I could only begin to grasp the magnitude of the devastation in Beirut after seeing these maps. If, God forbid, such an explosion came from downtown Toronto, near the Toronto ferry terminal, it would have caused serious damage as far north as Lawrence Avenue, as far west as Royal York Blvd, and as far east as Kingston Rd. Shock waves would have been felt in London, Kingston, and Muskoka.
This Shabbat we include the more than three thousand injured in our prayers.
Such human empathy was expressed by lighting up Tel Aviv’s city hall with flag of Lebanon. A spokesman for the city of Tel Aviv, Eitan Schwartz, wrote: “The heart goes out to the Lebanese people following the terrible tragedy experienced. Israel has known a lot of pain from Lebanon’s and Hezbollah’s murders, but at this time of a terrible death of dozens of civilians, human solidarity outweighs any conflict.”
I hope this will change and Israel will be able to help in the relief efforts as Israel did for Syrians. These gestures of aid are fraught with political complexity, but by extending a helping hand, The Jewish State is expressing Jewish values.
First, to draw a contrast… According to the New Testament, Jesus taught: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Judaism does not command a person to love his enemies, but neither to hate his enemies, as the Gospel of Matthew falsely claims (5:43). Rather, we are commanded to act justly, fairly, and in some instances, even compassionately toward an enemy. As it is written in the Books of Proverbs: “Rejoice not when your enemy falls. And let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Therefore, we did not see Israelis dancing in the streets at the news of Arafat’s death. Proverbs continues: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 24:17 and 25:21) Therefore, Israel’s daily shipment of food and basic supplies to Gaza are appropriate, if not required by Jewish law.
The Torah itself commands how one must treat his enemy. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down, trapped under its burden, and your impulse is to refrain from lifting it up, you must nonetheless raise the donkey together with him (with the one who hates you).” (Exodus 23:5)
What is this mitzvah about? Midrash Tanchuma, written in the 3rd century, explains how peace can be created by a donkey. Rabbi Alexandri once said: Two donkey drivers who hated each other were walking on a road when the donkey of one lay down under its burden. His enemy saw it fall, and at first he passed right by without care. But then he reflected: Is it not written in the Torah, “If you see your enemy’s donkey lying down, trapped under its burden, and your impulse is to refrain from lifting it up, you must nonetheless raise it?” So he turned back down the road to lend a hand, but as he unloaded the burden from the fallen beast, he refused to speak to his enemy. They worked in silence. Before long, the man needed to address his enemy, saying things like: “Release a bit here, pull up over there, unload this pack here.” By and by, peace came about between them, because one of them kept what is written in the Torah.
The Courage of Reconciliation
Pirkei Avot famously teaches: “Ayzeh who gibor? Who is mighty? Who is a true hero?” The answer comes: “The courageous one is the person who makes an enemy a friend.” We must believe it is possible. Sometimes a small gesture can open the door to something greater. What it comes to peace and reconciliation, you just never know, so take a chance.
Let us take pride in Israel’s offer of humanitarian aid. It is the Jewish thing to do. For the sake of the suffering, I pray it will be accepted. For the sake of Israel’s future, I pray it could even open a door to peaceful possibilities.
And as we prepare ourselves for the new year, we ought to keep the mitzvah of the donkey in mind. What can be true among nations can be true among individuals. A fractured relationship can begin to heal by the smallest gesture of kindness. Not always, but sometimes. I have witnessed many success stories of this kind.
Judaism does not command us to late nor hate our enemies. Judaism demands that we seek peace and pursue it. Too often justice is seen as strict and stubborn. Peace is too often seen as soft and sentimental. But the Psalmist insists that both peace and justice are strong, that both are loving. The poet insists that one day “Kindness and truth shall embrace; justice and peace shall kiss.” (Psalm 85:11)