“Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin couches at the door;
Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master.” (Genesis 4:7)
There is evil in the world. We saw it this past Simchat Torah, one of the most joyous festivals of the Jewish year. Hamas terrorists crossed the border into Israel, killing, raping, or capturing every Israeli Jew they could find. Over one thousand were murdered and several hundred kidnapped.
The national news calls Hamas “militants.” But that is the wrong word. It implies people fighting some kind of military battle. These were not militants but terrorists out to destroy as many human lives as they could. They did not care if their victims were men, women, children, the elderly, or babies. Among the victims were hundreds of young people attending a music festival. I listen to the news with a mixture of deep sadness and great fury. How could human lives have so little value? We must mourn the dead, seek the return of the hostages, and protect Israel from this barbarism.
This week we start reading the story of how murder entered the world. Cain rises up and kills his brother Abel. God warns him that sin couches at the door, but he can overcome it. Our tendency towards hatred and murder can be controlled. But too often humans have chosen not to control hatred. Over and over we see this human barbarism, whether in the Holocaust or in too many parts of the world to this day. Last week we saw it in Israel.
I believe God gave the Torah to humanity to send a clear message. Every human being is infinitely precious in the sight of the Almighty. Humans are created in the image of God. Multiple times the Torah teaches, “Love the stranger.” A deep respect for human life is at the heart of the Torah. Why do human beings ignore this teaching and create such carnage?
I give the same answer to the events this past week as I have given to the Holocaust and other atrocities of history. The terrorists who crossed the border from Gaza did not see Israelis as human beings. They were vermin. This is how the Nazis viewed Jews and so many other victims. They were less than human; they were like rats that must be eliminated. Evil begins when humans no longer see the humanity of other humans. It began when Cain did not see his brother as human, and it continues to this day.
In the face of this evil, the message of the Torah needs to be heard more than ever. Every human being, no matter their race, religion, nationality, or belief system, is created in the image of God. Every human being deserves our respect. My hope is that after the Holocaust, the world would have learned that lesson. Sadly, as we learned last week, the world has not learned this.
What should Israel do? It must do whatever is necessary to rescue the hostages. It must do whatever is necessary to protect its own citizens. And it must do this in a way that minimizes the loss of life in Gaza, the most densely populated territory in the world. How can Israel do this? The task is difficult with no clear answers. Meanwhile, outside of Israel, we can pray, we can send money, and we can publicly participate in vigils and other community events on behalf of Israel. Perhaps most important, we can fight overwhelming evil with overwhelming goodness.
As we begin a new cycle of Torah reading, it is our duty to proclaim the Torah’s message to the world. Human life is precious. Evil must be fought. Perhaps, to quote a song we will sing at Hanukkah, “light will come and push away the darkness.”
“May the Lord grant strength to His people, may the Lord bless His people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).