Perhaps it’s that most human trait of all, certainty in the righteous truth and justice of our opinions, that leads directly to inhuman hell.
A beautiful talk by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin on Parshat Yitro emphasizes the ultimate value Judaism places on life. Given current events, in the last moments he contrasts it with the demonic values of extremist Islam which proudly proclaims itself to value death over life.
I don’t begin to assume that the champions of jihad are either unintelligent or intrinsically evil people. Rather, their misstep, which leads to the absolute disasters of ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and more, is their absolute belief in God as exclusively Absolute Justice. There is right and there is wrong and wrong must be destroyed so right can triumph.
There are a number of versions of Judaism’s profound lesson that God created a number of defective worlds which self-destructed until He finally came upon the secret of a world that can survive. He first intended to create the world with דין (Din), absolute justice. He saw, however, that the world He intended, with humans as the crown of Creation, could not be sustained like that so He mixed in just a small measure of חסד (Chesed), love.
When I first decided to become a rabbi, I discussed my plan with Rabbi Daniel Goldberger z”l, a lifelong friend and mentor, father of good friends and known as Denver’s most beloved rabbi. His first response was to look me in the eye and say, “Zeitlin, the one luxury I never afford myself is 100% certainty….about anything.” Through the years, that wisdom returns to me on a daily basis.
Whenever we open a new bottle of wine, or in other minhagim (customs) whenever we pour wine into a cup for Kiddush, we add a drop of water. We dilute the red of Din with the water of Chesed. We need this weekly reminder of our fallibility, of the limits of our concept of justice and of the supreme value of love and life.