This past week when Osama Bin Laden was finally laid to rest, I couldn’t help but notice the many tweeter feeds that were clearly uncomfortable with celebrating his death. Contrarily, I was not feeling a tinge of guilt while celebrating myself, and wondered if this attitude I had adopted was inappropriate or befitting. What is the real attitude the world should share on the demise of Bin Laden? Should we celebrate in his death or mourn quietly? Should we revel in his demise or take the more diplomatic approach and remain stoic? The world became witness to evil plots in the last decade that have senselessly murdered many innocents. By looking into this past week’s parshah, we can understand without a shadow of a doubt just how misguided this evil mastermind was and what we are to learn from him- or not learn from him.
The Torah mentions in several places how to handle enemies of life preservers. It points out how we are not supposed to use any of the spoils captured by an enemy. It reminds us not to celebrate in our enemies demise, as we are encouraged to dip a little wine out of our cups during the Seder while we read the ten plagues each year. There are countless times in the Torah that we are encouraged not to celebrate in the death of G-d’s creations. In this week’s Torah portion there is a relevant law that seems archaic yet has timeless wisdom, which sums up what made Bin Laden’s misdeeds so incredibly evil and justifies the world’s celebration in his end.
This past Shabbat, the Torah portion, Parshas Emor, discussed the role of the Priests in the Holy Temple, which lead to the discussion of approved sacrifices that were to be brought to the alter as a gift to God. Sacrifices are an interesting topic, and many are uncomfortable with the idea of sacrificing an animal as a G-dly service. However, before temples were built as prayer meetings, the Jewish people connected to G-d by bringing sacrifices to the Alter in the Holy Temple. They brought fruits, incense, flour mixtures and of course animals. Although some might feel that today sacrificing animals borderline as barbaric, (especially vegans and those who work for PETA.) there is much to learn from the detailed commandments revolving around the slaughter of animals. For by learning how to treat animals, we learn how to live as human beings. If Judaism, the oldest religion in the world, is meant to have a high consciousness that teaches human beings how to behave with the utmost morality, than surely there is much we can learn from these ancient rituals. By learning about death, we become armed with the knowledge of how to preserve life.
Rabbi Akiva was quoted saying many centuries ago, that if he had to describe the entire meaning of the Torah on one foot, he would have said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Under the theme of loving your neighbor as yourself, there is the ultimate lesson that is the umbrella theme, which culminates all laws and Torah thought- “Breathing and not breathing- how to live and how to die.” Separating milk and meat and the laws of Kashrus has to do with food that represents life (milk) and food that represents death (meat). Passover is a celebration of living life with freedom, yet also a recognition of death (the slave laborers murdered at the Sea by the hand of G-d). The holidays of Chanukah and Purim represent the fight for life in the shadow of death. Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Shavuot mark the holidays that celebrate how to live life and honor it. The laws of family purity all point to how to preserve life through sex and intimacy. Every single commandment has this theme in one-way or another.
These two diametrically opposing contradictions, life and death, have been the basis for the world’s constant search for understanding. How do we live? Does life have meaning? How do we live knowing death exists? And how do we live knowing they both fit in this world? How do they both fit into this world? Last week was Yom Hashoah where Jews from around the world honored the many who died in World War Two. And this week, is Yom Haatzmaut, just days later we have celebrated the many who live today and who have fought to create life in a lifeless land that is now booming with vitality. This constant contradiction is at the corner stone of our existence. So which is it- are we to live or are we to learn how to die? Is life for the purpose of preserving loss or for the purpose of avoiding it and achieving life?
As it is written: When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days, and from the eighth day onwards, it shall be accepted as a sacrifice for a fire offering to the Lord, An ox or sheep you shall not slaughter it and its offspring in one day.”
In describing the animals that were to be brought as sacrifices, the Torah clearly mentioned how it was absolutely forbidden to bring a baby calf on the exact day that his mother was to be sacrificed on the Alter and visa versa. On the eve of Mother’s Day I found this law stated very profound. The Torah spent many chapters detailing how to sacrifice an animal, which animals were permitted and how to carry out the deed of killing with great detail. How we kill animals must be done with dignity. A mother and her calf must not be killed on the same day. The relationship of family must be preserved even through death. How an animal is killed can elevate or disintegrate society. For if there is no honor towards animals, the protection for human life dwindles as well.
The Torah is a blueprint for our lives and it is here to tell us how to create a world with a high moral compass. Every commandment in the Torah clearly points to how to live, but it also points out how to honor the un-living as well and how to die. For by preserving how to die, we essentially preserve life. Do not slaughter a mother cow with his calf.
When an animal is born into the world, it remains an animal. It does not evolve. It does not search for truth or for meaning or have aha moments. An animal stays exactly the way it is when it comes into our world, as it is when it leaves it. The truth is when a human being does nothing to elevate the world for the better by celebrating life and actively pursuing the preservation of life, he becomes no better than an animal- or worse he becomes a destroyer, an exterminator, and even a callous murderer like animals naturally do by instinct.
During the course of the next few weeks we will be preparing ourselves for the giving of the Torah. Every day during these seven weeks, between Passover and Shavuot, the Jewish people count the Omer, and spend every day refining their character- another theme in Parshas Emor as well. It’s no accident we read this Parshah at this exact time period when the world witnessed the death of a person who spent more time killing others than achieving self actualization thereby reminding us the importance of working to refine our own behavior daily.
When a baby animal is born it has to live through a whole week. It cannot be brought as a sacrifice before it has remained on this earth through at least one Shabbos. Shabbos is the recognition of creation, the recognition of life. The Torah is stating something very profound in regard to this law of how to sacrifice an animal and how long to keep it alive before it could be used as a sacrifice. The Torah is revealing the essence of Judaism, which is the importance and sacredness of preserving a life for the purpose of creation. God created the world for man. He created the world for life. If we are to honor life, we must also realize that Shabbat is the moment we stand back to stare at life and the preservation of it. If we kill just to kill for no purpose other than our own pleasure or material gain, than we are no better than animals and we are not being God’s keepers to the precious life we are given.
The Torah teaches how the importance of bringing Sacrifices to the Temple remind us that our connection with G-d is there to support our quest for living. Through death we become aware of the gift of life. A baby calf shall not die with his mother. There are rules about how to preserve life. There are rules and on 9-11 those rules were not preserved. They were thrown away as if the preciousness of life was to be disregarded.
So what is the answer to how we should feel towards the demise of this mass terrorist? Bin Laden died. That is a fact. He was killed and refused to surrender thereby creating and manipulating his own death. I will not be happy that he chose death, for he is another human being, another creation who failed to live to his potential. But I will celebrate in the keepers of life winning the battle over the grim reapers who have refused to uphold the treasure we have been given for such a short sweet period of time, the treasure of life.
May Mashiach come finally and wipe out death completely, thereby bringing us into the ultimate era of peace and the constant state of life as the world was intended for.