On the assassination of prime minister rabin z L

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by Harav Yehuda Amital1

When Avner ben Ner was murdered by Yoav, King David intoned:

Should Avner have died the death of a churl? Your hands were not bound, your feet were not put in fetters; but you fell as one falls before treacherous men....You will know that a prince, and a great man has fallen this day in Israel.2

Today, we are stunned and shattered, depressed, disgraced and shamed, pained and sorrowed, by the abominable murder of the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, in this "reishit tzemichat ge'ulateinu" - the dawn of our redemption.

In his commentary on Sefer Devarim - specifically, the section commanding us to choose a king, the Ramban states that whomever the Jewish people choose is the choice of God. If God had not approved, the election would not have succeeded. This horrible act, directed against the kingdom of Israel, is also an assault on the kingdom of God. It is an assault on the entire people of Israel, not only because of the act itself, but because one man cannot say: "I will decide for everyone, I have the right to assault the anointed of God, chosen by the people, a man who dedicated his entire life to the Jewish people." How many merits he had! Even if one disagreed with all his policies, the role the Prime Minister played in the Six Day War alone is sufficient to atone for anything else he might have done. Our sages tell us even a sinful idolater cannot be put to death unless the highest judicial authorities condemn him - and now, along comes an individual who decides that he is the Sanhedrin!

Aside from this, we are obligated to rend our garments over the desecration of God's name. Have we become like Sedom, do we resemble Amora? The Jewish people, who taught the world absolute morality, beginning with the prohibition on murder; the Jewish state, the only democracy in the Middle East, a nation founded on the vision of redemption - now resembles some Third World banana republic. This obligates us in keri'a (tearing), if not in rending our clothes, then in rending our hearts. What has happened to us?

Rav Menachem Zemba zt"l, commenting on the argument in Agudat Israel sixty years ago concerning the partition plan, stated that the continued suffering of the Jews in the world constitutes a desecration of God's name. The State of Israel, the refuge of all Jews, represents the sanctification of God's name after the Holocaust. And now, I tremble - for God does not forgive the desecration of His name. There is a double chillul Ha-shem, when one who claims to be a ben Torah, who sees himself as serving God, is capable of this deed. This is Torah? This is Torah education!? What a terrible chillul Ha-shem!! Anyone who is not shocked lacks even a iota of yir'at shamayim; he has no idea of what is the honor of God.

On the national level, I don't know who is responsible, Right or Left, for using more inflammatory language. But on our level, in the Bet Midrash, measuring with a Torah standard, I know. When a man is found dead in the field, the Torah requires the elders of the neighboring city to state: "Our hands have not spilled the blood."3 (Devarim 21:1-9). The sages explain that their declaration of innocence means that they did not send off the victim without provisions and without escort. Rashi elaborates: perhaps he left the town without food, and, out of hunger and desperation, attacked another man and was killed. This possibility, far-fetched as it seems, will preclude the elders from declaring their innocence if they did not provide him with food when he left. This is the Torah measure of culpability!

Those who spoke of the "reign of iniquity" ("memshelet zadon"), who called the government a "Judenrat," who questioned the legitimacy of the government, who publicly issued the ruling concerning disobeying orders in the army - are they less culpable than the elders who failed to provide a traveler with provisions? Is the connection more far-fetched? Can they truly say "Our hands have not spilled this blood?"

And as for the title "traitor" which they constantly shouted at Rabin - why did they think he was a traitor? For money? To save himself? Or because he had a different opinion, because, looking ten years ahead, he feared for the future? Is there here less responsibility for what happened than in the case mentioned in the gemara? After the Goldstein massacre, how many rabbis condemned it outright, without hemming and hawing? Don't you see the connection between that and the current tragic events?

There is a midrash on Devarim 6:5:

"You shall love the Lord your God" - be loved by others, distance yourself from sin and from theft, even from an idolater, for one who steals from an idolater will eventually steal from a Jew, and one who lies to an idolater will eventually lie to a Jew, and one who sheds the blood of an idolater will eventually shed the blood of a Jew; for the Torah was given only to sanctify His great name in the nations.

How far have we fallen from this ideal?

On an educational level, I think this tragic event also reveals something frightening. A law student, an educated person, thought that by killing Rabin he would solve all of Israel's problems!? What primitivity, what shallowness, what a lack of thought! In our schools and youth movements, have we educated so shallow a generation, where slogans have replaced critical thought?

Where do people get the idea that they have to ask a rabbi about whether to say "ve-ten tal u-matar," but regarding issues which affect all of Israel, they can decide for themselves? And the small rabbis who speak of the need to use force - would they dare to issue rulings about the laws of Shabbat or aguna? I am gravely worried by this entire ideology of force. And I am even more worried about the dangers posed by people who believe in "sinning for the sake of Heaven." Reb Yerucham, the mashgiach of Mir, said that the verse "...pen yifteh levavchem, ve-sartem va-avadtem elohim acherim"4 teaches us that the evil impulse can persuade us ("yifteh") that even idolatry is permissible - and even more so, that it is a mitzva! And so too with murder, adultery, and all other sins. We are not inoculated against this danger, which lurks especially in the ideology of force, and is doubly dangerous when people begin to speak in the name of God.

As far as the future goes, I have a feeling that extremism on both sides will lessen. We can continue, even while disagreeing, to find the will and the strength to build the State of Israel, for this is the will of God. Despite our differences of opinion, we still have much to unite us. I believe that God will continue to guide us from afar, with all the mistakes we are likely to commit. "We are assured," said R' Herzog zt"l, "that the Third Jewish Commonwealth will not fall."

We must fight against hatred. After the murder, we hear many people quoting Rav Kook zt"l, who said that just as the Second Temple was destroyed because of sin'at chinam, so will the Third Temple be built because of ahavat chinam. But why call it ahavat chinam? Are there not many others - yes, even among the non-religious - who deserve our love? There are many dedicated members of our society who certainly fall into that category: members of the security services who vigilantly protect us, boys who give three years to the army, doctors who work for meager wages rather than seek their fortunes overseas, and many others. If someone does not share our religious commitment, it does not mean he has no values, and it does not mean that he has no just claim to our love.

The real battle is over the Jewishness of the State. That is where we must concentrate. Abba Kovner, the poet and socialist leader, once proposed to me to join him in spreading some Yiddishkeit among Israeli youth - I would contribute the Torah, he the literature. One year before his death, he said to me, "We have lost a generation; as far as Judaism is concerned, they won't listen even to me anymore. They associate Judaism only with militancy." In the battle for the Jewish soul of the nation, we have received a stab in the back. Now we have to prove that "derakheha darkhei noam" - "[the Torah's] ways are ways of pleasantness." We must constantly remember that every action, every appearance can - and in our situation, must - be a kiddush Ha-shem. We will increase unity and avoid hatred; we will find the ways to see the positive aspects of every Jew; we will pray to God that he will protect us and purify our hearts from hatred, envy, and slander; and we will continue to build this great undertaking which is the work of the hands of God - the return to Zion - until we witness the coming of the redeemer, speedily in our days, Amen.

1. This sicha was given by Harav Amital to Yeshivat Har Etzion on Monday, 13 Cheshvan 5756 (November 6, 1995). It has been translated and adapted by Rabbi Ezra Bick, Rabbi Ronnie Ziegler, and Jeremy Senderowicz. Following the sicha, the entire Yeshiva followed Rav Amital's exhortations and boarded buses to attend the funeral in Jerusalem, although the actual ceremony was closed to the public.

2. Shemuel II, 3:33.

3. The section regarding the egla arufa, in Devarim 21:1-9.

4. Devarim 11:16.

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