Friday, November 16, 2012

The Conflict in Gaza and Israel in 140 Characters or Less? or TheLessons We Can Learn from Berurya and Rabbi Meir

Last night on Twitter, Huffington Post's Religion section asked what people thought about the following post by a @HuffPostReligion follower: "At the heart of all this hate in the Arab-Israeli conflict is religion".  I responded, "Thinking the "heart" of this terribly complicated situation can be explained in 140 chrctrs or less = insult 2 all sides." 
They invited me to offer a larger comment.  Here it is:

I know 2 things for sure.  
1.  Not one of us knows the real, 100% truth of why this horrible violence has broken out between Israel and Gaza.  
2. Offering single word or sentence explanations that assert or place unilateral blame or causality is not only a waste of energy and time, but ultimately only fuels the vitriolic and vengeful fires burning  in the hearts and minds of so many, ultimately moving everyone away from any peace.    

There is absolutely no way to explain a single, simple cause for  this deep, immensely complicated and painful conflict and web of conflicts  in 140 characters or less on Twitter.  Or Facebook.  Or in a You Tube video.  Or a colorful graph or catchy graphic equating rockets raining in Israel to what that would be like in New York City.  Or posting up pictures of victims of violence and war as a means of somehow justifying one side or the other.   

I believe firmly in the right of Israel, like any sovereign nation, to defend itself against violence towards its people.  My heart aches for Israel and Israelis hunkered down in bomb shelters, not knowing when a rocket may be fired or where it may land.  And yet, my heart also aches for Palestinian people hunkered down in their own homes.  A child killed by a rocket or missile's blast in Gaza is no different than a child killed by a rocket or missile's blast in Israel.  The wails of their fathers and mothers reach the same octave heights and depths, and the composition of their tears is identical.  And I'll tell you something: the conversation about who started it will provide no solace to the families of the victims on either side.   The fantasy that long-term solace might be found in blood-revenge only proves a long-standing myth when your loved-one remains dead.  

A couple months back, I re-read a passage in the Talmud from Brachot 10a that has stayed with me over the years.   It details a disagreement between Beruryah and her husband Rav Meir, where Berurya sways his opinion and behavior on a matter of prayer.  I always understood its significance as one of the Talmud giving legitimacy to the opinion and rights of a female voice.  But rereading it at the end of the summer, I decided it is so much more significant than that!

Here is text translated into English in bold with included commentary from the Koren translation unbolded:

There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir's neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish.  Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die.  Rabbi Meir's wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse as it is written: "Let sins cease from the land? (Psalm 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? Is it written, "sinners"? "Sins" is written. One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves. Moreover, go to the end of the verse: "and the wicked will be no more." If, as you suggest transgressions shall cease refers to the demise of the evildoers, how is it possible that the wicked will be no more i.e. that they will no longer be evil? Rather, pray for God to have mercy on them, that they should repent, if they repent, then the wicked will be no more as they will have repented. Rabbi Meir saw that Berurya was correct and he prayed for God to have mercy on them, and they repented.

So Berurya teaches her husband a lesson about mercy over vengeance, life over death.  This is significant not because Berurya is a woman, but because of Berurya's back story.  Berurya herself is a survivor of terrible trauma and terror.  Her father, Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion was martyred, along with her entire family over time, and tragically both of her children died in her lifetime as well.  If there were ever a person to justifiably side with vengeance, it would be Berurya.  But instead she invokes mercy, rachamim (as it says in the text), for her voice.  And by intoning the voice of mercy, she changed the action and prayer of her husband, and in doing so, effected peace.  

The voice of rachamim, as difficult and complicated and even painful as it can be, needs to be the loudest sound we intone and hear these very violent days.  Let it drown out the screaming sirens of hate and lies that loom large on the currents of the internet and airwaves.  Neither you nor I will not stop this conflict, but, like Berurya did for her husband, we may change the mind and behavior of  another person from vengeance toward mercy, and who knows what difference that may make for someone else. 

So whatever side, whatever faith:  pray for mercy, pray for peace.  Act in mercy, act in peace.  Speak in mercy and speak in peace. 


  1. This war has to stop. It's on the way of possibly achieving the historical notoriety of Dresden if a 2008-9 Cast Lead type of war ensues.

    1. We must all pray and act for peace! Shabbat Shalom!

  2. Unfortunately the people of Gaza are under the control of the Hamas dictatorship. A fundamental step toward solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is having an honestly elected Palestinian leadership. Elections are overdue by more than a year and Hamas is very unlikely to have elections or to have honest elections.


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