Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg highlights Nelson Mandela’s belief in forgiveness and reconciliation, as we are constantly reminded since his death (“Mandela, Apartheid And The Jews,” Opinion, Dec. 13). This clashes with King David’s deathbed order to his son, Solomon, to exact retribution against Joab and Shimi for the wrongs they perpetrated against David, and to reward the sons of Barzilai for the good he did to him [1 Kings 2:5-9].
Which message is superior?
While the former sounds like the New Testament precept to love thy enemy, the latter conforms to the distinction between good and evil in the Hebrew Bible. Would Mandela have forgiven savages who dispatch suicide bombers to slaughter civilians? If he did, he would have made a mockery of the principle of justice.
There is a moral, however, unique to the Hebrew Bible, not found in the New Testament, and observed by Jews, including David. Hakarat Hatov is the duty to recognize the good someone does to you. It is the principle upon which Yad Vashem in Jerusalem honors the Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. It is important to apprehend the authenticity of the Torah’s message of good and evil because we live in a hypocritical, immoral world where, while the benevolence of Israel is denied, it has become the scapegoat for the world’s evils.