About the Rabbi
This is the text of a talk delivered by Rabbi Sokol at the Yavneh Minyan on Shabbat Vayera morning (November 11, 1995).
Last week, a great tragedy befell the Jewish people. A Jew; a religious, devout, even learned Jew, assassinated the Prime Minister of Israel. While much has been written and said about this during the past week, I feel that as Rav of this Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) Minyan, I must share with you my own reflections about this event. Some of you may find what I have to say agreeable; others may not. But I shall say what I feel needs to be said.
Certainly, only one person bears ultimate responsibility for the assassination, and that is the assassin himself. No one forced him to shoot Rabin. He did so of his own free will. Nevertheless, and of course this is crucial, his actions did not emerge out of a social, political or ideological vacuum. Many, many others must share some degree of responsibility for what he did.
When a murder is committed in a field, the leaders of the neighboring city must participate in the mitzvah of eglah arufa (the breaking of a cow's neck) as a kind of expiation for their sin. This is because the leaders of a city bear responsibility for a moral outrage which occurs even outside its borders.
Since my time is not unlimited, I'd like to focus on two issues of special and deep concern to me. The first is directed to both the political left and the religious-political right; the second is directed specifically to the religious-political right, including many of us, or our friends, relatives or acquaintances.
There can be no question that the political left, whose primary leader was Rabin himself, used rhetoric which profoundly disenfranchised the persons and aspirations of the religious-political right. To call their rabbis "ayatollahs"; to maintain that Hamas was a tool in their hands, is to make those who aspire to Eretz Yisrael ha-sheleima (greater Israel) feel that they are not Israelis, not civilized human beings.
And all this is quite apart from the serious problems with Rabin's policies themselves. But to recognize the role of the left in helping to create a context for murder does nothing to exonerate the right, at whose religious head stand rabbis and heads of yeshivot. The standards which apply to "b'nei Torah" (religious Jews) should be no less stringent than the standards which apply to the secular left; indeed, they should be far more stringent. To call Rabin a Nazi and a traitor is equally horrendous.
This in turn further radicalized the left, which in turn further radicalized the right. Words have incalculable power. The Rabbis teach that embarrassing someone in public is the equivalent of murdering him. Some thirty six biblical laws relate to the uses of language, by the count of the Chafetz Chaim. Rhetoric creates reality.
To call a rabbi an ayatollah and to call Rabin a Nazi is to dehumanize both the rabbi and Rabin. It is to respond to the Rabbi or to Rabin, persons with deep convictions of their own, not as a human being who is wrong, but as an avatar of the devil himself. Inflammatory slogans prevent dialogue, discussion, persuasion. How can you dialogue with an ayatollah? How can you persuade a Nazi?
To sling slogans is to prevent critical thinking - the essential hallmark of the human being and the Jew. It is to prevent self-criticism. To sling slogans is the refuge of the insecure. It makes you feel good. If he is the devil, then I must be the angel. It is the sweet feeling of self-righteousness and of power. To sling slogans is to manipulate your listeners, to dehumanize them as well. In dehumanizing others, we dehumanize ourselves.
A civil society is possible only amongst human beings who can talk, reason, discuss, care about one another. Slinging slogans destroys our essential humanity and thereby destroys Israeli society. To sling slogans is to create mythic evil and mythic good. But no one is mythic; we are all just people, some better than others, some worse. Civil society cannot survive in a world of myth. It can survive only in the world of reality.
Now I wish to turn from the level of rhetoric to the level of substance. My talk this morning is not a eulogy for Yitzchak Rabin, and in the spirit of frankness we must concede that Rabin was a flawed man. From his early role in the slaughter during the sinking of the Altalena, to the grave risks consequent upon his peace policies, to his utter disdain for religious life and spirit, Rabin exemplified the brash, secularist Israeli sabra. Even if peace with the Palestinians does require giving up me'arat ha-machpela, that should be a source of pain to any Jew with a feel for the Jewish spiritual past.
Yet Rabin just brushed such a decision off, as if it were inconsequential. That reflects a profound Jewish disability, as it reflects a tragic turn in the whole of Israeli secular society. That said, Rabin also devoted his life and career to the establishment and security of the State of Israel. As a soldier, he risked his life time and again for Jews and for the State.
While historians may debate his exact role in the Six Day War, which brought Jerusalem under Jewish control, there can be little doubt that it was of great importance. Surely these were zechuyot (merits) of the first order. And who but G-d Himself can measure the good against the bad?
Yet the assassin did make such a judgment, and here I must turn to our own community. Yigal Amir is not a fringe lunatic. He is a graduate of one of the best and oldest yeshivot hesder in Israel, Kerem B'Yavneh. He was learning in Bar Ilan's kollel and was a student at the University's law school. He should have represented our best side, and instead he came to represent our worst.
Golda Meir once said that she blames the Arabs less for killing so many Jewish boys, than for transforming so many Jewish boys into killers. Some leaders of the Jewish religious right cultivated militancy. Living in myth, they created a mythic culture of violence. Self-defense, alas, is necessary. Carrying a gun in parts of the territories may, alas, be necessary. But by demonizing the Arabs, and by demonizing those who disagreed with their rightist views, they created a world in which violence and militancy were, for some, norms. After all, how else can you deal with the devil himself?
The gun-slinging flamboyance, the volatile rhetoric created a hyper-reality, or a perversion of reality, a culture of violence. And violence begets violence, until an assassin comes to fire his gun. Halakha itself, for some, became a tool in the hands of myth, a kardom lachpor bo (a shovel to dig with). Rodeph, moser, all halakhic categories were shouted and screamed in public. But was there any reasoned, depoliticized, dispassionate analysis of the halakha. On matters as momentous as assassinating the Prime Minister of Israel, were true gedolei ha-poskim (leading halakhic scholars) consulted? Is Yigal Amir a sanhedrin? Were any of his Rabbis members of the sanhedrin?
Perhaps halacha does have something to say about this. However, I have argued here before at some length that applying halakhic principles to public policy issues such as peace is almost impossible to do without making empirical assessments about likely consequences of action. The really critical questions often hinge less on the halakhic principles themselves and more on the (non-halakhic) accuracy of the assessment. But this is somewhat beside the real point I wish to make now.
To focus on the halakhic question is, to my mind, to miss the essential tragedy. And that is the tragedy of our lost humanity. Derakheha darkei no'am, the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, of peace, of middot tovot, of moral virtue, of hesed and rachamim, of kindness and mercy.
Of course, circumstances may force us to take up arms, to defend ourselves, to create a Jewish state. But that is a tragedy, a sad but necessary concession to the realities of life. Jews are not killers. We are rachmanim, beishanim ve-gomlei chasadim, merciful, bashful, generous.
The Torah was the first document in human history to declare absolute moral standards which apply even to G-d Himself: "Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?", Avraham asks G-d in the parsha we read this Shabbat. Avraham sought desperately to save the lives of the most evil people on the face of the planet, the citizens of Sodom.
Our middot tovot (moral virtues) must remain in persistent dialogue with the halakha. Killing the Prime Minister should violate every Jewish fiber in our souls. Rodeph (pursuer) you say? How can that be? How can we kill a man who struggled all his life to make Israel safe and secure? If we don't at least deeply suspect the facile application of such halakhic categories, our essential humanity and Jewishness have been destroyed.
If Avraham sought to save the men of Sodom, how can we even think to ourselves: "It's too bad a Jew killed him, but I'm glad he was killed anyway"? The culture of violence, the myth of demonization has rotted away the very core of our Jewish souls.
Rabin's assassination was a tragedy for the whole of the Jewish people. Because the assassin was a learned, Orthodox Jew, it was a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name) of unthinkable proportions which will long poison the attitude of the secular towards the religious. And it is a special tragedy for us, we who are part of the community in which Yigal Amir was raised and educated.
The future of the State of Israel rests upon the capacity of all its citizens, left and right, to talk to one another as persons, not as devils. The Jewish future of the State of Israel rests upon the capacity of the secular Jew to feel anguished if Me'arat HaMachpela must be returned to the Palestinians.
And the Jewish future of the State of Israel rests also upon the capacity of the
religious Jew to love not only the grave of Avraham, but his living person. To love
the man of compassion who beseeched G-d for the lives of Sodom. It rests upon our
capacity to retrieve our lost humanity, and thereby retrieve our lost Jewish souls.