Many adjectives will be used to describe the recent savage murders and kidnapping of our three Israeli high school boys, Naftali Fraenkel, z”l, Gil-Ad Shaer z”l and Eyal Yifrah z”l, but unless these adjectives supplement, rather than replace, the word “evil”, these responses and “condemnations” will remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Judaism places the highest value on שלום (shalom), peace, but we need to define that word in Jewish terms and not in the watered-down western sense of the word in which it has merely become roughly synonymous with the Arabic word, “hudna“, which is just a temporary cease-fire (usually for the purpose of rearming or finding a new victim to attack).
Shalom is based, as are most Hebrew words, on a three-letter root (shoresh), in this case ש-ל-ם which spell שלם (shalaym) and means complete. Shalaymut, completeness, in the Jewish sense of the word, means that the אור הקודש (Ohr HaKodesh), the holy light of The Creator shines through all of Creation, including our very physical and material world, with no obstruction or imperfection. These obstructions are what we refer to when we talk about רע (Rah), Evil, and we must not merely passively look forward to, but must actively work to create a world where Evil is finally destroyed. And that, not merely waiting for the next blow to fall, is true peace.
Of course, it is just as difficult for we Jews as for anyone else to continuously confront evil. Our sages from the time of the Great Assembly, אנשי כנסת הגדול (Anshei Knesset HaGadol, predating the destruction of the Second Temple), who formulated most of our blessings and liturgy, understood that when they altered the verse of Isaiah to start our daily morning prayer, shacharit. Isaiah (45:7) says, יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע (Yotzer ohr u-voray chosech, oseh shalom u’voray rah), “(He) forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil,” while our siddur changes that to: עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא אֶת הַכֹּל, “….u’vorey et ha-kol,” “….and creates everything,” which certainly includes evil within it, but doesn’t mention it explicitly.
Nonetheless, evil cannot be destroyed, the impediments to God’s Light permanently removed; true peace, שלום, shalom, based on שלימות, sh’laymut, completeness (total light) cannot enabled, without acknowledging and battling and destroying evil–the true enemy of peace. And we must acknowledge that truly evil deeds are performed and also enabled by evil people.
As Jews, we enjoyed a very short grace period after the Shoah, the Holocaust, during which people of European descent felt so much shame in their participation and tolerance of savagery that they resolved, “Never Again”. Jews and especially Israel, were granted that special support that comes with victimhood, but that can only be milked for a short time. That grace period expired at least ten years ago, and we’re dangerously foolish, looking forward, to rely on backward-looking, guilt-based “goodwill”. For us, “Never Again” should mean that we will never again allow ourselves to become victims, that with renewed sovereignty in the Land of Israel we will never again place our fate in the hands of others. Quoting Samuel II (24:14) twice daily as part of our Tachanun, וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל־גָּד צַר־לִי מְאֹד נִפְּלָה־נָּא בְיַד־יְהֹוָה כִּי־רַבִּים רַחֲמָיו וּבְיַד־אָדָם אַל־אֶפֹּלָה “And David said to Gad, I am in great distress; let us fall now into the hand of God; for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man,” we remind ourselves to be wary of false securities and false values we too often are offered.
Sure, it’s comforting in contemporary culture to believe that “evil” is just a synonym for “not perfect”, or “missing the mark”– perhaps it’s not actualy “real”. But then events like these, or the almost daily bombings in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the recent kidnappings and sex-slavery in Nigeria invade our complacency. They force us to realize that evil does, truly exist and that it is the complete negation of even a possibility of good, let alone of perfection.
No, none of us are perfect. But a few of us truly are evil. Tolerating this evil, moreover, is itself an evil act. Standing by, remaining silent, leaves one liable for voiding the positive commandment צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף (Tzedek tzedek tidrof), mandating that we actively race after what is Just. Or, as the British philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” It takes courage to pursue true justice and not the cause de jour. It takes courage to stand for eternal values and it always has.
Yes, it’s excruciatingly difficult to stand in judgement and to declare certain people evil. It’s even more difficult, and requires almost unbelievable courage to withstand the external pressure and insinuations demanding “restraint” and “tolerance” which enable and thus encourage future evil to flourish. But every drop of our strength and courage will need to be applied to eventually bring the Shalom of Shalaymut into our world.