passion and power by the Psalmist: “I will not die, I will live and bear witness to the deeds of God.” These same words formed the motto of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. We misunderstand those courageous heroes if we think that all they wanted to do was take some Nazis with them as they went to their deaths. First and foremost, they wanted as many of them as possible to survive, that there might be a living continuation of their story. There can be no Judaism if there are no Jews.
We certainly honor our martyrs. We revere them; we memorialize them; we will forever remember them. But we do not celebrate their deaths. We mourn their passing, we cry over them, we grieve over them. That is the meaning of the command to live. We take life seriously and feel obligated to protect and preserve it.
How can you live if your next door neighbor has proclaimed loud and clear that it is his goal to kill you and everyone whom you love? How can you live in safety and security and even a shred of dignity if you allow this guy to carry out his nefarious designs against you?
Make no mistake about it. Hamas doesn’t simply have a grievance against Israel. It is not trying to resolve differences so that both Gazans and Israelis can live together as friends. As its Articles of Partnership proclaim, their objective is to annihilate every last Jew until not even one is able to hide behind a tree or stone.
Our duty as Jews is to reaffirm the words of the Psalmist: “I will not die. I will live and bear witness to the deeds of God.”
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD