“My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”
- Babylonian Talmud Megillah 10b
It took less than 24 hours for American t-shirt vendors to come up with shirts celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden: “It Took Obama to Get Osama,” “Voted Off the Planet” and “Public Enemy #1 is Dead.” According to The Washington Post, you can even buy a coffee mug that says “Happy Nosama Day.” Film clippings outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York showed a cascade of revelers on Sunday night, jumping up and down with excitement.
We all feel immense relief and gratitude that someone who was responsible for so much anti-American sentiment, so many deaths and so many terrorist threats has now lost a global voice, but an ethical question lingers. Is celebrating the death of anyone, even someone as hated and destructive as Osama Bin Laden, an appropriate Jewish response?
This is a complex and important question. To answer it, let’s turn to three Jewish sources.
The book of Ezekiel 18:23 records a prophetic response to this question. ” ‘Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?’ says the Lord. ‘Of course not. I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.’ ” We don’t desire the death of those who do wrong, even great crimes against humanity. We want them to change. This may be naïve, but the text surfaces not only a spiritual approach to transformation but a profound sense of the value of all human life.
In the Talmud, we find a curious story of a master sage, Rabbi Meir, who was praying for the death of two robbers. His famous wife, Bruria, overheard his prayer and corrected him. “Let sins be uprooted from the earth, and the wicked will be no more” (Psalm 104:35). “It doesn’t say ‘Let the sinners be uprooted’,” Bruria corrected him. “It says, ‘Let the sins be uprooted’.” You shouldn’t pray that these criminals will die; you should pray that they should repent. And then “the wicked will be no more.” Bruria, no doubt, understood that the likelihood of these individuals changing was slim, but our response — especially in the format of prayer — should be to rehabilitate rather than to destroy.
The last source is found in another Talmudic passage. It records a fictional conversation between God and the angels. The Israelites just crossed the Reed Sea after escaping the Egyptians. The water closed in on these enemies while the Israelites broke out in ecstatic singing following Moses’ recitation of the “Song of the Sea” found in Exodus 15. The angels, the text states, wanted to sing but God turned to them and said “My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”
Of course there‘s a desire to sing. There is a need to cry out in joy. But these knee-jerk reactions should be tempered by the larger question of what a human life is worth. Relief is appropriate. Celebration may just cross over a spiritual line. When it says in Genesis that we are created in God’s image it does not single out anyone as an exception to that rule. And if Osama Bin Laden did not treat others as if they were created in God’s image, let us not imitate that primal, vindictive impulse but transform it by affirming the goodness of humanity and the precious gift of life.
You know when you see a YouTube video and you cannot tell if it’s real or a spoof? This video is tormenting me!
It can’t be real, can it? Also, what is she recommending we get at the end? A shoe? A muumuu? Help!
I had someone send me this video featuring the 12-year-old Edan Pinchot singing a version of “Imagine” for an NCSY Auction fundraiser. After giving it a couple of listens (and by a couple, I mean a good two hours on repeat yesterday morning), I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.
First, kid’s got a great voice. No doubting that.
Second, no other youth group could ever pull this video off. Ever. I was super involved in USY (ie. super popular in high school–at least on weekends) and we just didn’t take ourselves this seriously. “Imagine” is usually reserved for actual, serious issues like AIDS in Africa. This video makes it seem like NCSY is about to cave in or something and only Edan Pinchot can save it.
Not that the video doesn’t work. If you’re trying to raise money for your cause, then dude, this video is perfect. I almost felt compelled to donate $18. It’s just so cheesy that it works.
Finally, and this is probably my favorite part, the video title refers to Edan as the “Jewish Justin Bieber.” This probably was a ploy to get more hits on YouTube (similar to how this post is called “A New Jewish Bieber?”), however, that’s not my real problem. My issue is why we are forcing Edan to be compared to Justin Bieber in the first place?
Edan is clearly the man and needs his own category. To channel my best Randy Jackson, that kid can blow, dawg. Just give him a listen and you tell me that he is merely a Jewish Justin Bieber (again, this is all so I can get traffic to this post. Justin Bieber is awesome. Justin Bieber).
Also, I thought Justin Bieber was already Jewish.
Okay fine, the Super Bowl was five days ago. No one cares anymore. Onto the next thing. I promise though, this video is only semi-football related.
If you watched any of the Super Bowl coverage in the week leading up to the game, or even during the game, there were a lot of jokes made about the beard of Brett Keisel, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end. He’d been growing it since a summer hunting trip with his dad, and needless to say, it’s gotten a little out of control. It’s so bushy that he probably wouldn’t even need a face mask on his helmet. His beard would provide all the protection he needs.
This all led up to Sunday night with a shot of Keisel pumping himself up before the game. Someone took that clip and decided that he looked like a dancing Hasid. Thanks to the magic of the internet, we have got ourselves a pretty funny mashup video.
A single woman got some love advice from an Israeli Kabbalist in last weekend’s New York Times:
I might have stopped being Orthodox, but its indoctrination had left me with the sense that nearly anything — God, spiritualists, healers, psychics and witches — might be equally possible. Thus I found myself in an airless Jerusalem classroom with this old rabbi, who had a white beard so long I couldn’t see his mouth and glasses so thick I couldn’t see his eyes.
And, before reciting a mystical incantation to set her up with her beloved, the kabbalist gives her some unexpected news.
Of all the things he could have said — that I wasn’t married because I didn’t pray daily, or eat kosher food, or observe the Sabbath (not to mention my nonvirginal dating habits) — a curse was the last thing I’d expected. Who would curse me? I mean, if there were such a thing as a curse.
The rest of the story (which you can read here) is both expected and unexpected. Without spoiling it too much, the kabbalist tells her that she’ll meet someone around Hanukkah time. The holiday comes and goes, and nothing happens. A year later, she meets someone. A year after that — the Hanukkah that’s just happened — they moved in together.
A few months ago, we hosted a Hasidic rebbe at our house. Like the kabbalist in the story, he received people in private, talked about their lives and gave blessings. Unlike the story, though, he didn’t charge anyone money — “Money is money,” the rebbe says, “and blessings are blessings. What does one have to do with the other?”
Two Israeli girls who went in there came out satisfied, like they’d gotten the exact thing they asked for. My one stodgy, rationalist friend came out a little shaken, like the Rebbe’d pulled one of his Jedi mind-reading tricks. The person who was the most excited to go in came out crying. It sounds like a collection of riddles, or stories whose answers I’ll never know, but in the moment, it was amazing — like watching one of those grainy family videos that you shouldn’t have a right to see, but you do. It really wasn’t about fortunetelling. It was about what you boil your life down to, when you’ve only got one thing to say.
What do you think — is asking a rebbe about your future an act of superstitiousness? Does it matter whether it is?