“The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with violence (hamas).” (Genesis 6:11).
This week we read the story of Noah and the great flood which destroyed most of humanity. God decides that humanity is filled with violence and lawlessness. The Hebrew word for violence is hamas. Now we know how Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza and conducted a vicious attack against Israel, got its name.
The violence and cruelty perpetrated against Israel on Simchat Torah, one of Judaism’s most joyous holidays, defies description. Killing over a thousand innocent souls, many of them teens at a music festival, slaughtering babies in front of their parents, and kidnapping hundreds of others, defies description. It shows the barbarity that humans are capable of. Small wonder that God regrets ever creating humanity. Humans are capable of such horrible violence and cruelty.
What is sad is how many intellectuals in our country defended the Hamas terror. At America’s most prestigious university, Harvard, 34 student groups signed a letter placing the entire blame on Israel. I am pleased that many of Harvard’s largest donors have publicly said they will cease all donations. But many other major universities such as Penn and Stanford also had prominent groups of students and faculty defending Hamas. The Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter put out a proclamation claiming that the terrorists were justified. (They soon retracted it.) My wife and I have been visiting our daughter and her family in the Charlotte, NC area. During our visit, there was a very public demonstration locally of Palestinian supporters in favor of the terrorists.
Violence seems to exist as a deep part of human nature. I am writing this from Charlotte–Douglas Airport. At the security line were multiple signs warning against violence and verbal threats. There were also signs warning against carrying firearms. The very fact that we have to wait in long security lines to fly on an airplane demonstrates the violence humans are capable of.
What should one do about violence? Jewish tradition is clear. The Talmud teaches, “If someone rises up to attack you, rise up and attack them first” (Sanhedrin 72a). Self-defense is justified by Jewish law. Israel faces some difficult choices, but it must do whatever is necessary to protect its citizens. What about the innocent lives of Palestinians who live in the Gaza? Obviously, Israel must do its best to prevent civilian casualties. But Hamas has deliberately placed its rocket launchers and dug tunnels into Israel in the midst of the civilian population. They are responsible for the violence against their own people.
After reading the story of the flood and the violence that humans perpetrate on one another, one can ask the question, why did God save Noah and his family? Why not destroy humanity altogether? Perhaps God’s hope was that humanity would change its ways after Noah. God explicitly gave Noah a law forbidding bloodshed. “Whoever sheds human blood, By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God Was humankind made.” (Genesis 9:6)
Can humanity change? Can we overcome our natural tendency towards cruelty and violence? Is human nature malleable? That is the of the true lesson of the Torah’s story of Noah. That is the hope of Scripture. A new humanity can be reborn without cruelty and violence in their hearts. Unfortunately, it has not come true in our lifetimes. We can only pray for the day when hatred and brutality will disappear from the earth.