Has the Danger Passed?
Sometimes, when an individual or a society experiences a traumatic event, it serves as a kind of “immunization” against the recurrence of similar events in the future. On the other hand, there are some situations in which a barrier is broken, making possible what had previously been unthinkable and increasing the possibility of a recurrence.
The RaMBaM (Hilkhot Teshuva 2:1) formulates the criterion for complete repentance in these words:
What is complete repentance? It is when an opportunity arrives in which he (the repentant) can repeat his transgression, but he withholds and does not act [transgress] because of repentance, rather than because of fear or a failure of ability.”
If so, it may happen that that the traumatic event can serve as a protective factor, if the society which endured the trauma underwent a process of repentance.
Certain questions must be asked:
Did the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, which was, without a doubt, an event which shocked the vast majority of the state’s population, set off a process of contemplation and moral introspection?
Who must perform moral self-inspection?
Anyone who is aware of the world around him, who sees the writing on the wall (both literally and figuratively), who listens to the warnings of the defense establishment, cannot ignore the feeling that that which was thought to be impossible a decade ago has become possible and even likely. A language of protest no less violent than that of a decade ago and death-threats against public figures who take responsibility for decisions with which some people disagree underline the violent and intolerant atmosphere of public discourse in
Israel. To our dismay, it may be assumed that the
calculation of the probability of an additional political assassination in Israel will produce
Who, then, must perform moral self-inspection?
The Gemara (Yoma 23a) tells of a Kohen who was murdered in the Temple out of “religious fervor” and competition over performance of the role of terumat hadeshen on the altar. The Talmud states:
The Rabbis taught: There was an incident involving two priests who were similar to each other and who were running and ascending the ramp [of the altar]. One of them entered the space of four cubits around the other – he took a knife and stabbed him in the heart. Rabbi Zadok stood on the steps of the hall and said: Our brothers, the House of Israel, listen! It says: If someone slain is found in the land…your elders and magistrates shall go out…(Devarim 21:1,2). On whose behalf shall we bring the eglah arufa (broken-necked calf)? For the city or for the
The whole assembled public began to cry.
The boy’s father came and saw that he was still in his death-throws. He said: He is your atonement, my son is still convulsing, and the knife has not been made ritually impure.
This teaches us that they were more concerned with the ritual purity of objects than they were with blood shed.
Rabbi Zadok’s penetrating question, “On whose behalf shall we bring the eglah arufa (broken-necked calf)? For the city or for the
Temple?” may be viewed as very relevant to
our day. Does responsibility for the
actions which occur outside of the beit midrash of those who frequent the beit
midrash still impinge upon the beit midrash, requiring that the beit midrash
inspect itself? Or is it a matter of the
“city,” meaning that the mood in the street influences the beit midrash?
It is interesting to note that the Gemara does not offer an unambiguous answer to Rabbi Zadok’s question. It does not state that the
Temple blames the city or vis-versa. Rather, the entire public began to cry.
Apparently, at first, everyone was shocked by what had occurred within the
walls, and all feel guilty and responsible.
It could be that a similar thing is happening in Israeli society – or at least in most of Israeli society – if the tendency to blame others had not taken over (as the celebrated French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”). But, before the shiva had even been completed, each “camp” began demanding that the other engage in self-reckoning.
It could be that by not offering an answer the Gemara teaches us that there is no unambiguous answer to Rabbi Zadok’s question. Perhaps every individual and group must inspect itself to see how it contributed to the event, and what they must do to keep it from recurring.
The Gemara may also be hinting at an aspect of the public state of mind that made the murder possible: its religious and moral order of priorities.
The father of the victim “saved” the knife from impurity by pulling it from his son’s body before his death , and the Gemara concludes that “the ritual purity of objects” was more important to them than bloodshed.
It is likely that that as a community comprised both of religious and secular members who hold varying political opinions, we must re-examine our religious and ethical priorities – is the avoidance of bloodshed really our prime concern?
If, God-forbid, another political assassination occurs, will we be able to honestly proclaim our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see?
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist