Amid all of the fear, frustration and anger over Israel’s need to defend itself once again from Hamas, the terror group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews, it is important to remember that Jewish tradition teaches not only the imperative of defending one’s own but also to not lose our compassion for innocents who suffer.
This past Shabbat, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation Bnai David in Los Angeles, reminded his congregants of the post-script to the biblical story of Abraham telling King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister. After Sarah was safely returned to her husband, Abraham prayed on behalf of the barren women in Abimelech’s harem. And soon after the Torah notes that Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant and gives birth at the age of 90.
Rabbi Kanefsky cited rabbinic sages who noted from this example that when one prays for healing for someone else, as Abraham did, God responds first by answering the need of the one who prayed.
It is this sense of selflessness and compassion that opens our hearts and makes us more human. (The message became all the more poignant on learning that the rabbi’s son, an American Lone Soldier in the IDF through the hesder yeshiva army program, was called back just as he was due home, his military service complete. He is serving in a tank in Gaza.)
We have read columns and blogs in recent days by those, including rabbis, maintaining that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza, and insisting on no sympathy for those in danger there. But justifying and supporting the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza should not remove from us a sense of pain and tragedy over the resulting deaths of innocents, including large numbers of children.
It is true that those innocents are the pawns of Hamas. And mainstream media compounds the distortion by presenting photos and footage from the conflict that tend to portray Gazans as suffering and mourning civilians, and Israelis as well-armed soldiers. Missing are the images of leaders of Hamas, no doubt safely hiding underground, and the fighters in civilian clothes with rocket launchers and other arms.
However imbalanced the portrait, and however defensible the actions of an Israeli army seeking to stop the aggressors rather than harm innocents, our support for Israel is not weakened by expressing compassion for those who are in distress. Indeed, Israel has provided expert medical attention for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for years and continues to do so. That humanitarian spirit is a source of pride. Even as Hamas enemy seeks to destroy our people, we need to resist their actions, as well as the impulse toward blind and sweeping hatred, lowering ourselves to their depth.