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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rejoicing over an enemy's downfall (A reply to Dov Bear)

On his blog, Dov Bear has recounted a discussion which took place on Facebook. Rather than recapitulate the whole thing, I'll let you check it out on his blog. Suffice it to say that I got irked at yet another attempt to use the Midrash about Hashem stopping the angels from singing while the Egyptians were drowning to demonstrate that we shouldn't rejoice over the downfall of our enemies. The last time I addressed this issue was on an email list shortly after Bin Laden was killed (yay!).

I claimed that this was "twisting the Torah into a touchy-feely liberal parody of itself." Dov Bear googled and found where the Beit Yosef (R' Yosef Karo) cites the Shibbolei HaLeket in the name of Midrash Harninu that we daven a partial Hallel on Pesach (except for the initial Yom Tov) because the Egyptians drowned. As it says, "Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy" (Proverbs 24:17).

So... I've had this out on the aforementioned email list in the past, and needless to say, that citation was raised more than once. The only problem with it is that there's an explicit Gemara that says we do rejoice over the downfall of our non-Jewish enemies. That the verse in Proverbs is speaking only about fellow Jews.

You can check out Megillah 16a over on E-Daf or read the translation at Halakha.com:

[Haman] said to him,Mount and ride. [Mordechai] replied: I am not able, as I am weak from the days of fasting. So Haman stooped down and he mounted [on his back]. When he was up he kicked him. He said to him: Is it not written in your books, Rejoice not when thine enemy faileth? He replied: That refers to an Israelite, but in regard to you [folk] it is written, And thou shalt tread upon their high places.

So in the face of an explicit Gemara that contradicts Dov Bear's reading of the Shulchan Aruch and the Midrash Harninu, a Jew who doesn't believe that the rabbis just pull understandings of the Torah out of their rear ends has to find an alternative reading for the Midrash Harninu.

Nowhere in that Midrash does it say that we don't rejoice at the fall of the Egyptians. It couldn't, because that would be going against an explicit ma'amar (statement) in the Gemara. It is referring to Hashem not rejoicing over their downfall.

The halakha is that we don't rejoice over the downfall of an enemy when that enemy is a fellow Jew. Why? Because they're us. They're a part of us. כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה (All Jews are responsible/guarantors for one another). Not, mind you, כל בני אדם ערבים זה לזה (All Humans are responsible/guarantors for one another), however much those with a universalist, liberal bent might prefer it.

And what does the Midrash say about Hashem silencing the angels who wanted to sing praises when the Egyptians drowned? "The work of My hands is drowning, and you want to sing Shira?" Angels are a part of Hashem. They aren't separate creatures with free will. They are part of Hashem, as is everything Hashem created. The idea of Hashem rejoicing over the downfall of His own is just wrong. As is the idea of us rejoicing over the fall of our own. But that's where the analogy breaks down, because everything is Hashem's own. לה' הארץ ומלואה. Only fellow Jews are our own.

So why don't we say full Hallel during Pesach? I mean, we say Az Yashir every single day. אשירה לה' כי גאה גאה סוס ורכבו רמה בים. I'll sing to Hashem, because He's mighty! He drowned the horse and his rider in the sea! But Hallel is something else. It doesn't primarily praise Hashem for doing wonderful things. It praises Him for making a wonderful world. We say it on Hanukkah, but it doesn't say anything about Hanukkah. We say it on Sukkot, but it doesn't say anything about Sukkot. It does mention the Exodus, obliquely, as well as things that happened in the desert, but it's primarily a praise of Hashem qua Hashem. And doing that while Hashem is suffering a loss (כביכל) is insensitive, to say the least.

And what parts do we leave out? כמוהם יהיו עושיהם כל אשר בוטח בהם (May their makers and all who believe in them be like them). כל האדם כוזב (All men are deceitful). That's what we don't say. The only other place in Hallel where it criticizes humans, or where you could make a case for it, is David saying "I will cut off my enemies". But that's not "God, please cut off my enemies". Because we wouldn't say that when God is mourning His creations.

We learn sensitivity towards Hashem from this Midrash. We do not, God forbid, learn that it's wrong to rejoice over the downfall and deaths of those who make war against us, murder us, oppress us.


Blogger Esser Agaroth said...

Would you believe that I was having a friend of mine look for this source for me, just recently?

Did DovBear respond?

Hag Same'ah!

5:20 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Of course he did. And he said that no, the Beit Yosef must have been disagreeing with a mefurash Gemara. But since he's basically Conservative in hashkafa, that's not all that surprising.

7:55 AM  

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