It’s been a week since the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s assassination and the world is still talking up a storm over his demise. Some deny his death without “proof,” others are still jumping for joy and believe that a holiday should be declared commemorating his death. The question is: How should we react to this amazing turn of events?
Many people read the bible and misunderstand the sixth commandment. Most renditions err when they translate “Lo Tirtzach” as “you shall not kill.” Hebrew is a root based language and as such each word has a specific meaning. The Hebrew language has no synonyms therefore, if there are two different words that seemingly mean the same thing, then an analysis of the root must be examined in order to find the true meaning. The Hebrew word Hereg means “kill,” however, in the sixth commandment the root word Retzach is used and it means to “murder” – to kill illegally.
Given this understanding, many anti-death penalty proponents misquote the bible when they say that execution also falls into the category of “you shall not kill,” they quite frankly don’t know their bible. The case of bin Laden is different, not because he directly caused the deaths of many thousands of human beings over the course of his terrorist career, but because he has declared on many occasions that he will continue to do so.
I believe that it was perfectly legal on the part of the United States of America (or any other body) to have undertaken this mission. Bin Laden, a self-proclaimed murderer, was assassinated under the law of self-defense (in Hebrew – Rodef). It is biblically legal to KILL someone you know who wishes to MURDER you. Contrary to secular law, one does not need to wait until an attempt is made in order to protect oneself – it is enough that the threat is made. Using biblical law, his assassination was legally sanctioned. However, now that the deed has been done, I ask again, how should we as spiritual beings react?
The Jewish people have just concluded the seven day festival of Passover (eight days in the diaspora). The first day commemorated the Exodus from Egypt and the seventh day the crossing of the Red Sea. According to our oral tradition, as the last Israelites exited the sea, the last of the Egyptians had finished entering in after them. The raging waters were suddenly let loose with a fury and drowned the entire Egyptian army. Having witnessed this awesome miracle of salvation, the Israelites broke out in song in praise of God, “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea” (Ex. 15:1).
According to the Midrash (oral teachings), the angels upon high observed all this and also wanted to chime in and praise. God reprimanded them saying, “My creations are drowning in the sea and you wish to sing?!” From here we learn that that the joy of one’s salvation must be tempered by sorrow over the destruction of an enemy, as it says in the verse “Do not rejoice in the downfall of your enemy” (Prov. 24:17).
Therefore, it is our custom that when we recite the Ten Plagues at the Passover Seder we remove a few drops of wine as we recite each plague from our filled goblets so as not to drink a full cup of wine at the death of our enemies who were also created in the image of God.
How should we as spiritual beings react to the death of a mass murderer? We should give thanks to Him who oversees the world, who metes out justice, sometimes with a mighty Hand and an outstretched Arm and at other times using agents who unknowingly do His will. But to dance and to behave in a way that does not respect the sanctity of life is contrary to His will.