The news this morning is that Osama bin Laden is dead. He chose to live by the sword, and so it has come about that he also has died by the sword. I have been avoiding further news broadcasts this morning because I know for sure that they will be chock full of celebratory, victorious high-fiving indistinguishable from a sporting event. I am avoiding these displays not because I feel myself better or above such celebration, but exactly because I know I am not. The desire for heroic victory over evil animates all of us, myself definitely included.
Yet it was only a few short days ago, as part of the Passover Seder (a ritual of Judaism increasingly celebrated in many Christian circles as well) that we reminded ourselves that even the death of an enemy of our people is nonetheless the death of a fellow human being, one of God’s own creations. This is the reminder of Moses, even as the people dance to Miriam’s Song of the Sea, celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army.
Are we then wrong to feel relief and even elation in the vanquishing of an enemy of our people? Should be browbeat ourselves and feel guilty for such feelings? Can we demand this of ourselves and remain human beings?! If we demand of ourselves the complete abolition of such feelings, it can only be “achieved” by layer upon layer of denial, of refusing to recognize within ourselves that which is truly there.
This said, I do think there is great wisdom in the fact that our ancestors placed this reminder on the lips of Moses right at that celebratory juncture. It raises the question, does our sense of joy in this death, and the accompanying lack of mourning and indifference in our souls for the life of Osama bin Laden, reflect our highest nature and sense of self, not that which we are, but that toward which we strive to become? What should be teach our children, when they ask about this part of the Seder?
I frankly don’t know. But this is what I have tried to pass on to my child – that in placing this reminder on the lips of Moses, our ancestors meant to remind us that if we revel in, justify, and perpetuate soul indifference even here, in the death of our enemies, this plants a seed which grows into soul indifference in many other areas of our life. This soul indifference eventually becomes a mortal threat to our essential quest as ethical monotheists, well summarized in the “Mi-sheberekh,” the prayer for healing – “let us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” Ultimately, soul indifference does not stand still. It is either spreading or being beat back in our individual and collective life. In deciding the direction we will go, our duty is to listen to this reminder of Moses, strategically placed in the Passover Haggadah, most especially on this day of nationalistic rejoicing.