As soon as I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I posted this wonderful news on my Facebook page as I waited to hear President Obama’s live announcement.
I immediately received many “likes” and comments of celebration. But one of my “friends” posted his displeasure that we were celebrating the death of someone. He quoted that when the sea engulfed and killed the Egyptians, God quieted the angels and told them not to cheer their death, that this was not something to celebrate.
Indeed, when the sea miraculously split, the seabed turned dry and the Jewish people walked safely to the other side. They then turned to watch the death of their enemy, as the now muddy seabed caught the Egyptian horses and chariot wheels.
The Jewish people broke into song, called “The Song of the Sea.” Miriam, with musical instruments, took the Jewish women aside and danced and sang in praise of God. And we are told that in heaven, the angels also broke into song. But the Almighty chastised the angels and said, “How can you sing when my people are dying?” (Talmud Sanhedrin, 39b)
The Almighty chastised the angels and said, “How can you sing when my people are dying?”
Several questions arise. Why would God tell the angels not to celebrate and yet allow the Jews to sing? And God’s people were dying because He himself killed them!
What God is saying to the angels is that this is not a happy day for Him. He did not create the Egyptians for evil, but they chose evil, and now evil had to be wiped out. But the Jewish people had suffered at the hand of the Egyptians and they not only had the right to celebrate, they must celebrate.
The Shabbat before Purim is called Parshat Zachor, the Torah portion where we “remember.” What is it that we are recalling each year? Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people who attacked us in the desert, and whose descendents rise in each generation to try and destroy us. Remembering Amalek fulfills one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. But why would we forget? Because there is a part of us that wants to rationalize evil away, and not to accept that it actually exists. We give it political reasoning or economic rationalization. But the Torah tells us that it does exist, we must not close our eyes to it, and we are to do everything that we can to eradicate it from the world.
We recently sang “V’hi sh'amda” from our haggadahs:
For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!"
Mr. Yisrael Yitzhak Cohen, a special Jew who lives in Toronto and who we had the privilege of living near for many years, is a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. He told us dramatic and horrific stories of what he experienced. He shared with us that when the Nazis tortured them in the camps they would point their guns and shout, “Sing Jews, sing.” And “V’hi shamda” is what they sang.
As the Nazis left the camp, killing every Jew they could find on the way out, Mr. Cohen, barely a skeleton, laid down among the corpses and feigned to be dead. When the Nazis were gone, he and a friend stumbled into the kitchen, found some flour and water and began to bake it into something they could eat. As they sat on the floor waiting to remove the matzah, American soldiers entered the room. They were liberated on Passover Sheni, 29 days after Seder night.
Mr. Cohen was a man who knew evil when he saw it, and would never forget. When our second son, Moshe, was born, we asked Mr. Cohen to honor us as the sandek, to hold our son as he entered the covenant.
In havdalah we celebrate the ability to distinguish between light and darkness. In life we must know what is good and what is evil. Yes, we are commanded to remember that there is evil in the world, and not only are we allowed to celebrate when it is destroyed, we must.
As King Solomon wrote:
To every thing there is a season… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance … A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8