TO LIFE, TO LIFE, L'HAYIM!
By Rabbi Rafi Rank
During at interview with the Washington Post, Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader, said that Palestinians have managed to unnerve Israelis, having found their weakness. Jews, he said, "love life more than any other people, and they prefer not to die." Haniya is correct. Jews do love life, and ours is a tradition that focuses on life. In today's paraSHAT hashVU'ah, the highest religious authorities in biblical times, the kohaNIM or priests, are commanded to not defile themselves by approaching the dead.
There is an exception made for the closest of kin, but the kohaNIM are primarily free of ever standing near or approaching the dead. Today kohaNIM are generally careful about not entering cemeteries. Their focus must forever be on life. The Jewish people have always been willing to suspend the rules surrounding the holiest days, whether it be Shabbat or Yom Kippur, for the sake of saving life. So Jews do love life, but Haniya got it wrong anyway. Our love of life is not a weakness. Our love of life is a strength. The notion that a people unafraid to commit suicide in some way has an edge, is, in a word, preposterous. Haniya may be expert in exploiting innocent youth, convincing them to kill themselves for their country, but he is foolish to delude himself.
As General George Patton (1885-1945) put it with crude honesty, ". . .no b______ ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb b______ die for his country" (Address to the Sixth Armored Division in England, May 31, 1944). The Torah puts it far more elegantly: "Choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19). It seems so obvious, but that it seems so belies our naivet�. There are people in this world who choose death. Most of them have been duped. Nevertheless, their choice is irreversible. I pray for the day when the world will see the wisdom in the Jewish choice. And let's thank God for the kohaNIM and their lesson to us that the highest value in life, is the protection of life itself.
Rafi Rank is Rabbi of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, NY as well as Vice President of the International Rabbinical Assembly
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